Philadelphia historian with deed to first ‘White House’ wants to sell vast collection

PHILADELPHIA – An unusual gift from a friend decades ago sparked an interest in James Reis that turned into a 30-year treasure hunt.
A friend gave him a mid-19th century land title.
The gift, he said, “was like artwork.” It piqued his interest, and he embarked on a years-long effort to unravel the mysteries of the colonial era.

The Philadelphia real estate broker now holds an impressive collection of historical documents – there about 2,000 documents in his collection – most land deeds that are centuries old. The yellow, wrinkled torn pieces of parchment tell the stories of early American history.

There is a deed, on parchment, to George Washington’s first presidential mansion or “white house,” located in Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital, on Market and Sixth Street. Reis, 73, also has the deed to the home where a 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Many of the documents are sealed with decorative impressions or flattened red circles of stamped wax to indicate a formal agreement. Seemingly mundane passages can unfold into rich stories of a developing nation, depending on the signees.

He said he fell in love with the characters and the detail put into each document . . .

Read on . . .