Title: Dry Goods and Notions Merchant
Birthdate: March 28, 1828
Death Date: February 26, 1905
Plot Location: Section 6, Lot 43
Abraham and Harriet Lees had three boys, John in 1825, Samuel in 1828, and Stanley inn 1844. By 1850 the older boys were married and, along with their parents and younger brother, they all came to Philadelphia from their home in Lancashire, England.
Samuel and wife Ann first lived across the river in Camden. They had five children while Samuel was building his dry goods business at the corner of 2nd and Market Street in Philadelphia. A dry goods store in that day may have been exclusively for textiles (fabrics), or include “notions” as Samuel’s did, which were sewing supplies like pins, buttons, needles, and thread. Some stores were just retail, but he may have been in the wholesale trade as well. The 1861 city directory shows he also sold hosiery and gloves.
His prosperity was documented in the 1870 census where the value of his personal estate was listed at $10,000 and his real estate at $50,000. And every census of his family listed a domestic servant..
His business expanded on 2nd Street as shown in this advertisement. Ann died of “consumption of the brain” in 1872, and Samuel bought a plot in Section 6, Lot 43. His brother Stanley’s son had just been buried in Lot 41, but then Stanley died in 1873, followed by both parents in the next five years. Soon after Ann died, Samuel had a new wife, Sally, who also had the added role of step-mother.
In 1868 Justus Strawbridge and Isaac Clothier started a dry goods store at 8th and Market. They would eventually expand into sales of “ready-to-wear” clothing, with separate departments for men, women, boys, and girls. That was not the route Samuel would take, but he continued to expand his business. By 1877 he and a partner, John Green, had another store a block away at 921 Market St. As his boys grew older, they filled positions at the stores as either salesmen or clerks and, as this “calling card” shows, partial ownership and adding another location. How long it all lasted is unknown.
After running his business for 50 of his 76 years, Samuel was laid to rest beside his first wife in Lot 43. Several other family members joined them there and in the adjacent lot 41.
One newspaper obituary for him had the headline, “Old-Time Merchant Succumbs Suddenly.” That was a reference to his half-century in business, but it also foresaw the trend away from homemade clothing and the rise of grand “department stores” like the ones opened by John Wanamaker in 1876 and Isaac Gimbel in 1894. But Samuel Lees did it his way, and did well.
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