Chester County Archives

Joseph-James Ahern Blog Post

On January 24, 1737 Joseph Parker petitioned the Commissioners of the County of Chester expressing his concern for the safety of the public record.  The newly erected court house being ill-suited to store these valuable records,

It is apparent to Every Person that will make use of his Eyes that the Doors are

most commonly  Left open for Horses and cattle to go in and out at Pleasure

the Furniture broke and Exceedingly Diminished and the place made a comon

Stage whereby Rude people Breaks the windows … which if not timely Prevented

must End in the Ruin thereof


This early petition set the stage for centuries of careful storage and preservation of our county records, leaving Chester County with the most complete collection of public records in Southeastern Pennsylvania.


The Chester County Archives was established in 1982 as a partnership between the County of Chester and the Chester County Historical Society.  Since its founding in 1893, the Historical Society through its active members and staff managed to collect and preserve many of the County’s records that could no longer be stored in the court house.  By the early 1980s space considerations led the Historical Society and the County to form the Chester County Archives.  Today the Archives holds over 1,900 cubic feet and 3,000 volumes of the public record of Chester County.


The bulk of the collection dates from 1714 to the early 1900s, although the full span is 1681-2007.  Heavily used records include deed books, taxes, estate records, and court records, both criminal and civil.  Our researchers are primarily genealogists or local historians, but they also include title clerks, lawyers, students, and academic and public historians.


In addition to its completeness, the strength of our collection lies in giving a voice to voiceless.  Our records document the lives of the poor and working classes that are underrepresented in most manuscript collections.  Where else would you find the life history of a pauper named Anne Dodd who in 1766 at the age of 46 became the object of a lawsuit as two townships fought each other to determine her residency?  We learn of her birth and the early death of her father, the multiple indenture contracts by which she was shuffled from one location to another, and  other details of a hard existence.   Or the insolvent debtor Jesse Buffington who, after being thrown into jail in 1837 by his creditors, petitioned the court to be released, explaining that “about one year since, in Endeavouring to Extinguish fire in the clothes of his child, he burnt both of his hands … that he was unable either to work or feed himself.”  Or the tale of Temperance Howard, a young girl who had her leg amputated at the poorhouse and was then sent out on trial for placement but was returned because her “mistress … could not bare the noise of her wooden leg on the floor.”


Through our collections and those at the Chester County Historical Society it is possible to view almost the complete scope of Chester County’s history since the arrival of its first English colonists.  From its  early Quaker settlers to its industrial workers, from the day laborer to the large landholder, the collections at the Chester County Archives reflect the lives of all those who lived here.


The Chester County Archives is open to the public Monday – Friday, 9:00 am -4:00 pm.  Please visit our website at for a list of available records and online indexes.

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What a great story! I'm more familiar with the Cumberland County Archives in Carlisle, which also has these kinds of 18th and 19th century narrative gems that extend from the rich and powerful to the penniless and largely forgotten. It's great to hear of the wonderful work done every day by public historians throughout the Commonwealth.