Joshua Gilpin, Esq., Kentmere, Delaware: the life and writings of a country gentleman
Lazarus, Myron L.
University of Delaware
Joshua Gilpin (1765-1841) was a miller of fine quality paper on the shores of the Brandywine River near Wilmington, Delaware. He lived in the tradition, prevalent in Philadelphia, or the English country gentleman, whose leisure allowed him time for the arts, writing, extensive travel and public service. Gilpin was a business leader of his community and knew many of the important men of the era in and out of Delaware. A biography of Joshua Gilpin describes Delaware business of the early 19th century and presents a picture of a country gentleman in the Brandywine area. ☐ The family of Joshua Gilpin can be traced to the days of William the Conqueror. In the 13th century the family patriarch, Richard de Guylpin, was given The estate of Kentmere in northern England for services to the crown. In England the Gilpins were leaders in politics, the military, the arts and the church. Joseph, an English Quaker, in 1696 landed at New Castle, Delaware, and settled on land in Pennsylvania inherited by his wife. From Joseph the Gilpin family in America is descended, including Joshua's illustrious father, Thomas Gilpin. This businessman was an example of the early Quaker gentry of Philadelphia and was one of the leading "amateur scientists" in the country, whose interest in science led him to friendship with Benjamin Franklin. Because of his independence of mind and non-violence beliefs as a Quaker, Thomas, during the Revolutionary War, was exiled to Virginia where he became ill and died. ☐ As a young man Joshua Gilpin had an interest in a mercantile business (inherited from his father) with his relatives, the Fishers, in Philadelphia; and he retained an interest in Joshua Fisher and Co. even during the operation of the paper mill. Throughout his life Gilpin bought, sold and rented property in Pennsylvania and Delaware. There were flour and cotton mills in which he also invested. During his residence in Delaware, Gilpin, like other millers on the Brandywine, was a "general merchant,” buying grain in Delaware and Maryland and selling it in the markets of Philadelphia. ☐ Similar to other Quaker merchants, Gilpin, having inherited money and an old English name, followed the tradition of the English landed gentry. (Since he lived in England for twelve years of his life he probably came closer to that tradition than most Americans.) Early in his life he lived among Quaker society in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century he lived the life of a country gentleman at his home called Kentmere, which was situated near the mill site overlooking the Brandywine River. The area still retains the name Kentmere. There he managed the mill and other business interests and raised a family, some of whom became better known than their rather. ☐ The eldest son, Henry D. Gilpin, became the United States Attorney General during the Van Buren administration. Another son, William, was appointed the first governor of the Colorado Territory by Lincoln. ☐ Gilpin's home, Kentmere, was the stopping place for travelers, business people, politicians, intellectuals -- all friends of the miller. Among Gilpin's acquaintances of local fame were E. I. duPont, Thomas Rodney, Louis McLane and John Dickinson. Gilpin knew such national figures as Benjamin Latrobe, Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin, and Presidents Washington, Jackson and Yan Buren. ☐ Joshua himself had a variety of interests, which have been noted in his letters, family papers and journals of his many travels in the United States and Europe. Gilpin did a considerable amount of creative writing. He was an amateur historian. As was the custom of his class in that day, he wrote poetry, which displays sensitivity and some talent. His journals show an interest in such topics as science, farming, art, economics, geology, politics, history, manufacture, ad infinitum. Typical of the merchant gentry, Gilpin had an interest in community affairs. The spark for the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal which connects the Delaware River with the Chesapeake Bay was started by his father. Joshua himself was one of the most important figures associated with the development of the Canal. He devoted time and money to the Wilmington Academy. Though he himself never obtained public office, he was closely informed by leading politicians of the day and passed this interest in politics on to his son, Henry. As a miller and an employer, he retained an artisan's interest in his product and in the welfare of his employees. At various times he spoke for Delaware in answering inquiries from the federal government concerning manufacturing, tariff and canals. ☐ Gilpin had a "gentleman's" appreciation of leisure and pleasure, but he was a Quaker with that sect's characteristics of simplicity and moderation. He was at once a practical man of the market place and a man of artistic tastes. He was, what is rare today, a businessman and litterateur.