Bonsall Family.

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BIOGHIST REQUIRED The Bonsall family traces its North American ancestry back to Richard Bonsall (d. 1699), who left England with William Penn around the year 1683 to settle in Pennsylvania. Over the course of their history, the Bonsalls remained devoted members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. Well into the nineteenth century, much of their correspondence retained the use of "thee" and "thou" that were characteristic of Quaker plain speech, while months and days usually appeared in numeric rather than named form (for example, "1st month, 4th day= January 4") to disassociate them from pagan deities. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of the Bonsalls continued to reside in the Delaware Valley, especially in the areas surrounding Philadelphia, Germantown, and Chester, but, as the country began to expand westward, others moved out to Ohio, Illinois, and Colorado. The Bonsall heirs were chiefly occupied by real estate, transportation, surveying, and the law, from which they seem to have derived a comfortable, if not extravagant, living. A great part of the material in the collection concerns Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and his oldest son, Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888). The family of Spencer's wife, Ellen Crosby Martin, is also well represented.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879): Edward H. Bonsall was born in 1794 to Isaac Bonsall (1765-1831) and Mercy Milhous (1768-1805) of Philadelphia. His career as a conveyancer engaged him in the founding of the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad, of which he eventually became president. In addition to being an avid writer of letters, speeches, and poems, Bonsall was an active member of several learned and charitable organizations, including the Philadelphia Literary Association and the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. As revealed in a number of his writings, he also nurtured a lifelong interest in travel. His detailed travel notes record the history, surroundings, and landscape of various cities in Europe, Egypt, and a burgeoning industrial America. These accounts frequently incorporate records of his day-to-day travel arrangements and expenses.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888): Spencer Bonsall, the first son of Edward H. Bonsall and Lydia McIlvain (1795-1854), inherited his father's love for travel and history. He was educated at the Quaker Westtown Boarding School in Chester, Pennsylvania, where, as his correspondence reveals, he lived an active social life. After an apprenticeship to the druggist Samuel C. Sheppard, Spencer took a trip around the world, passing through Madeira, Portugal, and landing in Calcutta, India. In 1840, he returned to India where he secured a position with the Assam Tea Company. Upon his return to the United States eight years later, he became the principal surveyor for the city of Philadelphia, and shortly thereafter, in 1854, married Ellen Crosby Martin. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Spencer enlisted in the 81st Pennsylvania infantry as a hospital steward, where he served from 1861 until 1863 when he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. From 1869 to 1883 he served as an assistant librarian and genealogist at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

From the guide to the Bonsall Family Papers, 1683-1916, [Bulk Dates:1825-1875]., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Bonsall Family Papers, 1683-1916, [Bulk Dates:1825-1875]. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Assam Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Bonsall, Edward H., 1794-1879 person
associatedWith Bonsall, Richard. person
associatedWith Bonsall, Spencer, 1816-1888 person
associatedWith Penn, William, 1644-1718 person
associatedWith United States. corporateBody
associatedWith Westtown Boarding School. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Germantown (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Madeira (Madeira Islands)
United States


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Ark ID: w6gs2c46

SNAC ID: 17281333