Talk:Joseph Priestley House

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Featured article Joseph Priestley House is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
Main Page trophy This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on April 18, 2009.
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Date Process Result
January 15, 2008 Peer review Reviewed
February 2, 2008 Featured article candidate Promoted
Did You Know A fact from this article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page in the "Did you know?" column on November 7, 2007.
Current status: Featured article

Details on proposed closure[edit]

On 4 March 2009, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) released a study of its 22 museums and historic sites, here: "Planning Our Future: Sustainability Committee Final Report". It recommended discontinuing operations at six of its sites, four of which are National Historic Landmarks. Proposed cuts to the PHMC budget mean these sites could close as early as July 1, 2009:

Contact information for the Governor and Director of the PHMC are here for anyone interested in commenting on the proposal. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 04:00, 12 April 2009 (UTC)

Emigrate vs immigrate[edit]

It seems that the usage of the words "emigrate" and "immigrate" used in the article is not consistent with their definitions. See this description from Washington State University. For example, "emigrate from England" and "immigrate to the United States" would be correct usage, not "emigrated to the United States" as found in the article's introduction. I would like to change the article so that these terms are correctly used. Before doing that, though, I would like to get consensus from Wikipedians that this change should be made. Thanks. Truthanado (talk) 14:03, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

It's my understanding that the spelling depends on where the speaker is. If you are in the U.S., someone immigrates to the U.S. (coming to where the speaker is). If you are in England, moving to the U.S., it's emigrates to the U.S. (leaving the place the speaker is). But, feel free to correct me because I heartily enjoy realizing something I understood for many years is just wrong. --Moni3 (talk) 15:51, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
"Emigrated to the United States" is fine, provided it's transitioning from discussion of his time in England. By your logic, how would you fill in "_______ from England to the U.S."? Shoemaker's Holiday (talk) 16:24, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
"Emigrate from England to the U.S.". The rule is "emigrate from" and "immigrate to". Now, if the locations were turned around, it would be "Immigrate to the U.S. from England". Truthanado (talk) 17:35, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
In my opinion, it is all about context rather than prepositions. Look at the sentence: "Fleeing religious persecution and political turmoil in Britain, the Priestleys emigrated to the United States in 1794 seeking a peaceful life." - This sentence clearly indicates that the Priestleys moved from England to the US, which means that "emigrated" is the correct word. More importantly, they fled, so I think it is important to retain the idea of emigration over immigration. Awadewit (talk) 18:12, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
I agree with Awadewit. A mob burnt their house in Birmingham and the Priestleys fled to the US after a few unhappy years in London - to my thinking emigrate has more of this sense of being driven out. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 21:16, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
Good discussion. Looks like the article should stay as-is. Thanks for everyone's comments. Truthanado (talk) 21:28, 18 April 2009 (UTC)

A good read[edit]

I enjoyed this article. Amandajm (talk) 01:02, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

Thanks! Awadewit (talk) 23:50, 21 April 2009 (UTC)


See this Raul654 (talk) 05:37, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

  • Thanks - there is also a letter signed by 18 recipients of the Chemistry Nobel Prize and/or Priestley Medal urging the state not to close the house. [1] Ruhrfisch ><>°° 14:17, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Alt text[edit]

With the new requirement for alt text in FAs, I have added alt text to each of the images here. Please adjust as necessary. The only image I could not add any to was the panorama. I did not see a field in the template documentation. Is there a way to add such a field to the template? Awadewit (talk) 21:05, 8 July 2009 (UTC)

Thanks, I asked that the alt text parameter be added on both the Template talk:Panorama simple and Template talk:Wide image talk pages. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 10:48, 11 July 2009 (UTC)
Yes check.svg Done The parameter has finally been added, so I added alt text. It is my first attempt at such, so I was probably too prolix. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 19:09, 22 August 2009 (UTC)


During a recent visit I noticed two things that were on the tour but not mentioned in this article. There is a well in the summer kitchen, about 40 feet deep IIRC. According to the tour guide this was unusual for the time. The tour guide also said that the excavations in the lab had turned up artifacts from Native Americans. I do not have reliable sources for either, but could look for them if these seemed like they should be added here. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 10:54, 11 July 2009 (UTC)

If you feel the need. :) Interestingly, our guide did not mention those facts. Awadewit (talk) 01:47, 24 July 2009 (UTC)
I will double check the sources I have to see if they mention the well. I have a (bad) photo of it. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 03:52, 17 August 2009 (UTC)


The state legislature and governor cannot come up with a budget so the PHMC closed the Priestley House on August 14 indefintely along with three other PHMC museums. The employees were all furloughed. I added the closure to the article - hopefully when the budget is resolved something better will happen. Sigh. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 03:52, 17 August 2009 (UTC)

