Vaughan, John, 1756-1841

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John Vaughan (1756–1841, APS 1784) was a wine merchant, philanthropist, and long-time treasurer and librarian of the American Philosophical Society. A native of England, Vaughan moved to Philadelphia in 1782. He soon was one of the most respected members of Philadelphia society, largely because of his tireless support of numerous literary, scientific and benevolent causes. Over the course of his five decades of service to the American Philosophical Society, Vaughan met and corresponded with many eminent Americans and Europeans.

John Vaughan was born in London, England, in 1756. He was one of eleven children of Samuel Vaughan, a London merchant and West India planter, and Sarah Hallowell, daughter of Benjamin Hallowell, a Boston merchant and founder of Hallowell, Maine. Vaughan grew up in a liberal household. The family attended religious services by the dissenting minister and political radical Richard Price (1723-1791, APS 1785). His older brothers, Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835, APS 1786), who became a prominent diplomat and political reformer, and William Vaughan, who eventually served as the promoter of the London docks, resided with the dissenter Joseph Priestley (1733-1804, APS 1785) during their studies at the Warrington Academy. John apparently attended Palgrave School, a popular school for boys founded by the poet and essayist Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825) and her husband, the Reverend Rochemont Barbault.

In 1776, in preparation for a mercantile career, John Vaughan was sent abroad, first to Jamaica, where he spent one year, and then to France, where he arrived in 1778. While working for a merchant house in Bordeaux, Vaughan became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and his grandson William Temple Franklin (1760-1823, APS 1786). After the conclusion of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and France, Vaughan, who, as a British subject, was faced with possible arrest or deportation, declared himself an American. However, when he was unable to receive from the American minister a certificate to that effect, he removed to Spain. In 1782 Vaughan came to the United States. He settled in Philadelphia, where he became a prosperous wine merchant.

Vaughan almost immediately dedicated much of his energy and resources to the American Philosophical Society. He became a member in 1784, treasurer in 1791, and librarian in 1803, serving in these posts until his death in 1841. In his five decades of service under the presidencies of David Rittenhouse (1732-1796, APS 1768), Thomas Jefferson, Caspar Wistar (1761-1818, APS 1787), Robert M. Patterson (1787-1854, APS 1809), William Tilghman (1756-1827, APS 1805) and Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (1760-1844, APS 1791), Vaughan kept the society’s books and accounts, oversaw its publications, and carried on its extensive correspondence. He diligently worked to expand the society’s collections through requests for private donations, exchanges of material, and appeals to European and American learned societies to donate their publications. (Vaughan eventually bequeathed his own library of 600 volumes to the society.) In 1824 he compiled a catalog for the library which he hoped would one day become a National Library . He also acquired the catalogs of other libraries so that scholars working in the Philosophical Society would know what was available elsewhere. Vaughan contributed generously to the construction of Philosophical Hall, and in 1795 he made a subscription toward the proposed western expedition of the French botanist André Michaux (1749-1802).

John Vaughan was not a scholar or scientist himself. However, he encouraged and supported the work of scholars, especially those interested in Native American linguistics and ethnohistory, like his friend Du Ponceau. He obviously enjoyed the company and friendship of “learned men,” and he worked actively to introduce scholars to each other, either through his correspondence or personally. For example, he hosted Sunday breakfasts for visitors to Philadelphia, and he was a regular at the so-called Wistar Parties, that brought together companies of scholars for more formal gatherings. After 1822 Vaughan did not just work in Philosophical Hall; he also resided there. He had already been renting for several years the cellar for the storage of his wines and liquors. He now established his home in rooms formerly occupied by the studio and gallery of the painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872, APS 1835). In 1823, Sully painted the librarian’s portrait.

Vaughan was well-known to the citizens of Philadelphia. His reputation as a generous and “good” man was due not only to his work with the Philosophical Society, but also to his untiring commitment to be patron to all deserving young men. Indeed, Jared Sparks (1789-1866, APS 1837) described him as a “recommender-general of all schoolmasters, inventors, young men just entering on their professions, and every sort of personage, whose characters are good, and who can be benefited by his aid.” In 1838 a group of admirers founded the “Vaughan Club” to honor their friend. Members were required to bring a bottle of the finest and rarest wine to their annual meetings. The meeting could not be adjourned until every bottle had been consumed.

