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The Shippen Family

The Shippens were a powerful and affluent Philadelphia Quaker family that played an integral role in both colonial and industrial history of colonial America.

Shippen Family Crest

The patriarch of the family was Edward Shippen, Sr. (1639-1712), who became the first elected mayor of Philadelphia and also served as a member of the Provincial Congress. He married three separate times– Elizabeth Lybrand (m. 1671-1688), Rebecca Richardson (m. 1689-1705) and Esther Wilcox (1706-1724). In total, he had twelve children that included Joseph, Sr. (1679-1741).

Joseph Shippen, Sr. (1679-1741)

Philadelphia merchant, Joseph Shippen, Sr. married Abigail Grosse in 1702 and they had eight children including Joseph II (1706-1793) and William I (1712-1801). Sometime prior to 1741, Joseph I purchased a large tract of land in Oxford from William Coxe (son of Proprietor Dr. Daniel Coxe). He was an absentee owner, having retired early from his successful mercantile business in Philadelphia and moved to a plantation in Germantown, PA. He leased his landholdings to Jonathan Robeson who was probably an acquaintance from a distinguished Philadelphia family who was living in neighboring White Marsh.

William Shippen, Sr. was a self-trained physician who was elected to the Continental Congress in 1778 and re-elected in 1779. He was also a member of Benjamin Franklin’s “Junto” and elected vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. In addition, he was a physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital (1753-78) and one of the founders of the University of Pennsylvania and the College of New Jersey (Princeton). William Coxe, son of Proprietor Colonel Daniel Coxe, and entered into a partnership with his brother, Joseph Jr., and Jonathan Robeson. In the 1750s and 1760s, William I continued improvements at the Furnace and was more of a gentleman landowner than an iron magnate and much of his land was rented out to tenant farmers. He and his wife, Susannah Harrison, had five children that included William II (1736-1808) and Joseph W. (1737-1795).

Dr. William Shippen, Jr. (1736-1808)

In July 1776, Dr. William Shippen, Jr. became the chief surgeon of the Flying Camp in New Jersey during the American Revolution. By that October, he was appointed as head of all hospitals west of the Hudson River. He married Alice Lee, daughter of Colonel Thomas Lee of Virginia in 1762 and had eight children. He did take active interest in the furnace and visited it several times as well as sent provisions from Philadelphia for the workers. Shippen died suddenly of anthrax on 11 July 1808 in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Founders Online (National Archives)

During the American Revolution, Dr. Shippen was known to have corresponded several times with General Washington pertaining to the inoculation of the Continental Army against small pox.

Joseph William Shippen (1737-1795) a modestly successful man in his own right. During the American Revolution, he served as a paymaster in the Bethlehem Army Hospital, serving the same time as his brother, Dr. William Shippen. He settled on his father’s estate at Oxford Furnace in the early 1760s and was made manager for thirty years until his death in 1795 at age fifty-eight. During that time, he and Martha Axford (d. 1798), who was hired by his father to be housekeeper at the Manor. Joseph W. incurred the ire of his father due to his intimate relationship with Martha (who was daughter of early Oxford area pioneer, John Axford) that produced seven children. Joseph William died intestate (without a will) and his father came to the Manor to “administer his son’s estate and oversee furnace operations.” He also leased the furnace to Jacob Starn (“Shippen and Starn’s furnace”). Although he disapproved of his son and Martha’s relationship, he provided for all of his grandchildren in his will.

The children of Joseph W. and Martha included Joseph (d. 14 Oct 1811), Ann Shippen, William Shippen (c. 1774-1812), John Beach Shippen (1774-1824), Maria Shippen, Susan Shippen Blair (1784-1856), and Abigail Shippen (1786-1868).

Jonathan Robeson, Iron Master

Oxford Furnace in the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1930s.

