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George W. Fraser (1816-1855) Papers

George W. Fraser (1816-1855) Papers

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GEORGE W. FRASER (1816-1855) PAPERS, 1816, 1842-1875, 1939-1956


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:Fraser, George Washington, 1816-1855
Title:George W. Fraser (1816-1855) Papers
Dates:1816, 1842/1875, 1939/1956
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box, 1 flat file)
Abstract:The George W. Fraser papers are made up of research notes, correspondence, and other materials pertaining to Fraser and his wife Margaret Youle, collected by Carrie Elwell.
Collection Number:MH 101

Series List

SERIES I. George W. Fraser Papers
SERIES II. Research

Scope and Content Note

The George W. Fraser papers are made up of research notes, correspondence, and other materials pertaining to Fraser and his wife Margaret Youle, collected by Carrie Elwell. This collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. George W. Fraser Papers contains materials collected by Elwell that were created during Fraser's life time, or are about Fraser's family life. This series includes papers about the schooner Mazeppa, calling cards belonging to or given to Fraser and his wife, printing plates used to make Margaret's calling cards, and death and bible records.

Series II. Research contains research notes and correspondence that Elwell made during the course of her time researching Fraser's life and murder. The research notes include handwritten notes, photostats of documents, and a few news articles. The correspondence is largely about research questions, however, there are a number of letters between Elwell and the Peabody Museum in Salem about her donating paintings and obtaining photographs of paintings. There are receipts of gift for Elwell's donations, correspondence about a letter from George Washington that was thought to be in Fraser's possession, and photographs and slides.

Biographical Sketch

George Washington Fraser was born on February 22, 1816 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a young man, he worked on board ships involved in the China trade, particularly the opium trade. In 1842 he became the skipper of the schooner Ariel. A year later he was transferred to the schooner Mazeppa; a few years later he became the first officer of the Sea Witch (clipper). Fraser became captain of the Sea Witch in 1850.

Fraser married Margaret Youle, the daughter of Adam Youle of New York City, on April 10, 1848. While Fraser was at sea, Margaret stayed with her parents, until August 1852 when she joined him at sea. Margaret died in 1854, and it is said that Fraser's grief made him irascible, a state that intensified. On June 5, 1855 he was found by his first mate dying in his bed from a crushed skull, supposedly from a blow by a marlin spike by an unknown person. The captain's body was taken to Rio de Janeiro where it was determined through an inquest that the captain was murdered. After the conclusion of the inquest, Fraser's body was returned to New York, where he was buried next to his wife in Greenwood Cemetery.

Fraser's first mate, Sulvanus M. Spencer, was arrested and tried in New York for the murder; he was found not guilty. The captain's murder was never solved. The Sea Witch was wrecked on a reef off of the coast of Cuba in 1856.

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.

Fraser, George Washington, 1816-1855
Mazeppa (Schooner)
Sea Witch (Clipper ship)
Ship captains


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

George W. Fraser (1816-1855) Papers, MH 101, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated by Carrie Elwell (accession #15,934).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, May 2015.

Related Material

Elwell, Carrie Pratt. The Skipper of the Clipper, Sea Witch. [Typed article]

Mazeppa (Schooner) Logbook, 1843-1844. Log 1774.

Sea Witch (Ship) Logbook, 1849-1851. Log 1957.

Sea Witch (Ship) Journal, 1852-1853. Log 1958.

Sea Witch (Ship) Journal Typescript, 1852-1853. Log 1959.

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