Vaughan was particularly admired for his philanthropic activities. “Who is there here who does not know Mr. John Vaughan?,” asked the Boston Daily Courier in the fall of 1841, when Vaughan was in his late eighties. “His doctrine is good works, and his practice squares with it.” He was an active member of the First Congregational Unitarian Church, where he occasionally occupied the pulpit. He also belonged to many local learned and philanthropic societies, and he served as officer in most. He was president of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, president of the Society of Sons of St. George, a director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, vice president of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, a trustee of the Unitarian Society, and a councilor of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Athenian Institute. Furthermore, he was secretary and treasurer of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Insurance Company of North America and of the Delaware Insurance Company; and an agent of the firm of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company.

In 1841 Vaughan, who never married, died in his rooms in Philosophical Hall. The beneficiaries of his bequest included his friend Jacob Snider, Jr., who had been brought up by Vaughan, as well as various learned and philanthropic societies, including the APS. His funeral was attended by numerous respected citizens and representatives of the charitable and learned institutions he had supported during his life. A printed card that was circulated among those in attendance described John Vaughan simply as a man “Who went about doing good.”

Vaughan’s fifty years of service to the Philosophical Society were overshadowed by the discovery after his death that he had mingled the Society’s funds with his own. As a result, the Philosophical Society never published a biographical memoir of its long-term librarian and treasurer.