The Daily Item has a better story on it here - once the budget is resolved the Friends have a plan to operate it on weekends (better than nothing). I will reread that article and add details tomorrow. Sigh indeed. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 04:09, 17 August 2009 (UTC)
OK, I added the Nobel Prize and Preistley Medal letter and the Friends plan to the article. I left the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ref in because the Daily Item story mistakenly says the Conrad Weiser House is the fourth to be closed (the [Reading newspaper] says it closed ealrier in August). Feel free to tweak, but my guess is this will change soon (please let the state legislature agree on a budget soon). Ruhrfisch ><>°° 03:12, 18 August 2009 (UTC)

The transcript of the public meeting the PHMC had is online here. Interesting reading, but not really sure if it should be included in the article. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 03:35, 10 November 2009 (UTC)

Strasburg, Pennsylvania House[edit]

This house in Strasburg, Preistly Strasburg.JPG was "reportedIy" where JP lived before going to Northumberland. I included the basic information on this at the commons page. The uneven roof line shows the age of the building - and I suspect there is something behind the "reportedly" but wouldn't want to mar a Featured article with unverified info. Smallbones (talk) 21:23, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

I don't know - it doesn't look old enough (Priestley was there in the 18th century). Could we get a more exact source for the info? Awadewit (talk) 21:49, 11 March 2010 (UTC)
The chimney looks old - if it is really old enough, it has had new siding, new windows, and I suspect the garage is a much more recent addition. Agree it needs a reliable source, thanks, Ruhrfisch ><>°° 21:58, 11 March 2010 (UTC)
No cars in the 1790s, eh? Awadewit (talk) 22:01, 11 March 2010 (UTC)
Just car-riages ;-) The other possibility I thought of was that the garage could be a conversion (take part of a house and make it into a garage), but that seems pretty unlikely. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 22:07, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Just to make sure that you guys don't think I just made this up Strasburg Historic Building Inventory - look at the bottom of the page for 119 South Decatur. If you search the same address in Strasburg, PA and look at the west side of the street in google streetview, you'll see the same house, and I have a photo of the address numbers on the door of the same house. From a close up view of this and other old houses in Strasburg, I have no doubt that this building is really old (1800ish) and probably a log cabin - but in the pictures the new siding and TV antenna really disguise this. There must be some place the Strasburg Historical Society got this - but I have no idea where. Searching on Google is really tough since Priestley is connected to Strasbourg, Germany and the PHMC is related to both the (northern) Priestley house and the Strasburg RR Museum. Smallbones (talk) 03:17, 12 March 2010 (UTC)

I believed you all along and apologize for any impression I may have given that I did not. Thanks for the ref - good find! I had also tried to Google this and ran into the same problems you mentioned. There are two issues here - the first is that even the ref you gave (which I see as a reliable source) just says he "reportedly" lived here, so it would be nice to have a more detailed account - when, how long, says who? The second is how to include this in this article - at present the most I could see would be a mention of his living briefly in Strasburg on the way to Northumberland even with a more detailed source. If the "Priestley in America" article ever gets developed I can see this being mentioned there too. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 04:04, 12 March 2010 (UTC)

Professor Pond and Pond building renovations[edit]

I added two new bits to the article. One is a bit more on why Pond wanted to move the house to State College, referenced to a 1927 article in the Journal of Chemical Education (2 sentences, also split the paragraph after adding these). The second is on the renovation of the Pond building and its rededication recently. I added three sentences and reconfigured the last pargraph. There was room now, so I added a photo of the lab.

I made a visit recently and got some more photos, which I will upload soon. I have three things I do not have references for, but wanted to mention here:

  1. The Pond Museum was fireproof, but not well ventilated, so it was very prone to mold before the renovation. That is why none of his papers were stored there long term, and they had to tear out the interior to the brick walls for the renovation.
  2. Several of the Priestley artifacts are no longer in the house as the PHMC has taken them back to Harrisburg. The chess pieces were gone (though not the board). Some of the scientific equipment in the lab seemed to be gone, and most of the items that were in the display cases in the parlor were gone. Apparently when the PHMC staff left, the PHMC took their toys and went home. Sigh.
  3. I have now heard two different stories from different guides as to why the kitchen looks different compared to the rest of the house. The one story is that it was the first room restored and they mistakenly did it in Colonial style instead of Federal style. The second is that around 1927 a locomotive's boiler exploded outside the house (there used to be train tracks on Priestley Ave), and destroyed or damaged much of the kitchen, so it had to be rebuilt/restored. I know there used to be tracks there, and note that the two stories are not mutually exclusive (the second could have led to the first). I do think it odd that none of the sources I have seen mention an exploding steam engine, which is a pretty good story.

