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Silsbee Family Papers

Silsbee Family Papers

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SILSBEE FAMILY PAPERS, 1637, 1754-1907


Original processing and conservation for this collection were funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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:Silsbee family
Title:Silsbee Family Papers
Dates:1637, 1754/1907
Quantity:14.25 linear feet (22 boxes)
Abstract:The Silsbee Family Papers contain the personal papers, business papers, and shipping papers for four generations of Silsbees.
Collection Number:MSS 74

Series List

SERIES I. Nathaniel Silsbee (1748-1791) Papers
SERIES II. Nathaniel Silsbee (1773-1850) Papers
A. Personal Papers
B. Congressional Papers
C. Shipping Papers
SERIES III. Edward Augustus Silsbee Papers
A. Personal Papers
B. Literary Activities
C. Shipping Papers
SERIES IV. Family Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Silsbee Family Papers contain the personal papers, business papers, and shipping papers for four generations of Silsbees. The collection includes the shipping papers of Nathaniel Silsbee (1748-1791). It also includes the papers of: his sons, Nathaniel (1773-1850), William, and Zachariah; grandson Nathaniel (1804-1881) and; great-grandsons Nathaniel D. (b. 1830), William Edward, Francis Henry, George Z. and Edward Augustus. The papers have been organized into four series.

Series I. Nathaniel Silsbee (1748-1791) Papers consist of his shipping papers. Of special note are the records of the Ship Grand Turk, and several Revolutionary privateers including the Schooners Congress, Lexington, and Pembroke and the Brigs Fame, Monmouth, and Roebuck.

Series II. Nathaniel Silsbee (1773-1850) Papers include his autobiography, correspondence, legal documents, congressional papers, and shipping papers. The series has been organized into three subseries.

Subseries A. Personal Papers include Nathaniel's autobiography, correspondence, eulogies and obituaries, and legal papers. Of particular note is a journal containing Nathaniel's autobiography; written in his own hand it records events in his life from 1782 to 1836. The journal has an appendix listing the bills of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate that were of interest to Nathaniel during his term in office. Also included is a handwritten transcription of Nathaniel's autobiography which was probably created by Mary Anne C. Devereux, wife of his son, Nathaniel. Nathaniel's correspondence reflects the change in his career from shipping captain and merchant to politician. Of special interest are letters from Nathaniel's brother-in-law, Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Secretary of the Navy. In addition to the discussion of political and social events in Washington, these letters contain references to Nathaniel's memorial regarding the Brig Edwin. Also included in the correspondence is an 1819 resolution from the Town of Salem to the federal government in favor of prohibiting the extension of slavery. Correspondence commemorating Nathaniel's life, including a signed letter from James Buchanan, is filed with the obituary notices of his death. The bulk of the legal documents include deeds for land in New Orleans sold by John Crowninshield to Nathaniel and a Michigan land deed signed by Martin Van Buren. Subseries B. Congressional Papers include copies of bills, remarks, or speeches made by Nathaniel before Congress. All matters covered by either House or Senate for a given session are filed together. Bills, remarks, or speeches, which could not be identified with specific sessions have been filed separately. Subseries C. Shipping Papers document Nathaniel's career first as a ship master and later as a shipping merchant. Papers for the Ship Benjamin, owned by Elias Hasket Derby, cover Nathaniel's captaincy from 1792 to 1795. Papers for the Ship Herald include letters from Zacharia F. Silsbee, master of the Herald to his brother, Nathaniel. The bulk of the papers for the brig Romp concern the memorial to Congress on the Romp's capture by the French (1809). Account books for the ships Benjamin, Betsy, and Herald are also included in this subseries. Miscellaneous shipping papers document Nathaniel's partnerships in the shipping firms of Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman and Silsbee and Devereux. Additional documents are included for the brigs Edwin and Malay and the ship Mary Ann.

Series III. Edward Augustus Silsbee Papers include his correspondence, notes and articles reflecting his literary activities, and his shipping papers. The series has been organized into three subseries.

