John Cadwalader

John Cadwalader Trustee.jpg

There are five different versions of John Cadwalader’s will available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In the first four versions of his will, Cadwalader left “three male and three female negro servants” to his wife; the fifth version says “negro or mulatto slaves” (Cadwalader). In addition, he left to his daughters Anne, Elizabeth, and Maria “all the negroes old and young male and female [sic]” on his farm on Sassafrass River (Cadwalader). In the last version, he adds that he is leaving “a sufficient number of negroes” (Cadwalader) to his “executors.” This proves that not only did John Cadwalader hold numerous enslaved people up to his death, but that he desired to continue their bondage even beyond his death in 1786. Interestingly, in the first four versions of the will, he writes that he will free one “negro servant” named James Sampson, his wife, and their three children (Cadwalader). 

However, in version five, he makes no mention of James Sampson or anyone in his family. A look into records on Ancestry Library and searching newspaper archives for reports of manumissions of people named Sampson around the time, reveals no more information on what became of James Sampson or his family.

~Brooke Krancer

Additional Research of John Cadwalader

Before gaining prominence and becoming a trustee of the university, John Cadwalader was a student at Penn. He attended the college from 1751-1758, though never officially graduated and instead left to go into business with his brother, Lambert Cadwalader. He served as a trustee from 1779-1786, up until the time of his death. A prominent entrepreneur in the city, Cadwalader galvanized Philadelphians to protest violations of colonial liberties and became a colonel and later general of the Pennsylvania militia.


Cadwalader’s Shrewsbury Farm Property

He received this estate through his marriage to his first wife, Betsy Lloyd, who died in 1779. This property contained plantations and a farmhouse overlooking Turner Creek in Kent, Maryland. In his will, Cadwalader refers to this property as the “farm on Sassafrass River”. Cadwalader’s plantation produced wheat, corn, and tobacco, evident from transactions in his waste book.

Unusually and importantly, the records of Cadwalader’s enslaved people were preserved. This was a significant finding as the lack of documentation on enslaved people has limited this project’s ability to focus on enslaved people’s lives. The Cadwalader family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania provide detail and context on the enslaved people of Cadwalader. A personal estate inventory lists each of Cadwalader’s enslaved people by name and age. In total, the inventory lists 107 enslaved people. This information is further corroborated by the inventory in the Maryland Register of Wills Records from Kent County. Appendix A displays my typed transcription of Cadwalader’s personal inventory from the document found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania which was created on March 20th, 1786. I included as much information as possible, such as familial ties, personal notes, ages, and monetary values. In an attempt to maximize organization, I made a few assumptions such as that “Ambrose” and “Ambroes” are the same last name. In the same Appendix, I listed the family groupings of the enslaved people where possible. Acknowledging family ties is significant both as a way to recognize the humanity of the enslaved and as evidence of the dynamics of the community overall.


Cadwalader’s Ownership

A memorandum in the Cadwalader estate papers documents the deaths and births of his enslaved people from 1784-1794. This document provides further insight into the sheer number of individuals under Cadwalader’s jurisdiction. In Cadwalader’s waste book of 1769-1771, transactions such as payments for constructing a quarter for his slaves and purchasing slaves themselves are recorded. Other transactions of note include cash paid to Nichols and Chamberlane, two otherwise unidentified individuals, for “sundries for the Negroes” on September 17, 1769. The waste book also identifies a man named John Hynson as the overseer of the Shrewsbury property. The existence of an overseer provides context on how Cadwalader managed his estate and indicates that he followed a typical organizational structure of plantations of the era.

The wills of Cadwalader and other documents dated after his death provide some information on what happened to his enslaved people. This was a crucial element of my research, as I wanted to uncover the lives of these individuals overall and not simply their existence in relation to their enslaver. A letter from James Speer on April 21, 1787, provides further insight into where Cadwalader’s slaves ended up after his passing. In this letter, Speer agrees to hire Mealy Ambrose for one year, who was a young female under the jurisdiction of the executors of Cadwalader’s will, Lambert Cadwalader and Philemon Dickinson. No reason is given in the letter, but Speer likely sought to hire Ambrose to work in his house or on his plantation. Speer writes that he will furnish Ambrose “with sufficient [illegible] clothing, washing, lodging.” He promises to return Ambrose after the year is over with a jacket, handmade linen, stockings, and strong shoes.



I speculate that the agreement written about in this letter was controversial, as a letter dated May 27, 1789, from William Tilghman expresses that selling or hiring out Cadwalader’s slaves is not acceptable. William Tilghman graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1772 and was the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania from 1806-1827. Tilghman writes “I have considered the will of John Cadwalader, I am of the opinion that the executors will not be justified in selling any of the negroes on the farm in Kent County. These negroes are all specifically bequeathed to Cadwalader’s children by his first wife […].” The letter concludes with the sentiment that if someone should hire out Cadwalader’s slaves, “they may find themselves involved in a very disagreeable and hazardous controversy.” These documents illustrate the challenge of managing Cadwalader’s large group of enslaved people. There was debate surrounding their treatment after Cadwalader’s death. I cannot conclusively say what happened to them.

~Anna Lisa Lowenstein

Note: The past work of my colleagues Dillon Kersh and Brooke Krancer proved essential in gaining a background on Cadwalader, as both of them encountered information on Cadwalader in previous research.

Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration records serve as further proof that John Cadwalader owned enslaved people in the years 1774, 1782, and 1786


"9 Negroes"

John Cadwalader Tax Records
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1774.


"9 Negroes"
John Cadwalader Tax Records
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1782.


"1 Negro"
John Cadwalader Tax Records
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1786.