Document Collection

Background to the Mary Roberts diary


The Mary Roberts diary1 was written between 1830 and 1854. Mary and her family lived in Schuykill township for most of this period.

Four generations of the Roberts family are mentioned in the diary. William, (1755 - 1841), who married Rebecca Pennington, (1764 - 1841); and John Roberts (died 1836), his brother, were the eldest generation. Another brother, Edward, seemed to move from Bucks county to Schuylkill township together with his brothers John and William. Mary, the diarist, nee Walker, (1785 - 1866), and her husband, Joseph Roberts (1786 - 1857), were the next generation.

Mary Roberts

Joseph Roberts

Joseph Roberts had a brother John (1796 - 1863) and 3 sisters, Sarah Conard (1787 - 1868), Maria Conard (1789 - 1857), and Rebecca Roberts (1796 - 1863).

Mary Roberts (nee Walker) had at least 3 sisters who survived into adulthood, Ann Richards (1777 - 1849), Sarah Roberts (1779 - 1849), and Jane Hallowell (born 1792), and a brother, Joseph Walker (1780 - 1858). Mary was the great great grand daughter of Lewis Walker, who was probably the first European settler in Tredyffrin township.

Mary Roberts and her sister, Jane Hallowell

Mary and Joseph had 3 daughters, Sarah Williams (1810 - 1894), Rebecca Roberts (1819 - 1836), and Mary W. Hoopes (1826 - 1897); and 3 sons William (1812 - 1889), Lewis W. (1813 - 1874), and Stephen Roberts (1817 - 1852). William married Susanna Havard (1816 - 1903); Lewis married Sarah Jane Maris, and Stephen married Cordelia (family name unknown).

Land Transactions and Financial Matters

On the 20th December 1809 Mary Walker and Joseph Roberts (aged 24 and 23 respectively) were married at the Valley Friends Meetinghouse. They set up home in Willistown and rented and farmed land.

On the 5th April 1810 Joseph Roberts’ father, William Roberts of Bucks County, yeoman, (then aged 55) purchased a farm of 192 acres in Charlestown, later Schuylkill, township for £3,250. It is unclear how he paid for the land, but he did not seem to take out a mortgage. He was primarily a Fuller, rather than a Farmer.

The boundary between the Roberts property and that formerly of Llewelyn Davis was White Horse road.

4/1/1813 William took out loan of $600 from Elijah Funk (Joseph guarantor).

1814 tax return William and Joseph Roberts, Charlestown, fulling mill, saw mill, 181 acres, buildings;
Joseph Roberts, Willistown, 10 acres, buildings;
Samuel Roberts, Charlestown, fuller, 7 acres, 34 acres, buildings.

4/6/1815 Joseph was one of the 5 trustees that purchased the 2 acres of land where the Schuylkill Friends Meeting House was built.

4/20/1818 Joseph purchased 49 acres in 2 tracts for $4,918 next to the William Roberts farm. [Joseph and Mary did not seem to live on this property]

1820 tax return William & Joseph Roberts, Charlestown, fulling mill, saw mill, 183 acres;
Joseph Roberts, Charlestown 45 acres, Willistown, 15 acres, Tredyffrin 5 acres;
Lewis Roberts, Charlestown, freeman,
Lewis & Thomas Roberts 3 acres;
Samuel Roberts 34 acres;
Samuel Roberts, inmate.

1823 Samuel Roberts of Charlestown administration 12/20/1823, administrators Edward and Nathan Roberts.

1824 tax return William Roberts, Charlestown, fulling mill, saw mill, 183 acres;
Joseph Roberts, Willistown, 14 acres;
Lewis Roberts, Charlestown, 3 acres.

1828 Septennial Census Lewis Roberts, wheelwright [this is not Lewis W. Roberts, who was only 15 years old];
John Roberts senior, no occupation;
William Roberts senior, Fuller;
John Roberts junior, Fuller;
John Williams, stonemason (Charlestown) – no Joseph in Schuylkill or Charlestown.

12/17/1828 William Roberts wrote will [73 years old]

1830 Mary started diary. Joseph seems to be running farm. [William’s age and state of health]

4/7/1833 Sarah Roberts and John Williams married [not in diary but 4/21/1833 Sarah gone with John to see her new home].

November – December 1834 Joseph and Mary visit Ohio.

1835 Septennial Census Lewis Roberts, wheelwright;
John Roberts senior, gentleman;
William Roberts senior, gentleman;
John Roberts junior, Fuller;
John Williams, mason (Charlestown)
– no Joseph in Schuylkill or Charlestown.

12/3/1835 William came home from his journey. He had been gone 11 weeks.

5/5/1836 Lewis Roberts takes out loan for $300.

7/7/1836 John Roberts senior’s will proved.

September to December 1836 Lewis’ trip out west.

