Summary Information
Title: William Pitt Family Papers
Collection Number: DAR.1925.08
Creator: Pitt family
Creator: Pitt, William, Earl of Chatham, 1708-1778

Collection Dates: 1757-1804
Extent: 0.42 linear feet (1 box)

Language: English

William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, for which Pittsburgh and Chatham University are named, was born in 1708 to a merchant family. He rose to great heights in British politics, serving at various times as a member of Parliament, secretary of state, and prime minister. Most of this collection consists of letters sent from Pitt’s wife, Hester, to Alexander Hood, who lent the couple money during times of financial instability. The remainder of the collection contains assorted documents detailing some of the political activities of Pitt as well his son, William Pitt the Younger. Digital reproductions of this collection are available online.

ULS Archives Service Center
University of Pittsburgh Library System
7500 Thomas Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Date Published:

July 2007

Finding aid prepared by Matthew Strauss.
Revision Description:
November 2009:
Controlled access terms revised (dar)


Born in 1708 to a merchant family, William Pitt rose to great heights in British politics, serving at various times as a Member of Parliament, secretary of state, and prime minister. Educated at Eton & Trinity College, Cambridge, Pitt began his political career in Parliament in 1735 after assuming a seat vacated by his older brother. Referred to as the "Great Commoner," Pitt stood apart from most of his colleagues for his willingness to court public support, criticize those in power, and promote the interests of the colonists abroad. Pitt married Hester Grenville, daughter of Richard Grenville and Countess Temple, in 1754.

In 1756, Pitt became secretary of state during the early stages of the Seven Years' War. During his tenure, Pitt focused the country's military strategy on confronting the French at sea and in the colonial areas of both North America and India. He also rallied public support behind the war effort and strengthened relations with Prussia. These actions greatly contributed to Britain's success in the war. He is also sometimes referred to as Britain's first Imperialist, who paved the way for expansion into North America, India, and Africa.

In 1766, Pitt was invited by King George III to become prime minister, at which point he accepted the title of Earl of Chatham. He selected cabinet members with varying political ideas which resulted in a divided administration. Pitt also suffered from chronic gout, and spent much of his term in seclusion. After two years in office, the statesman resigned and retreated to Hayes, his estate on the outskirts of London in Kent. During this time, Hester, Pitt's wife, looked after most of his affairs as his deteriorating condition left him at times unable to write or see visitors.

The following years were marked by illness and financial trouble. When his health permitted, Pitt continued to make sporadic appearances before the House of Lords, most notably speaking in defense of the North American colonists and their grievances. He argued that concessions should be made in order to appease the colonists and avoid war. William Pitt died in 1778.

William Pitt the Younger followed his father into a career in politics, becoming prime minister in 1783 at the age of 23. Influenced by the writings of Adam Smith, he reduced tariffs and government spending while levying new taxes in an effort to lower the debt resulting from the American Revolution. In 1793, following the French Revolution, France attacked Britain, prompting Pitt to form a number of ultimately unsuccessful coalitions with other European states. Pitt also introduced restrictive measures aimed at silencing those British subjects urging Parliamentary reform. The war drained Britain's financial reserves and inflamed Irish nationalists, who believed French revolutionaries would help them overthrow the monarchy in England. To ease these tensions, Pitt proposed a union between Ireland and England. However, due to a disagreement with King George III over Catholic emancipation, Pitt resigned from the government in 1801. In 1804, Pitt returned to serve a second term as prime minister, dying in office in 1806.

Collection Scope and Content Notes

Many of the letters in this collection are from the Pitt family to a longtime friend of the family, Alexander Hood. The remaining items include a scattering of documents pertaining to the political activities of William Pitt and his son.

The letters to Hood, most of which date from the 1770s, reveal the family's financial concerns. Hood, an officer in the British Royal Navy who fought in the Seven Years' War (known as the French and Indian War in America) and American Revolution, loaned the family money in times of economic instability. Hester Grenville Pitt wrote many of the letters, as her husband's illness left him at times unable to hold a pen. Aside from financial matters, other recurring topics include James Pitt, a son who sailed on a ship under Hood's command, plans for social visits between the two families, and accounts of visits to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. Political subjects are occasionally broached, most notably in a 1787 letter from William Pitt the Younger, which mentions plans for the arming of a fleet.

The remaining documents, most of which concern the political activities of William Pitt and his son, are a diverse assortment dating from the latter half of the 1700s. The earliest item in the collection is a letter from Pitt the Elder, as Secretary of State, to Governor William Denny of Pennsylvania. The document, dating from 1757, outlines plans for reinforcements to be sent to the colonies to aid in the war effort against France. The letter implores the governor to raise troops locally as well. Other documents reveal Pitt the Elder's interest in the North American colonies. A letter from the London Common Council praises Pitt for a speech he gave proposing a plan to resolve the differences between the colonies and Britain. In July of 1776, Pitt, fearing he would not recover from his long illness, recorded his opinions on the war with his doctor. In the memorandum, Pitt clearly states his opposition to the war, and raises concerns that it might leave England open to an attack by France.

