Shipley-Bringhurst-Hargraves family papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

Shipley, Bringhurst, and Hargraves are the family names associated with Rockwood, a Victorian Rural Gothic Revival mansion and estate that was built in north Wilmington, Delaware, between 1851 and 1854. The Hargraves were the last family to privately own Rockwood before its donation to New Castle County in the mid-1970s as a historic house museum and public park.


Leach, Josiah Granville. History of the Bringhurst Family; with Notes on the Clarkson, De Peyster and Boude Families. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1901.

Mickey, Thomas J. America's Romance with the English Garden. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013.

Additional information derived from the collection and research notes compiled by the Friends of Rockwood.

Other bibliographic materials derived from collection.

Joseph Shipley (1795-1867)

The builder of Rockwood was Joseph Shipley (1795-1867), a descendant of prominent Quakers and early founders of Willingtown (later Wilmington) who made his fortune in transatlantic merchant banking out of Liverpool, England.

Joseph Shipley was the ninth of ten surviving children born to Joseph Shipley (1752-1832) and Mary Levis (d. 1843). (For clarification, the two Joseph Shipleys are referred to as "Jr." and "Sr." throughout this collection description.) Joseph Shipley, Sr., inherited the Brandywine mill property of his father, Thomas Shipley (1718-1789), and prospered in that business. Joseph Shipley, Jr., was sent to Westtown School and began work in the Philadelphia firm of his cousin, Samuel Canby.

Joseph Shipley worked for Philadelphia merchant James Welsh by 1819, traveling south into Virginia and North Carolina to buy notes from banks for Welsh's firm. He sailed to Liverpool on October 20, 1819, for what was supposed to have been a short trip on behalf of Welsh. The lucrative transatlantic trade kept him in Liverpool for the next thirty years, and he returned to America only three times (in 1826, 1841, and 1847), before his retirement in 1850.

Shipley headed a firm called Shipley, Welsh, and Co., in 1822, bearing responsibility for all of Welsh's cargoes that were sent to Liverpool. In 1825, he joined in a limited partnership with the firm of William and James Brown and Co., and also continued to conduct business as Shipley, Welsh, and Co. These businesses thrived on shipment of American cotton for the Lancashire mills, but also profited as merchant bankers, granting credits and buying and selling foreign exchange. Transatlantic financial and business crises of 1837 strongly affected Shipley's personal finances, but in reward for his services during the crises, he was made a participating partner in all four of the Brown houses of business. The name of the English house was changed to Brown, Shipley & Co., which is still in operation as a private British bank.

Joseph Shipley, Jr., lived in Liverpool from 1819 until 1850 or 1851, when he retired from his career and returned to the Brandywine area to complete the building of Rockwood. Rockwood was designed by English architect George Monier Williams and the mansion was inspired by Shipley's Gothic/Italianate home, Wyncote, located in the village of Allerton, near Liverpool. Joseph Shipley reportedly visited the site of land that he would acquire for Rockwood when he visited Delaware in 1847. Shipley corresponded frequently with his brother Samuel Shipley, as well as with his nephew Thomas S. Newlin, both of whom helped manage affairs in Delaware and conducted numerous land acquisitions toward formation of the Rockwood estate. Shipley's nephew Edward Bringhurst, Sr., supervised building negotiations and contracts in his uncle's absence.

Upon his return to Delaware, Joseph Shipley became known for the horticultural development of his estate. He was elected second vice-president of the Delaware Horticultural Society and Rockwood was cited by Andrew Jackson Browning in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening(1859). Shipley died in 1867 but his will allowed for his sisters Sarah and Hannah to remain as residents of Rockwood until their deaths. Hannah Shipley died in 1891.

Pre-Rockwood era Bringhurst family

The Pre-Rockwood era Bringhursts comprise the ancestors of Edward Bringhurst, Jr., and Anna James Webb Bringhurst and their descendants, the later generations who acquired the Rockwood mansion from the estate of Joseph Shipley and lived there continuously from 1892 until the property was donated to New Castle County in the mid-1970s. Primary amongst these early ancestors were Dr. Joseph Bringhurst (1767-1834) and his wife Deborah Ferris Bringhurst (1773-1844), both of whom were prominent in religious, social, intellectual, and political circles throughout their lives. Papers related to the Pre-Rockwood era Bringhursts provide rich documentation of Quaker families active in the post-Revolutionary, early Federal period of American history in Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia.

Rockwood-era Bringhurst family

The Bringhurst family moved into Rockwood in 1892 after the death of Hannah Shipley, the last surviving sister of Joseph Shipley, Jr. (1795-1867). Joseph's will allowed his sisters to live in Rockwood until their deaths, but provided that when the last sister died the estate would be liquidated and all proceeds would be divided equally amongst his nieces and nephews (Shipley never married and had no children). Sarah Shipley Bringhurst (1812-1896), niece of Joseph Shipley, Jr., and mother of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912) was able to use her share of the estate proceeds to purchase the Rockwood house, property, and many of the furnishings for her son at auction.