Anyway, I thought I would mention these here, and will keep an eye out for reliable sources / verification for these. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 16:55, 23 November 2010 (UTC)

  • Newspaper article on archeology excavations at the house here. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 18:43, 23 November 2010 (UTC)

Update Link[edit]

I have updated the external link to the American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks (NHCL) resource about this topic and updated the citation. The earlier citation, which lists Suplee as author, is not supported by the prior or the updated link, so I have removed that name as author and replaced with the program name. I am the program coordinator of the ACS-NHCL program, and the page that was referenced has been replaced with KLindblom (talk) 15:50, 15 March 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for the updated link - I have restored Curtis Suplee as the author as the new link used lists him as such "Acknowledgments: Produced by the American Chemical Society in 2004. Written by Curtis Suplee." Ruhrfisch ><>°° 18:45, 15 March 2012 (UTC)

Revisions to 'Settling in', and 'Last years'[edit]

I have corrected some minor errors, and added some detail, such as on the Loyalsock purchases. More largely, I have added to Priestley's involvement in political controversy, trying to emphasize the sequence of events.

This page as a whole, is a documentary of the Priestley House, not a biography of Joseph Priestley. Thus, events and activities that occurred in and about the house are pertinent, but it is important that contributors to not labour non-pertinent biographical details. If it is felt that my additions have erred in this respect, please say or re-edit these sections. Katbun (talk) 21:00, 1 July 2013 (UTC)

Thanks - I edited everything for WP:MOS compliance and removed almost all of the duplicate material from the main JP article. I removed some WP:Overlinking in the "Settling in" section. Also changed "Dr. Priestley" to just "Priestley" or "Joseph Priestley" per the MOS. As for the "Last years" section, I added a {{See also}} hatnote and the death dates of his son and wife. Since almost all of the material was copied from the JP section now linked, I do not think it needs to go into nearly as much detail as it did - see WP:WEIGHT. Most of the material I removed did not seem directly related to the house. I also had some WP:NPOV concerns with wording like Priestley's final years were blighted by the death... or To add to their troubles.... Ruhrfisch ><>°° 21:24, 26 July 2013 (UTC)

I have undone the change in regard to the three brothers' involvement in the purchase of the Loysalsock lands. Primary sources suggest that Joseph Priestley Jr. was the only member of the Priestley family who was a patentee to the Loyalsock land purchases. (Land Office records, transcribed in Mary Cathryne Park 'Joseph Priestley and the Problem of Pantisocrasy' [Philadelphia, 1947].); Penn State University Library, The Joseph Priestley Collection: 'Joseph Priestley Jr's Property inventory assets and debts account book, 1807-1810'. These do not preclude Joseph Priestley Jr.'s father and brothers investing inter nos. However, in William Priestley to John Vaughan 29 June 1800 (University of Birmingham, Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections: Mss: Ladd/3109; transcribed in Tony Rail: ‘William Priestley Vindicated, with a Previously Unpublished Letter', Enlightenment and Dissent, no.28 [2012], 150-195), in gathering his assets for he removal to the French territories on the Mississippi, William refers only his portion of the farm he had worked with his brother Henry. He makes no mention of any credit or assets in the Loyalsock lands.

T E Thorpe (1906), Anne Holt (1931) and subsequent biographers have assumed investments by all three brothers, but such unsubstantiated suppositions should not be rehearsed in an article for an encyclopaedia that pretends authoritativeness.

I also get palpitations when I see twelve written as 12. In English English, it is considered illiterate to write dimensionless numbers, except dates, as numerals rather than Roman (alphabetic) text. Does Wiki have a policy on this?

Katbun (talk) 09:02, 31 July 2013 (UTC)

I also notice that in Joseph Priestley Jr.'s Conclusion of his father's memoirs, he states "I [Joseph Jr.], and some other English gentlemen, projected a settlement of three hundred thousand acres of land ..." Katbun (talk) 09:24, 31 July 2013 (UTC)

