Shareholder Spotlight: Matthew Clarkson (1733-1800)

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 #111 and its first owner, Matthew Clarkson (1733-1800).

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 #111

This share was first issued to Matthew Clarkson (1733-1800) on February 19, 1763.

Clarkson was an established Philadelphia merchant and businessman by then. A September 16, 1762 advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, for example, described a variety of imported beer, wine, rum, sugar, tea, and spices at his store on 2nd Street opposite the “Baptist meeting-house” (between Market and Arch streets). That list certainly includes slave-produced goods from the Atlantic world.

Photograph of illustration in Clarkson memoir of portrait of Matthew Clarkson

Image: Illustration from John Hall and Samuel Clarkson, Memoirs of Matthew Clarkson of Philadelphia, 1735-1800, by his great-grandson John Hall, and of his brother Gerardus Clarkson 1737-1790 by his great-grandson, Samuel Clarkson (Philadelphia: Printed by Press of Thomson Printing Company, 1890).


By 1769, Clarkson was also involved in Philadelphia civic life.

A newspaper advertisement that year noted that he had been appointed a notary and “tabellion public,” while an ad in March 1770 listed him as the clerk for the Philadelphia Contributionship for Insuring Houses from Loss by Fire. He was a member and later treasurer of the American Philosophical Society, and a member of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, among other activities.

As for the Library Company, Clarkson served as one of our directors from 1771 to 1776 and was a shareholder for 37 years.

His library connections proved fortuitous when he served as co-executor of the estate of his neighbor Pierre Eugène du Simitière (1737-1784). Du Simitière was a collector and artist, and had opened the American Museum in Philadelphia. While du Simitière is not listed as a shareholder of the Library Company, he apparently used our collections.

Clarkson found and returned a Library Company title from du Simitière’s belongings that had “been a long time missing” from the library. The Library Company also purchased the bulk of du Simitière’s manuscript materials when the estate sold them at auction.

Photograph in directors minutes describing Matthew Clarkson's return of text from du Simitiere estate

Image: Detail from March 3, 1785 minutes. Directors Minutes Vol. 2 1768-1785.


Clarkson eventually moved into politics. He was elected to the Confederation Congress in 1785, but apparently declined the position. He was elected to be a Philadelphia alderman in 1790, and city council chose him as mayor from 1792 to 1796.

In fact, he is perhaps best remembered for his work as mayor during the deadly 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Among other actions, Clarkson convened and led a committee of volunteers known as the Committee to Attend to and Alleviate the Sufferings of the Afflicted with the Malignant Fever to help manage the city’s response to the crisis.

After he left office, he continued to own Library Company share #111 until his death in 1800.

The share next passed to Clarkson’s son-in-law George Bringhurst (1755-1829) on March 17, 1809. Share #111 has been owned by 12 people total in its history.

Not yet a shareholder?

Share #111 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 Matthew Clarkson’s share or another option. To learn more, reach out to our Development Office at or 215-546-3181 ext. 142.