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Frigate Essex Papers

Frigate Essex Papers

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FRIGATE ESSEX PAPERS, 1798-1838, 1914, 1973-1974

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:Essex (Frigate)
Title:Frigate Essex Papers
Dates:1798/1838, 1914, 1973/1974
Quantity:1.75 linear feet (4 boxes)
Abstract:The frigate Essex papers consist of ships' papers, correspondence, account books, bills, and receipts.
Collection Number:MH 24

Series List

SERIES I. Frigate Essex Papers
A. Correspondence
B. Contracts, Specifications, and Supplies
C. Financial Papers
D. Other Papers
SERIES II. Miscellaneous Ships' Papers

Scope and Content Note

The frigate Essex papers consist of ships' papers, correspondence, account books, bills, and receipts. Although the papers run from 1798 to 1974, the bulk of the material is related to the construction of the frigate in 1799. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Frigate Essex Papers includes correspondence, contracts, memoranda, accounts, account books, bills, and receipts that document the construction of the vessel, and has been divided into four subseries.

Subseries A. Correspondence provides a detailed look at the process of construction and naval administration in the early years of the American Navy. Other than the letters of nationally prominent individuals listed in Appendix I, the correspondence includes items from Jacob Sheaf (the Navy Agent at Portsmouth, New Hampshire), William Winder and Thomas Turner (both Accountants of the Navy), and Robert Gill (naval storekeeper, Philadelphia). Joseph Waters' letter book contains his outgoing correspondence concerning the Essex and his duties as Naval Agent. There are photocopies of letters in this subseries; it is unclear where the originals are, or when the photocopies were made.

Subseries B. Contracts, Specifications, and Supplies contains contracts and agreements that relate to various phases of the ship's construction, procurement of various ships' stores, and appointments of attorneys to receive the back wages of some individual crew members. They do not include the contracts made with Enos Briggs or William Hackett. The dimensions and specifications are mostly concerned with rigging, but a comprehensive memorandum of hull specifications signed by Hackett and Briggs is included. The folder "Indents for Supplies" consists of orders for items needed by the ship's purser, sailing master, cooper, surgeon, carpenter, boatswain, gunner, and armorer. The ship's stores memoranda were probably used in the production of the indents mentioned above. This subseries also includes a manuscript "Table of the Component Parts of Rations for the Navy of the United States" published in 1799. Included in this series are some photocopies of materials, the originals of which are not in the collection. Some of the photocopies have a note that the original copy is owned by "L. W. G."

Subseries C. Financial Papers contains financial and account information related to the ship, including bills and receipts. Included in this subseries are abstracts of allotments, which are lists of crew members and their wages along with the names of individuals, designated to receive portions of each crew members' salary. Miscellaneous accounts are comprised of statements of items shipped from other naval agents in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. These miscellaneous accounts include a list of expenditures related to the launching of the Essex.

Subseries D. Other Papers includes an undated list of cabin furnishings and transcripts. The transcripts were produced by Philip Chadwick Foster Smith in preparation for the publication of these papers by the Peabody Museum. The introduction to the transcripts describes the categories in which Smith originally arranged the collection and provides a detailed subject index that refers to pages in the transcripts. Although there are transcripts for the vast majority of the items in the collection, this compilation is not complete.

Series II. Miscellaneous Ships' Papers is comprised of materials relating to the Essex while in the service of the British government and papers concerning other vessels which may relate to the design or construction of the Essex. All of the materials relating to the Essex while it was in the service of the British government are photocopies. The photocopies are from the National Archives of Ireland (formerly the State Paper Office at Dublin Castle) and were made in 1973 at the request of the Curator of Maritime History of the Peabody Museum. The papers concerning unidentified British vessels consist of memoranda with dimensions of masts and spars for a thirty-two and a thirty-six gun frigate.

Historical Sketch

The frigate Essex was built in 1799 at Winter Island, Salem, Massachusetts, by Enos Briggs from a design by William Hackett of Salisbury. Her construction was funded by subscriptions from Salem residents and was managed by Navy Agent, Joseph Waters. The Essex was launched on September 30, 1799, and in 1800 she became the first American naval vessel to sail beyond the Cape of Good Hope. In 1802 to 1803 the Essex underwent repairs at the Washington Navy Yard. From 1804 to 1806 she patrolled the Mediterranean in support of negotiations with the Barbary Pirates. She was laid up for extensive repairs under the direction of Josiah Fox at the Washington Navy Yard from 1806 to 1809. After successful campaigns against the British Navy in 1812 and 1813, the Essex was captured by H. M. frigate Phoebe at Valparaiso Bay, Chile, on March 28, 1814. She was dismantled and utilized eventually as a convict hulk (floating prison) in Dublin Bay.