From the guide to the John Vaughan papers, 1768 - Circa 1936, 1768 - Circa 1936, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
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referencedIn Thomas Jefferson, letters to and from various persons, 1791-1840, 1791-1840 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Duane Family Collection, 1764-1933 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Accademia delle scienze di Torino correspondence with Philadelphia institutions, 1824-1912, 1824-1912 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Livingston, Brockholst, 1757-1823. Letter, 1794. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Vaughan, Benjamin, 1751-1835. Papers, 1746-1900 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Historical and Literary Committee, American Indian Vocabulary Collection, 1784-1828 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn William Temple Franklin Papers, 1775-1819 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Joseph Priestley Papers, 1771-1803 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Burns, Robert, 1759-1796. Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1775-1796. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Benjamin Franklin Papers Part 3 -- Letters to Franklin, 1778 April-December American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Autograph File, V, 1476-1947. Houghton Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIb, 1807-1825 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Kane, Thomas Leiper, 1822-1883. Papers, [ca. 1840]-1878. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Thomas Jefferson papers, 1775-1825, 1775-1825 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Robert M. (Robert Maskell) Patterson papers, 1775-1853, 1775-1853 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Joel Barlow papers, 1779-1936 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810. Letter : Boston, to John Vaughan, Philadelphia, 1793 Feb. 7. Texas Christian University
referencedIn Wollstonecroft, Charles, 1770-1817. Letter, 1795. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Benjamin Silliman correspondence, 1808-1859, 1808-1859 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Benjamin Franklin Papers Part 9 -- Letters to Franklin, 1787-1790 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Barton, Benjamin Smith, 1766-1815. Correspondence, 1786-1815. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Vaughan, Charles, 1759-1839. Letter, to John Vaughan, 1820. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
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creatorOf Vaughan, John, 1756-1841. Letter, to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1786. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
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referencedIn Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Benjamin Franklin notes and memoranda, 1836-1840 Houghton Library
creatorOf Vaughan, John, 1755-1841. Papers, 1768 - ca. 1936 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. ALS : Washington, [D.C.], to John Vaughan, [Philadelphia, Pa.], 1808 June 22. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Wragg, John. Letter, to John Vaughan, 1818. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
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referencedIn Du Pont de Nemours family. Papers relating to the American Philosophical Society, 1800-1894 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn North American Land Company ledger, 1795-1805, 1795-1805 American Philosophical Society
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referencedIn Michaux, François André, 1770-1855. Papers, 1802-1911. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Charles Willson Peale letterbooks, 1767-1827, 1767-1827 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Toulmin, Harry, 1766-1823. Letter, 1796. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society. American Philosophical Society selected records, 1784-1954. Archives of American Art
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referencedIn Lewis and Clark Journals, 1804-1806 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Francois André Michaux papers, 1802-1911, 1802-1911 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Scientists Collection, 1563-1973 American Philosophical Society
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referencedIn Papers of Stephen Elliot 1808-1828 Gray Herbarium Library
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referencedIn Sullivan, William, 1774-1839. Letter, 1828. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Materials for a biography, [ca. 1946-1962], of David Hosack, Circa 1946-1962 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Vaughan Club. Papers, 1838-1841. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Thomas Addis Emmet collection, 1483-1876 (bulk:1700-1800) New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIj, 1898-1988 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIc, 1826-1836 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Priestley, Joseph, 1733-1804. Letters, 1795-1796. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn George William Featherstonhaugh papers, 1809-1840, 1809-1840 American Philosophical Society
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referencedIn Peale-Sellers family collection, 1686-1963 American Philosophical Society
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associatedWith Gilmer, Francis W person
associatedWith Gilmer, Francis Walker, 1790-1826 person
associatedWith Girard, Stephen, 1750-1831 person
associatedWith Gitchell, John person
associatedWith God person
associatedWith Godon, S person
associatedWith Godon, Silvain, ca. 1774-1840 person
associatedWith Godon, Silvan person
associatedWith Goodacre, Robert, fl. 1847 person
associatedWith Gore, C person
associatedWith Gorham, John person
associatedWith Gould, Alicia Bache person
associatedWith Grant, E Frances Vaughan person
associatedWith Grant, Elizabeth F. Vaughan person
associatedWith Grant, William S person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Gray, Thomas person
associatedWith Gray, William person
