Joseph Fornance (1804-1852) was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Norristown, Pennsylvania. Like the elder Joseph, his son Joseph Fornance (1841-1923) and grandson Joseph Knox Fornance (1882-1965) were lawyers involved with politics. The Fornance family papers, 1794-1989, is an extensive collection of correspondence, ledgers, diaries, photograph albums, scrapbooks, and documents covering several generations of one family. Family members were involved in numerous matters over more than one-and-a-half centuries, so among other subjects, there is rich documentation of military service during the Civil War and World War I, the election of Woodrow Wilson, and early efforts at historic preservation (the Fornance family home is considered the oldest in Norristown).


  • The Honorable Joseph Fornance (1804-1852) was born in 1804 in Lower Merion and died in 1852. He graduated from law school and started a law practice in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Joseph Fornance was President of Norristown Town Council, a member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1834), and a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives (1839-1843). He was married to Anne McKnight (1817-1852) and had two children: Mary and Joseph. He is buried in Montgomery Cemetery.
  • Colonel Thomas Pope Knox (1809-1879) was born in Savannah, Georgia to Andrew and Rebecca Knox in 1809. When Knox was twelve he and his family moved to the Norristown, Pennsylvania area for better business opportunities. After arriving Andrew Knox purchased Selma Farm from the heirs of General Andrew Porter. The Porter family had built Selma in 1794. Thomas was raised on the Selma farm. In 1840 Thomas married Sarah A. Leedom (1816-1846) with whom he had four children. Sarah died six years after they married, and soon after the death of three of their children. Their surviving child, Ellen, later married Joseph Fornance (1841-1923). Thomas was involved in politics and the Democratic Party. He was nominated to the State Senate in 1855, serving for three years. He also served as President of the State Agricultural Society for several years. Thomas spent most of his adult years as a successful farmer. He died May 29, 1879 after a long illness. Knox and many of his family members are buried at Montgomery Cemetery.
  • Joseph Fornance (1841-1923), eldest son of the Honorable Joseph Fornance (1804-1852) and Anne McKnight Fornance, was born April 24, 1841 in Norristown and died in 1923. JFII grew up at Selma farm, went on to study law, and eventually practiced law in Norristown. A Democrat, he was involved in the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for the Presidency in 1896 and again in 1900. He had a great interest in local history and became active in the Historical Society of Montgomery County, serving as president for several years and playing an instrumental role in planning the centennial celebration of 1884. He married Ellen Knox (1844-1928) in 1881 and they had three children: Joseph Knox (1882-1965), Eleanor (1883-1893), and Lois (1885-1934).
  • Ellen Knox Fornance (1844-1928), the daughter of Colonel Thomas P. Knox and Sarah Leedom Knox, was born at Selma Farm on November 14, 1844. She was one of the original members of the Valley Forge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She married Joseph Fornance (1841-1923), the son of the Honorable Joseph Fornance (1804-1852), and they had three children: Joseph Knox (1882-1965), Eleanor (1883-1893), and Lois (1885-1934).
  • Joseph Knox Fornance (1882-1965) was a prominent soldier, lawyer, and civic leader in Norristown. The son of Joseph Fornance (1841-1923) and Ellen Knox Fornance, he was born on September 16, 1882 at Selma farm. He attended Swarthmore Preparatory School, Princeton University (BA, 1904), and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Fornance earned his law degree in 1907 and was admitted to the Montgomery Bar the same year; he continued to practice law on-and-off for over half a century until his death. Just like his father, JKF had his own successful law firm. He took a break from law and served aboard the USS Iowa in 1910 for six months before returning to his law practice. In 1910 he began his political career in the Democratic Party by running several times for State Legislature (and losing). After these losses JKF became active in organizing committees to elect Woodrow Wilson for President. He also served as Assistant Appraiser in the Philadelphia Customs Department under the United States Navy Reserves. In 1915, after serving for several years as Assistant Appraiser and working in his law firm, JKF was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He eventually transferred to the United States Army and served during World War I in the European Theatre. JKF attained the rank of Major and received the British Military Cross for outstanding service. After the conclusion of the war, he continued his law practice and was also active in the Historical Society of Montgomery County. He married Ruth Ryder Fornance in 1930 and they had no children. He was a prominent figure in the local community, serving as a Democratic Presidential elector in 1936, president of the Norristown Community Chest, and chairman of the Norristown Civil Defense program during World War II. He died in 1965. His wife Ruth lived on at Selma farm until her death in 1982.
  • Lois Fornance (1885-1934), daughter of Ellen and Joseph Fornance (1841-1923), was born at Selma on October 28th, 1885. She was the sister of Joseph Knox Fornance. She attended Swarthmore College and went on to marry J. M. Power Wallace in 1918. They had two children, one of whom died as an infant. Lois died in 1934.

Scope and Contents

The Fornance family papers, 1794-1989, consist of the personal papers of the Fornance family of Norristown, Pennsylvania, particularly Joseph Fornance II (1841-1923), his wife Ellen Knox Fornance (1844-1928), and their son Joseph Knox Fornance (1882-1965). The collection, which dates from 1794 to 1989, consists of correspondence, financial records and receipts, diaries, legal documents, invitations, family genealogy, photographs, pamphlets, property records, scrapbooks, and many other types of records. These papers document the military (especially World War I and the Civil War), politics and the Democratic party, legal practice, societies and clubs (particularly the Daughters of the American Republic and the Society of the Cincinnati), education, and other subjects. It is a robust collection that portrays the lives of a locally prominent family in Norristown in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, as well as their involvement in social and political movements and events of wider significance, over the course of about two centuries. The collection is arranged into seven series by family member:

  • "Series A. Joseph Fornance I (1804-1852) papers, 1815-1858";
  • "Series B. Thomas P. Knox (1809-1879) papers, 1837-1880";
  • "Series C. Joseph Fornance II (1841-1923) papers, 1827-1935";
  • "Series D. Ellen Knox Fornance (1844-1928) papers, 1850-1928";
  • "Series E. Joseph K. Fornance (1882-1965) papers, 1882-1976";
  • "Series F. Lois Fornance Wallace (1885-1934) papers, 1885-1914"; and
  • "Series G. Other family members and unattributed items, 1794-1989." 

Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories with assistance from Anne Hoke.