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Prince Family Papers

Prince Family Papers

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Processing and conservation for 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:Prince family
Title:Prince Family Papers
Quantity:3.5 linear feet (7 boxes)
Abstract:The bulk of the Prince Family Papers reflects the legal work of John Prince (1782-1848) as a clerk for the Essex County Courts, a notary public, a justice of the peace, and an attorney active in Salem (circa 1804-1839).
Collection Number:MSS 72

Series List

SERIES I. John Prince Professional Case Files
SERIES II. John Prince Professional Papers
SERIES III. Prince Family Papers

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the Prince Family Papers reflects the legal work of John Prince (1782-1848) as a clerk for the Essex County Courts, a notary public, a justice of the peace, and an attorney active in Salem (circa 1804-1839). The collection also contains personal papers of John Prince (1782-1839), papers of his brother William Henry (1786-1815), and scientific papers of his father Reverend John Prince (1751-1836). The papers are divided into three series.

Series I. John Prince Professional Case Files is comprised of legal cases dealing with the administration of estates, cases of debt, bankruptcy, and spoliation. The spoliation cases contain ships' papers, statements, and protests for a number of Salem vessels which were captured and held in Naples, Holland, and Norway between 1809 and 1810.

Series II. John Prince Professional Papers contains appointments, correspondence, case notes, memorandums, legal documents, administrative accounts, and client accounts. The client accounts, miscellaneous correspondence, and many of the legal documents provide background materials relating to legal cases. Additional client accounts may be found in the receipts and account books (Box 2, folder 5 and 6). Prince's clients included members of the Derby, Bowditch, Peabody, Hale, Saltonstall, Ingersoll, and Allen families.

Series III. Prince Family Papers includes John Prince personal papers, the papers of his brothers George (born 1791) and William Henry (1786-1815) and of his father, Reverend John Prince (1751-1836). John Prince papers include his correspondence and minutes as clerk of the stockholders of the Amesbury Nail Factory Company and the Salem and Chelmsford Turnpike as well as miscellaneous accounts and receipts. Reverend John Prince's papers include correspondence on religious subjects, experiment notes on the fuel efficiency of various woods, notes on thermometers and electricity, and the final manuscript copy (1783) of his work on air pumps. William Henry's papers contain his correspondence and accounts as supercargo of the ship Salus, a vessel upon which John Prince (1782-1848) also consigned cargo.

Biographical Sketches

John Prince was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 22, 1751, the son of John Prince (1716-1786) and Ester Guild (1721-1799). After completing his indentures to a tinsmith and pewterer, Prince studied for entrance to Harvard College and enrolled in 1772. He graduated in 1776 and went on to study divinity for a master's degree with the Reverend Samuel Williams of Bradford, Massachusetts. He was ordained in 1779 and became the pastor of the Congregationalist First Church of Salem. He was, among other things, an amateur astronomer and physicist. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the American Philosophical Society. Brown University honored him with a LL.D in 1795.

Prince's interest in science was encouraged by John Winthrop, the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard. His metalworking skills enabled him to become proficient in the repair and design of scientific instruments. He frequently entertained his friends with scientific experiments, microscopical observations, and magic lantern lectures on a variety of topics.

He married Mary Bayley (1754-1806) on April 12, 1780 and they had four children: John (1782-1848), Thomas (born 1784), William Henry (1786-1815), and George (born 1791). In November 1816, he married Milly Messinger Waldo (1762-1839). He died on June 7, 1836 in Salem.

John Prince was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1782, the son of Rev. John Prince and Mary Bayley (1754-1806). He was a clerk for the Essex County Courts, a notary public, a justice of the peace, and an attorney active in Salem (circa 1804-1839). He married Louisa Lander and they had four children: Mary Louisa (1813-1848), William Henry (born 1817), John (1816-1817) and John (born 1823). He died in 1848.

William Henry Prince was born in 1786, the son of John Prince and Mary Bayley. He was a supercargo aboard the ship Salus. He died in 1815.

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.

Baker, Thomas
Barr, James, Jr.
Bessell, Frederick
Brown, Enoch
Burbank, Thomas
Ingersoll, George
Prince, George, 1791-
Prince, John, 1751-1836
Prince, John, 1782-1848
Prince, William Henry, 1786-1815
Amesbury Nail Factory Co.
Heracles (Ship)
Neptune (Schooner)
Oceanus (Schooner)
Pacific (Bark)
Salus (Ship)
Account books
Administration of estates
Justices of the peace
Merchants--Salem (Mass.)
Salem (Mass.)
United States--History--Spoliation Claims


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

Prince Family Papers, MSS 72, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Prince Family Papers are a reorganization and integration of 9 boxes and several miscellaneous documents. The bulk of the collection comes from an unknown source. The subscription list for purchasing clothing for Reverend John Prince was donated by Henry Wilder Foote in 1947. Removed from the collection are the estate papers of Captain Josiah Orne (see Separation Sheet). All items removed from the collection are marked with their original location.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kennick, August 1982. Updated by Catherine Robertson, April 2015.

Related Material

Barz-Snel, Rev. Jeffrey. "A "Short" History of the First Church in Salem." The First Church in Salem, Unitarian. First Church in Salem, n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.

Sara J. Schechner, "John Prince and Early American Scientific Instrument Making," in Sibley's Heir: A Volume in Memory of Clifford Kenyon Shipton, ed. Frederick S. Allis, Jr. and Philip C. F. Smith, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, no. 59 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1982), 431-503.

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