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Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) Papers

Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) Papers

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ELIAS HASKET DERBY (1739-1799) PAPERS, 1776-1800

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:Derby, Elias Hasket, 1739-1799
Title:Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) Papers
Quantity:2.25 linear feet (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Elias Hasket Derby papers include shipping, legal, business, and personal papers of Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799), including genealogical notes about the Derby family.
Collection Number:MH 76

Series List

SERIES I. Business Papers
A. Ships' Papers
B. Accounts and Correspondence
SERIES II. Personal Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Elias Hasket Derby papers include shipping, legal, business, and personal papers of Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799), including genealogical notes about the Derby family. The bulk of the papers are ships' papers. This collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Business Papers consists of materials relating to Derby's shipping and merchant business. It has been divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Ships' Papers are arranged alphabetically, and contain ships' orders, accounts of sales, disbursements, invoices, bills of lading, and miscellaneous papers. Subseries B. Accounts and Correspondence contains invoices and receipts, and business correspondence to Elias Hasket Derby. In the accounts with Enos and Daniel Briggs is a contract for the building of a vessel.

Series II. Personal Papers contains various items relating to Elias Hasket Derby and his family. Included in this series are painted portraits of Derby and his wife Elizabeth, Derby's last will and testament, and related documents. Also included in this series are a number of documents relating to the Derby family's genealogy, including charts with multiple generations. There is also a photocopy of a certificate of masonry in French, dated 1766, and photocopies of a broadside displaying a catalogue of books belonging to Elias Hasket Derby to be sold at auction, after Derby's death.

Biographical Sketch

Elias Hasket Derby was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1739 to Richard (1712-1783) and Mary (Hodge) Derby. He was the founder of the East India shipping trade and America's first millionaire. Instead of becoming a sea captain like his brothers, Elias assisted his father in the management of their expanding shipping business. As early as 1760, he had begun to assist his father with this mercantile business, gradually assuming the entire control and management of the shipping affairs.

At the commencement of the Revolution, the Derby shipping empire was completely in the hands of Elias. The capture of three ships by the British turned his interests away from commerce and towards retaliation. During the course of the war, he owned, either solely or in part, at least twenty-five armed vessels, and had shares in numerous others. Initially the vessels were privateers, but as the war progressed, and Elias' interests began to return to commercial pursuits, the privateers were supplanted by letters of marque.

The end of the Revolutionary War marked the beginning of Elias' East India shipping trade. The privateers and letters of marque, while suiting the needs of the war, were no longer suited to the coastwise and West Indian trade. Their increased size and cargo capacity necessitated finding new markets and new commodities that would bring a profit. While Derby ships continued trading on established routes of trade (Europe, the West Indies, New York, and Philadelphia), additional vessels sought new ports. The Light Horse was the first American ship to sail directly to Russia. The Grand Turk was the first American vessel to the isle of France (Mauritius) and the first New England ship to go to Canton, China. The Astrea was the first ship to dock in Siam (Thailand). Derby ships initiated trade with St. Helena, Cape of Good Hope, Bourbon (Reunion), Ceylon, India, and Batavia. Although Elias continued to trade in traditional ports, and search for new markets in Europe and Asia, he focused his trade on ports in the Indian Ocean. To help organize the Derby trade in the East Indies, one of his sons, Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826) was dispatched to the Isle of France for a three-year period, from 1788 until 1790. From 1785 until 1799, ships owned or managed by Elias made at least 125 voyages to points in Europe, Africa, India, the East Indies, and the Orient.

In addition to his shipping activities, Elias served as selectman from 1768 until 1772, and was a member of the Committee of Correspondence in 1774. He donated money towards the erection of the new courthouse, and towards the building of the naval frigate Essex. In 1795, Elias began building an impressive mansion, designed by Samuel McIntire, for his wife, Elizabeth (Crowninshield) Derby. Occupied only for a few months before Elias died in 1799, the mansion was located at the present site of Derby Square in Salem. At his death, Elias' estate was divided equally among his children: Elias Hasket Jr., John, Ezekiel Hersey, Richard Crowninshield, Elizabeth West, Martha Prince, and Anstiss Pickman.

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.

Silsbee, Nathaniel, 1773-1850
Astrea & Sukey (Vessel)
Benjamin (Ship)
Cato (Brig)
Fanny (Brig)
Grand Turk (Ship)
Hannah (Brig)
Hasket & John (Ship)
Humbird (Brig)
Joseph (Brigantine)
Lexington (Schooner)
Peggy (Brig)
Rose (Brig)
Rowbuck (Ship)
Salem Packet (Ship)
Sally (Schooner)
Sebastian (Schooner)
Swan (Brig)
Estates, administation of
Fishing industry
Salem (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

Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) Papers, MH 76, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This bulk of this material was found in the collection. Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799)'s last will was a donation from Dr. Richard Derby in April 1961 (accession #15,442). Papers for the schooner Sebastian, the brig Swan, and the schooner Lexington were donated by S. William C. Waters in December 1951 (accession #12,574). The customs certificate for the brig Rose was a 1937 gift from Dr. E. D. Lovejoy. Correspondence to and from Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826) were added to the Derby Family Papers, MSS 37. Photocopies of a broadside displaying a catalogue of books belonging to Elias Hasket Derby to be sold at auction was donated by Captain George Cunha in September 1966 (accession #17,308).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, March 2015.

Related Material

Derby, Perley. "Genealogy of the Derby Family," Essex Institute Historical Collections 3 (1861): 154-67, 201-7, 283-89.

"Lives of American Merchants. Elias Hasket Derby," Hunt's Lives of American Merchants, vol. 2 (New York, 1858): 17-100.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby and the American Revolution," Essex Institute Historical Collections 97 (1961): 165-97.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby, Merchant of Salem, Massachusetts, 1739-1799." Thesis, Clark University, 1961.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby and the Founding of the Eastern Trade," Essex Institute Historical Collections 98 (1962): 1-25, 65-83.

Peabody, Robert E. "Derby of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 49 (1908): 193-347.

Phillips, James Duncan. "The Life and Times of Richard Derby, Merchant of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 65 (1929): 243-92.

Account book of estate of Elias Hasket Derby, 1799-1803. MSS 636.

Derby Family Papers, 1716-1925. MSS 37.

Astrea (Ship) Logbook and Journal, 1798-1799. Log 1303.

Sukey (Brig) Logbook, 1804-1805. Log 1303.

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