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About Sarah Bulkeley

Sarah (Waln) Bulkeley (1772-1852) was an upper-middle-class woman born in Philadelphia who resided in Lisbon, Portugal, and later London, for the majority of her life. This commonplace book, a record of her reading and literary interests, is one of the few remaining traces of her life.

Sarah Waln was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1772, to Jesse and Rebecca Waln. Jesse and Rebecca Waln were part of a prominent Philadelphian Quaker family, and seemed to be fairly invovled in the Quaker community in Germantown. For a full account of the family history in Pennsylvania, see the "Family Roots" section below. Sarah was one of four children.  On Aril 26, 1797, Sarah Waln married Thomas Bulkeley at Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (see image 1, below). One of the few remaining and detailed accounts of 18th century life in Philadelphia, a journal left by Elizabeth Drinker, notes their marriage. Drinker wrote on April 27, 1797: 

"Jesse Waln's daughter was married last night to T. Bulkeley, she is going with him to Lisbon, where he and his parents resided—to the great grief of her mother— No wonder, perhaps never to see her more."

The couple moved to Lisbon, Portugal in August of 1797, where Thomas Bulkeley and his family resided. The city was the center of an extensive imperial empire, and therefore accumulated immense weath from trade with and exploitation of regions in Asia, South America, and Africa. Thomas's father, John Bulkeley, was a prominent English merchant in Lisbon, and Thomas became Resident Counsul of the United States in Portugal. As a consul of Lisbon, Thomas would have facilitated friendly relations between the United States and Lisbon (unlike an ambassador, a consul is more regional); this job would have involved assisting United States residents living in that region, but was most likely almost completely concerned with trade relations.

Thomas left his post in March 1802, after which the couple moved to London, England, where they lived out the rest of their lives. 


Christ Church, Philadelphia (1811) by William Strickland.1

I. Family Roots in Pennsylvania 

Sarah Waln Bulkeley was the fifth generation of her family to live in Pennsylvania, as part of a long line of Quaker ancesty in the Philadelphia region. Most of her genealogy has been collected from "Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Philadelphia", Ed. John W. Jordan (New York, 1911).

Nicholas Waln (?-1659)Sarah Bulkeley’s great-great grandfather, emigrated from England to Pennsylvania in 1682. He was the child of Richard and Jane (Rudd) Waln, who lived in Yorkshire, England. They were early converts to Quakerism. Richard and Jane Waln had at least four children, the eldest being Richard Waln, followed by Nicholas (1650-1721), Anne (b. 1654) and Edward (b. 1657). Richard Waln died April 7, 1659, and his widow Jane married William Birket.

Nicholas Waln moved to Pennsylvania around the same time as his brother, Richard Waln (1682) and sister Ann Waln (after Anne married James Dilworth). Nicholas Waln bought around 1,000 acres of land from William Penn in the April of 1682. He married Jane (Turner) Waln and had eight children: Jane (b. 1675), Richard, Nicholas, William, Hannah, Mary, Sarah, and Elizabeth. We know that he owned, at his death, five slaves.

Nicholas and Jane Waln’s eldest son was Richard Waln, great-grandfather of Sarah. Richard married Anne Heath at some point prior to September of 1706. They lived in Northern Liberties area of Philadelphia  and later in Montgomery County. The couple had seven children: Richard, Robert, Nicholas, Joseph, Ann, Susanna, and Mary.

Their second surviving son, Richard Waln Jr. (1717-1764) was Sarah Waln Bulkeley’s grandfather. He was born June 5th, 1717, and lived “on the Waln plantation in the Northern Liberties” until his marriage to Hannah (unknown maiden name) in 1740. There is a record of Richard Waln Jr. acquiring 34 acres of land in Northern Liberties (now Montgomery County) in 1744; they were active in the Quaker community there. Richard and Hannah Waln eventually retired to Germantown, outside of Philadelphia. Richard and Hannah had four children: Sarah, Jesse, Mary, and Ann. Richard died in 1764.

Jesse Waln (1750-1806), Sarah's father, was the only son of Richard Waln. Jesse was born in 1750., the only son, was born in 1750.  Jesse Waln married Rebecca (maiden name unknown) and became "one of the most prominent and successful merchants of Philadelphia in his day," working closely with his cousin and Congressman Richard Waln. He helped found the Insurance Company of Pennsylvania in 1794. The couple had 7 children: Mary (married William Moore Wharton; died of consumption in 1800), Sarah Waln Bulkeley, Jesse (1784-1848), Ann (1788-1789), Ann Waln Rawle (1790-1875, married Samuel Burge Rawle), Rebecca (1792-1796), and Rebecca Waln Tilgham (birth unknown, married Edward Tilgham). Jesse Waln died in 1806. Elizabeth Drinker’s Journal notes: “Jessy Waln is dead. He died rather suddenly; some say of pleurisy, others of an apoplexy.” He was outlived by his wife, Rebecca, who died on November 4, 1820.