The two generations of Bringhurst family members who lived in the Rockwood estate are those of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912) and his wife Anna James Webb (1843-1923), and those of their four children: Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst Galt-Smith (1863-1932), Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965), Edith Ferris Bringhurst (1874-1947), and Edward Bringhurst III (1884-1939).

Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912)

Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912) was the great nephew of Joseph Shipley, Jr. (1795-1867). He was a pharmacist and Wilmington businessman who served as director of the Wilmington Savings Fund Society, president of the New Castle County Fire Insurance Company, president of the Wilmington and Great Valley Turnpike Co, director of several railroad companies, and a member of the Delaware Historical Society. He was also a practicing Quaker and a member of the Wilmington Friends Meeting.

Edward Bringhurst, Jr., married Anna James Webb (1843-1923), the daughter of another prominent local Quaker family, on April 22, 1862. Anna and Edward had four children: Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst (born 1863), Mary Thomas Bringhurst (born 1865), Edith Ferris Bringhurst (born 1874), and Edward Bringhurst III (born 1884). In 1892, Edward Bringhurst Jr. purchased the Rockwood house, property, and much of the furnishings from the estate of Joseph Shipley with the financial help of his mother, Sarah Shipley Bringhurst (a beneficiary of Joseph Shipley), and moved his family there shortly after. Edward Bringhurst, Jr., and his wife are buried next to each other in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.

Anna James Webb Bringhurst (1843-1923)

Anna James Webb Bringhurst (1843-1923) was the wife of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912), who she married on April 22, 1862. She and Edward were both Quakers who attended the Wilmington Friends Meeting. Anna and Edward had four children: Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst (born 1863), Mary Thomas Bringhurst (born 1865), Edith Ferris Bringhurst (born 1874), and Edward Bringhurst III (born 1884).

Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst Galt-Smith(1863-1932)

Elizabeth Shipley Bringhurst Galt-Smith (1863-1932) was the daughter of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1863, she was commonly referred to as "Bessie" in family papers and correspondence. Bessie married the widower John Galt-Smith (d. 1899), a linen merchant twenty years her senior, on June 1, 1886. Galt-Smith had two children from his previous marriage. The couple split their time between living in New York City and Ireland, generally spending June to August in Ireland and the rest of the year in America.

In Ireland the Galt-Smiths first lived in "Meadowbank," a house in a suburb north of Belfast. In 1891, John Galt Smith signed a 30-year lease on Kilwaughter Castle, ancestral home of the Galt family, in Larne, Ireland. After her husband died in 1899, Bessie continued to live at Kilwaughter during the summer and in America in the winter.

Bessie traveled to Ireland in June of 1914 and became stranded due to the onset of hostilities leading to World War I. She was unable to book safe passage back to America until 1919. After the end of World War I, the deteriorating security situation caused by the escalating Irish Civil War prompted Bessie to vacate Kilwaughter. Many possessions were removed with her back to America, and the rest were sold at auction. Bessie moved back to Delaware in 1922 and lived at Rockwood for the remainder of her life, where she and her sister Mary entertained guests with extensive dinner parties. "Bessie" Bringhurst and John Galt-Smith are buried next to each other at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965)

Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965) was the second child of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912). She never married, and lived in Rockwood from when her grandmother and her father bought the estate until her death, at which point she willed Rockwood to her niece, Nancy Bringhurst Sellers Hargraves (1898-1972). Near the end of her life, Mary Thomas Bringhurst made clear to her niece her "primary desire to preserve the beauty of Rockwood," both mansion and estate, even if accomplished by a, "transfer to a public or private body politic or institution."

Mary's life spanned a century from the end of the Civil War until the era of the Civil Rights Movement. It is largely due to her role as keeper of the family home and heritage that the Rockwood house museum with is trove of furnishings and the archive of Shipley, Bringhurst and Hargraves papers exist today. Mary instilled a love of the Rockwood property and family history in her favored niece, Nancy, who with her husband Gordon Hargraves preserved the Rockwood legacy.

Edith Ferris Bringhurst (1874-1947)

Edith Ferris Bringhurst Sellers (1874-1947) was the third daughter of Edward Bringhurst, Jr., and the only one to have children. She married Alexander Sellers in 1897 in a wedding at Rockwood, and lived with her husband in Radnor, Pennsylvania. They had four children: Nancy Bringhurst Sellers Hargraves (1898-1972), William Sellers (1899-1995), Alexander Sellers, Jr. (1901-1970), and Edith Claypoole Sellers Farnum (1910-1999). Daughter Nancy inherited Rockwood from her aunt, Edith's sister Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965).

Edward Bringhurst III/V (1884-1939)

Edward Bringhurst III/V (1884-1939) was the youngest child of Edward Bringhurst, Jr. (1835-1912) and Anna James Webb Bringhurst (1843-1912). Although his given appellation was Edward III (the third), after a trip to Europe in 1896 he unilaterally and without explanation changed it to Edward V (the fifth).

