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Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers

Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Sanderson, Elijah, 1751-1825
Title:Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers
Quantity:1 linear foot (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers reflect Elijah's and Jacob's prosperous cabinetmaking business.
Collection Number:MSS 246

Series List

SERIES I. Business Papers
A. Furniture Business Papers
B. Other Business Papers
C. Legal Papers
SERIES II. Family Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers reflect Elijah's and Jacob's prosperous cabinetmaking business. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Business Papers has been further subdivided into papers clearly relating to the furniture business, other business papers, and legal papers. Subseries A. Furniture Business Papers includes shipping invoices and accounts of sales, and document what the Sandersons sold, both at private sales in Salem and at port auctions, and to which ports they were shipped. (See Appendix I for a list of the ships on which Sanderson furniture was consigned and the ships' destinations.) Also found here will be receipts for wood and hardware that were purchased for their business, as well as for services contracted, including furniture painting, gilding, etc., bills for advertising furniture for sale, wharfage and storage of cargoes, such as timber, and wages to indentured servants.

Contained in Subseries B. Other Business Papers are ship related bills containing information regarding cargoes to be shipped and the sale of cargoes, assessments, etc., which can be traced to particular ships, but which do not appear to relate to the furniture business. These are probably ships in which the Sandersons owned shares. Also found here will be promissory notes and miscellaneous business bills and receipts. (Although every effort has been made to separate any bills relating to the furniture business from other business affairs and the personal family bills, occasionally there is some overlap.)

Subseries C. Legal Papers contains contracts with ship captains, an indenture contract, deeds, bonds, pew deeds, insurance policies, and a power of attorney. The bulk of the legal papers deal with a court case between Elijah Sanderson and Caleb Burbank vs. John Waters. The case involved money owed to Elijah Sanderson by Caleb Burbank. Included in the papers relating to this case are depositions and other papers concerning the business between Burbank and Waters.

Series II. Family Papers contains miscellaneous bills covering groceries, clothing, taxes, repairs to the house, medical expenses (Edward Augustus Holyoke attended the family), tutoring for the children of Jacob Sanderson, funeral expenses for 11-year-old Jacob in 1795, and bills from the Salem Aqueduct for water and wood used for fuel. Virtually all of these bills deal with Jacob Sanderson and not Elijah. Also included here are two account books of the probate of Jacob Sanderson's estate that appear to be identical up to March 1811; one account book continues to October 1811. The more extensive account book also contains lists of weights and measures; although "Jacob Sanderson" is written on the cover, it does not appear to be in Jacob Sanderson's hand. The first folder of Jacob's estate papers contains probate papers and inventories, including extensive lists of furniture sold (or in some cases, not sold) as part of the probate. The second folder of estate papers contains bills and receipts due to Jacob's estate, including his funeral expenses. The folder of personal bills and receipts of Catherine Sanderson also contains an undated memorial to their son and an obituary of Mrs. Elizabeth Grosvenor, copied by their daughter Catherine. The estate papers of Catherine Sanderson contain probate papers, detailed inventories of her estate, and bills and receipts paid by her estate.

The Family Papers also include a detailed account given by Elijah Sanderson on the capture of Paul Revere. On the night of Paul Revere's ride, Elijah Sanderson, Solomon Brown, and Jonathan Loring rode out from a Lexington tavern. On their travels they were detained at a roadblock by British soldiers who asked them what they were doing. While being questioned they noticed some of the British chasing a man on a horse. When they captured him, Elijah Sanderson found out that it was Paul Revere. The British then let Sanderson, Brown, and Loring go. This account was taken from the Salem Gazette about the time of Elijah Sanderson's death (1825). Also included with this account are photographs of a portrait of Elijah Sanderson, of the monument at the place where Paul Revere was captured, naming Sanderson, Brown, and Loring, and the house of Elijah Sanderson in Salem.

Biographical Sketch

Elijah Sanderson (1751-1825) and his brother Jacob Sanderson (1757-1810) became known as Salem's most prominent cabinetmakers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Elijah Sanderson was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, on 10 October 1751, the son of Jonathan and Mary Sanderson. Elijah served his apprenticeship in Watertown and eventually moved to Salem sometime around 1780, where he set up the E. & J. Sanderson Company with his brother.

