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Joshua Gilpin journals and notebooks

Creation: 1790-1833
Accession: 0016


Merchant and paper manufacturer Joshua Gilpin (1765-1841) established the first paper mill in Delaware near Wilmington in partnership with his brother, Thomas (1776-1853), and uncle, Miers Fisher. Gilpin traveled extensively abroad from 1795 to 1801. The collection consists of 62 pocket journals and notebooks, the bulk of which date from Gilpin's European tour from 1795 to 1801.


  • Creation: 1790-1833



3 item(s)

Physical Description

3 microfilm reels.

Biographical Note

Joshua Gilpin (1765-1841) was a merchant and paper manufacturer. He was born in Philadelphia on November 8, 1765, the son of Thomas Gilpin (1728-1778), a merchant and flour miller. Gilpin inherited his father's business and in 1787 established Delaware's first paper mill on the Brandywine Creek near Wilmington with his brother, Thomas (1776-1853), and his uncle, Miers Fisher (1748-1819).

Gilpin made two extensive tours of England and Europe in 1795-1801 and 1811-1815, during which he examined many of the latest advances in technology and machinery. During his travels from 1795 to 1801, he spent most of his time in England with a distant relative, the Reverend William Gilpin (1724-1804). He, Joshua, made an excursion to Ireland in 1796 and, after the French Revolution abated, toured the Low Countries, France, and Switzerland. Gilpin followed the standard itinerary of the Grand Tour but also investigated agriculture, canals, roads, and manufacturing industries. Gilpin was a careful observer who recorded both conventional travel narratives and site descriptions and collected data on political and social conditions, wages, and the standard of living. His perspective was that of a Quaker with reforming impulses, exemplified by his interest in prisons and education. His extensive travels gave him a more cosmopolitan outlook than most Philadelphia Quakers, and he absorbed many tastes and attitudes of the English gentry with whom he lived. Gilpin's English connections permitted him to visit all the classic sites of the Industrial Revolution.

Gilpin made a second trip to England in 1811 to 1815, being stranded there during the War of 1812. On this second visit he collected information on the newly developed continuous papermaking machines of John Dickinson (1782-1869). His brother, Thomas, "invented" and patented a similar machine, the first of its kind in the U.S., in 1817. It was set up in the brothers' Brandywine Mill.

The Gilpins gave up their mercantile business in 1817 to concentrate on papermaking. Although successful, they suffered from a shortage of capital compounded by losses on other investments. They sold the paper mill in 1837.

Joshua Gilpin married Mary Dilworth (1777-1864) on August 5, 1800 in Yealand Conyers, Lancashire, England. They had eight children: Henry Dilworth (1801-1860), Sarah Lydia (1802-1894), Elizabeth (1805-1892), Jane (1806-1806), Thomas William (1806-1848), Mary Sophia (1810-1890), Richard Arthington (1812-1887), and William (1815-1894). In his later years, Joshua Gilpin lived in the style of an English country gentleman at his home, "Kentmere," near Wilmington. He died on August 22, 1841 and was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of sixty-two pocket journals and notebooks, the bulk of which date from Gilpin's European tour from 1795 to 1801. Volume 1 is a fragmentary account of the area around Boston and Marblehead, Massachusetts, part of a larger account of a tour through New England in 1790. Volumes 2 to 54 and 57 cover a European tour from 1795 to 1801.

Gilpin's journals give a detailed picture of the English Industrial Revolution, as he visited most of the landmark sites in England and Wales. At this time, the domestic and factory systems, as well as, hand and machine production existed side by side. Gilpin made numerous sketches of factories, mines and machinery. Gilpin's descriptions also included the following: potteries of Wales and Staffordshire; iron manufacture at Colebrookdale, including Henry Cort's puddling process; glass manufacture; the salt mines of Cheshire; the dockyards at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth; and textile manufacture at Leicester, Nottingham and Manchester. Gilpin enjoyed direct access to many of the leading inventors and industrialists. Matthew Boulton conducted him through the Birmingham mint.

Several notebooks are devoted to specific topics, such as Volume 55 which contains notes and drawings of canal structures, mostly from the Lancaster Canal. Volume 56 contains notes of the trade of Caracas, Venezuela. Volume 60 contains Gilpin's plan for a normal school. Volume 61 is devoted to papermaking, and volume 62 describes the vinyards and wines of Bordeaux. ansparent. Volume 58 is an inventory of Gilpin's books, silver and linens. Volume 59 is a petty cash ledger (1830-1833).

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Gilpin Family Papers (Collection 0238), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Fisher Family Papers, 1761-1889 (Collection 2094), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Language of Materials


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Joshua Gilpin journals and notebooks
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA