Harmony Society Silk Letter Book, 1842-1852

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

According to a letter penned by Charles Norris dated April 19, 1759 a pair of silk stockings made by Su­sanna Wright of Lancaster from the first eggs hatched and silk processed in the Province of Pennsylvania were pre­sented to General Jeffrey Amherst, commander of Britain’s forces in North America. In 1771, Susanna Wright won a £10 prize from the Philadelphia Silk Society for the largest quantity of silk produced hy a single person in Pennsylva­nia, and a court dress made from this silk was later pre­sented to Queen Charlotte. “Directions for the Management of Silk Worms by the Late Ms. S. Wright of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania” was published on pages 103-107 of volume 1 of the Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal in 1804. Using her methods, it required approximately one hundred pounds of mulberry leaves to yield fifteen pounds of cocoons that could produce one pound of raw silk (see “If Looms Could Speak: the Story of Pennsylvania’s Silk Industry” by Liz Armstrong Hall in this edition).

In 1835 the Harmony Society in western Pennsylvania began further perfecting the technology of silk manu­facturing, from worm to fabric, for which they received gold medals during exhibition competitions in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Among the Harmony Society Papers (Manuscript Group 185) held at Old Economy Village is the Silk Letter Book, 1842-1852, of which the first page is illustrated here. The Harmony Society Papers also contain Instructions for Dying Silk, circa 1830-1847; a Silk Sample Book, 1835; a Record of the Silk Production in Economy, 1842, 1847-1850; Cotton and Silk Book, 1826-1844; Record of Silk Production, 1847; Silk Goods Books, 1843-1845; and Silk Goods Completed and Delivered to the Society, 1842-1844.

The Harmony Society was founded in 1805 by Johann Georg Rapp (1757- 1847), a farmer and vinedresser born in lptigen, Germany, who promoted a vision of early Christian communalism. Members established their first commu­nity in the Connoquenessing Valley of Butler County in 1805 where all prop­erty was held in common. In 1814 the Society moved to Indiana but returned in 1824 to establish the village of Economy in Beaver County. In addition to the 303 cubic feet of the Harmony Society Papers, the Old Economy Village also holds the John S. Duss Papers (MG 310); Old Economy Village Collec­tion (MG 354); Karl Arndt Collection of Harmony Society Materials (MG 437); Knoedler Family Collection (MG 330); and the Henry Mohn Family Collection (MG 332).