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Nathan Dane (1752-1835) Papers

Nathan Dane (1752-1835) Papers

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NATHAN DANE (1752-1835) PAPERS, 1740-1844

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:Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835
Title:Nathan Dane (1752-1835) Papers
Quantity:1.25 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Abstract:The Nathan Dane Papers contain legal documents, letters, office daybooks, and account books, all related to Dane's law practice in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Collection Number:MSS 311

Series List

SERIES I. Correspondence
SERIES II. Financial

Scope and Content Note

The Nathan Dane Papers contain legal documents, letters, office daybooks, and account books, all related to Dane's law practice in Beverly, Massachusetts. The collection has been organized into two series.

Series I. Correspondence contains letters and documents primarily concerned with Dane's law practice. Of particular interest are the Heyleger Estate Papers, (Folder 1) which represent the correspondence between Dane and successive generations of the Heyleger family, with branches in St. Croix and in Ireland. William Heyleger, born in St. Eustatius, in the Dutch West Indies, had moved to Beverly, Massachusetts, and in 1740-1741, had acquired lands in Beverly and an interest in a wharf and warehouse. He and his wife, Hannah, had three children, Anne (Nancy), William, and Mary. Subsequently, the family removed to St. Croix in the West Indies, at that time a Danish colony. One of the major difficulties in settling the Heyleger estate revolved around the birthplace of the aforesaid Heyleger children and subsequent heirs, and the inability, under Massachusetts state law, of certain aliens to inherit land in Massachusetts after the War for Independence. These letters cover a period of fifty years, from 1784 to 1844, even extending ten years after Dane's death, when the executors of Dane's estate and their legal representatives attempted finally to settle the involved affairs of the Heyleger family. Dane's letters to members of the Heyleger family include explanations of the prevailing inheritance laws of Massachusetts, as well as laws governing the ownership and inheritance of land by aliens, and the application and interpretation of certain provisions of Jay's Treaty of 1794, which provided reciprocal arrangements between England and America for land owned by citizens of those countries.

The Heyleger Estate letters also contain informal evaluations by Dane of the estate's landholdings, and Dane's general observations on the value of land in Essex County after the War of 1812. Dane comments on the deterioration of the economy of seaport towns of Massachusetts as a consequence of that conflict. His apparent dismay at the depressed state of shipping and business in the area, caused by embargoes and interruption of commerce, is particularly interesting in light of Dane's participation in the Federalist's Hartford Convention. The Hartford Convention was a meeting of Northeast Federalists which convened at Hartford, Connecticut, in December of 1814 for the purpose of considering the grievances of the Northeastern states arising out of governmental policies before and during the War of 1812.

Folder 3, containing papers relating to the Estate of Thomas Appleton, of Beverly, Massachusetts, include an "Inventory and Appraisement" of the estate assets, both realty and personally, and provides some additional idea of the value of land and other assets during that period.

A letter dated April 1802, from Dane to Fisher Ames, in Folder 6, will be of particular interest to legal historians. It concerns the legal representation of Judge March, a Senator and Justice, who had been charged with libel. In his letter to Ames, Dane comments on the reasoning of the presiding judge who (mistakenly, according to Dane) entered a verdict against March. Dane explains his own reasons, based on his understanding of the prevailing law, for believing his client innocent of the alleged libel. Also among the contents of Folder 6 is a note to Dane from John Pickering, dated December 16, 1831, containing a postscript referring to Dane's "work on Nullification." Nullification was the act by which a state, within its territorial jurisdiction, suspended a federal law. In 1831, the object of the nullification movement was most probably the protective tariff enacted during the Jackson administration. Dane apparently intended to place his statement before Congress.

Series II. Financial contains account books, bank books, and a settlement of the Nathan Dane estate. The series is arranged chronologically.

Box 1 Folder 8 contains a "Book of Executions," recording executions issued from 1782 to 1813. (An "execution" in this context is the judicial enforcement of a money judgment.) The entries in the Book give the names of the parties, the kind of execution issued, date of judgment, the amount of debt or damages, etc.

In Box 2, there are three daybooks which record Dane's cases, the tasks performed for his clients, and the amounts charged for each such service. The activities listed therein will be of particular interest to legal historians, as it provides an account of the day-to-day activities of a civil practice in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The daybooks are sequential, covering the period from July, 1794, to August, 1823.

In Box 3 the account book, which Dane has marked as "Ledger B," records bills, expenses and receipts for the years 1800-1826. "Ledger 6" in Box 2 Folder 6 is a record of accounts from 1824 to 1834, shortly before Dane's death. It includes, in Dane's own words on the frontpiece, "1824 matters of accounts, bonds, notes, shares in corporations, not settled transferred to this Ledger from Ledger B...." Ledger 6 also includes records of rents due and paid "since 1824," memoranda of donations and other financial matters. Dane's notation in the front of the Ledger makes it clear that his purpose in organizing the records in ledger 6 was to explain all his financial affairs to anyone who might thereafter need such information, probably to settle his affairs.