Subseries A. Personal Papers include Edward's correspondence, memorandum books, invoices and receipts, and passport. The bulk of his correspondence, which is undated, concerns activities of friends, travels abroad, or literary and poetical themes. A large number of the letters sent are Edward's copies, which do not bear a salutation or closing. Of special note in the folder for Letters/diary is Edward's account of an early shipping venture for Neal & Company. The memorandum books, 1854 to 1896, contain not only daily reminders but Edward's personal observations and thoughts on a variety of subjects. Also included in this subseries are invoices and receipts for purchases made in Boston and abroad and Edward's passport which documents his travels from 1854 to 1862. Subseries B. Literary Activities includes Edward's essays, notes, abstracts, and quotations on literary figures and subjects. Literary figures mentioned include Shelley, Tennyson, and Lessing. The bulk of Edward's literary pursuits are represented by the notes and drafts of articles or lectures, many of which appear to be incomplete or in random order. Therefore, the original order in which Edward's notes were received has been maintained. In addition, miscellaneous notes include portions of writings that are not easily identifiable as letters, articles, essays, or lectures. Subseries C. Shipping Papers contain papers and memorandum books. The memorandum books are lists of goods, invoices, and observations made by Edward while in foreign ports. Edward's shipping papers pertain to the ships Syren, Columbia, and Windsor Fay. Of note in the shipping papers is a letter from Edward to Neal & Company relating damage which occurred to one of their vessels.

Series IV. Family Papers contains business and personal papers of additional Silsbee family members and relatives. William Silsbee's business and estate papers include an invoice for goods consigned to Nathaniel Silsbee on the ship Mary & Eliza as well as an account book for the settlement of his estate. Zachariah Silsbee's personal account book reflects his partnership in the shipping firm Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman. A letter from Zachariah to his niece, Mary Sparks, is located in Zachariah's correspondence. George Z. Silsbee's invoice book contains invoices and accounts for vessels he mastered, including the ship Syren owned by Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman. The family papers also contain letters from Nathaniel D. Silsbee (b. 1833) and William E. Silsbee to Robert Rantoul discussing the publication of their grandfather, Nathaniel's (1773-1850), autobiography and donations to the Essex Institute. There is also a typewritten autobiography of Nathaniel Silsbee (1804-1881), a diary of a journey kept by Francis H. Silsbee, and Francis Boardman's shipping account book.

Biographical Sketch

Nathaniel Silsbee (1748-1791) was born on November 9, 1748 to William and Joanna (Fowle) Silsbee. Nathaniel married Sarah Becket on November 1, 1770. During their twenty-one years of marriage, Nathaniel and Sarah had eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood: Nathaniel (1773-1850); Sarah (1777-1840); William (1779-1833); and Zachariah Fowle (1783-1873). The Silsbees lived at the Elkins House on Derby and Turner Streets in Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1779 to 1783. In 1783 they moved to a house Nathaniel had built on Daniels Street. Nathaniel was the owner or part owner of several vessels which sailed between Salem and the West Indies. Nathaniel died on June 25, 1791 in New York.

Nathaniel Silsbee (1773-1850) was the eldest child of Nathaniel (1748-1791) and Sarah (Becket) Silsbee. Forced to end his schooling due to the financial failures of his father, Nathaniel went to sea in 1787 at the age of fourteen. Six years later he was given command of Elias Hasket Derby's Sloop Sally. Nathaniel continued commanding Derby vessels until 1795 when he purchased a quarter of the Schooner Betsy. Prosperous enough to become a shipping merchant, Nathaniel continued mastering his own vessels until 1801 and thereafter placed his brothers William and Zachariah in charge of his ships. Nathaniel continued owning vessels in partnerships such as Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman and Silsbee and Devereux. Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman was originally formed in 1798 by Nathaniel and his two partners, Robert Stone and Dudley Leavitt Pickman for the purpose of purchasing ships and the sale of imported cargo. Although he continued to be a partner of Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman until the 1840s, Nathaniel actively retired from shipping when he commenced his political career.

