Shareholder Spotlight: Rebecca Clifford

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 #315 and its fourth owner, Rebecca Clifford.

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 #315

This share was first issued to Thomas Neville on April 6, 1769. Like a number of previously profiled shares, that puts him among the shareholders of the Union Library Company, which merged into the Library Company on this date.

The share next passed to John Britton on February 3, 1776. Britton was a lumber merchant, according to the 1785 Philadelphia directory.

He apparently sold the share to Isaac Bonsall by 1778, but the exact date was not recorded in Library Company records. When Isaac went to sell the share eleven years later, the transfer recorded in our Share Book A reports that Bonsall’s “certificate of the said Share and the assignment thereof, have accidentally been lost.”

Therefore, both Isaac Bonsall and John Britton participated in the transfer of the share to Rebecca Clifford on May 2, 1789.

Photo of page in share record book

Image: Detail from Share Book A. Library Company of Philadelphia Records (MSS00270).


Interestingly, Rebecca was a minor at the time she purchased Share #315. In fact, the minutes of the Library Company’s directors meeting held on June 4, 1789 note that because of her age, “the usual Security should . . . be given.”

Photograph of page in minute book with text about Rebecca Clifford being a minor

Image: Detail from June 4, 1789 minutes. Directors Minutes Vol. 3 1785-1794. Library Company of Philadelphia Records (MSS00270).


This most likely meant that either an additional security deposit would be needed, or someone older would need to serve as the share’s financial guarantor, just in case Rebecca did not take good care of the books she might borrow.

However, when the directors officially approved the transfer at their July 8, 1789 meeting, the minutes make no mention of her age or a guarantor.

Rebecca became a shareholder at an auspicious time for the Library Company. Just a few days before her name appears in the minutes, shareholders had approved a plan to purchase a lot and build the Library Company’s first building. The Library Company would lay a cornerstone for the new building on 5th Street, just below Chestnut, by the end of the summer, and it would open for business on January 1, 1791.

Unfortunately, we know little more about Rebecca Clifford’s life beyond these brief mentions.

We have very few early circulation records, but she seems to have lost at least one Library Company book. Someone (most likely her estate) paid the fine on September 16, 1831.

Photo of text on page about Rebecca Clifford's lost book

Image: Detail from List of lost or damaged books and fees assessed, July 1787-September 1831. Library Company of Philadelphia Records (MSS00270).


Rebecca Clifford Pemberton (1782-1869) had acquired Share #315 over a year earlier, on July 3, 1830.

The share transfer lists Pemberton as the “sole heir of Rebecca Clifford Spinster who died intestate,” so we know that these were not the same woman before and after a marriage and we can assume that the two were related.

Photograph of daguerrotype in open case with paper note laying above it identifying the person in the image

Image: Rebecca Clifford Pemberton daguerreotype, 1850. Courtesy of Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Rebecca C. Pemberton would own the share for the rest of her life, but her involvement with the Library Company’s collections and activities remains unknown at this time.

The share has been owned by eight people in its history.

Not yet a shareholder?

Share #315 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 Rebecca Clifford’s share or another option. To learn more, reach out to our Development Office at or 215-546-3181 ext. 142.