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Oliver Putnam (1777-1826) Papers

Oliver Putnam (1777-1826) Papers

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OLIVER PUTNAM (1777-1826) PAPERS, 1775-1875


Processing and conservation of this collection was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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:Putnam, Oliver, 1777-1826
Title:Oliver Putnam (1777-1826) Papers
Quantity:2.25 linear feet (5 boxes)
Abstract:The Oliver Putnam papers record the mercantile career and interests of this prosperous Newburyport, Massachusetts, merchant.
Collection Number:MSS 154

Series List

SERIES I. Oliver Putnam Papers
A. Shipping Papers
B. Correspondence
C. Personal Papers
SERIES II. Family Papers
SERIES III. Miscellaneous Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Oliver Putnam papers record the mercantile career and interests of this prosperous Newburyport, Massachusetts, merchant. The collection also contains papers of Oliver's father, Newburyport blacksmith Oliver Putnam (1755-1818), and his brothers Thorndike (1787-1858) and Joshua Putnam (b. 1798). The papers are divided into three series.

Series I. Oliver Putnam Papers, 1793 to 1825, are divided into three subseries. Subseries A. Shipping Papers is comprised of account books, ships', and shipping papers. The account books and ships' papers include many of Oliver's early adventures conducted under the auspices of his employers, merchants Farris and Stoker. They also contain a large number of the vessels which Oliver owned or chartered (see Appendix II). As none of the ships are well documented, one can catch only a glimpse of the trade which Oliver conducted with Europe, Calcutta, the West Indies, and coastwise America. Of interest in the shipping papers are a number of undated items including a biographical sketch of Captain Haraden of Gloucester, instructions for taking lunar observations, charts of Matanzas Bay, and islands off the coast of Sumatra, and an ink wash view of the Cape of Good Hope.

Subseries B. Correspondence contains shipping correspondence from merchants in Boston, Europe, and the West Indies. Also included is business correspondence regarding Oliver's interests in the United States and insurance stocks, the Great Falls Manufacturing Company in Dover, and the maintenance of his properties. The correspondence also contains a few letters from Oliver to his father and one from a publisher expressing interest in his essays on politics and economics.

Subseries C. Personal Papers consists of legal and financial papers. The legal documents include deeds to the Hampstead, New Hampshire, land and papers from the estate of Oliver's former employer and partner Ebenezer Stoker. Of interest in the bills and receipts are accounts for the "Gentlemen of the Assembly," apparently a society to which Oliver belonged, an undated house and farm inventory, and a conversion memorandum to figure changes in the currencies of various states. Additional personal business accounts may be found in the account books.

Series II. Family Papers, 1775-1875, contains papers of Oliver's father, Oliver Putnam (1755-1818), and his brother Thorndike and Joshua. Oliver Sr.'s papers include land deeds, receipts, and account book entries pertaining to his Newburyport blacksmithing business, and correspondence with Boston merchant Phineas Adams concerning the well-being of his sons Oliver and Thorndike when they were at sea. Of interest are early letters which Oliver Sr. received from his brother-in-law Benjamin Rea, his father Oliver Putnam of Danvers, and his parents-in-law Eleazur and Sarah (Perkins) Lake of Topsfield.

Thorndike Putnam's papers contain letters received while he cared for the Hampstead, New Hampshire farm, his estate accounts, and those of his wife Mary (Chase) Putnam. Also included are miscellaneous papers of his son, Henry, and his grandchildren, Oliver (1844-1897) and Laura.

The bulk of Joshua Putnam's papers relate to the Ship Marmion upon which Joshua sent goods during its 1819-1821 voyage to Manila, Saigon, Samarang, and Rotterdam. The account book also includes a one-page log of the Brig Rapid (undated) when William H. Nichols was master.

Series III. Miscellaneous Papers, 1797-1855, include an invoice of the Ship Ruthelia (1836) and papers of Nathaniel Little of Hampstead, New Hampshire.

Biographical Sketch

Oliver Putnam, a prosperous Newburyport, Massachusetts merchant, was born in 1777 to Newburyport blacksmith and barroom keeper Oliver Putnam (1755-1818) and Sarah (Lake) Putnam (1754-1811). At the age of 14 or 15, Oliver Jr. entered the office of Newburyport merchants Farris and Stoker as a clerk. Almost immediately he began to invest his own money in adventures sent out on his employers' vessels. Soon Oliver rose to the position of supercargo, serving as clerk and agent on voyages to Europe and South America. By 1800, he owned a number of vessels in partnership with Farris and Stoker, and soon afterwards conducted his business out of Boston as well as Newburyport.

Oliver acquired a sizeable fortune which he invested in United States and insurance stocks, and real estate. One of his land purchases, a farm in Hampstead, New Hampshire, became his home when ill health prompted him to go into semi-retirement. Here he lived with his parents and his siblings, Thorndike, Joshua, and Lucy, until his death in 1826. During the last years of his life, Oliver devoted himself to the study of politics and economics. His collection of essays, Tracts on Sundry Topics of Political Economy, was published posthumously in 1834. Oliver's interest in education also found fruition in the Putnam Free School of Newburyport (trustees incorporated in 1838), which a portion of his estate established and supported.

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.

Haraden, Capt.
Lake, Eleazur
Little, Nathaniel
Putnam, Henry, b. 1817
Putnam, Joshua, b. 1798
Putnam, Laura
Putnam, Mary Chase
Putnam, Oliver, 1755-1818
Putnam, Oliver, 1777-1826
Putnam, Thorndike, 1787-1858
Rea, Benjamin
Stoker, Ebenezer
Alexander (Ship)
Columbus (Ship)
Cyrus (Brig)
Farris & Stoker (Newburyport, Mass.)
Hannah (Schooner)
Hercules (Ship)
Mahala Windsor (Brig)
Marmion (Ship)
Mary (Brig)
Mayflower (Brig)
Rapid (Brig)
Swan (Brig)
Three Friends (Schooner)
William (Schooner)
Account books
Administration of estates
Investments--real estate
Merchants--Newburyport (Mass.)
Nautical charts--Cuba
Nautical charts--Indonesia--Sumatra
Hampstead (N.H.)
Newburyport (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

Oliver Putnam (1777-1826) Papers, MSS 154, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Oliver Putnam Papers are a reorganization and integration of 8 account books and 3 boxes of manuscripts. The collection is from an unknown source. Removed from the collection are the following: a 4 page log abstract of the Ship Witch of the Wave (undated), a one-page 1810 log of an anonymous vessel, and an undated receipt of Aaron Waite (see Separation Sheet for exact listing).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kennick, October 1984. Updated by Catherine Robertson, March 2015.

Related Material

Currier, John J. History of Newburyport, MA, 1764-1909. Newburyport, MA, 1909.

Currier, John J. Ould Newbury: Historical and Biographical Sketches. Boston: Damrell & Upham, 1896.

Noyes, Harriette Eliza. Memorial of the Town of Hampstead, N.H. Boston: George B. Reed, 1899.

Putnam, Oliver. Tracts on Sundry Topics of Political Economy. 1834.

Appendix II

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