associatedWith Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872 person
correspondedWith Greenwood, F. W. P. (Francis William Pitt), 1797-1843 person
associatedWith Gregoire person
associatedWith Gregoire, Henri, 1750-1831 person
associatedWith Griffin, Bristo person
associatedWith Griffin, John person
associatedWith Griffin, Lucy person
correspondedWith Griffiths, Elijah, 1769-1847 person
associatedWith Grigby, J person
associatedWith Grouchy, Emmanuel, marquis de, 1766-1847 person
associatedWith Guild, Eliza person
associatedWith Hackney, R. V person
associatedWith Hahnemann person
associatedWith Hainell, John person
associatedWith Hale, Edward Everett, 1822-1909. person
associatedWith Hall, C. H person
associatedWith Hall, Newman, 1816-1902 person
associatedWith Hallowell, B person
associatedWith Hallowell, Robert person
associatedWith Hallowell, S person
associatedWith Hamer, P. M person
associatedWith Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804 person
associatedWith Hamilton, Andrew person
associatedWith Hancock, John, 1737-1793 person
associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
associatedWith Harlan, Richard, 1796-1843 person
associatedWith Harlowe, Harris person
associatedWith Harris, Levett person
associatedWith Harrison, Charles Custis, 1844-1929 person
associatedWith Harrison, Richard person
associatedWith Harrison, Richard. person
correspondedWith Harris, Thaddeus Mason, 1768-1842 person
associatedWith Harris, Thaddeus William, 1795-1856 person
associatedWith Hart, Charles Henry person
associatedWith Hartford Natural History Society corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University Observatory person
associatedWith Haslam, John person
associatedWith Hasluck, Richard person
associatedWith Hassan, Abal person
correspondedWith Hassler, F. R. (Ferdinand Rudolph), 1770-1843 person
associatedWith Hawkins, John person
correspondedWith Hawkins, John Isaac, 1772-1855 person
associatedWith Hays, I. Minis (Isaac Minis), 1847-1925. person
associatedWith Heath, Caleb person
associatedWith Heberden, William, 1710-1801 person
associatedWith Henning ? person
associatedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Hentz, Caroline Lee, 1800-1856 person
correspondedWith Hentz, Nicholas Marcellus, 1797-1856 person
associatedWith Herfford, Brooke person
associatedWith Herrick, Israel person
associatedWith Hewson, Thomas T. person
associatedWith Heywood and Thompson person
associatedWith Heywood & Thompson person
associatedWith Hibben, John Grier, 1861-1933 person
associatedWith Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, 1823-1911 person
associatedWith H. M. B person
correspondedWith Hodgson, William Brown, 1800-1871 person
correspondedWith Holbrook, John Edwards, 1794-1871. person
correspondedWith Hollinshead, Benjamin M person
associatedWith Hopkinson, Joseph, 1770-1842 person
associatedWith Horner, A. person
correspondedWith Horsfield, Thomas, 1773-1859 person
associatedWith Hoskins, Francis person
associatedWith Howell, J. person
associatedWith Howell, Thomas person
associatedWith Howe, S. G. (Samuel Gridley), 1801-1876 person
associatedWith Hoyt, E person
associatedWith Hughes, Benjamin person
correspondedWith Hulings, William Empson person
associatedWith Humboldt, Alexander von, 1769-1859. person
correspondedWith Humphreys, Joshua, 1751-1838 person
associatedWith Hunter, John, 1728-1793 person
associatedWith Hunter, John, d. 1809 person
associatedWith Ingenhousz, Jan, 1730-1799. person
associatedWith Ingersoll, Joseph R. (Joseph Reed), 1786-1868 person
associatedWith Institut de France. Bibliothèque person
associatedWith Irving, Washington, 1783-1859. person
associatedWith Izard, J. Allen Smith person
correspondedWith Izard, Ralph, 1742-1804 person
associatedWith Jackson, James person
associatedWith Jackson, Jonathan person
associatedWith James, William person
associatedWith Jarvis, Edward person
associatedWith Jay, John, 1745-1829. person
associatedWith Jay, William person
associatedWith J. D person
associatedWith Jean Baptiste Marie person
associatedWith Jefferies, Edward person
associatedWith Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. person
associatedWith Jeffries, Edward person
associatedWith Jenner, Edward, 1749-1823 person
associatedWith J. J person
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associatedWith Johnston, David person
associatedWith Johnston, John Taylor, 1820-1893 person
associatedWith Jones, C. person
associatedWith Jones, John person
associatedWith Joshua Wingate and Son person
associatedWith Julius, N. H. (Nicolaus Heinrich), 1783-1862 person
associatedWith Kane, Thomas Leiper, 1822-1883. person
associatedWith Kennebec agricultural society person
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associatedWith Knight, Isaiah person
associatedWith Knoop, G. person
associatedWith Kuhn, Otto person
associatedWith Lady Lansdowne person
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correspondedWith Lambert, Wm. (William), 1772-1824 person
associatedWith Langdon Parker Marvin, Mr. person
associatedWith Langdon Parker Marvin, Mrs. person
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associatedWith Lansing, Robert, 1864-1928 person
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correspondedWith Latrobe, Benjamin Henry, 1764-1820 person
associatedWith Laura person
associatedWith Laurens, Henry, 1724-1792 person
associatedWith Le Bel de Marguy person
associatedWith Ledyard, Abigail Hempsted person
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associatedWith Lee, E person
associatedWith Lee, E. V person
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associatedWith Lee, Richard Henry, 1794-1865 person
associatedWith Lee, William person
associatedWith Le Favre, Nicholas person
associatedWith Legg, Jane person
associatedWith Leigh, Agnes person
associatedWith Leigh, Egerton, 1762-1818 person
associatedWith L. E. R person
associatedWith Le Ray de Chaumont, J. (James), 1760-1841 person
associatedWith Lesueur, Charles Alexandre, 1778-1846 person
associatedWith Lewis, Meriwether, 1774-1809 person
associatedWith Lewis, Thomas and son person
associatedWith L., H. person
associatedWith Lieber, Francis, 1800-1872 person
associatedWith