Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Rhea, Jonathan
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Jonathan Rhea Legal Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
2 boxes and 0.8 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-2


This collection consists of correspondence and legal documents of eighteenth-century lawyer and legal clerk Jonathan Rhea (1758-1815), of Trenton, New Jersey, as well as legal records created by others following his death. The materials mainly reference land transactions, lawsuits, and the collecting of debts in the Trenton area, but also extending to New Brunswick, Burlington, Monmouth County, and other localities.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the papers of Jonathan Rhea, and papers of others, most likely related to his legal office. More than half of the collection is not directly associated with Rhea, and much of this material was created after Rhea's death in 1815.

Series 1, "Papers of Jonathan Rhea," dates from 1786 to 1814 and is almost entirely legal in nature. Researchers will find accounts, bills, promissory notes, receipts, land transactions, court records, and correspondence, which makes up the bulk of this series. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author, and all but five letters are addressed to Rhea. The five letters not addressed to Rhea were written by Rhea to Robert Montgomery and Colonel Joshua Howell. The two letters written to Colonel Joshua Howell describe the "Insurrection at Princeton," also known as the "Great Rebellion" at Princeton in 1807, when several College of New Jersey students resisted the authority of the College and, in particular, President Samuel Stanhope Smith. Of interest, and of a more personal nature, are the bills from Pearsons for the building of Rhea's home in 1810.

Series 2, "Papers of Others," dates from 1774 to 1892, and like the first series, is almost entirely legal in nature. The bulk of this series is correspondence, which is arranged alphabetically by author. Some of the recipients include John Baggs, Rachel (or Rachael) Borden, Jesse Bowen, James Imlay, John Johnston, Benjamin F. Lee, William B. Manning, Samuel Reid, Nathaniel Smith, and John Wachsmith. The correspondence mainly refers to legal matters, and may relate to the court records, which are arranged by court. Researchers will also find financial records, land records, military records, and wills.

It is unclear how all the authors, recipients, and papers are related to Jonathan Rhea. Some materials were created by, received by, or reference Rhea's relatives, including his uncle and Sheriff of Monmouth County, Colonel David Rhea (1740-1821); his wife's uncle and Sheriff of Monmouth County, David Forman (1733-1812); his son, Nicholas Rhea (1792-1817), a graduate of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University); his son-in-law and colleague, Garret Dorset Wall (1783-1850); and his nephew, William W. Montgomery (1778-1864). Others, including Charles Ewing and James H. Imlay, were colleagues.

Collection Creator Biography:

Rhea, Jonathan

Jonathan Rhea (1758-1815), a Trenton attorney, was born April 9, 1758, to Robert and Mary Forman Rhea. He served in the army during the American Revolution, attaining the rank of captain, and later served as a colonel during the Pennsylvania Insurrection (Whiskey Rebellion) of 1794. Rhea was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1784 and served two terms as clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1793 to 1807 and as clerk of Monmouth County Court of Common Pleas. In 1789, Rhea served as a presidential elector. Rhea subsequently served as Quartermaster-General of New Jersey from 1812 to 1813 and was president of the Trenton Banking Company from 1807 until his death on February 3, 1815.

Jonathan Rhea married Mary Matilda Rutgers (1763-1800) and they were the parents of four children, Richard (1788-1816), Anthony (1791-1793), Nicholas (1792-1817), and Mary (1792-1817) who married Garret Dorset Wall (1783-1850). Garret Dorset Wall worked with Jonathan Rhea in his legal practice, and also served as clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court, as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly, as United States District Attorney for New Jersey, and as a United States Senator.

Rhea worked closely with several other prominent New Jersey politicians and attorneys including Charles Ewing (1780-1832) and James H. Imlay (1764-1823).

Collection History

Custodial History

The collection was formed as a result of a departmental practice of combining into one collection manuscript material of various accessions relating to a particular author or historical figure.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Holly Mengel in 2012. Finding aid written by Holly Mengel in 2012.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Jonathan Rhea Legal Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-2