First off, thanks for your edits. I am quite busy in real life and do not have much time to edit and apologize for the delay is replying.
As for 12 vs twelve, when this article was written and became a WP:FA it followed the Manual of Style as it then existed. I now see that WP:MOSNUM has been revised and allows more latitude on spelling out numbers, so "twelve" is fine.
As for which of the sons were involved in the land scheme, Wikipedia is supposed to reflect what all reliable published sources say, and as you note, there are quite a few that say all three sons were involved - see for example the Priestley House's own brochure here (PDF) (last column, side 2, Plans for a colony, "During that time his sons Joseph, William, and Henry joined with other Englishmen to form a company to purchase land 60 miles north of Northumberland to establish a colony for Dissenters."). Perhaps a note could added - see for example see Note a in Clemuel Ricketts Mansion where sources disagree on when an associated building was razed, or the notes in Ganoga Lake on disagreement between sources.
I will also ask Wadewitz to comment here - she and I are the main authors of this article, and she is the main author of the article on Joseph Priestley (my contributions to this article were mainly focused on the house itself and Pennsylvania history). Ruhrfisch ><>°° 13:05, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
  • I differ on the point of reflecting all reliable sources. If sources disagree, than editors need to evaluate the primary evidences cited in the various sources. Katbun (talk) 20:00, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
  • If you are going to edit Wikipedia, you have to follow its editorial principles. One of these is a neutral point of view, the WP:NPOV page says in part "This page in a nutshell: Articles must not take sides, but should explain the sides, fairly and without bias. This applies to both what you say and how you say it." as well as this "Editing from a neutral point of view (NPOV) means representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without bias, all of the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic." it is not up to us, but to the reader to decide. Ruhrfisch ><>°° 00:00, 5 August 2013 (UTC)

Arbitrary section break[edit]

Katbun (talk) 20:00, 3 August 2013 (UTC) writes:

I have no objection, in principle, to the undoing of the substantial additions made to this section (1 July), which were probably too long, and went off topic. However, it has left a number of errors in the article, which the edits had attempted to address. I have re-entered some changes:

  • I have corrected the publication date of Cobbett's Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley from 1795 to 1794 [first printed in Philadelphia, and reprinted in New York, probably by Samuel Campbell who published a pirate edition of Priestley's Letters to the inhabitants of Northumberland.] User = Katbun
  • I have changed: "which accused Priestley of treason against Britain," to which falsely accused Priestley of stirring up revolution [on the French model] in Britain. Stirring up revolution more correctly follows the text in Observations. The insertion of falsely conforms to the generally held opinion amongst his biographers, since though Priestley advocated a reform of the House of Commons and the franchise, he repeatedly affirmed his contentment with England’s three estates.
  • I have changed: "Priestley's family relations deteriorated even further in 1800 when a local Pennsylvania newspaper published an article accusing William Priestley, intoxicated with "French principles", of trying to poison the entire Priestley family—both father and son vigorously denied the story." There is no reason to suspect that the publishing of the poisoning allegations affected family relations. William had left his farm several months before, and was lodging in Philadelphia exploring new career opportunities. As the family did fall ill, that is relevant to JP House. I have therefore replaced this sentence.

Katbun (talk) 20:00, 3 August 2013 (UTC) would appreciate others’ views regarding further changes which I believe are necessary:

  • I am unhappy with the sentence: His political fortunes took an even worse turn when Cobbett obtained a set of letters sent to Priestley by the radical printer John Hurford Stone and the liberal novelist Helen Maria Williams. Priestley made political comments in his Maxims of political arithmetic, initially published anonymously, but he had no political ambitions. The phrase His political fortunes took an even worse turn, is meaningless, and should be deleted. The phrase Cobbett obtained a set of letters, is misleading. The manuscript letters were captured by a Royal Navy vessel, and were published in England as Copies of original letters recently written by persons in Paris to Dr. Priestley in America. Taken on board of a neutral vessel. [The Chester Courant (England) of 30 May 1798, advertises this publication.] When copies of this pamphlet reached the United States in July 1798, almost every newspaper printed extracts. Priestley found it necessary to write an explanation, and to identify the anonymous addressee, MBP [member of the British Parliament, Benjamin Vaughan]. In Porcupine's Gazette, 20 Aug 1798, Cobbett wrote that Priestley "has told us who Mr MBP is, and has confirmed me in the opinion of their both being spies in the interest of France." The sentence: "Cobbett published the letters in his newspaper, asserting that Priestley and his friends were fomenting a revolution," is incorrect. The clause "Priestley was eventually forced to defend himself in print," is misleading, because Priestley's Letters to the inhabitants of Northumberland, were written at a later date for a different reason. If the 'intercepted letters', are pertinent to this article, then it can only be in regard to John Hurford Stone, denounced in England as a inciting rebellion, and to the mysterious MBP; Helen Maria Williams is irrelevant to this context. May I suggest that this be replaced with something like:

