Leiper, Thomas, 1745-1825

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Thomas Leiper was born December 15, 1745 in Strathaven, Lanark, Scotland. He was educated at Glasgow and Edinburgh and immigrated to America in 1763, landing in Virginia where his brother already resided. He was immediately introduced into the business of tobacco, and within several years moved to Philadelphia where he opened a tobacco shop and "engaged in the storing and exportation of tobacco," (Leach). During the Revolutionary War, Leiper became the principal tobacco provider in Philadelphia. In 1776, Leiper purchased land in Delaware County that included a mill at a waterfall on the Crum Creek. He established snuff mills and later purchased a stone quarry. In addition to Leiper’s tobacco business being very successful, over approximately 20 years, he “acquired a total of 728 acres following Crum Creek to the Delaware River,” (Leiper Church). According to Leach, Leiper "amassed a large fortune, which enabled him to subscribe freely to the improvement of Philadelphia and that part of Delaware County in the neighborhood of "Avondale," his country residence."

Leiper was one of the founders of the first troop of Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia, and served in the Revolutionary War, seeing action at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and York. Along with his troop, he acted as bodyguard for George Washington and as a defender in the "Fort Wilson Riot" which took place at the home of James Wilson. While most sources state that Leiper served as lieutenant and treasurer of that troop, other sources indicate that he served as a private. Politically, Leiper was a democrat. He served as a presidential elector, director of the Banks of Pennsylvania and the United States, and served as President of the Philadelphia City Council from 1802 to 1805. He also served as a member and President of the Common Council of Philadelphia in 1813. He had much interaction with politicians in the early republic including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, to whom he rented a house in Philadelphia.

Leiper’s quarry produced granite for “curbstones in Philadelphia … door steps for city homes, … buildings on the Swarthmore College campus, homes in Swarthmore, and … the Leiper Church,” (Leiper Church). In part due to the success of Leiper’s quarry business, Leiper was faced with a growing problem in transporting the stone to Philadelphia and the surrounding area. According to Leiper Church, “in wet weather, the wagons became bogged down on the dirt roads and since Crum Creek was not navigable, barge transportation was not an option.” Therefore, Leiper first requested permission to build a canal (which was not approved) and approximately 20 years later, built a railroad from his quarries to a spot on Ridley Creek which was navigable.

Leiper married Elizabeth Gray, daughter of Speaker of the House of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, in 1778. They had 13 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood. Leiper died on July 6, 1825.

Soon after his death, his descendents started a two vat paper mill which was managed by John Holmes in 1826, and by George G. Leiper in 1829 until it burned in 1836. The two snuff mills were operated, along with the eight mulls and two cutting machines, until 1845. Thomas Leiper had also started "a tilt- or bade-mill, with Nathum Keys as operator, and in 1826, his yearly output was 200 dozens of scythes and straw knives," (Jordan, page 364). George G. Leiper operated it until 1830. In 1843, Leiper's estate was divided.

Many of Thomas Leiper's descendents were involved in his business, called Thomas Leiper and Sons, which continued to operate until 1946. Thomas Leiper's sons George Gray Leiper, Samuel McKean Lieper and William J. Leiper appear to have been most involved with the continued operation of Lieper's business. George Gray Leiper was born on February 3, 1786 and educated at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to building the canal which his father had tried to build, George Leiper served in the Pennsylvania Congress from 1822 to 1823 and in the United States Congress from 1829 to 1831. He was also appointed associate judge of the Delaware County circuit court. George Leiper's family business work included logging, bark mills and stone quarries. He died on November 18, 1868. His son John C. Leiper became involved in the business. George Leiper's brother Samuel McKean Leiper, was born August 20, 1806 and was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1826. His involvement with the family business began "when he attained majority, [and] had direction, in connection with his brothers, of the extensive snuff manufactory and tobacco business established by his father," (Old Chester Pennsylvania). Samuel Leiper died February 17, 1854. Samuel had at least three sons: Captain Thomas Irvine, General Charles Lewis Leiper (both of whom served in the Civil War) and Callender Irvine Leiper. It appears that Callender I. Leiper operated the quarries at Avondale after the death of his father. Throughout the history of the Leiper mills, fire destroyed much and resulted in changes of hand. A full history of the Leiper descendents' involvement in the business is currently unknown.


Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=L000234 (accessed October 8, 2010).

Jordan, John W. A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and Its People . New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1914.

Leach, Ken. Appraisal of Thomas Leiper and family business records. 1988

Leiper Presbyterian Church. http://leiperchurch1818.tripod.com/id2.html (accessed February 25, 2010).

Old Chester Pennsylvania. Biographies. http://www.oldchesterpa.com/biographies.htm (access October 8, 2010).

From the guide to the Thomas Leiper and family business records, 1771-1947, (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Leiper, Thomas, 1745-1825. Invitation : Philadelphia, 1819 May 12. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Leiper Railroad. Collection, 1809-1972. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
referencedIn Nathan Sellers records, 1771-1844, 1771-1844 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Leiper, Thomas, 1745-1825. Leiper family letters [manuscript] 1809-46. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Sellers, Nathan, 1751-1830. Records, 1771-1844. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Hamilton & Hood papers, 1806-1828 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Thomas Jefferson papers, 1606-1943 (bulk 1775-1826). Library of Congress
referencedIn Patterson, Robert Maskell, 1787-1854. Papers, 1775-1853. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Leiper family. Papers of the Leiper and Patterson families [manuscript], 1809-1905. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1943, (bulk 1775-1826) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Robert M. (Robert Maskell) Patterson papers, 1775-1853, 1775-1853 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Elisha Kent Kane Papers, Bulk, 1843-1857, 1810-1953 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Sellers family. Business records, 1774-1834 [microform]. Hagley Museum & Library
creatorOf Thomas Leiper and family business records, 1771-1947 Library Company of Philadelphia
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Connelly, John. person
associatedWith Democratic Party (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Hamilton & Drew corporateBody
associatedWith Hamilton & Hood corporateBody
associatedWith Hamilton, John person
associatedWith Hood, John M. person
correspondedWith Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. person
associatedWith Kane, Elisha Kent, 1820-1857 person
associatedWith Leiper family. family
associatedWith Leiper, George Gray, 1786-1868 person
associatedWith Leiper Railroad. corporateBody
associatedWith Leiper, Samuel McKean, 1806-1854 person
associatedWith Patterson, Robert, 1743-1824 person
associatedWith Patterson, Robert Maskell, 1787-1854. person
associatedWith Pennsylvania. Militia. Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith Sellers family. family
associatedWith Sellers, Nathan, 1751-1830. person
associatedWith Thomas Leiper & Sons, Tobacconists. corporateBody
associatedWith Wetherill, Samuel, 1736-1816. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Pennsylvania--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
Quarries and quarrying
United States--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
Tobacco industry
Real property


Birth 1745-12-15

Death 1825-07-06


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