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Chester County's First Unofficial Archivist
Posted on September 25, 2018 at 2:08 PM by Chester County Archives
In the winter of 1737, Chester County Clerk of Courts Joseph Parker was concerned about the safety of the public records that were stored in the Courthouse. At that time, the Commissioners had entrusted the safety of the records to an unknown person. Not only was this person responsible for the care of these important documents, he was actually living in the courthouse and burning fires to stay warm. Nothing was more alarming and potentially devastating than a fire in a public building. In this period, there were no “backups.” Deeds, wills, court filings could rapidly go up in smoke, not only destroying the legal and economic history of the county, but potentially calling into question individuals’ property rights.
Parker was alarmed and deeply concerned by the potential danger to the public records, so he wrote a letter to the commissioners. Writing in his neat, precise hand, he began by flattering the public officials. He noted that early commissioners “as well as your selves appointed proper persons to take care of” the records. However, “It is apparent to every person that will make use of his eyes that the doors are most commonly left open for horses and cattle to go in and out at pleasure - the furniture broke and exceedingly diminished and the place made a common stage whereby rude people breaks the windows, treads down the ceiling and commits many disorders which if not timely prevented must end in the ruin thereof.”*
This was not the first time Joseph Parker advocated for better care of the county’s records. In 1724, as the first true custodian of the public records of Chester County, Parker petitioned the Commissioners for a room dedicated to record storage in the newly built courthouse. While this room in the Chester courthouse was not referred to as an “archives,” in many ways it functioned as one. It was because of Joseph Parker’s persistent advocacy for the public records in this early and critical period that many of our county’s records have survived to this day. His constant vigilance was carried through by his successors so that today Chester County can boast of having the most complete collection of early county government records in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
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