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Dorr Family Papers

Dorr Family Papers

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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:Dorr family
Title:Dorr Family Papers
Quantity:1 linear foot (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Dorr family papers are composed of ships' papers, correspondence, account books, bills, and receipts associated with Ebenezer Dorr, his sons John and Joseph, and other family members.
Collection Number:MH 21

Series List

SERIES I. Dorr Family Ships' Papers
SERIES II. Ebenezer Dorr Papers
SERIES III. John Dorr Papers
SERIES IV. Joseph Dorr Papers
SERIES V. Miscellaneous Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Dorr family papers are composed of ships’ papers, correspondence, account books, bills, and receipts associated with Ebenezer Dorr, his sons John and Joseph, and other family members. Although the papers extend from 1780 to 1865, the bulk of the collection is related to the family’s shipping activities from 1793 to 1825. It should be noted that within this collection, correspondence between family members has been filed with the recipient. The collection has been divided into five series.

Series I. Dorr Family Ships' Papers contains documents related to vessels owned or chartered by members of the Dorr family that sailed to South America, Europe, and Canton. The papers of the ship Astrea are comprised of a 1789 agreement and invoice for a cargo of furs to be transported and sold at Canton by James Magee. Material associated with the ship Esther concerns the condemnation of the vessel at Lima in 1823 for an alleged violation of Peruvian trade regulations. The papers of the ship Jenny are transcriptions. It is not known where the originals are, or when the transcriptions were created. See Appendix I for additional information on the voyages of the Dorr vessels.

Series II. Ebenezer Dorr Papers includes correspondence, bills, receipts, and papers of Elias Norberry's estate. The earliest correspondence is largely related to trade at Amsterdam with the Akker and Heineken merchant house. Other correspondence includes letters from Joseph and Andrew C. Dorr on family shipping activities. The bills and receipts in this section are mostly for personal expenses.

Series III. John Dorr Papers are comprised of correspondence, account books, and some miscellaneous papers. Most of the earliest letters are those written by Joseph Dorr while in Paris and London. Joseph apparently acted as shipping agent for the family business while in those cities, and his correspondence is associated with market conditions in Europe and the progress of specific purchases and sales. Letters from Henry and Sullivan Dorr contain some personal information and news of friends and acquaintances. In addition, Sullivan Dorr's letters from 1843 to 1846 concern the progress of negotiations on claims against the Peruvian government for losses on the 1821 to 1823 voyage of the ship Esther. John Dorr's waste books contain shipping and business accounts for a number of vessels. There are also entries for real estate transactions, the Ebenezer Dorr estate, and accounts of John Jacob Astor in the two volumes.

Series IV. Joseph Dorr Papers contains correspondence which is mostly from Ebenezer and John Dorr regarding European shipping activities. Of particular interest are the letters from Richard J. Cleveland (1812 and 1822) supporting the initiation of hostilities in the War of 1812 and discussing the relative merits of marriage and bachelor life.

Series V. Miscellaneous Papers contains family and non-family papers. The family papers are comprised of a deed to Amy (Plympton) Dorr, Ebenezer's (1738/9-1809) mother, for land in Medfield from the Joseph Plimpton Estate (dated 1799) and a copy of a single letter from Sullivan Dorr to William S. Wetmore of Lima, Peru. The non-family papers include accounts for an unidentified house, a copy of the decree of the "Supreme Director…of Chile" concerning reform of commercial regulations (dated 1822), and a copy of a convention between the United States and Peru (dated 1846).

Biographical Sketches

Ebenezer Dorr was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts on March 20, 1738/9. He was initially a leather dresser in Boston, and later a merchant, establishing a store at 27 Long Wharf, Boston. He formed a mercantile partnership with Caleb Davis of Boston as early as 1761. Ebenezer and his sons became involved in the early fur trade on the Pacific Northwest coast, as part of their trading with China (Corning, 73). Dorr married Abigail Cunningham in 1762, and they raised at least four sons before Abigail's death in 1798. After Abigail died, Ebenezer married Eliza Flink. Ebenezer died in 1809.

Joseph Dorr was born December 3, 1767 to Ebenezer (1739-1809) and Abigail Dorr. Joseph became a shipping partner with his brother, John, and in 1796 they maintained an office at 10 Kilby Street in Boston, under the firm name of J. and J. Dorr. Joseph died October 24, 1831 in Paris, France.

John Dorr was born October 2, 1770 to Ebenezer (1739-1809) and Abigail Dorr. John became a shipping partner with his brother, Joseph (1767-1831) in their firm, J. and J. Dorr. He married Esther Goldthwaite in 1793. John died in August 1855.

Andrew Cunningham Dorr was born August 11, 1772 to Ebenezer (1739-1809) and Abigail Dorr. He was involved in the family shipping business, but his role has not been precisely defined. He married Charlotte Plimpton in 1802. Andrew died on May 28, 1842.

Sullivan Dorr was born October 20, 1778 to Ebenezer (1739-1809) and Abigail Dorr. He was the Dorr family's agent in Canton from 1799 until 1803. In 1804 he returned to America and married Lydia Allen of Providence, Rhode Island. He became President of the Washington Insurance Company and a Trustee of Brown University. Sullivan died in 1858.

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.

Astor, John Jacob, 1763-1848
Cleveland, Richard J., 1773-1860
Dorr, Ebeneezer, 1739-1809
Dorr, John, 1770-185
Dorr, Joseph, 1767-1831
Dorr, Sullivan, 1778-1858
Norberry, Elias
Plimpton, Joseph
Abigail (Brig)
Akker & Heineken
Amethyst (Ship)
Astrea (Ship)
Candace (Ship)
Dispatch (Ship)
Esther (Ship)
Jenny (Ship)
Magdalena (Vessel)
Ospray (Brig)
Wethered (Brig)
Abandonment (Maritime law)
Account books
Estates, administration of
Fur trade


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

Dorr Family Papers, MH 21, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This collection is a reorganization of two boxes of manuscripts, two waste books, and one account book that was purchased in 1970 (accession #19,318).

Processing Information

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

Related Material

Corning, Howard. "Sullivan Dorr, China Trader." Rhode Island History 3 (July 1944): 73-104.

Research on Sullivan Dorr, 1941-1953, undated. Fam. Mss. 265

Dorr Family Maritime Trade Records, 1820-1854. Acc 2010.045

Appendix I

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