Briefs of Title

In Action: An Example

About This Project
Historical Context
How to Use the Index
View Index
(Large File)
In Action: An Example

The following is a history of the early years of a block of Philadelphia,
as derived largely from a Brief of Title

Note: This history is written by the author of this website, using information from the Brief of Title in order to provide an example of the kind of data a brief contains. A Brief is an excellent starting point, but will only provide a researcher with basic background information: names, dates, locations of further documents, etc, and that only up until the date the Brief was printed. In order to tell the story of this plot of land, this description makes use of several other sources. However, since the goal is to give a sense of what information is contained in a Brief, throughout the following, all information not taken directly from the Brief is in italics.

The 2000 Block of Pine Street

“Brief of Title to all that Lot or Piece of Ground, situate on the North Side of Pine Street, between Schuylkill Second and Third Streets, in the City of Philadelphia…”

From a Brief of Title bound under collection WK.315, Volume 4 (the 19th brief in the volume) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


The Brief starts with the precise dimensions of the property in question: 495 feet of frontage on Pine Street stretching 366 feet back from it in between Schuylkill Second and Schuylkill Third Streets (today Twenty-first and Twentieth Streets). The, the brief begins to tell the story of each land transfer which included this parcel. The entire stretch between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, along the North side of Pine Street, was patented to William Markham, Robert Turner, and John Goodson, Commissioners to the “Free Society of Traders” on March 24, 1681. The patent was recorded in Patent Book A, Number 1, page 371.

This company was part of Penn’s plan to profit from his “Holy Experiment,” the founding of Philadelphia. It was an early company modeled after the British East India Company and similar ventures. Chartered in 1682, shortly after the founding of the province, it was to monopolize trade in Pennsylvania by operating the most lucrative trading stations in Philadelphia, but went bankrupt after only a few years (Encyclopedia Britannica 2005).

The Society’s property was seized by the province, which then asked a group of merchants to handle its disposal by resale. The block in question apparently was sold in two parcels. One went to Peter Evans for 80 pounds and 10 shillings, a transaction that was entered into the Philadelphia Deed Books in 1827 (although the purchase occurred before 1723) in book GWR 15, page 588. In the Brief, Evans is said to have purchased “all that lot or parcel of land between Schuylkill Second [now 21st] and Schuylkill Third [now 20th] Streets on the north side of Pine, bounded on the north by a vacancy.” More precise descriptions of Evans’ holdings would presumably be available in the deed. The other is less clearly described in the Brief, but ultimately descends to a Juliana Rawlins, who is discussed more below.

Back to top

William Penn at Age 22 (Library of Congress 2005)


In 1745 Peter Evans died, leaving his entire property to his son, John and son-in-law Peter Robertson in trust to dispose of at their discretion. The two chose to sell the land, which they did the same year to Thomas and Richard Penn for 608 pounds.

Thomas (1702-1775) and Richard (1710-1771) were both sons of William Penn (1644-1718), founder of Philadelphia and proprietor of Pennsylvania, and his second wife Hannah (Stanklos 2005).

Richard Penn died in 1771 and left his share in this plot to his brother. Now Thomas was the sole owner, and upon his death in 1775, it descended to his three children, John, Granville, and Sophia.

Much of the Penn family lands were confiscated during the Revolution (although the 1779 decree which mandated the confiscation also allocated the respectable sum of 130,000 pounds in compensation to be paid to the Penn family three years after peace was established). However, this particular plot of land was exempted since it had been purchased by the Penn family, and was not directly a part of their original grant from the king (Stanklos 2005).

Back to top

John Penn, son of Thomas and grandson of William
(Living Easton 2005)


Thomas Penn’s son John (1760-1834) left his share to his brother Granville (1761-1844) on his death in 1834. Granville was apparently still in England (as, quite likely, was John) as he is described in John’s will) as “of Chelsea Farm, in the Parish of Chelsea, and County of Middlesex, in England.” It was John’s hope that his brother would sell the remainder of his estate and apply the profit towards “increasing the family property.” John’s will is recorded in Philadelphia Will Book 11, page 667.

As far as can be determined from the Brief, most transactions concerning this land and the Penn family in general were carried out from England, and most members of the family including the owners of this plot remained there, conducting business through others invested with power of attorney or through letters.

This trend of foreign owners buying, selling, and leaving land by will in absentia continues, as in 1844 Granville Penn (son of John) leaves the land to his son “Granville John Penn of Stoke Park” a famous estate in England (currently a resort).

Back to top

Stoke Park, home of Granville John Penn
(Nitedine 2005)


In 1846, two years after Granville Penn’s death, his son, Granville John Penn, signed a power of attorney entrusting his business affairs to George Cadwalader (whether this is the same person as the famous General is unknown at this time, although the timing would be consistent). As this document was formally presented at the American Consulate in London, it is presumed that this occurred in England, and that Cadwalader was to represent Granville John Penn in his business affairs in America.

Sophia Penn, daughter of Thomas and granddaughter of William Penn, had also received a share of the property in question along with her brothers John and Granville in 1775. She died in 1847, leaving her entire estate to her son, Henry Stuart, who either traveled to America or while still in England signed a power of attorney to S. Morris Waln who himself came to America. Either way, this letter was presented at the American consulate in London in 1852, and then taken to Philadelphia.

