The Darlington Autograph Files comprise an array of documents authored or signed by various historical figures between 1610 and 1914. It consists of 601 documents, some related to one another through specific historical events while others were collected by the Darlington family for their rarity. The Darlington family had an interest in collecting and preserving the history of western Pennsylvania and purportedly amassed the largest private library west of the Allegheny Mountains.
This collection broadly displays the historical interests of William Darlington and his wife, Mary Carson O’Hara Darlington. The colonial period, French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, Whiskey Rebellion, westward expansion, and other topics were of particular interest to the family. Many of these items are clearly in the realm of interest of the Darlington family who collected rare books and manuscripts related to geography, literature, and the history of western Pennsylvania.
Many of the items are from such notable figures as Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, William Penn, Robert Fulton, Robert R. Livingston, and Patrick Henry. Prominent citizens of the Pittsburgh area are also represented in the collection, with letters and other documents from Mary Croghan Schenley, James O’Hara, William Wilkins, Presley Neville, and Richard Butler, among others.
Some of the earliest items within the collection document the personal and business correspondence of the Penn family fromas early as 1641, including the division of land between Lord Baltimore and William Penn in 1685. Many of the assembled records describe events in western Pennsylvania. Letters and other items from George Croghan, a seventeenth century settler, fur trader, and Indian agent stationed at Fort Pitt, and his extended family are part of the collection. Among these items is a bill of sale to William Croghan, Jr. for four slaves. Later Croghan family letters include those between his infamous granddaughter, Mary Croghan Schenley, who eloped with the much older Captain Edward Schenley. Additionally, there are letters to Mary’s father from Captain Schenley and others written during the time of the scandal, which garnered a worldwide audience in the early 1840s. Other items include letters from General Edward Braddock and Brigadier General Edward Hand written while he was stationed at Fort Pitt.
Many pieces in the collection are from renowned military and political figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They include Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Henry Knox, William McKinley, Jr., Alexander Hamilton, Arthur St. Clair, Andrew Jackson, Gouverner Morris, and Albert Gallatin among others. Foreign leaders represented in the collection are the Marquis de Lafayette, King George III, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Quite a few of the documents’ authors have backgrounds in artistic and scholarly professions. They include John Ormsby (1829-1895), a British translator known for his translation of
Don Quixote de la Mancha; Henry Wickham Steed (1871-1956), a British journalist and historian; and famed British stage actor, Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905).
While most of the documents are original, a small number are photocopies, handwritten copies, typed transcripts, or other forms of surrogate records, all of which are noted as such. A number of the handwritten copies were made for business purposes at the time the original was created and, in some cases, years or decades later. These items are denoted by the bracketed term [duplicate]. Modern hand-written copies are denoted by the bracketed term [copy]. Additionally, some items have accompanying transcripts.
In some instances the year of an undated item may be known due to references to events in the document, as with some of the Croghan family letters, the date is indicated in brackets. Other information enclosed in brackets include comments about the item being described, such as the language in which it is written or, in one case, a note about an exceptional watermark. Many individuals represented in the collection had one or more military titles during their lifetime. However, in the contents list a military title is only used when the title and last name are the only types of identification used in a document. Although it is not documented in the inventory, occasionally a note, news clipping, or paper describing an event or person has been included with the item, presumably accumulated by library staff. Item level description is not provided, only the names of the correspondents, signatories, and dates are given.
A volume created by William Darlington, which contains letters and engraving of William Penn and his family, is found within the collection. Oversize materials are found in box 8; please note that they may be related to other materials of interest in the collection.