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Hesburgh Libraries

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Guide to the Samuel Preston Journal

MSN/EA 8012

 

Collection Summary

Title: Samuel Preston journal
Dates: 1788
Collection No.: MSN/EA 8012
Creator: Preston, Samuel, 1756-1834
Extent: 1 volume and 1 flat storage folder
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A manuscript journal of the Pennsylvania Quaker Samuel Preston, describing a 19-day trip on horseback through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, February-March 1788.

Selected Search Terms

United States--Description and travel--Early works to 1800
Pennsylvania--Description and travel--Early works to 1800
Maryland--Description and travel--Early works to 1800
Virginia--Description and travel--Early works to 1800
United States--History--Sources

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Samuel Preston Journal, [Collection and item number], Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Preston journal was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2012 from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia. Arranged and described 2013, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2014, by George Rugg.

Biographical Note

Samuel Preston was born on 17 June 1756 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on the Buckingham township farm of his parents, Paul and Hannah Fisher Preston. Paul Preston (1724-1806) was clerk of the Buckingham Meeting of Friends, and a man of literary, linguistic, and mathematical interests; Benjamin Franklin was an acquaintance. Samuel Preston was raised in Buckingham, and by the later 1780s was working as agent for several Philadelphia merchants, travelling through Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake to survey land or collect debts. Seven such trips from 1787-88 are known, on the basis of surviving journals. Three of these trips (May, October, and November 1787) were made to Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, to "negotiate business" for John Field and his partners; one trip, the subject of the present journal, was made to the near-frontier of southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and western Virginia, to collect debts for Field (February-March 1788); and three trips were made to inspect land for the firm of Abel James and Henry Drinker (or for Drinker alone), primarily in northeastern Pennsylvania (summer 1787 and summer and fall 1788). In 1789 Preston became Drinker's "joint and equal" local partner in a scheme to acquire and develop land on the Upper Delaware River, in what is now Wayne County, Pennsylvania. The following year Preston moved to this remote region, permanently, as it proved, founding and developing a settlement at Stockport premised on the region's rich timber resources and its river access to Philadelphia. In 1795 Preston married Marcia Jenkins in a civil ceremony at Stockport, an act which led to a declaration of disunion by the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. With the formation of Wayne County in 1798 Governor Mifflin appointed Preston associate judge. Preston died on 8 December 1834, at Stockport.

Scope and Content Note

The Preston journal is a single volume of 42 leaves, containing 80 pages of manuscript. It includes two separate travel narratives, authored by individuals acting as debt-collecting agents for the Philadelphia merchant and landowner John Field. The first and more substantial of the narratives is titled "Minutes of a Journey to the Westward for John Field" (1r); it was written by Samuel Preston during a 19-day trip on horseback through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, 11 February to 1 March 1788. Preston's journey took him from Philadelphia west to Lancaster, Middletown, Carlisle, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania; across "Mason and Dixon's Line" to Hagerstown and Williamsport in Maryland; over the Potomac to Martinsburg and Winchester in Virginia; and back to Philadelphia via Frederick, York, and Lancaster. Preston's journal runs to some 7500 words, with entries for each day of the trip. The narrative recounts his immediate business—i.e., seeking to resolve debts held by Field, ideally by collecting money from the debtors—but it also contains extended and engaging descriptions of the land, settlements, and commerce of the regions visited. Some of these settlements "beyond Susquehanna" were at this time adjacent to the backcountry, "and command[ed] the general run of the frontier Trade" (23r). The volume also contains a second, abbreviated journal by an anonymous writer, also a debt-collection agent for Field; this contains entries from 24 to 28 June 1788, and sees its author as far as Carlisle. Accompanying the volume is a certificate validating Preston's appointment to the judiciary of the Northampton County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas (1790).

Preston was, by all contemporaneous accounts, a voluble character, and his narrative is informed by opinion, digression, and not a little humor. The anonymous writer who took over his journal felt barely up to the task: "Influenced, in some measure (I confess myself) by the Example of that truly and literally great and exalted Genius S. Preston whose journal is contained on the preceding Pages and who has lately gone before me on the same Road and on a similar Occasion. I now begin an account of my Transactions on the present Journey—tho' without expecting to find Matter for so many learned and so many witty Observations as are contained in the preceding Work. . . ." (30v). For his own part, Preston concludes his narrative with the observation that he completed his trip ". . .in 19 days and spent in the whole Journey 9=4=6 considering the inclemency of the Season. . .few People would have went through the same fatigue in much less time and if this Journal is not wrote in a plain hand it was wrote altogether on my knee and not as difficult to read as many things I did." (28v).

Related Material

The Drinker Collection at the Pennsylvania Historical Society contains other journals of Preston's from 1787-88, and much on Preston generally, given his long association with Henry Drinker.

Container List

  • Journal. Samuel Preston and unidentified, 1788. Item 1 (MSN/EA 8012-1-B)
    1 volume.
    • Document. Samuel Preston certificate of appointment, 1790 April 12. Folder 1 (MSN/EA 8012-2-F1)
      1 item, partly printed (34 x 41 cm.).
      A partly printed document signed by Pennsylvania governor Thomas Mifflin, authorizing the appointment of Samuel Preston to the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.