John Leacock commonplace book


Date: 1768-1781 | Size: 1 Volumes


Having made his fortune as a goldsmith and silversmith, John Leacock (1729-1802) became one of Philadelphia's most energetic entrepreneurs in viticulture and a playwright and parodist in the cause of American Independence.

Despite bearing the title, "Observations, Experiments etc. extracted from the Philosophical Transactions respecting farming, gardening, etc.," the notebook kept by the silversmith, viticulturist, and writer, John Leacock, is actually a combination of commonplace book, notebook, and receipt book. Consisting of 58 folio pages, the book contains a hodgepodge of entries reflecting Leacock's varied interests from 1768 through at least 1781, including not only material copied from other sources on viticulture, agriculture, engraving and etching, but medicinal and culinary receipts and two original poems, a "Song [of] the Stamp Act" and "A parody on the Tempest, by R. H. Esq." It also mentions diet drinks made by James Logan and Cadwallader Evans.

Background note

The goldsmith and silversmith John Leacock was born in Philadelphia in 1729 into a family of rising fortunes. His father, also named John Leacock, was an established pewterer and merchant and a vestryman at Christ's Church, and his mother, Mary Cash (first cousin once removed of Deborah Read Franklin), was a sister of one of the founding members of the prestigious fishing club, the Colony in Schuylkill.

Leacock was probably apprenticed in his early teens to either a gold- or silversmith, possibly Philip Syng, but regardless of how he entered the trade, success came rapidly to him. By the time he turned 23, he was earning a sufficient living to marry Hannah McCally, and after he received a sizable inheritance from his father in 1753, he removed to a new shop on Front Street, the heart of Philadelphia's silver and gold trade. Skilled in both metals, he advertised small swords, tea services, snuff and patch boxes, buckles, buttons, and a wide variety of other goods, as well as elegant silver plate. Helped, undoubtedly, by his kinship with brothers-in-law David Hall and James Read, not to mention the Franklins, Leacock found a ready market for his wares among the colonial elite of Philadelphia and his social stock rose accordingly. Signs of his increasing social standing include his signature on the 1754 petition to build St. Peter's Church, and his admission to membership in 1759 as the 88th member of the Colony in Schuylkill.

Like many successful Philadelphia merchants and craftsmen of the period, once he had amassed his fortune, Leacock began a gradual removal from his trade into a sort of active, landed retirement. In 1767, shortly before his wife died, he purchased a 28 acre plantation in Lower Merion Township west of Philadelphia, and set about raising a mixed crop of wheat, buckwheat, vegetables, and fruit, and maintaining the usual variety of livestock. Prompted by an open letter from Edward Antill to the American Philosophical Society in the following year, Leacock also began experimenting with vine cultivation. His success encouraged Leacock on December 29, 1772, to propose a scheme to the APS to establish, as he put it, a "public vineyard by subscription, for the good of all the Provinces." Situated on his plantation, this vineyard would serve essentially as a clearinghouse for the cultivation of as many different varieties of grape as could be obtained, and these would be exported and adapted to other regions of the country. Cuttings, he noted in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, were to be made available to the public free of charge as a gift to the future of the country. In 1773, Leacock held a "Public Vineyard Cash Lottery" to help finance his venture.

In retirement, Leacock also became increasingly engaged in politics. A member of the Society of the Sons of Saint Tammany and one of the signatories of the Non-Importation resolution of 1765, he was associated with the Revolutionary faction in Philadelphia from its earliest days. He was best known, however, as a parodist and playwright in the cause of independence, and was said to have been as popular a writer in the 1770s as Francis Hopkinson. His biblical parodic satire "The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times" was widely reprinted in newspapers, and he was equally well known for his play, "The Fall of British Tyranny" (1776). Consequently, when British forces occupied Philadelphia in 1777, Leacock thought it wise to joined the exodus to Reading, where he became one of only 27 men authorized by the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania to sign bills of credit for the United States.

After the British threat was turned away, Leacock left his farm in the care of his brother and returned to the city. He was appointed coroner in 1785, holding that office for 17 years, and he also ran an inn on Water Street between Arch and Race. During the last decade of his life, he and his second with Martha Ogilby (whom he had married on October 7, 1771) resided at 10 South Fifth Street. Leacock died quietly at home on November 16, 1802, and was buried at Christ Church.

Scope and content

Collection Information

Physical description

1 vol., 58p.; 0.1 linear feet

1 vol., 58p.; 0.1 linear feet


Gift of Mrs. Malcolm G. Sausser, 1953.

Preferred citation

Cite as: John Leacock, Commonplace book, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued rsc September 2003.

Related material

The APS contains several letters and copies of letters from or relating to John Leacock. These include:

  • Leacock, John to Thomas Coombe, Dec. 29, 1772 (Mss Communications to the APS). Enclosing Leacock to APS, same date.
  • Leacock, John to APS, Dec. 29, 1772 (Mss Communications to the APS). re: scheme for subscription vineyard.
  • Leacock, John receipt to Deborah Franklin, Feb. 7, 1759 (B F85 66:95a). Receipt for purchase of spoon and tongs
  • Davis, William, account with Martha Leacock, Nov. 23, 1802 (Misc. Mss.). Copy of bond for inventory of John Leacock's estate.
  • Davis, William, account with Martha Leacock, March 16, 1804 (Misc. Mss.). Copy regarding John Leacock's estate.
  • Leacock, Mary Cash, DS, Dec. 4, 1752 (Misc. Mss.). Copy of bond to complete inventory of John Leacock Sr's estate.
  • Leacock, Samuel Richards, DS with William Swain, March 21, 1833 (Misc. Mss.). Copy of indenture.
  • Ogilby, Joseph, DS, Dec. 2, 1802 (Misc. Mss.). Copy of inventory of John Leacock Jr's estate.


Cabeen, Francis von A., "The Society of the Sons of Saint Tammany of Philadelphia," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 26 (1902): 220.

Dallett, Francis James, "John Leacock and the Fall of British Tyranny," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 78 (1954): 456-475.

Mulford, Carla, John Leacock's The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times, 1774-1775. (Newark, Del., 1987).

Mulford, Carla, "John Leacock's A New Song, On the Repeal of the Stamp Act." Early American Literature 15 (1980): 188-93.



Early American History Note

This is the commonplace book of John Leacock, a prominent Philadelphian. Its MOLE description is very detailed and complete. The entries touch on a wide range of subjects and topics, including medicine, politics, poetry, literature, social life, and food and drink.

Indexing Terms


  • Commonplace Book
  • Commonplace books.
  • Miscellaneous
  • Poetry
  • Receipt books

Personal Name(s)

  • Evans, Cadwalader
  • Leacock, John,1729-1802.
  • Logan, James, 1674-1751


  • Agriculture -- Pennsylvania
  • Grapes
  • Literature, Arts, and Culture
  • Silversmiths -- Pennsylvania
  • Stamp Act, 1765
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783
  • Viticulture -- Pennsylvania
  • Yellow fever