As noted above, the chain of title is less clear with respect to the second share of the property which was not sold to Peter Evans in the late seventeenth century. In time, however, it descends to one Juliana Rawlins, whose 1849 will (registered in Philadelphia Will Book 30, page 211) gave “all my lands and hereditaments situated at Philadelphia or elsewhere, in the State of Pennsylvania, in America…” to Mary, Countess of Ranfurly. This will was also recorded in the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury, illustrating that most transactions concerning this property still occurred in England, even sixty years after the revolution.

Back to top

Mary, The 2nd Countess Ranfurly (Pub Rec N Ire 2005)


Mary and her husband, Thomas Knox, the Earl Ranfurly, sold all their land in the United States to their son William Stuart Knox for $1, who then apparently came to America, or while still in England signed a power of attorney granting control to the same S. Morris Waln entrusted with that power by Henry Stuart, son of Sophia Penn. This document also was presented at the American Consulate in London, and again at the Port of Bayonne, in New Jersey.

Therefore, by 1852, the land is possessed by William Stuart Knox, Henry Stuart and Granville John Penn, possibly all still living in England, and the right to sell the land resides in George Cadwalader and S. Morris Waln, probably both in Philadelphia. In one transaction, recorded in one deed (in Philadelphia Deed Book TH 37, page 238), all the land (lower 366 feet of the block bounded today by Spruce, Pine, 20th and 21st) is sold for $39,000 to John McCrea, who promptly has the Brief of Title in question printed, and begins the process of subdividing it for development for the expanding city.

On Sept 4th, 1852, T I. Wharton, an attorney pronounced: “I have examined and considered the foregoing brief and the deeds and other documents produced and I am of the opinion that a good sufficient title in fee, to the lot of ground on the north side of Pine Street, between Schuylkill Second and Third Streets, in the City of Philadelphia, particularly described at the head of the Brief, is deduced to John M’Crea.”

Back to top

Thomas Knox, The 2nd Earl Ranfurly (Pub Rec N Ire 2005)


The remainder of the story of this “lot or piece of ground” is best told through images, primarily the fire insurance maps which began to be published in Philadelphia about this time. The story they tell is of an area on the edge of urbanized Philadelphia becoming the hottest address in town.

In 1858, the Hexamer map reveals that it is late being developed: almost no buildings exist on the block, and one small street has been laid out halfway across the center, while the block to the east, closer to the center of the city, is almost completely developed. Several houses with larger frontages, an indication of status and wealth, are mixed into the neighborhood. To the west, however, much more of the land is vacant, and the houses tend to be smaller.

The less-detailed Smedley map of 1862 indicates that McCrea’s plan for developing the area has progressed further. There is now a small street, called here “West Delancey Place,” running t across the block, along with two alleys. Buildings cluster on the southeast quarter of the block.

By 1875, McCrea’s investment seems to have paid off. The block is now divided into 87 lots, all but one of which is built on. Importantly, the lots are not of uniform size: several properties are significantly larger, especially those along the south side of Delancey, indicating more upper class houses.

In the Bromley 1896 map includes the names of the owners of each building on the land covered by this Brief of Title. The last vacant lot has been filled, and the occupants are a who’s-who of Philadelphia elites: Biddles, Camacs, Whartons, Campbells, and Furnesses to name just a few.

(Hopkins 1875)
(Bromley 1896)
East Half of the block and area (Hexamer 1858)

West Half of the block and area (Hexamer 1858)

(Smedley 1862)


Today, this block is still an address of note. The buildings remain single-family dwellings, and are immaculately cared for. Together they give an impression of stateliness and success.
The 2000 Block of Pine,
North Side, in 2005
(Photo by the Author)
        2017 and 2019
Pine Street in 2005
(Photo by the Author)

Back to top


Amsterdam, Lewis L. “One Hundred Percent Intra City Business Property Atlas of Philadelphia, Penna.” Philadelphia: Franklin Survey Company, 1939. Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.

Bromley, George W., and Walter S. Bromley, eds. “Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, Central Business Property.” Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley & Co, 1896. Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “History of the Limited-Liability Company.” Electronic Resource,, accessed December 14, 2005.

Hexamer, Ernest, and William Locher. “Maps of the City of Philadelphia.” Philadelphia: Hexamer Company, 1858. Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.

Hopkins, G. M., “City Atlas of Philadelphia By Wards.” Philadelphia: GM Hopkins and Co, 1875. Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection.

Library of Congress. “America’s Story from America’s Library: William Penn.” Electronic Resource, , accessed December 2, 2005.

McElroy, A. “McElroy’s Philadelphia Directory” 1855. Philadelphia: J. Biddle and Co. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

McElroy, A. “McElroy’s Philadelphia Directory” 1860. Philadelphia: J. Biddle and Co. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Living Easton. “The Penn Family: Six Part Investigation into a family of Slavers, Traders & Thieves; Quakers & Anglicans; Colonialists, Royalists & Warmongers.” Electronic Resource,, accessed December 2, 2005.

NiteDine.Com. “Stoke Park.” Electronic Resource,, accessed December 2, 2005.

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. “Private Records: Picture List.” Electronic Resource,, accessed December 2, 2005.

Smedley, Samuel L. “Smedley’s Atlas of the City of Philadelphia.” Philadelphia: Lippincott Co., 1862. Free Library of Philadelphia, Map Collection. “Virtual American Biographies.” Electronic Resource,, accessed December 2, 2005.

Back to top

John M. Chenoweth, Fall 2005
for HSPV 600, Documentation, University of Pennsylvania, J. Cohen, Professor.