Edward III/V was educated at home and traveled extensively during his childhood and youth. Notable trips included visits to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, as well as to Washington, D.C., and many trips to Europe with his sister Elizabeth Bringhurst Galt-Smith (1863-1932) as well as other family members.

As an adult, he managed the Rockwood estate and the family's financial investments. Edward III/V was a connoisseur of fine furniture and antiques, as well as an accomplished dog breeder and aviation hobbyist. He was also a successful amateur photographer who exhibited at the Wilmington Salon 1934 and 1935.

Edward spent much of his life in ill health (further exacerbated by an aviation accident), and died at the relatively young age of fifty-five. He is buried with his family at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.

Nancy Bringhurst Sellers Hargraves (1898-1972)

Nancy Bringhurst Sellers Hargraves (1898-1972) and her husband Gordon Sweat Hargraves (1898-1983) were the last private owners of Rockwood. Nancy, daughter of Edith Ferris Bringhurst Sellers and Alexander Sellers, was the favored niece of Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965), last surviving sibling of the Bringhurst children who lived at Rockwood. Nancy and her husband, Gordon Hargraves, provided great support to Mary Bringhurst, who during her lifetime expressed increasing concern for the preservation of the Rockwood home and property. Though Nancy and Gordon visited "Sister Mary" frequently at Rockwood, they made their home in at "Meadowbrook," in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania.

Scope and Contents

The Shipley–Bringhurst–Hargraves family papers document the personal and professional lives, as well as the ancestry and legacy, of several generations of Delawareans associated with Rockwood, a Victorian Gothic Revival mansion and estate in north Wilmington built in 1851 by Joseph Shipley, Jr. (1795-1867).The bulk of the materials in the collection were created by two generations of the Edward Bringhurst, Jr., family, the longest and most prolific inhabitants of the estate. The longevity and commitment of Mary Thomas Bringhurst (1865-1965), an unmarried woman dedicated to preserving her family's history and the Rockwood estate, accounts for the vast and extraordinarily rich documentation that comprises this multi-generational collection. Spanning dates from the late 17th century to 1978, the collection reflects the personal and professional lives of the prosperous, erudite, and worldly Delaware families tied to Rockwood. The collection relates intrinsically to the history of Delaware, particularly in the greater-Wilmington area: early Shipley and Bringhurst family members were prominent Quakers and fundamental in the shaping of religious, social, business, and political life in Wilmington, and their descendants continued to play important roles in the region.

The collection centers on intergenerational life at Rockwood, the Victorian Gothic Revival estate that was modeled after Wyncote, Joseph Shipley's home in Allerton near Liverpool, England. Early Shipley documents include correspondence with architects A & G Williams, estimates, invoices, and receipts for construction, and the working architectural drawings of the Rockwood manor house and outbuildings. Horticultural bills from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey nurseries reveal Shipley's planning of Rockwood grounds in the contemporary Gardenesque style. Rockwood was later expanded by the Edward Bringhurst family who inhabited Rockwood for two generations.

The Bringhurst correspondence, photographs, sheet music, silhouettes, and other materials of this era, bulk dates 1892-1922, are most indicative of daily life at Rockwood. The collection further reveals the twentieth-century work of Nancy Sellers and her husband Gordon Hargraves, whose efforts toward preserving Rockwood in the vision of Mary T. Bringhurst are demonstrated through correspondence, estate inventories, family heirloom catalogues, and preservation plans.

The materials in the collection include many intergenerational commonalities but also exhibit keen interest by the latter generations towards their ancestry. The desire to learn about, collect, and preserve familial heritage and values is displayed particularly throughout the Bringhurst and Hargraves family papers.

The Shipley–Bringhurst–Hargraves family papers is organized into five subgroups. The first three subgroups reflect the provenance of the papers by association with the primary families represented in the collection: I. Shipley family papers, II. Bringhurst family papers, III. Hargraves family papers.

Subgroup II. Bringhurst family papers is further divided as II.A. Pre-Rockwood era Bringhursts (those who never lived at the mansion but whose descendants did) and II.B. Rockwood-era Bringhursts (those who lived in the mansion after 1892).

The remaining subgroups in the collection comprise material that is multi-format and highly intergenerational: IV. Photographs, albums, sheet music, magazines and objects, and V. Family genealogy. This introductory scope note explains the overall arrangement and content for the collection. Detailed scope and content notes for each series precede corresponding container lists in this finding aid.

The collection spans the dates 1692-1978 and comprises more than 60 linear feet of documents and photographs with extensive oversize materials. Subgroups I. Shipley family papers, and III. Hargraves family papers, and Series IV.B. Sheet music are currently processed with detailed descriptions provided in the container list available in this finding aid.

The remaining extent of the collection is currently in process. This online finding aid will be updated frequently as subgroups and series in the collection are completed. This finding aid should be considered a work in progress with emerging description details at the subgroup and series levels for areas of the collection that remain in process. For the parts of the collection that are still in progress, working descriptions at the series level are provided here. For assistance of any kind, please contact a manuscripts librarian at the University of Delaware Library.