Jonathan Robeson (1690-1766), of Philadelphia, began to erect a furnace at Oxford in 1741 due to the accessibility of ore in the area. The first pig iron was turned out on 9 March 1743, and weekly production ranged from 13 to 15 tons. Initially, Robeson entered into a partnership with Joseph Shippen, Sr., and upon his death, Robeson agreed with Joseph Shippen, Jr. to share the furnace’s profits equally. He continued to buy land around Oxford through the 1740s, hoping to eventually acquire the furnace from Joseph, Jr., who was more of a playboy than a landowner. Between 1743 and 1751, Robeson purchased tracts of land in and around Oxford that would eventually amount to more than 3000 acres of land. The individual tracts, enumerated in a series of Sussex County deeds, date between 1749 and 1762 including his 1745 purchase of one-half interest in the 578-acre “furnace tract” from Joseph Shippen, Jr. This allowed for Robeson to have partial ownership of the land on which he would build his furnace and for which he had been playing rent to the Shippen family for about four years.

For the first few years, Robeson was considered the ironmaster and proprietor. The exact business agreement between Robeson and Joseph, Jr. is not known, but after 1745, the men were considered co-owners of the furnace tract and most likely the iron business as well. Neither lived in Oxford full-time. Robeson had practical expertise in the iron business and spent more time in Oxford than his partner as his principle residence was in Whitemarsh, PA, where he was a judge in Philadelphia County. In addition, Robeson also owned a home in Kingwood (Hunterdon County), New Jersey. Due to his commitments as just, Jonathan employed his son, Maurice (1724-61), along with Richard Shackleton, to manage the furnace and attend to the day-to-day business affairs.

New Jersey Archives

In 1749, Robeson sold part of his interest to Dr. William Shippen, Jr. in order to obtain capital for a new force being built in Changewater, along the Musconetcong River. The Changewater Forge was not producing as much as the one in Oxford, and along with a disagreement with the Shippen Brothers (Joseph and William) over the building of the manor in 1754, Robeson sought to leave the partnership. Joseph and William Shippen bought the bulk of Robeson’s Oxford properties, including all of his interest in the furnace in 1757. The consideration consisted of two payments of £350 in cash or pig iron, as well as the right to purchase 100 tons of pig iron for the Changewater forge at £6 per ton annually for three years. It was also believed that as a Quaker, Robeson, could not participate in the manufacture of ordinance to supply the British and Colonial troops during the French and Indian War. Five years later (1762), Robeson sold the remainder of his interest in the Oxford properties to Dr. William Shippen, II.

Images from the Historic American Buildings Survey (1930s) at: https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.nj0869.photos

The Manor

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Archaeological excavations at Shippen Manor have produced a wide range of information about the past inhabitants of the site, and about the various changes that the manor house and grounds have undergone in previous years. Numerous subsurface features (including wells, builder’s trenches, refuse pits, middens, and various architectural elements) and thousands of 18th-19th century artifacts have been recovered. Information about the Manor was also obtained through primary sources such as inventories, letters, wills, and diaries. The site of the house emphasizes the position of the Shippens in the local society. They were “masters of all they surveyed” and then some. The estate contained over four thousand acres including land on the Delaware River and a grant from the King of England to operate a ferry. This iron plantation was basically self-sufficient, surrounded by tenant farms, various mills, a store as well as the iron furnace. The Manor is Georgian in style, constructed from local stone, two foot thick stone walls, and three immense chimneys. The ground floor consisted of six rooms. Upstairs there were two bed chambers and four garret rooms (now offices and museum storage).  When the Manor was built, it was designed to be functional rather than luxurious. Three colors dominated the interior of that portion of the house restored to the colonial period: white, blue-gray and red. Through analysis of paint chips, taken from throughout the Manor, we have been able to reproduce the colors used in the restoration of the Manor. The baseboards in this portion of the house were painted black, this prevented dirt from showing on the lower section of the white walls. Where you see breaks in the black baseboards, this indicates a contemporary addition. The pine floors in the Reception room, Dining room, and Victorian parlor are original. The floors in the Robeson study and Shippen kitchen needed to be repaired or replaced.

The Robeson Study was the original office of Jonathan Robeson, which is the closest room to the Furnace. The exterior door to this room is a “dutch” or split door, which would have enabled Robeson to leave the top open, which would enable workers to come speak with him.
Family Dining room where meals would be served to the families living in the Manor. There is a portrait of Dr. William Shippen II over the fireplace.
The Scranton or Victorian Parlor was part of a mid-19th century addition to the original structure by the Scranton Brothers when they ran the operations in Oxford.