- In spring 1798, the Royal Navy seized from a Danish ship, a small package addressed: "Dr Priestley in America." Inside were three letters, one of which was signed by the radical printer John Hurford Stone. These intercepted letters were published in London, and copied in numerous papers in America.[1] One of the letters was addressed to "MBP", with a note: "I inclose a note for our friend MBP – but, as ignorant of the name he bears at present among you, I must beg you to seal and address it." To allay any suspicions of intrigue, Priestley sent a clumsy letter to numerous newspaper editors, in which he naively named "MBP" (Member of the British Parliament) as Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, who "like me, thought it necessary to leave England, and for some time is said to have assumed a feigned name."[2] This didn’t mollify William Cobbett, who wrote that Priestley "has told us who Mr MBP is, and has confirmed me in the opinion of their both being spies in the interest of France."[3]

  • If Priestley's Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland published in November and December 1799, is pertinent to this article, then it is essential to point out the reason for their publication, namely Thomas Cooper writing a Handbill, Priestley distributing that Handbill, and Cobbett's statement: "Dr Priestley stands charged before the great tribunal of the American people, with having an agency in this publication," and his challenge for Priestley to "clear himself of the accusation or face prosecution." May I suggest that you reinstate the sentences:

-Joseph Priestley Jr., left on a visit to England at Christmas 1798, not returning until August 1800. In his absence, it seems that Priestley allowed himself to fall too heavily under Cooper’s influences, even helping hawk a seditious handbill Thomas Cooper had written, around Point township, and across the Susquehanna at Sunbury. In September 1799, William Cobbett printed extracts from this handbill, asserting that: "Dr Priestley has taken great pains to circulate this address, has travelled through the country for the purpose, and is in fact the patron of it." He challenged Priestley to "clear himself of the accusation" or face prosecution."[4] Barely a month later, in November and December 1799, Priestley stepped forward in his own defence, with his Letters to the inhabitants of Northumberland.[5] Katbun (talk) 20:00, 3 August 2013 (UTC)

  • Thanks for your detailed explanations. I have asked Wadewitz to comment here, but she has not been active on WP since I left the message on her talk page, so I would prefer to wait until we hear from her. I will note that your changes have in some cases removed valuable and undisputed information. So for example, the new version of the land purchase sentence removed the year, or the fake poisoning accusation changes removed that "both father and son vigorously denied the story" as well as the Schofield ref. My main concern is that the article is primarily on the house and so the level of detail of some of your changes seems to me too much (which is not to say that more detail can't be added to what is already there). Ruhrfisch ><>°° 20:08, 4 August 2013 (UTC)
    • Thanks so much for asking for me to look over this. Unfortunately, I do not have time at the moment to enter into a serious discussion at this level of detail. Katbun, thanks so much for looking over this article and so many articles about Protestant dissent (it's a great topic, isn't it?) - we love having experts at Wikipedia. My only concern with your method so far is the (understandable) academic desire to resort to primary sources in the cases in which secondary sources disagree. I, too, as an academic would love to do this, but Wikipedia is an encyclopedia (tertiary source) and only summarizes published research (secondary sources). There is a saying here: verifiability, not truth. While this may seem strange at first, when you think about it, it is a wonderful idea for a crowdsourced encyclopedia. We can't have people debating the ACTUAL truth! No articles would actually get written! :) Wadewitz (talk) 04:52, 7 August 2013 (UTC)

Infobox's hidden comment[edit]

I have removed the comment "Please discuss adding a regular infobox to this page before doing so; we have tried it before but haven't found a good way yet - Thanks!" and added a "regular" infobox, which I have found a good way for. Apparently, all the parameters are there, plus the article now has new hidden categories that categorize this as a NRHP Landmark. Whoever wrote this comment, you're welcome. epic genius (talk) 02:34, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

Also, the lead images do not need to be that big. If anything, use an upright ratio. epic genius (talk) 02:46, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

  1. ^ Copies of original letters recently written by persons in Paris to Dr. Priestley in America, taken on board of a neutral vessel (London, 1798). Federal Gazette (Baltimore, MD), 27 Aug 1798.
  2. ^ Vaughan had fled to France in May 1794, when John Hurford Stone's brother, William, was arrested and found to have a letter from Vaughan. In France, to avoid arrest as an Englishmen, he assumed the name of Jean Martin, and lived quietly at Passy. (John G Alger, Englishmen in the French Revolution (London, 1889), 93).
  3. ^ Porcupine's Gazette, 20 Aug 1798; Rail, 164-172; Schofield (2004), 329–38; Gibbs, F. W., Joseph Priestley: Adventurer in Science and Champion of Truth. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965, 234–37; Garrett, 63.
  4. ^ Rail, 166-7.
  5. ^ Published in two parts, Northumberland-town PA, 1799; printed by Andrew Kennedy who printed the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette.