Gilbert Cope Papers

Collection Title: Gilbert Cope Papers

Collection Number: 119

Dates of Collection: 1757-1928

Box Numbers: 1-12

RepositoryChester County Historical Society


Gilbert Cope (1840-1928), authored historical works on Chester County as well as genealogies of prominent local families.  Born on his father’s farm in East Bradford Township in 1840, he was the youngest of eight children to Joseph and Eliza Gilbert Cope.  Cope received his education from the Friends’ School at Westtown and published his first work, The Cope Family, in 1861.  After his father’s death in 1872, Cope left his family’s farm and relocated to West Chester where he would remain for the majority of his life.  After moving into his own home he began to compile the historical and genealogical collection that would become the basis for his publications and livelihood.  He married Anna Garrett in 1880 and had four children.  In 1881 he published, with J. Smith Futhey, History of Chester County, With Genealogical and Biographical Sketches, his most well known work of history. 

Cope copied and preserved an assortment of Chester County records with a particular focus on Quaker documents of which he recorded and saved a wealth of genealogical information. In 1905 and 1907 he traveled to London with his wife to copy early Quaker Meeting records. He was one of the founders of the Chester County Historical Society in 1893 and served as secretary and director for twenty-seven years.  Throughout his career he was a member of a number of historical and genealogical societies including the Friends Historical Association, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The New England Genealogical Society, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, and was the president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies in 1911-12.  Cope took an interest in photography in the late 1880s and began taking photographs of ChesterCounty and its families.  His photographs complimented his genealogical research and also became a source of income as Cope sold his services as well as prints.  Cope also created an ancestral chart that he marketed and sold to genealogists.

After the death of his wife in 1918, Cope with the assistance of his son Herman sold his enormous collection of genealogical and historical manuscripts to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.**  In 1920, Cope moved to Delaware County to live with Herman and his family.  Cope continued to assist researchers and answer correspondence to the end of his life.  He died in 1928 at the home of his son.

**The Historical Society of Pennsylvania still holds the majority of Gilbert Cope’s genealogical and historical manuscripts.  See Gilbert Cope Historical and Genealogical Collection, HSP

For additional information:

Cope, Family files, CCHC

Cope, Gilbert, clippings, CCHC

Related Collections at CCHC:

Gilbert Cope photograph collection

Collections Scope:

The majority of the collection is made up of Gilbert Cope’s family and business correspondence.  The majority of the letters authored by Gilbert Cope were written later in his life.  The bulk of the collection contains letters written between 1875 and 1925.  Letters to Gilbert Cope include correspondence related to his genealogical and historical research as well as social and familial relations.  Includes Cope’s endeavors as a historian, genealogist, photographer and investor/financier. In addition to Cope family letters the collection also contains a portion of Gilbert Cope’s genealogical collection. Included are letters of the West, Worth, Sharpless, Townsend, and Smedley families along with other Chester County families.   

Collection Arrangement:

The collection is arranged as follow:

Series I, Box 1-8       –          Cope correspondence sorted by author

Series II, Box 9         –          Cope correspondence sorted by subject

Series III, Box 10      –          Cope correspondence sorted by organization/business

Series IV, Box 10     –          Cope non-correspondence

Series V, Box 10      –          West family correspondence

Series VI, Box 11     –          Worth family correspondence

Series VII, Box 12    –          Sharpless family correspondence

Series VIII, Box 12   –          Townsend/Smedley family correspondence

Series IX, Box 12     –          Miscellaneous Chester County family

correspondence collection

Series X, Box 12      –          Arthur P. Reid estate, correspondence

Series I through IV

Includes correspondence of Gilbert Cope and his family; correspondence related to his work as an historian and genealogist.  The bulk of the letters are requests for information, publications or Cope’s genealogical charts.  The second most prominent subject area includes more detailed correspondence dealing with historical and genealogical issues.  The collection also contains Gilbert Cope’s family letters including letters from brothers, sisters and in-laws as well as the correspondence of Cope’s three children (Herman, Ellen and Joseph) and family members who farmed in Eastern Ohio [in the vicinity of Wheeling WV].

Included in Series I-IV is the correspondence of Howard W. Gilbert [Gilbert Cope’s uncle who was a poet and writer].  Series IV contains 9 folders of non-correspondence that includes bills/receipts, invitations/notices, contract, essays, speech, trade cards/circulars. 


Series V though IX

Collection also contains letters of the Sharpless, West, Worth, Townsend and Smedley families collected by Gilbert Cope during his genealogical and historical research in the late 19th and early twentieth century. These portions of the collection are sorted into Series V through X.  Most of the letters in these series are from the first half of the 19th century with a few from the late 18th century.


The following provides a brief content description of Series V through X:

Series V—West Family Correspondence, Box 10

Letters addressed to David West and his siblings.  West was born in GoshenTownship, ChesterCounty and spent the majority of his life farming land in ChesterCounty.  For additional information: Samuel Wiley, Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Chester County Pennsylvania, p. 271-2.  Relevant information appears under the heading Wilmar W. West.


Series VI—Worth Family Correspondence, Box 11

Worth family collection contains correspondence from Joseph Elkington and Joseph Evans to Ebenzer Worth related to Indian affairs (1840s to 1860s).  Bulk of the letters are correspondence between Ebenezer Worth and American Indians living on the Allegheny Reservation in Tunessassah/Great Valley, New York. Also includes correspondence from the Worth family addressed to Ebenezer Worth.


Series VII—Sharpless Family Correspondence, Box 12

Majority of the letters authored by Isaac and Joshua Sharpless of BirminghamTownship, ChesterCounty written between the 1790s and the 1810s.  See Sharpless Family Collection #112 for more details and additional material.

Series VIII—Townsend/Smedley Correspondence, Box 12

Nineteenth century letters addressed to members of the Townsend and Smedley families.  Includes nine letters from Enos and Aaron Reed Kellogg of Greenwood, Pennsylvania written between 1819 and 1830.


Series IX—MiscellaneousChesterCounty families correspondence collection, Box 12

Assortment of letters authored by a number of prominent Chester County families. 

Series X—Arthur P. Reid estate, correspondence, Box 12  

Includes letters written and addressed to member of the Reid family, 1775-1836.  

Related Material:

For additional information on Gilbert Cope, please see the family files on the Copes and the newspaper clippings on Gilbert Cope. For photographs related to Gilbert Cope, please see the Gilbert Cope Photograph Collection.

Collections Contents: