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George Thacher (1754-1824) Papers

George Thacher (1754-1824) Papers

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GEORGE THACHER (1754-1824) PAPERS, 1787-1857

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:Thacher, George, 1754-1824
Title:George Thacher (1754-1824) Papers
Quantity:1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Abstract:The George Thacher Papers contain letters to and from George Thacher, letters to and from his wife, Sarah, his children and descendants, and family friends and relatives.
Collection Number:MSS 313

Series List

Scope and Content Note

The George Thacher Papers contain letters to and from George Thacher, letters to and from his wife, Sarah, his children and descendants, and family friends and relatives. The letters are arranged in eleven folders, and are separated either by subject matter or by the identity of the recipient or writer.

Also included in the collection are three notebooks. Two of these notebooks, labeled respectively "To Mr. Cross No. 2," and "To Mr. Cross, No 3," contain Thacher's own copies of his letters to Nathanial Cross, a defender of the orthodox religious beliefs of that period. In these letters, Thacher defends his Unitarian interpretation of scriptures to the religiously orthodox Cross. These two notebooks are grouped with Cross' letters to Thacher, thus forming a complete dialogue. There is also one letter to Thacher from John Gillespie, which also debates religious matters. These letters and notebooks are contained in Folders 4A and Folder 4B.

The third notebook is labeled "Extracts," and contain Thacher's notes on his readings, particularly Gibbon's History, extracts from scriptures, and a copy of a letter from Thacher to the "Society of Protestant Dissenters."

The letters in Folder 3, all dated 1789, were written by Thacher's constituents during his representation of the District of Maine in Massachusetts at the first Federal Congress. In addition to the many letters requesting Thacher's influence in obtaining governmental appointments, these letters reflect the interests of the farmers and merchants of this Northern District of Massaachusetts. Of particular concern during this period is the proposed tax on salt and molasses, in order to raise revenue for the new federal government. Of more general interest is a letter from Samuel Nason of Sanford to Thacher, discussing, among other things, the amendments to the Constitution then being debated in Congress (the Bill of Rights). Nason urges Thacher's support of an amendment protecting the right of every man to bear arms, against a "foreign foe," and warning against the dangers of a standing army in peacetime as a primary threat to freedom.

The exchange of letters between Thacher and Nathaniel Cross, written in 1817, (Folders 4A and 4B) will be of particular interest to students of religious history and doctrine, and to those studying the history of the Unitarian Church in New England. The letters present and attempt to support through logical argument and interpretation of Scripture, the doctrinal position of the "Socinians," the "Trinitarians," and other dogmas of the orthodox clergy in New England. (Socinianism was a religious movement originating in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century, the precursor of Unitarianism, which denied the divinity of Christ, the depravity of man, and the existence of the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and maintained the scriptures should be interpreted through human reason.) George Thacher was influential in forming one of the earliest societies of worship in Maine that departed from orthodox religious doctrine.

Folder 5 contains personal letters to Mrs. Sarah Thacher from friends and relatives. The writers are all women, and the contents of the letters of a domestic nature. They contain hints of domestic life, and health care and medicine in the late 1700s and early 1800s. A group of letters from Mary Scollay to Sarah suggests the restrictive life and frequent loneliness of a single woman living in her parents' home. Letters from George Thacher's schoolboy sons to their father (Folders 1 and 2) give interesting descriptions of the required curriculum of studies of that period.

Biographical Sketch

George Thacher was born in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, on April 12, 1754, the tenth of eleven children born to Peter and Anner (sic) Lewis Thacher. George Thacher was a fourth generation descendant of Anthony Thacher, who came to New England in 1635, a grantee of land at Yarmouth, in the Colony of Plymouth. George prepared for Harvard College under the tuition of a minister at Barnstable, and graduated from Harvard in 1776. After three years of studying law on Cape Cod, he removed to Biddeford, in the district of Maine in Massachusetts, in 1782, succeeding to the law practice of the well-known lawyer and legal commentator, James Sullivan. George was married to Sarah Savage of Weston, Massachusetts on July 20, 1784. There were ten children born of the marriage, five sons and five daughters.

Like many lawyers of his day, Thacher became involved in politics, and by 1787, had been elected by the Massachusetts legislature as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Two years later he was elected by the District of Maine to the first Federal Congress of the United States, convening in New York, and continued to represent his district until 1801. After leaving Congress, Thacher was appointed as associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, on which he served until January, 1824. When Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, Thacher and his wife had moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts, in order that he might continue in his judicial office.

In addition to his political and legal careers, Thacher was a pioneer of religious liberalism. Having formed an acquaintance with Dr. Priestly, a well-known deist, while in Congress, Thacher became confirmed in his liberal ideas, and was influential in founding the Second Society of Biddeford, Maine, one of the earliest religious societies in America to depart from the orthodox beliefs of the times.

Thacher resided in Newburyport until his death on April 6, 1824, at the age of 70. Upon his death, Thacher was survived by his wife, Sarah, and nine of their ten children.

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.

Cross, Nathaniel
Cross, Nathaniel
Thacher, Sarah Savage, fl. 1784-1792
United States. Congress--Constituent communication
United States--History--1783-1815
United States--Politics and government--1789-1809


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

George Thacher (1754-1824) Papers, MSS 313, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The provenance of this material is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frances Malamy, November 2000.

Related Material

United States House of Representatives Journal, 1789.

Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, Ed., Dumas Malone. (N.Y., 1936). [The Dictionary also lists an extensive bibliography of Thacher materials and collections.]

The Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Public Library also have collections of George Thacher's papers and materials.

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