1837 Financial Panic. The economy was in recession until at least 1845. [It is unclear how this recession impacted Joseph]

Whig cartoon showing the effects of unemployment on a family that has portraits of Democratic Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren on the wall1.

5/1/1837 Joseph sued by Ann S. Jacobs for $2280. [not paid, sued again in 1842]

1838 taxes Joseph Roberts 130 acres; 4 horses, 19 cattle, 1 dog [pigs not taxed]
John Roberts 48 acres; 2 horses, 6 cattle, 1 dog

3/20/1838 Jacob Force and Susan S. Rossiter come here this afternoon [probalby concerning debt]. Grandfather [William Roberts] had another stroke of the palsy and fell out of his chair.

4/16/1840 Joseph Roberts purchased 17 and 2 acres for $1,900 (deed R4-561). [This was the lot where Lewis Roberts was living].

12/21/1840 Joseph met with a sad accident. He was attending to the horse power and slipped with his right foot into the wheel and mashed his toes all off. Dr. Coffman examined the wound the skin and sinews of the big toe had to be cut off and two bones of the smaller ones had to be taken out. He bore the operation with great fortitude.

3/16/1841 William Roberts jr. married Susanna Havard. [ages 29 and 25]

3/17/1841 Stephen B. Roberts, [then aged 24], moved his miller up to Downingtown yesterday.

4/1/1841 Stephen moved to Downingtown.

4/8/1841 William Roberts sr. died, aged 86. [Execution of the will]
Apr 27, 1841 West Chester, Pennsylvania Chester VILLAGE RECORD Death Notice Departed this life, on the 8th inst, at his residence in Schuylkill township, Chester county, William Roberts, in the 86th year of his age. The deceased survived two Brothers, residents of this County, namely Edward who died 1824 in his 82nd and John who died 1836 in his 90th year. He has now living in Bucks county, three widowed sisters of the following ages respectively, - Jane is in her 88th, Mary in her 93rd and Ann in her 97 year.

Describe will and issues and the court cases.

10/2/1841 William Roberts jr. bought a tract of 49.75 acres, northern boundary of Nutts Road and western boundary of Whitehorse Road for $5,124.

12/24/1841 Rebecca Roberts died (William Roberts senior’s wife), aged 77

4/8/1842 We went over to our new intended home to clean the house.

4/9/1842 Joseph and I went to Peter Supple to acknowledge deeds. When we came home we received a letter from our dear son Stephen who under some discouragement has gone off from his residence to endeavor to get in better business, sorrowful to us all.

4/12/1842 Several of our neighbors helped us move.

4/15/1842 Joseph and Mary assign their assets to William Roberts, Lewis W. Roberts, and John Williams including 3 tracts of land: 165 acres, 19 acres, and 6 acres 9 perches (Tredyffrin).

2/9/1843 Joseph & Mary’s 49 acres sold to John Williams in a Sheriff’s sale (suit of John Acker) for $3,282. Sheriff’s deed 5-99. [May 1842 suit, originally Ann. S. Jacobs 1837 suit]

3/23/1843 Peter Bloom moved into the old part of the house today.

3/29/1843 John Roberts began to move into our house. Unpleasant feelings enough to me. And if it was not so to him ? must have a stoney heart.

10/20/1843 Sheriff’s Sale: William Roberts deceased 81 acres sold to John Williams (deed Y4-243)

11/9/1843 William Roberts deceased 86.5 acres and 18.75 acres (woodland) sold to John Roberts (Sheriff’s deed 5-120; Messuage (big house), Carding & Fulling Mill) [total 186.25 acres of William Roberts 192 acres sold. No sign of remaining 6 acres]

3/26/1844 Newspaper Advertisement: 1844.03.26 American Republican
By virtue of a writ of Fieri Facias to me directed, will be sold at public sale, on Lot No. 1, on Thursday, the 11th day of April next, at 4 o'clock, P. M., the following described property, to wit:

Lot No. 1, situated in Charlestown township, Chester county, containing two acres, be the same more or less, bounded by lands of Benj. Funk, Jacob and others. [Probably the smaller portion of the land purchased by Joseph in 1840(deed R4-561)].

Lot No. 2, being the undivided half part of half an acre of land, situated in Cedar Hollow, Tredyffrin township, and county aforesaid, bounded by the lands of Robert Todd and others. There is on this lot, an immence [sic] quantity of lime stone of the best quality, with limekilns convenient thereto.[this tract is likely to be the source of the limestone mentioned twice in the diary as being burnt to make fertilizer for the farm in Schuylkill township.]

Seized and taken in Execution as the property of Joseph Roberts.

5/9/1844 Joseph & Mary’s 2 acres sold to Jacob Acker in a Sheriff’s sale (suit of John Acker) for $37. Sheriff’s deed 5-152.

