William Young was born near Irvine, Scotland, June 27, 1755, the eldest of the ten children of John Young and his three wives. The Youngs belonged to a Presbyterian subdivision known as the "Associate Presbyterian" or "Seceder" Church, which had severed ties with the Church of Scotland in 1733, protesting the larger body's doctrinal laxity. The Associate Presbyterians suffered a further schism in 1747 on a point of political practice, and the Youngs sided with the "Anti-Burgher" faction of this split, which founded congregations in America that eventually came to be called the Associate Presbyterian Church.
Described by a grandchild as "rather undersize and not stout," yet "very quick in his movement when young," William Young entered the Associate Presbyterian seminary in Scotland and while still a student in about 1779, married Agnes McLaws, the daughter of an Associate Presbyterian family. Young never completed his studies at the seminary, opting instead to try his hand in a career as a book dealer. At the age of twenty-eight, he left Scotland with his wife and son for America, and never returned. The family arrived at Philadelphia in June, 1784, greeted by a well established Associate Presbyterian community planted by missionaries almost thirty years earlier. The Rev. William Marshall, pastor of the thriving Philadelphia congregation, was on hand to help acclimate the Youngs to their new culture.
In Philadelphia, Young continued in the business that he knew best, the book trade. Opening a bookshop and printing establishment at his home on the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets, Young prospered, and for some years shared his success with his partner, John McCulloch (d. 1824), possibly a relative (Agnes McLaws Young's mother was Elizabeth McCulloch). The success that Young experienced at business, however, was leavened by personal tragedies. The couple had five more children in Philadelphia, two of whom died of childhood diseases, and in the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793, William and Agnes themselves were taken ill. After several painful days, William managed to recover, but Agnes did not, despite receiving the personal attentions of Benjamin Rush, allegedly the best therapeutic for the disease. She was buried in an unmarked grave at the Walnut Street Associate Presbyterian Church, which the Youngs had helped build in 1790.
In 1802, William sold his printing business to William W. Woodward, married Rachel Anderson, a woman fifteen years his junior, and moved his family to a newly built mansion at Rockland, Del. The Youngs had eight more children at Rockland, including two sets of twins, and William once again helped found an Associate Presbyterian congregation. He started a paper manufactory, which provided much of the stock used by Woodward in the Philadelphia printing shop. In 1804, Young was awarded a gold medal for developing a new paper. The mill was profitable and the Youngs lived comfortably despite the fact that Woodward still owed Young enormous sums of money on the business and was chronically behind in payments. In 1814, the paper mill burned and was reopened as a woolen mill, but Young overextended his financial resources. The woolen mill soon swallowed most of his ready cash, expansion became impossible, and when Woodward declared bankruptcy in 1825, the assets he had in the enterprise evaporated. Over the years, Young had received large credits and loans from the firm of John McAllister & Son (the son being his own son-in-law), and upon Young's death in 1829 his estate was found to owe the McAllisters over $57,000.
The woolen mill did not provide the income of the paper factory, and the Youngs returned to Philadelphia in 1816 in search of a less expensive lifestyle. The collapse of Woodward's printing establishment placed them in even more stringent circumstances and they moved to "the upper part of the house then no. 18 South 3rd Street opposite Elbow Lane -- a very uncomfortable residence -- the kitchen in the cellar." It was in this dwelling that William Young signed his will from his deathbed, and died the following day, May 12, 1829. His body was taken the following afternoon to Rockland on a Delaware River boat, and taken by hearse the five or so miles from Wilmington to Rockland for burial in the Associate Presbyterian churchyard. In Philadelphia, his executors began, on the day of his death, to seek ways of keeping the estate solvent until lands could be sold and the bills paid -- a process which proved to take thirty years.
Rachel Young, William's widow, returned to Rockland to live with a daughter. She died in Wilmington in 1836 and was buried beside her husband at Rockland. In 1851, the entire Young plot was removed to the Delaware Avenue cemetery in Wilmington.
John McAllister Jr. was born on June 19, 1786, the son of John and Frances (Wardale Lieber) McAllister, who then lived at the corner of Market and Second Streets. His father had emigrated from Scotland to New York in 1775 where he spent six years as a journeyman carpenter. His mother, a native of Yorkshire, came to America in 1773 with her first husband, but nine years later he was drowned in the Delaware River. The McAllisters, both widowed and childless, were married in 1783. John Jr. was their only son; they had twin daughters, Frances and Sarah, in 1784. John Sr. moved from New York to Philadelphia in order to be under the pastoral care of the Rev. William Marshall (1740-1802), preacher at the Philadelphia Associate Presbyterian Church. In Philadelphia he began a manufactory of whips and canes, and in 1799 purchased an eyeglass business, which he added to his other products. In 1800, he opened a retail shop for these goods in partnership with James Matthews at 50 Chestnut Street. The McAllisters lived next door at No. 48, a three-story brick house that John Sr. built in 1794.
John Jr. began his formal education at the age of four. He enjoyed music and painting, but after a very brief foray into dance, declined to pursue the study further. Only ten when he entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1796, McAllister graduated just before his seventeenth birthday in 1803, and at the time of his death, three-quarters of a century later, he had become the University's oldest living alumnus. Following graduation, McAllister entered the "counting house" of Montgomery & Newbold, where he acquired a general knowledge of business and international trade. He left the firm in 1807 and took an extended vacation on horseback to western Pennsylvania, as he later wrote, "for the benefit of my health." On returning to Philadelphia he went into business with his father, as John Sr. and James Matthews had dissolved their partnership. John Jr. took complete charge of the Chestnut Street retail outlet and his father devoted himself to the manufacturing end of the enterprise.
In 1811, John Jr. married Eliza Melville Young (1790-1853), a childhood friend who had grown up in the same church, the daughter of his father's intimate friend, William Young. The couple set up housekeeping at 48 Chestnut Street as John McAllister Sr. had moved to Auburn, N.Y., the previous year in order to superintend the manufacture of silver fittings for whips. Over the next twenty years, John and Eliza had ten children.
The firm of McAllister & Son prospered, eventually centering its production on optical and scientific instruments. On his father's death in 1830, John Jr., the only surviving child (his sisters were both deceased), became a wealthy man. A shrewd businessman, he was appointed co-executor of his father-in-law's tangled estate in 1829, and it was owing largely to his efficient management as well as his frequent personal loans that the estate did not default. John operated his business alone for five years and in 1835 turned it over to his eldest son, William Young McAllister, and retired to the life of a leisured gentleman, though not yet fifty years old. In his retirement, he was able to devote much time to his hobby, historical research. A member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania since 1828, he was one of Philadelphia's most notable antiquarians, whose research shows a careful weighing of evidence and an attention to detail. He assisted William B. Sprague in preparing the Annals of the American Pulpit largely in the biographies of Associate Presbyterian pastors and the Episcopal clergy who had been his University of Pennsylvania professors. John and Eliza McAllister left the Associate Presbyterians over the issue of church discipline, joining the Episcopal Church, where they were faithful members and generous givers.
Widowed in 1853 when nearing seventy, John McAllister Jr. survived another quarter century. On his death, December 17, 1877, he left five children, fourteen grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren. The cash residuary estate alone, not including real estate and stocks, amounted to $38,000.