Timothy Matlack (c. March 28, 1730 – April 14, 1829) was a merchant, surveyor, architect, statesman, and patriot in the American Revolution. A delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress in 1780, he emerged during the Revolutionary period as one of Pennsylvania's most provocative and influential political figures.
Timothy Matlack was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, to Martha Burr and Timothy Matlack, a Quaker merchant and brewer. In 1745, the family relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where young Timothy attended the Quaker Friends' School. In 1748 he married Ellen Yarnall, the daughter of Quaker preacher Mordecai Yarnall, with whom he had five children (William, Mordecai, Sibyl, Catharine, Martha). After Ellen's death in 1791, Matlack married widow Elizabeth Claypoole Copper (1751-1825) in 1797; they had no children.
Known to be a sword-toting patriot around the streets of Philadelphia, Matlack was active in the revolutionary politics of Philadelphia, serving on committees of inspection and observation, and attending the conference in June 1776 that called for a convention to draft a new state constitution. As a delegate to that convention he, along with his radical Whig faction, was instrumental in drafting the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and its declaration of rights. He was an ardent defender of the constitution against its moderate Republican critics, most notably James Wilson. During this period Matlack authored a number of newspaper articles under the pseudonym T.G. (Tiberius Gracchus) attacking opponents of the constitution. He served in a variety of officers thereafter, most importantly as the first Secretary to the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For his patriotic devotion to the cause of freedom and independence from Great Britain and the many services rendered by him throughout the struggle, Matlack was presented a silver urn by the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety of which he was a member. After the Revolution, Matlack served in a variety of government posts in Pennsylvania, including as the first Director of the Bank of North America from 1781-1782.
On April 8, 1776, the 5th Rifle Battalion of Philadelphia met to select officers in Carpenters' Hall, where Matlack was elected and later commissioned a Colonel in a local militia known as the Philadelphia Associators, also known as the "Shirt Battalion". Campaigning in New Jersey under General John Cadwalader, Matlack's battalion was engaged in the battles of Trenton and Princeton that later helped rally General Washington's Continental Army to victory in the Revolution. During this time Matlack was also appointed by the Continental Congress as overseer of provisions to the Continental Army.
On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved by the majority of colonies and on July 19 the Continental Congress ordered the Declaration to be "fairly engrossed on parchment" and signed by every member of Congress. As a clerk to the Secretary of the Continental Congress, Matlack was chosen to inscribe the historic document that now rests on display in the National Archives. Matlack is also known to have penned in 1775 George Washington's commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the United Colonies (Continental Army), among other important documents of the time.
While serving as Secretary of the Supreme Executive Council, Matlack played an instrumental role in the May, 1779 court martial of General Benedict Arnold in Morristown, serving as one of the prosecution's chief witnesses during the trial. The third charge read against General Arnold claimed that he imposed "menial offices on the sons of freemen of the State," a reference to an incident involving Matlack's son, William.
At the height of his political and social influence, Matlack was elected a trustee (1779–1785) of the University of the State of Pennsylvania (presently the University of Pennsylvania). During this period he was also elected to the American Philosophical Society, where he served as Secretary of the organization from 1781-83. In 1780, Matlack delivered the first address before the Society, where he advocated for the institutionalization of agricultural in the interest of national development. “In our endeavors to promote the interest and happiness of our country,” Matlack declared, “let us apply to intelligent husbandmen in every part of the state and collect the real knowledge among us" and "arrange it into science”. Matlack called upon the University of the State of Pennsylvania, as well as other colleges, to foster the development of modern agricultural research and education in America. "The Star-bespangled Genius of America..." he proclaimed, "points to Agriculture as the stable Foundation of the rising mighty Empire." In 1811, Matlack donated to the Society a Book of hours, a devotional book popular among Christians during the Middle Ages that survives today as part of the Society's official collection.
In 1781, Matlack helped found along with Samuel Wetherill the Religious Society of Free Quakers, which consisted mostly of Quakers disowned for their support of or participation in the armed conflict with Great Britain during the American war for independence. One of the earliest opponents of slavery in British colonies in America, Matlack felt the Quakers were not moving quickly enough on abolition. Along with Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris and others, Matlack helped raise a substantial sum of money to construct the Free Quaker Meeting House at the corner of Fifth and Arch streets in downtown Philadelphia, where he and other members of the society, including his brothers Josiah and White, openly worshiped. Matlack has been attributed with the architectural design of the Free Quaker Meeting House and its masonry vaults. He was also hired in 1794 by Philadelphia merchant and politician Anthony Morris to design a late Georgian style mansion in the countryside just outside of Philadelphia. The estate is known today as the Highlands.
In 1790, Matlack was commissioned along with Samuel Maclay and John Adlum by the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania to survey the "headwaters of the Susquehanna River and the streams of the New Purchase," the northwestern portion of the state purchased from the American Indians. They were also charged with exploring a route for a passageway to connect the West Branch with the Allegheny River.
After his death in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania on April 14, 1829, Matlack was interred in the Free Quaker Burial Ground on South Fifth Street, Philadelphia. His remains were removed from the Burial Ground in 1905 and reinterred in Matson's Ford, Montgomery Co., Pennsylvania, in the Flatlands of the Schuylkill River opposite Valley Forge.
Matlack's penmanship in the Declaration and other historical documents of the time has inspired a number of modern typefaces, or fonts, such as American Scribe, Declaration Script, and National Archive. Handwriting in the colonial period was heavily influenced by Europe, in particular by 18th century English writing masters. By the mid-18th century, there were special schools established to teach handwriting techniques, or penmanship. Master penmen like Timothy Matlack were employed to copy official documents such as land deeds, birth and marriage certificates, military commissions, and other legal documents. The development of copperplate engraving allowed for the use of very delicate type faces with many flourishes and curlicues in the script-like letters, which greatly influenced handwriting. Elegant handwriting became a sign of social status. One can readily see these influences in Matlack's penmanship in the Declaration of Independence. In particular, his use of English Roundhand script stands out. This form of script was executed with a feather quill pen and was actually a form of handwriting. The script is known today as Copperplate.
- Fanelli, Doris Devine, Karie Diethorn and John C. Milley. History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001.
- Johnson, Allen and Dumas Malone, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1933, vol 12, pp 409–410
- Landis, Bertha Cochran. Col. Timothy Matlack. Papers read before the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. XLII-No.6; Lancaster, PA: 1938.
- Stackhouse, A. M. Col. Timothy Matlack, Patriot and Soldier. [N.p.]: Privately printed, 1910.
- Wetherill, Charles. History of The Religious Society of Friends Called by Some The Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed for the Society, 1894
- Yarnall, John K. Yarnall Family Record in America from 1683 to 1913. Chicago, Dec. 1913.; William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. II - Philadelphia MM records.
- Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth, (ed. Millegrand Pencak, W., the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA, 2002, p. 117)
- Simpson, Henry. The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians Now Deceased. Philadelphia: William Brotherhead, 1859; p. 685.
- Proceedings of a General Court Martial. New York: Privately Printed, 1865.
- Matlack, Timothy. An Oration, delivered March 16, 1780 : Before the Patron, Vice-presidents and Members of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1780.
- Timothy Matlack Book of Hours, American Philosophical Society
- Peterson, Charles E. Notes on The Free Quaker Meeting House. Washington D.C.: Ross & Perry Inc, 2002.
- Storey, Henry Wilson. "History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania." New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1907.
- Timothy Matlack at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Biography, Timothy Matlack at the University of Pennsylvania
- Free Quaker Meeting House architectural drawing by Timothy Matlack, Library of Congress