Processing and conservation of this collection
was funded in part by a grant from the National Historical Publications and
The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Duncan, James Henry, 1793-1869
Honorable James H. Duncan (1793-1869)
5.5 linear feet (8 boxes)
The Honorable James H. Duncan
papers are comprised of materials relating to Duncan's personal affairs, legal
affairs and business activities in the first half of the nineteenth
SERIES I. Personal Papers SERIES II. Professional and Business Papers
A. Political Papers
B. Legal and Business Papers
SERIES III. Duncan Family Papers
A. James Duncan Sr. and James Duncan Jr.
B. James H. Duncan Family Papers
Scope and Content Note
The Honorable James H. Duncan papers are comprised of materials relating to Duncan's
personal affairs, legal affairs and business activities in the first half of the
nineteenth century. The bulk of the material is from 1668 to 1910. This collection
has been divided into three series.
Series I. Personal Papers includes correspondence,
estate papers, receipts, and printed matter. The personal correspondence consists of
letters received from family members and friends. The civic and societal
correspondence contains items concerning Duncan's activities as a member of the
Brown University Board of Fellows, the American Baptist Missionary Union, and the
Essex Agricultural Society.
Series II. Professional and Business Papers has been
divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Political Papers
is largely comprised of letters received from mentors John Varnum and Leverett
Saltonstall. Many of the letters from 1819 and the early 1850s document the concerns
of local residents on the issues of slavery and secession. The Whig Convention
papers illustrate the election of delegates from twenty-one Essex County townships
to a convention of National Republicans (Whigs) held in Ipswich, Massachusetts in
1831. Subseries B. Legal and Business Papers document the
close relationship between Duncan's legal work as a probate lawyer and Justice of
the Peace and his real estate investments in eastern Massachusetts and New
Hampshire. The correspondence contains information on Duncan's management of various
real estate transactions, as well as material concerning the Boston and Maine
railroad. The real estate transactions are largely deeds and agreements in which
Duncan conducted business for himself or on behalf of clients. The papers of the
Haverhill Bridge document the activities of the proprietors of the bridge and
associated land transactions and disputes. The railroad corporation materials
contain notes on the status of a number of railroads, including the Haverhill and
Andover, Eastern, Western, and the Andover and Wilmington lines. The Eliphalet
Webster account papers are financial statements for a store owned by Duncan and
managed by Webster.
Series III. Duncan Family Papers includes papers from
a number of Duncan's family members. This series has been divided into two
subseries. Subseries A. James Duncan Sr. and James Duncan Jr.
Papers contains mostly probate items concerning related land
transactions. The Samuel White estate was managed by his son-in-law, James Duncan,
Jr. These probate records are remarkably complete and involve a large number of real
estate transactions. Subseries B. James H. Duncan Family
Papers contain items associated with Duncan's wife, Mary (Willis) Duncan,
her father Benjamin Willis, and three of Duncan's children; the majority of the
papers are personal letters between family members. The Benjamin Willis
correspondence is comprised of letters from his son William during a voyage on the
schooner Union. Of particular interest are the papers
of Mary (Duncan) Harris, who was interested in the work of Baptist missionaries in
Japan and Turkey. Rebecca Duncan's autograph book contains notes and signatures from
a number of nationally prominent individuals such as Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew
Johnson, Thaddeus Stevens, Winfield Scott, Millard Fillmore, and Daniel Webster.
James Henry Duncan was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts,
on December 5, 1793 to Rebekah (White) and James Duncan, Jr. His expeditious
completion of the course of study at Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire,
enabled him to enter Harvard University at the age fourteen. Upon his graduation in
1812, he studied law, first with John Varnum in Haverhill, and later with Leverett
Saltonstall in Salem. Duncan was elected Major of the Haverhill Light Infantry just
before his admission to the Essex Bar in 1815. He soon opened his first practice in
On June 26, 1826, he married Mary Willis, the daughter of Boston merchant
Benjamin Willis. Of the thirteen children born to them, three died in infancy and
three died in early adulthood, leaving two sons and five daughters. Soon after his
marriage Duncan began his political career with his election to the State House of
Representatives in 1827. He was elected State Senator in 1837, was reelected in
1838, and in 1848 served the first of two consecutive terms as a United States
In 1835, Duncan became a member of the Board of Fellows at Brown University, a
post he maintained until his death. In 1861, the University expressed its gratitude
in conferring upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. Duncan was a lifelong
parishioner at the First Baptist Church of Haverhill and was also a member of the
American Baptist Missionary Union. He served as President of the Essex County
Agricultural Society from 1836 to 1838, and was active in local political and civic
activities throughout his life. He died suddenly of pneumonia on February 8,
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.
