Mifflin family papers  1689-1877
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Mifflin family papers consist of the scattered remains of a large family's business and personal correspondence over several generations. The bulk of the material concerns two branches of the Mifflin family, the children and grandchildren of George Mifflin, son of John (1661-1714) and the children of another of John's sons, John. Both branches were affluent, well-educated, and politically involved, and although the collection is somewhat scattered, it is a useful collection for the study of family relations in southeastern Pennsylvania during the late 18th and early 19th century and the history of the Society of Friends. The collection also includes miscellaneous deeds, wills, bills, and other sundry items relating to the Mifflins between their arrival in America in the 1680s and the mid-19th century.

The names George, John, Jonathan, and Joseph were repeatedly used by every branch of the family. As a result, in the cataloging of the Mifflin Family papers, birth and death dates have been applied only when identities seem reasonably certain, and even at that, these should be viewed with caution.

Among the most interesting letters from the descendents of George Mifflin are the several letters of and relating to Charles Mifflin. As a record of a young man struggling against adverse circumstances and seeking to establish himself in life, the letters provide excellent documentation of mid-18th century Quaker attitudes toward the maturation into adulthood, familial responsibilities, and parental expectations. But the highlight of Charles' letters is a fine description of a love feast at the Ephrata cloister, 1769, where Charles had gone to learn German and thereby improve his prospects in the business world.

Four letters include information on the Revolutionary War. Two of Joseph Mifflin's letters (1776 July 14 and 22) provide accounts on the early phases of the war in Reading, Pa., the popular reaction, and the mobilization of troops. In a letter to John Mifflin written on August 24, 1777, Joseph Mayo relays rumors that William Howe is intending to land at the head of the Chesapeake to wage a campaign on Philadelphia, and adds wryly, "I hope that British Savages will be glad to get off with themselves long before it is in their Power to throw once more the Philadelphia Ladies into a disagreeable anxiety about the Fate of their Place of Abode." John Weston's letter of July 7, 1780, includes news that the women of the Baltimore Friends Meeting had agreed to knit stockings for the Continental Army. The post-war attitudes of two old foes are outlined in two letters written in 1784 and 1785 by Richard Hergest, a former seaman in the Royal Navy, to Capt. Henry W. Archer. Hergest and Archer appear simply to have agreed not to discuss politics in order to rekindle their once close friendship.

The most important items in the Mifflin papers are the two letters from Warner Mifflin, which provide important glimpses into the moral universe of the idiosyncratic Delaware abolitionist and reformer. The first of these letters, written by Mifflin to Nicholas Waln in December, 1780, includes an extended account of a dream that Mifflin had in which he saw Waln's corpse rise from the dead to admit that Mifflin had been right after all in his refusal to accept Continental currency or to pay war taxes. Mifflin also expresses serious concern over Waln's spiritual state (a remarkable fact, considering Waln's spotless reputation in the Quaker community), and discusses his famous visit to George Washington's camp to try to dissuade the General from pursuing his war-like ways.

In his second letter, dated 1783 July 16, Mifflin considers the case of the notorious China Clows, condemned to be executed for murder. Although Mifflin considered Clows to be a "bad man," he remained rigidly true to his pacifism in opposing Clows' execution.

John Houston Mifflin's fourteen letters were mostly written while he was working as a semi-itinerant portrait painter in Augusta, Ga., 1835-1839. They provide details on the social and artistic life in Georgia, descriptions of Augusta itself, and a few brief discussions of John's aspirations as an artist and attempts to establish his reputation. The collection includes three rough pencil portraits by Mifflin of his recently deceased brother, James.

Finally, the collection includes one letter of the well-known woman physician, Susannah Wright (Houston), and one letter (from her granddaughter, Deborah Ann) about her. In the letter from Susannah Wright to her husband, John, she describes an ailment she has contracted from drinking warm water and her efforts to treat herself. Three medical receipts, included in a separate folder at the end of the collection, may also have been issued by Susannah Wright.

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