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Benjamin Shreve (1780-1839) Papers

Benjamin Shreve (1780-1839) Papers

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BENJAMIN SHREVE (1780-1839) PAPERS, 1793-1848


Processing and conservation of this collection was funded in part by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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:Shreve, Benjamin, 1780-1839
Title:Benjamin Shreve (1780-1839) Papers
Quantity:9.75 linear feet (17 boxes, flat file)
Abstract:The Benjamin Shreve papers are comprised of ships' papers, correspondence, account books, memorandum books, accounts, bills, and receipts, and printed items. The papers represent Shreve's activities as merchant, shipmaster, and supercargo on a number of Salem, Massachusetts, vessels from 1805 to 1835.
Collection Number:MH 20

Series List

SERIES I. Shipping Papers
Subseries A. Ships' Papers
Subseries B. Account Books, Letter Books, and Memorandum Books
Subseries C. Other Memoranda
SERIES II. Correspondence
SERIES III. Personal and Business Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Benjamin Shreve papers are comprised of ships' papers, correspondence, account books, memorandum books, accounts, bills, and receipts, and printed items. The papers represent Shreve's activities as merchant, shipmaster, and supercargo on a number of Salem vessels from 1805 to 1835. In some instances, the manuscripts have been transcribed. In these cases, the transcriptions are in a separate folder after the manuscripts. The collection is divided into three series.

Series I. Shipping Papers includes ships' papers, account books, memorandum books, accounts, and trade memoranda largely associated with Shreve's trading activities at Canton from 1813 to 1822 and has been divided into three subseries. See Appendix I for a complete listing of ships owned, mastered, and chartered by Benamin Shreve as they are represented in these papers. Subseries A. Ships' Papers contain papers from individual ships. The most complete documentation of trade in China is found among the papers of the ship China, and the brigs Canton, Comet, Governor Endicott, and New Hazard. The papers provide detailed information on trade in silks, export china, teas, and various textiles as well as descriptions of negotiations and agreements with Hong Kong merchants. Additionally, the papers of the ship China contain documentation of a cargo of opium shipped from Salem to Canton.

Other items of interest in the ships' papers include a list of rations distributed on the US frigate Congress and a spar plan for the brig Dawn, which was named schooner Four Sons before her capture by the privateer schooner Fame in 1812. A letter from Shreve to his nephew Samuel V. Shreve contains the elder's advice on how to manage a mercantile voyage. It provides an intimate and detailed account of how ship masters and supercargoes managed sales and purchases of cargoes and how they were expected to conduct themselves in their trading activities (see ship Eliza, box 2, folder 5). The papers of brig George document a cargo of opium purchased at Malta and describe the capture of the vessel by the HMS Emulous while in route from Liverpool in 1812. Shreve's brig Washington was designed in the style of some other successful Salem vessels and the brig's papers include shipbuilding accounts and papers associated with a pepper voyage to Sumatra in 1824. The bark William Gray was lost at sea in 1811 and the ship's papers describe the incident and Shreve's subsequent claims against the Danish government in 1831.

Subseries B. Account Books, Letter books, and Memorandum Books provides additional detail on the voyages of Shreve's vessels. Some of the items in these volumes are duplicates of documents in subseries A, as Shreve often copied his letters and memoranda in triplicate. In some instances, a single volume often refers to more than one vessel. The shipping accounts are summaries of Shreve's position with a number of merchant houses, agents, and investors in Salem and abroad. The Sarah Elizabeth (Brig) account book also contains trading accounts, letters of instruction, an account of a quarrel with natives, and colored sketches of natives (box 10, folder 9).

Subseries C. Other Memoranda includes trade and miscellaneous memoranda. The trade memoranda are descriptions of trading practices at various ports that often identify appropriate cargoes for particular markets and also include lists of vessels and cargoes arriving and departing from specific ports. Among the miscellaneous trade memoranda is "A Correct Table of the Real and Imaginary Monies of the Whole World," which lists world currencies and their exchange rates. There are also notes from Henry Pickering on purchases of prints by well-known European artists.

Series II. Correspondence is composed of incoming and outgoing correspondence that is mostly concerned with shipping activities. Many of the earliest letters are between Shreve and Phineas Janney and are related to Shreve's efforts to rectify his financial affairs in Alexandria, Virginia (also see the papers of schooner Betsey, box 1, folder 5). The balance of the correspondence is almost entirely comprised of material from European and American merchants and agents regarding potential markets and the status of Shreve's finances. There are a number of letters from Gideon Tucker and Jonathan Goodhue (Shreve's brother-in-law) in this section. With the exception of a few widely scattered letters from Mary (Goodhue) Shreve (dated 1827 and 1830), there is little personal information available in the correspondence. Letters from Shreve's brother, Samuel B. Shreve, are concerned mostly with Samuel's financial status in Alexandria, Virginia.

Series III. Personal and Business Papers is comprised of financial and legal papers and some printed matter mostly related to Shreve's personal finances. The "Payable/Receivable" and "House Expense" account books contain this sort of financial information. The account book labeled "Office of Discount and Deposit" is blank. The accounts with Phineas Janney refer to Shreve's bankruptcy in Alexandria, Virginia. It is possible that the promissory notes, some of which are signed and dated up to eight years after Shreve's death, did not all belong to Benjamin Shreve (1780-1839) but instead belonged to his nephew Benjamin Shreve (born 1813).