Nathaniel's political career began with his election to the United States House of Representatives in 1817. He served there until March 3, 1821 when he refused re-election. From 1821 to 1823 Nathaniel served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and from 1823 to 1825, in the Massachusetts State Senate. In 1826 Nathaniel was elected to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Senator James Lloyd. Nathaniel was re-elected to the United States Senate in 1829 and would serve until March 3, 1835. Nathaniel retired from public life at the end of his Senate term.

Nathaniel married Mary Crowninshield in 1802. Their son Nathaniel (1804-1881) was mayor of Salem from 1849-1850 and 1858-1859.

Edward Augustus Silsbee (1826-1900) was the son of Zachariah Fowle and Sarah (Boardman) Silsbee. He was involved in the East India trade early in his life, employed first in the Neal and Company counting house, later as a supercargo on the Windsor Fay, and as master of the Ships Columbia and Syren. After retiring from the sea in 1853, he traveled in Europe, collecting notes on literary and poetical figures (most notably Shelley), lecturing and writing articles. He died, unmarried, in Boston, Massachusetts in 1900.

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.

Crowninshield, Benjamin Williams, 1772-1851
Crowninshield, John, 1771-1842
Silsbee, Edward Augustus, 1826-1900
Silsbee, Francis H. (Francis Henry), 1811-1848
Silsbee, George Zacariah, b. 1822
Silsbee, Nathaniel D., b. 1830
Silsbee, Nathaniel, 1748-1791
Silsbee, Nathaniel, 1773-1850
Silsbee, Nathaniel, 1804-
Silsbee, William E. (William Edward), b. 1845
Silsbee, William, 1779-1833
Silsbee, Zachariah F. (Zachariah Fowle), 1783-1873
Stone, Benjamin W., 1809-1891
Stone, Robert, d. 1860
Stone, William, 1820-1898
Benjamin (Ship)
Betsy (Ship)
Columbia (Ship)
Congress (Schooner)
Edwin (Brig)
Fame (Brigantine)
Grand Turk (Ship)
Herald (Ship)
Lexington (Schooner)
Monmouth (Brigantine)
Nancy (Schooner)
Neal and Company
Pembroke (Schooner)
Rachel (Ship)
Roebuck (Brigantine)
Romp (Brig)
Sally (Schooner)
Syren (Ship)
William (Schooner)
Windsor Fay (Ship)
Account books
Administration of estates
Literature--Description and travel
Marine protests
Voyages and travels
Massachusetts--House of Representatives
Salem (Mass.)
United States--Congress--House
United States--Congress--Senate


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests 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

Silsbee Family Papers, MSS 74, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The congressional and shipping papers of Nathaniel Silsbee (1773-1850) were donated in 1907 by Nathaniel D. Silsbee, Mrs. F. A. Whitwell (nee Mary C. Silsbee), and William E. Silsbee. The invoice and sales books of the Ship Herald were donated in 1927 by the Estate of Willard Peele. Three letters written by Nathaniel Silsbee (1773-1850) and pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Silsbee were donated by Mary Otis in 1961 and 1964, respectively. The handwritten copy of Nathaniel Silsbee's autobiography was a gift from the Estate of Jared S. Moore. The account books for the Ships Benjamin, Betsy, and Herald were purchased by the Essex Institute in 1934.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Prudence Backman, September 1982. Updated by Jennifer J. Quan, September 2012.

Related Material

Emmerton, James A. "Henry Silsbee and Some of his Descendants," Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. XVII, 1880, pp. 257-311.

Jackson, Russell Leigh. "Additions to Portraits in the Essex Institute," Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. LXXXVI, 1950, p. 157.

Located in the Broadside Collection are appointments to the Senate and Justice of the Peace and a duplicate of the Michigan land grant.

Derby Family Papers, MSS 37

Logbooks for the following ships are located in the Logbook Collection: Ship Astrea, Bark Columbia, Ship Herald, Ship Pontiac, and Ship Syren.

Stone Family Papers, MSS 65

Stone Silsbee and Pickman Records, MSS 63

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