Shareholder Spotlight: Elizabeth Bordley Gibson (1777-1863)

Dana Dorman, Archivist, Library Company Papers Project

Receipt for a Library Company share dated 1733

Image: Receipt for a Library Company share, 1733.

We continue our monthly “shareholder spotlight” series by taking a closer look at Share #738 and its second owner, Elizabeth Bordley Gibson (1777-1863).

Shareholders have always been the backbone of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Starting with the first group of fifty tradesmen who formed the library in 1731, shareholders have provided crucial financial support each year for our mission to “pour forth benefits for the common good.”

We keep careful track of who has owned each historic share, and our list of 9,800+ shareholders includes signers of the Declaration and Constitution, merchants, doctors, soldiers, scientists, artists, philanthropists, politicians, and much more.

Share #738

This share was first issued to John Beale Bordley (1727-1804) on June 7, 1792. Originally from Maryland, Bordley was an attorney, politician, judge, and plantation owner who moved to Pennsylvania the year before acquiring this share.

Among other things, he is remembered as being the catalyst behind the founding of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, and he published works on agriculture, rural affairs, and other topics. (The Library Company catalog includes more than a dozen of his titles.)

Photograph of title page of Sketches of Rotations on Crops

Image: John Beale Bordley, Sketches on Rotations of Crops (Philadelphia: Printed by Charles Cist, 1792).


He enslaved many people on his Maryland farms: 162 people in 1783 and 128 people in 1790, just two years before acquiring this Library Company share. Although he apparently emancipated some people before his move to Pennsylvania, his daughter’s posthumously published biography noted that he sold others and brought “favorite family domestics” to Pennsylvania “where they were bound for a term of years.”

Photograph of side profile illustration of J.B. Bordley with handwritten note identifying him

Image: Illustration from Mrs. Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, Biographical Sketches of the Bordley Family (Philadelphia: Printed by Henry B. Ashmead, 1865). Gift of Elizabeth Mifflin.


After Bordley’s death, Share #738 next passed to his daughter Elizabeth Bordley Gibson (1777-1863) on March 8, 1804.

Elizabeth too was born and raised in Maryland, and she was still a teenager when her father moved the family to Pennsylvania. Even before she took over Share #738 in her own name, her father’s shareholding would have given her access to the Library Company’s collections.

Her social circle apparently included the household of President George and Martha Washington. She became a lifelong friend of Martha’s granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1852), who lived with George and Martha in Philadelphia during George’s presidency. Elizabeth’s letters from Nelly and others are now preserved in the collections at the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon and are available for browsing online.

Elizabeth eventually married attorney James Gibson (1769-1856) in 1817, but the two did not have any children.

Elizabeth drafted a biography of her father and other ancestors in 1826, but did not take steps to publish it until shortly before her death. Her niece Elizabeth Mifflin would finish the work and publish Elizabeth’s Biographical Sketches of the Bordley Family in 1865.

We know that Elizabeth’s portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart circa 1797, and by Thomas Sully in 1822. Her niece also included an undated silhouette of Elizabeth in the Bordley biography published in 1865.

Photograph of silhouette of Elizabeth Bordley Gibson pasted inside 1865 biography

Image: Illustration from Mrs. Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, Biographical Sketches of the Bordley Family (Philadelphia: Printed by Henry B. Ashmead, 1865). Gift of Elizabeth Mifflin.


Elizabeth maintained her share at the Library Company for an impressive 59 years. After her death in 1863, the share next passed to Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose (1827-1908) on February 6, 1864. Share #738 has had nine owners total.

Not yet a shareholder?

Share #738 is currently available. We work hard to match potential shareholders with historic shares that match their interests, and we would love to match you with Elizabeth Bordley Gibson’s share or another option. To learn more, reach out to our Development Office at or 215-546-3181 ext. 142.