Skip to main content

Wetherill Family Papers

Identifier: SC MS 0163

Scope and Contents

The collection contains 25 documents including 11 letters, a petition encouraging the building of a canal on the Schuylkill River, four receipts, an invoice, an expense ordinance, two pages of proxies, three public notices from Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co., two printed publications, and one map. The attempted chronology is from no date given to 1867-68. The core of the collection is the group of letters dated generally around 1805-06 regarding a lawsuit concerning the steam boilers in the Philadelphia Water Works. The items are filed in 20 archival legal size folders with each item in a Mylar sleeve, the map due to its size in filed separately.


  • Creation: Mid 18th century to the mid 19th century


Conditions Governing Access

Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

The Wetherill family for over a century was prominent in Philadelphia public life as merchants, manufacturers, chemists and public servants. Among their public works were affiliation with a manufacturers society promoting local industry, the Philadelphia Water Works, the Schuylkill Navigation Company, the Schuylkill Canal, the Philadelphia Bar, the Society of Free Quakers, and with along Stephen Girard and Nicholas Biddle the Second Bank of the United States.

Samuel Wetherill (1736-1816), patriot and pioneer, came to Philadelphia prior to the Revolution from New Jersey as a carpenter but seeing a need for cloth making changed his trade to weaver. He soon recognized that the Colonies needed to manufacture their own chemicals rather than depend on imports from England. He established Wetherill & Sons, as druggists, oil and colormen at 65 N. Front St. manufacturing chemicals especially “Wetherill’s White Lead”. At this location the family established a reputation as druggists/chemists and manufacturers of assorted items. The family of chemists included: Samuel Sr. (1736-1816), Samuel Jr. (1764-1829), John Price (Samuel’s son), Dr. William, an uncle, Joseph and Dr. Charles M. Wetherill (1824-1871), a chemist. Samuel Sr. supported the Revolution and provided clothing for Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. He founded the Society of Free Quakers (known as the “Fighting Quakers”) was an eminent preacher as well as an industrious and clever entrepreneur. He enthusiastically promoted the formation of a manufacturers society in Philadelphia. He was very active in civic matters of Philadelphia being appointed to many Select Committees, especially the Philadelphia Water Works and the Schuylkill Navigation Company.

Samuel Jr. joined his father in the drugstore and in 1789 established the first white-lead factory in the United States. Wetherill’s drugstore became the oldest and most extensive manufacturer of chemicals in the country. In 1828, S.P. Wetherill was asked by the Franklin Institute to provide smelted samples of lead, a product of the Perkiomen mines, lead being one of the Commonwealth’s mineral resources for the purpose of making lead shot. Samuel Jr. also was prominent in public affairs being affiliated with the Philadelphia Bar attaching “Esquire” to his name and arbitrating lawsuits as some of the documents in the collection indicate.

John Price Wetherill followed in the druggist business with his uncle, Dr. William Wetherill but also had an interest in steam propulsion – boats as well as railroads. The Franklin Institute (established 1824 to promote and encourage manufactures and mechanics and useful arts) has an award named the John Price Wetherill Medal. John Price Wetherill, the younger, served on a citizens’ committee for the Constitutional Union Convention representing the Democratic Party prior to the Civil War. He was also involved in the local militia.

Dr. William Wetherill (c. 1835) authored a paper “Chemical and Medical Researches on Kreosote.”

Joseph Wetherill (also had name spelled Weatherill) another member of the family was involved with the Philadelphia Bar as well as a money lender also located at 65 North Front St.

Dr. Charles M. Wetherill (1824-1871) was the first chemist appointed in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln to the new U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also was a professor of chemistry at Lehigh University (1866-1871). He authored a paper “Manufacture of Vinegar, its Theory and Practice” in 1860.

It is the manufacture of white lead that the Wetherill family seems to have its renown but this collection reflects their involvement with the Philadelphia Water Works and the Schuylkill Canal.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 Box)

Language of Materials



This collection contains documents reflecting a time frame from mid 18th century to mid 19th century. The Wetherill family was a Philadelphia Quaker family prominent in manufacture and civic leadership. The documents specifically indicate a family interest in the Philadelphia Water Works, the Schuylkill Navigation Company and promoting the establishment of the Schuylkill Canal.


The Materials are arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased in 2004

Related Materials

History of Philadelphia 1609-1884, by J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, 3 volumes; Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1884.

Philadelphia and Her Merchants, by Abraham Ritter, 1860

The Compendium of American Genealogy, Institute of American Genealogy, 1933, v.5, p. 564.

Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, by William Wade Hinshaw, 1938, v. II.

Wetherill Family Papers
Eleanor Nothelfer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA
610-758-6091 (Fax)