The documents relating to William Pitt the Younger include an acceptance of the King's invitation to attend an event at the Queen's House, letters addressed to Cambridge University requesting that he continue his term as their representative, and notices sent to other members of Parliament encouraging their attendance at various sessions.


The documents are arranged chronologically.

Subject Terms

  • Prime ministers -- Great Britain
  • Seven Years' War, 1756-1763 -- Campaigns

Personal Names
  • Chatham, Hester Grenville Pitt, Countess of, 1720-1803
  • Chatham, John Pitt, Earl of, 1756-1835
  • Hood, Alexander, Viscount Bridport, 1726-1814
  • Pitt, William, 1759-1806
  • Pitt, William, Earl of Chatham, 1708-1778

Family Names
  • Pitt family

  • Great Britain -- History -- 1760-1789

  • Correspondence

  • Government
  • Personal papers
  • Politics

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

No restrictions.

Acquisition Information:

Part of the original donation of William M. Darlington’s family library to the University of Pittsburgh in 1918 and 1925 by his daughters, Edith Darlington Ammon and Mary Carson Darlington.

Alternate Format:

Digital reproductions of this collection are available online.

Custodial History:

This collection was located in the Darlington Memorial Library in the University’s Cathedral of Learning until 2007 when it was moved to the ULS Archives Service Center for processing, storage, preservation and service. However, it remains in the custodianship of the ULS Special Collections Department.

Preferred Citation:

William Pitt Family Papers, 1757-1804, DAR.1925.08, Darlington Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Matt Strauss in July 2007.


No copyright restrictions.

Related Material:

William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham: Papers at the United Kingdom National Archives.

Pitt Family Papers, 1750-1830, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.


Collection Inventory

Box 1
Folder 1 William Pitt to the Governor of Pennsylvania, February 4, 1757
Folder 2 William Pitt to Sir Charles Tynt, June 1, 1761
Folder 3 William Pitt to Alexander Hood, June 13, 1766
Folder 4 William Pitt to --, July 31, 1766
Folder 5 Resolution from the Common Council of London to William Pitt, February 10, 1775
Folder 6 William Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, May 15, 1771
Folder 7 William Pitt to Alexander Hood, March 8, 1772
Folder 8 William Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, July 24, 1772
Folder 9 William Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, September 16, 1772
Folder 10 Hester Grenville Pitt to [Alexander Hood], October 7, 1772
Folder 11 Hester Grenville Pitt to Alexander Hood, November 7, 1772
Folder 12 William Pitt to [Alexander Hood], November 30, 1772
Folder 13 Hester Grenville Pitt to Alexander Hood, April 25. 1773
Folder 14 Hester Grenville Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, May 10, 1773
Folder 15 William Pitt to --, June 12, 1773
Folder 16 William Pitt to Alexander Hood, July 26, 1773
Folder 17 William Pitt to Mrs. [Alexander] Hood, July 13, 1773
Folder 18 Hester Grenville Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, February 22, 1774
Folder 19 William Pitt the Younger to Alexander Hood, November 13, 1775
Folder 20 Hester Grenville Pitt to [Alexander Hood], March 5, 1776
Folder 21 Declaration made by William Pitt to Doctor Addington, July, 1776
Folder 22 Great Britain Department of Treasury Pay Warrant, January 11, 1783
Folder 23 William Pitt the Younger to --, September 22, 1780
Folder 24 William Pitt the Younger to --, July 14, 1785
Folder 25 William Pitt the Younger to Madame Gratarole, March 4, 1786
Folder 26 William Pitt the Younger to --, January 1, 1787
Folder 27 William Pitt the Younger to [Alexander] Hood, September 22, 1787
Folder 28 Hester Grenville Pitt to [Alexander Hood], May 3, 1788
Folder 29 William Pitt the Younger to Lady Chatham, July 20, 1790
Folder 30 William Pitt the Younger to --, May 18, 1796
Folder 31 William Pitt the Younger to --, September 14, 1799
Folder 32 William Pitt the Younger to [University of Cambridge], May 10, 1804
Folder 33 William Pitt the Younger to Lord Kingston, June 26, 1804
Folder 34 William Pitt the Younger to [Mr. Taylor], October 27, 1804
Folder 35 William Pitt to "My dear Lord," undated
Folder 36 William Pitt to Mr. Richardson, undated
Folder 37 William Pitt to --, undated
Folder 38 William Pitt to Captain and Mrs.[Alexander] Hood, undated
Folder 39 William Pitt to [Alexander] Hood, undated
Folder 40 William Pitt to Captain [Alexander] Hood, undated
Folder 41 Hester Grenville Pitt to Viscountess Bridport [Mrs. Alexander Hood], undated
Folder 42 Hester Grenville Pitt to Madame [Hood], undated
Folder 43 William Pitt the Younger to Alexander Hood, undated
Folder 44 William Pitt the Younger to Alexander Hood, undated
Folder 45 William Pitt the Younger to [His Royal Highness], undated
Folder 46 [William Pitt the Younger] to "My dear Lord," undated