II. Marriage to Thomas Bulkeley

The Bulkeley family was a prominent trading family in Portugal. As Tyson Reeder writes in Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution (2019), between 1757 and 1776, the Bulkeley family imported 185 cargoes from North America under the firm Parr & Bulkeley, far more than any other firm doing trade between North America and Portugal. As Reed writes, "In 1793, Edward Church, the U.S. Consul in Lisbon, claimed that an 'immensely rich' English firm in Lisbon 'for more than twenty years has enjoyed almost the monopoly of the American trade.' Doubtless he referred to the powerful firm of John Bulkeley" (Tyson 104-5). Most of the buisness was being done out of the Philadelphia ports. 

Reeder writes that the Bulkeley's connections in Philadelphia were primarily wih the Wharton and Waln families, who were closely intertwined. William Wharton (of Philadelphia) married Mary Waln, Sarah's sister. Sarah married Thomas Bulkeley, son of John Bulkeley. They married on Aril 26, 1797, in Philadelphia, and moved to Lisbon four months later. 

III. Life in Portugal

We do not know much about Sarah's life in Portugal, though we do have reference to the couple in the collected letters of the Philadelphian John Pickering (1777-1846), which were collected and published under “The Life of John Pickering” by his daughter, Mary Orne Pickering (Boston: 1887).

John Pickering wrote to his father on August 23, 1797, about his 27 day trip to Lisbon from Philadelphia, a trip he took with Sarah and Thomas Bulkeley (we are sure that the Mr. and Mrs. Bulkeley mentioned were Thomas and Sarah, as Pickering later mentions Sarah’s family as the Walns). Pickering wrote:

“I read no French, except a few newspapers; and all the English I read was Price’s Sermons, a volume of ‘Elegant Extracts,’ and three or four novels belonging to Mrs. Bulkeley. These were all the English book I found on board.” (Pickering 98).

Once landed, John Pickering and his companion stayed at “Mr. Bulkeley’s father’s”, that is, with John Bulkeley. Pickering reports that John Bulkeley was an English merchant who resided in Lisbon and his “country-seat […] about five miles form the city” (Pickering 99).

About a year lateron August 4, 1798Pickering mentions Sarah and Thomas again, who are still residing in Portugal. He writes: “A vessel sails direct for Philadelphia in a few days, which I shall send one or two little trinkets for the children. One is a present from Mrs. Bulkeley (the consuleza, as the Portuguese call her) for the little girls. I will here repeat the polite, or, more truly, friendly, attention of Mr. (Thomas) Bulkeley, and indeed of the whole family, to me since I have been here. I wish you would make acknowledgements to Mr. and Mrs. Waln for the civilities I have received from Mrs. B.” The gift which Sarah sent was “a box of the manufacture of nuns” (Pickering 129).

Thomas Bulkeley served as a consul in Lisbon. He was in frequent correspondence with James Madison about U.S. trade and relations in Portugal; you can find many of those letters here. On 27 March 1801, he complains the five days that United States ships had to stay in quarentine upon arriving in Lisbon hindered trade; he asks Madison to provide American ships with certifiactes of health.  On 5 August 1801, Thomas  writes to Madison again, asking to continue his post as Resident Consul. On 22 April, 1801, he writes to inform him of Tripoli's declara tion of war against the United States.  Thomas Bulkeley left his post in March 1802. 

While in Lisbon, Sarah seems to have been reading works from and about Portugal—the most prolific quotation of Portugese literature coming from Luís de Camões's epic poem The Lusiad (1572), which she began copying from on page 33; as well as praise for Portugese trading here

IV. Life after Lisbon

After years in Lisbon, Sarah and Thomas moved to London, though we have almost no account of their life there. Sarah and her husband are mentioned in a publication from the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania on March 28, 1814. The act dealt with partioning  the 118,021 acres that Jesse Waln left to Sarah, her other siblings, and a few other inheritors, upon his death. The account was published as "An Act Authorizingthe partition of certain lands in the countries of Armstrong, Indiana and Jefferson." The below passage is excerpted from the act:

"They the petitioners, together with the said Thomas Bulkeley and Sarah his wife, hold together and unidvidied, sundry tracts of land, in the surveyors districts numbered one, five, and six; amounting in the whole to one hundred and eighteen thousand and twenty-one acres, which they are desirous of dividng and holding in severalty, according to their respective shares and interest therein, but by reason of the minority of some of the parties, the situation of the lands, and other causes, such partition in the usual course of proceeding at law, would be highly invonvenient if not impracticable." 

Sarah and Thomas Bulkeley had at least one child, George Thomas Bulkeley.

1 Image copyright: CC BY-SA 4.0