6/11/1844 Joseph & Mary’s 17 acres sold to Amos Rapp in a Sheriff’s sale (suit of Lewis W. Roberts for use of the Bank of Chester County) for $1,520. Sheriff’s deed 5-157.

8/5/1844 Treasurer of Chester County, 25 acres (land of Joseph Roberts) sold to Robert Jones. Sheriff’s deed 5-159. [non-payment of taxes, not sure where the 25 acres was located]

3/31/1845 John Roberts sold 86.5 acres and 18.75 acres (woodland) to John Williams (deed B5-16) [John Williams now held the old William Roberts farm, including the mill.]

12/30/1846 Summons to William and Lewis Roberts, assignees of Joseph Roberts, suit of Susan Rossiter (originally 1843 case).

6/14/1847 Joseph went to Westchester.

6/16/1847 Joseph went to Westchester.

9/13/1847 Joseph Roberts hearing, filed 8/5/1847. Four documents were created for this hearing: assignment (dated 1847), list of creditors and notice given, list of creditors and amount of debt, and a statement of the causes of the petitioner’s insolvency.

9/14/1847 William brought his dear father home. A solemn joyful meeting.

4/3/1848 Deborah G. Matlack come to help us get ready to move.

4/4/1848 Joseph and Mary R. Walker, Mary R. and Deborah Matlack, John Longstreth, Enoch Davis, William and Susan and Lewis W. Roberts, Jerome Rhoads, Stryker Rossiter, and Johns little boys were all to help us move.

4/8/1848 Joseph and Samuel went to the old place to bring the remainder of our things home. Samuel began to plant the oats ground.

7/17/1848 David McCowen brought a summons here for Joseph and I to appear at West Chester to testify to certain facts known to us (or by us) relative to his concerns in his Grandfathers will.

7/19/1848 Joseph and I went to Westchester to Browns Hotel, where we were not detained over an hour or so.

1850 Agricultural survey.

3/29/1851 John Williams here awhile, said we to move to our old home.

3/31/1851 Lavinia Jackson and Mary Jane Williams here helping us prepare to move. J. Roberts Williams and Patrick Leebe each took two loads down.

4/1/1851 John and Sarah R. Williams, L. W. Roberts and his two daughters, Jacob Rhoads, Margret and Sarah Davis, Janette Davis, Margaret McVeagh and son B. Franklin, and J. W. Williams come to help, also Henry Christy. We got down about 10 o’clock all safe.

1851 map2

4/2/1852 John and Sarah Williams sold to 46+ acres to Charles Wheatley (Wheatley Mine) – (deed R5-174)

4/5/1852 We felt bad to leave the neighborhood at such a time when our kind old friend was to be entered, but being all ready and our waggons loaded we felt we must go. Our kind neighbor, Mary King, wife of Eli from Moorehall come to assist us.

4/6/1852 Janetta Davis came to see us, we were all ready to start, her father had not come with his horses, as the waggon was brought the day before and loaded. She told us he would come if it quit snowing, which it did about that time. Eli and Mary King come with their two horse Dearborne which took a good many things. Joseph Roberts had a two horse Dearborne and Lewis’s big waggon, and Morris Miller to drive it. Lewis and Sarah in their Dearborne. Joseph, Mary Jane Williams and myself in our dearborne. We started about ten and seen Samuel Davis coming with his horses.

We arrived in Norristown on the main street opposite S. Aaron school about one o’clock, to our new home [close to Mary W. Roberts]. Joseph then 66; Mary 67.

9/2/1854 Mary engaged in a school in Delaware county.

1856 Septennial Census Lewis Roberts, Wheelwright;
John Williams, farmer (Charlestown)

4/14/1857 Joseph Roberts died in Schuylkill township.

Sloto3, from Rogers 1858

1/29/1866 Mary Roberts died.

6/22/1872 John and Sarah Williams sold 6+ acres to B. Franklin Williams [son?] including paper mill. – (deed F8-15)

Witmer’s 1873 atlas4

1874 Lewis W. Roberts died, aged 61

Breou’s 1883 atlas5


The diary is presently owned by Susann Welsh and Ellen Kehr. It is part of a collection of local historical material made by Clarence Roberts, their great great uncle. He was the grandson of Mary Roberts. Susann and Ellen’s provision of open access to the material in this collection and support made this study possible.

Notes and References

  1. Whig cartoon showing the effects of unemployment on a family that has portraits of Democratic Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren on the wall.

    Henry Dacre (1820-?) - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g03240.
  2. Courtesy of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville area.
  3. Sloto, Ron; Chester County Mines and Minerals, self-published.
  4. Witmer’s atlas. Online copies of the atlas available at and
  5. Breou’s atlas. Online copies of the atlas available at and