Rittenhouse family papers, 1774-1932


Date: 1774-1932 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet, Ca. 40 items


These papers include letters, broadsides, and other documents pertaining to various branches of the Rittenhouse family, in particular, David Rittenhouse and his daughter Elizabeth "Betsey" Rittenhouse Sergeant. Included are references to Benjamin Smith Barton, and copies of documents concerning the Barton family, especially Thomas Barton, in Fanny Abbott's, "Family Records."

Background note

Ancestors of the Rittenhouse family were paper-makers, and William Rittenhouse built the first papermill in America in 1690 on the Wissahickon Creek in Roxborough, Pennsylvania. William's son Mathias married Elizabeth Williams in 1727, and they went on to have ten children. Their son David Rittenhouse was a famous clockmaker, astronomer, surveyor, inventor, and first director of the United States Mint.

David married Eleanor Coulston in 1766 and they had two daughters: Elizabeth "Betsey" (born 1767) and Esther (born 1769). Elizabeth married Philadelphia lawyer Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant in 1788. Ester married Philadelphia doctor Nicholas Baker Waters in 1790.

David's sister Esther Rittenhouse Barton married Reverend Thomas Barton in 1754. She died on June 18, 1774, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One of their sons, Benjamin Smith Barton, was one of the first professors of natural history in the United States and wrote the first American botany textbook. Their other son, William, was a lawyer who designed the Great Seal of the United States.

David Rittenhouse was the treasurer of the state of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1789. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1768 and, based on calculations which he made, the Society made plans to observe the transit of Venus which was calculated to take place in 1769. In 1792, he was appointed the first director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and held the position until 1795. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1795 and served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1791 until his death in 1796.

Collection Information

Physical description

Ca. 40 items.


Purchased from Sessler, Freeman (no. 281; $350.00) and accessioned 03/01/1970 (1970 555ms).

Early American History Note

This small notebook contains copies of correspondence and other documents that someone in the Rittenhouse family transcribed in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The earliest document copied appears to be dated from the 1750s in Lancaster. The documents pertain to the family's past.

Indexing Terms

Family Name(s)

  • Barton family
  • Rittenhouse family.


  • Broadsides.
  • Family Correspondence
  • Genealogies.

Personal Name(s)

  • Abbott, Fanny D.
  • Barton, Benjamin Smith, 1766-1815
  • Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869
  • Rittenhouse, David, 1732-1796
  • Rittenhouse, H.
  • Sergeant, Elizabeth, 1767-1836


  • Marriage and Family Life
  • Papermakers.

Detailed Inventory

  Pennsylvania Gazette [extract]. On the death of Mrs. Esther Barton.
1774 June 29 
 Rittenhouse, David to Simeon De Witt
1786 February 7 
 Rittenhouse, David. Receipt to Reuben Haines, for taxes.
1787 April 16 
 Rittenhouse, David to Elizabeth "Betsey" Rittenhouse
1789 July 8 
 Sergeant, Jonathan D. to Margaret Spencer Sergeant
1789 September 16 
 Dobson, Thomas. Receipt to David Rittenhouse for a set of Hopkinson's Works
1792 August 6 
 Rittenhouse, David to Mrs. Elizabeth Rittenhouse Sergeant
1795 August 17 
 To the Memory of the late Dr. Rittenhouse... [Broadside]
 Sussex Lodge, No. 7. Centenary of Freemasonry on the St. Croix... [Broadside]
1909 December 14 
 First Congregational Church, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Program for service.
1916 August 13 
 David Rittenhouse Bicentennial materials
 1. David Rittenhouse Bicentennial... Tour to the Rittenhouse Landmarks
 2. Preliminary Program, Rittenhouse Bicentennial Celebration
 3. The David Rittenhouse Bicentennial. Saturday, April 9, 1932.
1932 April 9 
 4. A card of invitation, a card for notifying that one will/will not attend, and a form letter from John H. Pitman, Chairman.
 Rittenhouse, H. to "Dear Betsey"
September 22 
 Concerning Benjamin Smith Barton
 Rittenhouse family genealogy
 Sergeant family genealogy