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.

Briggs, Enos, 1746-1819
Gill, Robert, 1799-1872
Hackett, William, 1739-1808
Meredith, Samuel, 1741-1817
Porter, David, 1780-1843
Preble, Edward, 1761-1807
Revere, Paul, 1735-1818
Sheafe, Jacob, 1745-1829
Sheafe, James, 1755-1829
Smith, Philip Chadwick Foster
Stoddart, Benjamin, 1751-1813
Turner, Thomas, -1816
Waters, Joseph, 1758-1833
Winder, William
Alliance (Ship)
Boston (Frigate)
Essex (Frigate)
Account books
Crew lists
Naval architecture


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

Frigate Essex Papers, MH 24, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The provenance of this collection is unknown. Some materials, including a letter book, were donated by H. F. Waters in 1906. The materials relating to the Essex while it was in the service of the British government are photocopies from the National Archives of Ireland (formerly the State Paper Office at Dublin Castle), and were made in 1973 at the request of the Curator of Maritime History of the Peabody Museum.

Processing Information

Collection processed by [unknown], [1980s]. Updated by Hilary Streifer, February 2015.

Related Material


Cahoon, Joan. "Battleship Essex Built in Salem: Glorious Career Ended Gallantly." Salem Evening News, February 27, 1963.

Decommissioning ceremony, June 30, 1969. Manuscript.

Donovan, Frank. The Odyssey of the Essex. NY: David McKay Company, Inc., 1969.

Holbrook, Samuel F. Threescore Years: an Autobiography, Containing Incidents of Voyages and Travels, Including Six Years in a Man-of-War. Details of the War Between the United States and the Algerine government, Bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth, and its Subjugation by the French. Also, Two Years in California, a Visit to the Crimea During the Bombardment and Captive of Sebastopol, Journey through Asia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Boston: J. French and Company, 1857.

Invitation to the dedication of a memorial to the frigate Essex and the aircraft carrier Essex at Pickering Wharf, June 20, 1979. Brochure.

Porter, David. Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean in the United States Frigate Essex, in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814. Containing Descriptions of the Cape de Verd Islands, Coasts of Brazil, Patagonia, Chili, and Peru, and of the Gallapagos Islands. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1815.

Porter, David. Journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Oceanin the United States Frigate Essex, in theYears 1812, 1813, and 1814. New York: Wiley & Halsted, 1822.

Porter, David. A Voyage in the South Seas in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814: With Particular Details of the Gallipagos and Washington Islands. London: Sir R. Phillips, 1823.

Shillibeer, John. A Narrative of the Briton's Voyage, to Pitcairn's Island. London: Law and Whittaker, 1817.

Smith, Philip Chadwick Foster. The Frigate Essex Papers: Building the Salem Frigate, 1798-1799: With Draughts by William Avery Baker. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum of Salem, 1974

Streeter, Gilbert Lewis. Historical Sketch of the Building of the Frigate Essex at Salem and of Her Subsequent Fate. Salem, 1856.

Subscribers Names for Building the Essex Frigate. Manuscript

Takakjian, Portia A. The 32-gun Frigate Essex. Cedarburg, WI: Phoenix Publications, 1990.

Thronton, Samuel. "English boy tells capture of the Essex [1814]," Boston Evening Transcript, May 10, 1930.

Toner, Raymond John. Meeheevee: Being an Account of the Commerce-Raiding Cruise of the United States Frigate Essex into the South Pacific Seas Under Command of Captain David Porter, U. S. Navy, Anno 1812-14. Chicago, IL: A. Whitman & Company, 1940.

Related Collections

Typed article relating information on the building costs and voyages of the frigate Essex copied from the Essex Institute Historical Collections and Essex Institute Proceedings. MSS 0.116

"Capture of the Essex, or, The in-glorious victory of the British with the Phoebe, frigate, and the Cherub, sloop of war over the unfortunate Essex frigate, commanded by Capt. David Porter." Boston, 1814. Broadside.

Essex (Frigate) Logbook Photostat Copy, 1799-1800. Log 35

Essex (Frigate) Logbook, 1799-1800. Log 36

Josiah Fox Papers, 1607-1987. MH 11

Letter listing sailors that Hector Orr, surgeon on board the Essex, is admitting to the Newport Hospital, January 1, 1800. MH 0.23

Philip Chadwick Foster Smith Papers, circa 1974. Fam. Mss. 948

Waters Family Papers, 1760-1931. MSS 92

Appendix I

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