Elijah served briefly in the army at the Battle of Lexington (where he was living in 1775) and was captured (and later released) by British troops the same night Paul Revere made his famous ride to warn the surrounding countryside of the British troops' approach. On 12 January 1781, Elijah married Mary Mulliken of Lexington, the sister of clockmaker Samuel Mulliken.

During the period Elijah and Jacob Sanderson worked together, approximately 1780 to 1810 (the year of Jacob's death), they employed many workmen and apprentices (the prominent Salem architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire carved furniture for them). In 1799, in partnership with Josiah Austin, they instituted a cooperative business venture in which cabinetmakers, carvers, gilders, turners, upholsterers, and many other craftsmen contributed their respective parts in the making of furniture for exportation to southern ports such as Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Other ports included Havana, Cuba, the East and West Indies, the Madeiras, and various ports along the coast of Brazil and Africa--wherever a cargo could be disposed of to the best advantage.

The most common types of furniture shipped by Elijah included bureaus, tables, sideboards for beds, bamboo chairs, secretaries, and bookcases. Sanderson also shipped bricks and barrels of tar to South Carolina. He received payment in money, molasses, and wood. The Sandersons produced furniture for a local market as well as for exportation. The type of furniture sold in Salem consisted mostly of chairs for kitchens and dining tables as well as smaller tables and washstands. (See Appendix II for a complete list of the kinds of furniture listed in the Sanderson papers.)

After his brother's death in 1810, Elijah formed a partnership with Benjamin Swan, Joel Tay, and Capt. John Waters, and continued to make furniture for export. Elijah died in Salem on 18 February 1825.

Jacob Sanderson was born six years after his brother on 20 October 1757. He, too, apparently served briefly in the army during 1776 and 1777. Jacob married Catherine Harrington of Watertown in April 1781; they had at least two children, a son Jacob, who drowned at the age of 11 in 1795, and a daughter Catherine. By 1795, he was a respected selectman in Salem; he is addressed as "Deacon" on many bills and receipts. Jacob Sanderson was also often referred to as "Capt. Sanderson" on some bills and receipts in the collection; both Sandersons owned shares in a number of vessels, although there is no evidence that Jacob or Elijah Sanderson ever sailed as a shipmaster.

Sanderson and his brother sold their furniture to a number of well-known Salem residents including Elias Hasket Derby, who purchased a considerable amount of furniture in 1791 and shipped much of it to Calcutta, where it was sold. Jacob is believed to have made a mahogany tester bed currently in the Gardner-Pingree House in Salem. Jacob Sanderson died in Salem in early February 1810 and was buried on 14 February 1810. His widow, Catherine, died in December 1811 in Salem.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Burbank, Caleb, 1788-1841
Revere, Paul, 1735-1818
Sanderson, Catherine, d.1811
Sanderson, Elijah, 1751-1825
Sanderson, Jacob, 1757-1810
Waters, John
Cabinet hardware
Decedents' estates
Furniture industry and trade
Furniture making
Indentured servants
Inventories of decedents' estates
Ships' papers
Salem (Mass.)
Account books
Account books--1810-1811
Account books--Massachusetts--Salem


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Request for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Elijah and Jacob Sanderson Papers, MSS 246, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The account of Elijah Sanderson's capture by the British on April 18, 1775 and the five photographs in the envelope (all these items are in Box 2, Folder 12) were given to the Essex Institute in 1961. The rest of the collection is a reorganization of two scrapbook volumes from an unknown source.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Jane E. Ward, 2002. Preliminary organization of this collection was first done in December 1989 by James Tuden. MaryAnn Campbell further processed the collection in July 1994.

Related Material

Belknap, Henry Wyckoff. "Furniture Exported by Cabinet Makers of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 85 (October 1949): 335-59.

Bjerkoe, Ethel Hall. The Cabinetmakers of America. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1957, pp. 189-90.

Bond, Henry. Family Memorials. Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, including Waltham and Weston… Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1855.

Clunie, Margaret Burke. "Furniture Craftsmen of Salem, Massachusetts, in the Federal Period," Essex Institute Historical Collections 113 (July 1977): 191-203.

Swan, Mabel M. Samuel McIntire, Carver and The Sandersons, Early Salem Cabinet Makers. Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1934.

Vital Records of Salem, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849, Vol. 6. Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1925, pp. 207, 209.

Appendix I

Appendix II

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