Ayer, Joseph, 1793-1875
Duncan, James, 1726-1817
Duncan, James, 1756-1822
Duncan, Mary Willis, d. 1888
Duncan, Rebecca, d. 1870
Duncan, Rebekah White, 1754-1838
Harris, Mary Duncan, d. 1910
Saltonstall, Leverett, 1783-1845
Smith, Jonathan Kimball
Varnum, John, 1778-1836
Willis, Benjamin, 1768-1853
American Baptist Missionary Union
Andover and Haverhill Rail Road Corporation
Andover and Wilmington Rail-Road Corporation
Boston and Maine Railroad
Eastern Railroad Company
Essex Agricultural Society (Mass.)
Western Rail-Road Corporation
Whig Party (Mass.)
Administration of estates
National Republican Party
Probate law and practice
United States--Politics and government--1815-1861
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research use.
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
Honorable James H. Duncan (1793-1869) Papers, MH 8, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex
Museum, Salem, Mass.
This material is a reorganization of seven boxes of personal and professional
documents, legal papers, land plans, diaries, accounts, and receipts removed from
the Phillips Family Papers (MH 4), which was donated to
the museum as part of the estate of Stephen Phillips (accession #19,823). The James
H. Duncan Papers, MSS 0.219, was integrated into this
collection. Its provenance is unknown.
Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, May 1987. Updated by Hilary Streifer, May
Chase, George Wingate. The History of Haverhill.
Haverhill, MA: George Wingate Chase, 1861.
Duncan, James Jr. Journal Kept By James Duncan Jr. of
Haverhill, Mass. On a Journey to Gilmanton, Warren, Haverhill and Lebanon, N. H.
in November, 1806. Reprint from Essex Institute Historical Collection.
Salem, MA: Essex Institute, 1943.
Duncan, James Henry. A Treatise on Slavery in Which is
Shown Forth the Evil of Slaveholding Both From the Light of Nature and Divine
Revelation. NY: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1840.
Duncan, James Henry. "In Memoriam." [no imprint], 1869.
Duncan, James Henry. Speech of Hon. J. H. Duncan of Mass.,
on the California and Territorial Questions Delivered in the House of
Representatives, June 7, 1850. Washington, D. C.: Congressional Globe
Duncan, James Henry. "Untitled Address." Essex Agricultural
Society Transactions. 1 (1830): 3-19.
Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of Essex County, Massachusetts
with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Prominent Men. Philadelphia: J.
W. Lewis and Company, 1888.
Phillips, James Duncan. "James Duncan of Haverhill, Pack Peddler, Store Keeper,
and Merchant." Essex Institute Historical Collection.
88 (1952): 1-18.
Phillips, James Duncan. "James Duncan and Son, Merchants, Capitalists, and Chain
Store Operators." Essex Institute Historical
Collections. 89 (1953): 19-56.
Papers of Stephen Henry Phillips, 1846-1890. MSS
The Honorable James H. Duncan papers are comprised of materials relating to Duncan's personal affairs, legal affairs and business activities in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Whig Party (Mass.); American Baptist Missionary Union; Andover and Haverhill Rail Road Corporation; Andover and Wilmington Rail-Road Corporation; Boston and Maine Railroad; Brown University; Eastern Railroad Company; Essex Agricultural Society (Mass.); Haverhill Bridge; Union (Schooner); Western Rail-Road Corporation; Deeds; United States--History--1783-1865; United States--Politics and government--1815-1861; Salem (Mass.); Ayer, Joseph, 1793-1875; Duncan, James, 1756-1822; Duncan, James, 1726-1817; Duncan, Mary Willis, d. 1888; Duncan, Rebecca, d. 1870; Duncan, Rebekah White, 1754-1838; Harris, Mary Duncan, d. 1910; Saltonstall, Leverett, 1783-1845; Smith, Hezekiah; Smith, Jonathan Kimball; Varnum, John, 1778-1836; Webster, Eliphalet; White, Samuel; Whittier, Warner; Willis, Benjamin, 1768-1853; Administration of estates; Baptists--Missions; Diaries; Lawyers--Massachusetts; Legislators--Massachusetts; Legislators--United States; Missionaries--Correspondence; National Republican Party; Political science--Massachusetts; Probate law and practice; Railroads; Secession; Slavery--United States; Politics, Practical--Massachusetts
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.
This material is a reorganization of seven boxes of personal and professional documents, legal papers, land plans, diaries, accounts, and receipts removed from the Phillips Family Papers (MH 4), which was donated to the museum as part of the estate of Stephen Phillips (accession #19,823). The James H. Duncan Papers, MSS 0.219, was integrated into this collection. Its provenance is unknown.