Eight bankbooks are labeled as Volumes 1 through 8. Volumes 1 and 2 (Box 2 Folder 5) are the bankbooks of a Committee, of which Dane was a member, commissioned to "build a stone goel" (jail) in Salem, Massachusetts. The remaining six books (Box 2 Folder 2) are Dane's personal bankbooks.

An unlabeled notebook in Box 2 Folder 7 contains memoranda and accounts for the settlement of the Nathan Dane Estate, from 1835 to 1844.

Biographical Sketch

Nathan Dane was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on December 29, 1752, the second son of Daniel Dane, a farmer, and Abigail (Burnham) Dane. Daniel and Abigail Dane had twelve children: Daniel; Nathan; Samuel; John; Benjamin; Joseph; Abigail; Lydia; Elizabeth; Sarah; Lucy; and Molly. Daniel Dane, Nathan's father, died October 15, 1768; his mother, Abigail, died September 3, 1799.

Until the age of twenty, Nathan Dane worked on the family farm, with little formal education. However, he managed to prepare himself for entry to Harvard College in 1772. After graduation in 1778, he studied law under Judge William Wetmore of Salem, and began practicing law in Beverly, Massachusetts. His active legal practice continued until 1823-1824. Thereafter, he confined himself to continuing only a few legal matters, but engaged in various community, scholarly, and philanthropic activities.

He married Polly Brown in 1799. There were no children born of the marriage.

In addition to practicing law, Dane was active in Massachusetts politics. From 1782 to 1785, he served as a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts. From 1785 until 1787 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. During that period, he assisted in the drafting of the Ordinance of 1787 for the North West Territory of Ohio. Dane's noteworthy contribution to the Ordinance was his movement for the addition of an article prohibiting slavery in the North West Territory. During the period beginning in 1790 and ending in 1798, Dane served as a member of the Massachusetts Senate for a total of five years.

In 1807, Dane was appointed a Justice of the Essex County Court of Common Pleas, but only served for a short time. In 1795, and again in 1811, he was appointed to serve on a Committee to revise the laws of Massachusetts. Dane was a member of the Federalist's "Hartford Convention" in 1814.

By Dane's own account (according to his inscription on the frontpiece of Ledger 6), he "nearly ceased to practice law" in 1823, but continued with scholarly endeavors, the most notable of which was the production of a nine-volume legal work entitled "A General Abridgement and Digest of American Law," published in 1823, with a second edition in 1829. In 1829 he founded the Dane Law Professorship at Harvard. Nathan Dane died at Beverly, Massachusetts, on February 15, 1835, at the age of eighty-three. He was survived by his wife, Polly, who died in 1840.

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.

Appleton, Thomas, 1763-1840
Conant, Israel
Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835
Heyleger family
Pickering, John, 1777-1846
Account books
Estates, administration of
Salem (Mass.)--Prisons
Beverly (Mass.)


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

Nathan Dane (1752-1835) Papers, MSS 311, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


A receipt (B1 F6) was donated by Mrs. Ira J. Patch, January 13, 1933. A letter (B1 F6) was purchased on Aug. 13, 1951. The 8 volumes of bank books (B2 F2 and 5) were purchased on September 24, 1965. Five receipts (B1 F5), two letters (B1 F6), and a deed (B1 F9) were purchased on December 10, 1975. A letter (B1 F6) was purchased on November 26, 1975. Office day book (B2 F3) was purchased on September 8, 1978. Office day book (B2 F4) was purchased on January 24, 1980. Office day book (B2 F1) was purchased on April 21, 1981. Account book, "Ledger B", was purchased on May 6, 1985. A letter to Alexander Hogdon dated September 18, 1789 (B1 F6) was purchased in 1990 (acc # 90069). The provenance of rest of the collection is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frances Malamy, April 2000. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, July 2014.

Related Material

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volumes CXLI and CXLIII. Published by the Society, 1989.

William Richard Cutter, Ed. Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, Vol. I. N.Y., 1908, pp.27-30.

Stone, Edwin Martin. History of Beverly, Civil and Ecclesiastical: From Its Settlement in 1630 to 1842. Boston: J. Munroe, 1843, pp.135-150.

Banner, James M. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815. New York: Knopf, 1969. [For general information on the Hartford Convention, and some notes on Dane's activities as a Massachusetts Federalist]

Essex County (Mass.) Prisons Records, 1688-1858, MSS 341

Tucker Family Papers, MSS 165

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