The legal papers are mostly deeds for property in Saco and Kennebunkport, Maine, owned by Shreve and Company; again, as most of these are dated after 1839, it is possible that they are referring to Shreve's nephew, Benjamin Shreve (born 1813). It is not clear which Benjamin Shreve was involved in Shreve and Company, or what type of business it was. A Samuel Shreve is mentioned in many of the papers; he was possibly another relative of Benjamin Shreve's (1780-1839), as Benjamin was paying Samuel's tuition in 1823. The insurance policies document coverage of the Maine real estate. Printed material includes an annual report and report of investigation of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company (1836, 1837), a copy of the Act of Incorporation for Commercial Bank (1819), and a table of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of ropes. This series also includes material relative to James Porter, a businessman from Alexandria, Virginia, who moved to Danvers, Massachusetts, and became unable to manage his own affairs. The James Porter estate papers describe Shreve's efforts to settle Porter's finances in Alexandria.

Biographical Sketch

Benjamin Shreve was born in Winchester, Virginia, on December 6, 1780 to Benjamin and Hannah (Vail) Shreve; he was their second surviving son. Benjamin's mother died when he was four years old and his father married Susannah Wood of New Jersey within two years. Details of Benjamin's personal life are sparse, however, it is known that his brother Isaac moved to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1794 to take an apprenticeship in leather tanning with Samuel Very. Subsequently, Isaac probably introduced Benjamin to Mary Goodhue of Salem, as the couple were married on July 8, 1804 and settled in Salem.

There is little information available of the early years of Shreve's mercantile career. He appears to have been involved in shipping before he arrived in Salem, as he was declared bankrupt in Alexandria, Virginia. His papers suggest a relationship between his financial difficulties and an 1804 voyage of the schooner Betsey. Once in Salem, Shreve acted as supercargo on a number of voyages to Europe and the West Indies. In 1812, he purchased the schooner Four Sons, re-rigged her as a brig, and renamed her Dawn. After the War of 1812, Shreve served as supercargo and ship master on a number of voyages to Canton. In 1813, he purchased the brig Catherine from Joseph Peabody and Gideon Tucker. In the 1820s he invested in voyages to South America by his own vessels and those of other merchants. Shreve arranged to build the brig Washington in 1823 and sent her on a number of voyages to South America, Europe, and Sumatra. He was appointed treasurer of the Salem Savings Bank. Benjamin Shreve died of a heart ailment on March 10, 1839, leaving his wife and no 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.

Goodhue, Jonathan, 1783-1848
Janney, Phineas
Pickering, Henry, 1781-1838
Porter, James
Shreve, Samuel B.
Shreve, Samuel V.
Tucker, Gideon, 1778-1861
Williams, Samuel
Abby (Brig)
Alert (Ship)
Arno (Ship)
Atlantic (Brig)
Atlas (Sloop)
Balance (Brig)
Belvidere (Brig)
Betsey (Schooner)
Betsey Matilda (Schooner)
Bud (Brig)
Calumet (Ship)
Canton (Brig)
Caroline Augusta (Brig)
Century (Brig)
China (Ship)
Clarissa Perkins (Bark)
Claudio (Brig)
Collector (Brig)
Comet (Brig)
Commercial Bank
Common Chance (Sloop)
Congress (Frigate)
Convoy (Brig)
Cygnet (Brig)
Dawn (Brig)
De Wolf (Schooner)
Edward (Brig)
Eliza (Brig)
Factor (Ship)
Florence (Ship)
Four Sons (Schooner)
Franklin (Brig)
Franklin (Ship)
General Stark (Brig)
George (Brig)
Gibraltar (Ship)
Golden Grove (Brig)
Governor Endicott (Brig)
Henry (Brig)
Huntress (Vessel)
Huron (Sloop)
James Maury (Ship)
Janus (Ship)
John Jay (Ship)
Juan (Brig)
Lark (Sloop)
Live Oak (Schooner)
London Packet (Ship)
Magnet (Brig)
Mount Vernon (Ship)
Nabob (Brig)
New Hazard (Brig)
Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company
Orion (Sloop)
Ortolan (Sloop)
Otter (Brig)
Packet (Ship)
Padang (Brig)
Peru (Brig)
Primose (Schooner)
Reaper (Schooner)
Rogue (Brig)
Romp (Brig)
Sarah Casanove (Ship)
Sarah Elizabeth (Brig)
Sewall (Brig)
Shreve & Company (San Francisco, Calif.)
Timor (Ship)
Union (Vessel)
Washington (Brig)
Wild Goose (Brig)
William (Ship)
William (Sloop)
William Gray (Bark)
Account books
Hong merchants
Opium trade
Tea trade
United States--History--Spoliation Claims
Land titles


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

Benjamin Shreve (1780-1839) Papers, MH 20, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was found in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, May 1988. Updated by Hilary Streifer, February 2015.

Related Material

China (Ship) Logbook, 1817. Log 125.

Florence (Ship) Logbook, 1833-1834. Log 1517.

Governor Endicott (Ship) Logbook, 1819-1821. Log 151.

Washington (Brig) Logbook, 1830. Log 1692.

Appendix I

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