The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Prescott Family Papers
0.25 linear feet (1 box)
The Prescott family
correspondence is a detailed account of the ups and downs of a well-educated
nineteenth-century family who was involved in seafaring and mercantile businesses in
Scope and Content Note
The Prescott family correspondence is a detailed account of the ups and downs of a
well-educated nineteenth-century family who was involved in seafaring and mercantile
businesses in New England. The correspondence of family members includes
observations on local events such as epidemics, politics, and community activities.
The reader is able to gain insight into the varied personalities and problems of the
This collection consists primarily of Harriet's letters to her daughter
Elizabeth Ellis Betton over a twenty-four year period. The collection also contains
correspondence to Elizabeth Ellis from her brothers and sisters, in addition to
miscellaneous family letters.
The correspondence between family members provides an insight as to what it
meant to be a woman during this time. Single and widowed women's dependence on male
family members is illustrated in a letter written by Joseph Newmarch to his sister
Elizabeth, asking her how cheaply she could board his wife, child, mother, and
single sisters, after some financial failures (June 29, 1835). There is also Harriet
Prescott's response to Elizabeth Ellis' complaint of her unhappy marriage, regarding
a woman's proper role in marriage (September 26, 1836). Also included is a
description of a border dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, with
details about military preparations made in northern Maine; the family's views on
Texas when Mary and John deLesdernier moved there (prior to the annexation of Texas
by the United States); and descriptions of home furnishings.
Harriet Prescott was born in 1775 in Nova Scotia, Canada,
to Peter F. C. deLesdernier of Boston. She appears to have been well-educated.
Harriet married William Pepperell Prescott (born circa
1770), a sea captain and merchant, in 1803 or 1804. William lost his fortune due to
the start of the War of 1812 and returned to being a merchant. The Prescotts had
eight children, all of whom were born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with the
exception of the eldest: Elizabeth Ellis (born 1805), twins Joseph Newmarch and Mary
Newmarch (born 1809), William Henry (born 1809), George Benjamin (born 1810),
Harriet Goddard (born 1811), Adeline Ann (born 1813), and Catharine Fraser Watson
(born 1814). William Pepperell Prescott died on May 20, 1831, at the age of 61.
After her husband's death, Harriet and some of her daughters moved to Calais, Maine,
then the residence of her son Joseph Newmarch. Harriet died at the home of her
daughter Catharine and son-in-law George L. Montague of Boston, on December 29,
Elizabeth Ellis Prescott Betton was born in 1805 to
Harriet and William Pepperell Prescott. She married Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Betton of New Hampshire in 1827; they had no children. Charles died in 1850, at the
age of 47. Elizabeth died December 25, 1891 in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Joseph Newmarch Prescott was born in 1807 to Harriet
and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was a merchant in
Calais, Maine, and suffered several reversals of fortune during his career. In 1835
he could not do business in his own name and was avoiding creditors. According to
correspondence, that same year he was forced to "break up housekeeping" and was
seeking to board his wife, children, mother, and unmarried sisters with his own
sister, Elizabeth, as cheaply as possible. In 1839 he stated he had "failed in
business", but was starting over by 1841. Throughout this time he was postmaster and
justice of the peace in Calais. In 1850 he moved to Oregon for several years,
without his family, but returned to Newburyport.
Joseph married Sarah Jane Bridges in 1833, and the couple had eight children
together. Their daughter, Harriet Prescott Spofford, became an author. Joseph died
in January 1881, in the Salisbury, Massachusetts home of his daughter Harriet and
son-in-law Richard Spofford.
Mary Newmarch Prescott deLesdernier was born in 1807
to Harriet and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts; she was
the twin of Joseph Newmarch Prescott. In 1825 or 1826, she married her mother's
cousin, John deLesdernier. John was a sea captain, and during his voyages, Mary
lived with her mother-in-law. In 1839 Mary and John moved to Galveston Island,
Texas, where John died in 1856. Mary returned to Newburyport where she died in
William Henry Prescott was born in 1809 to Harriet
and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He went to sea while
still a teenager. He became an officer in the Mexican navy, serving under Antonio
Lopez de Santa Ana in 1833, in a war against Spain. William never married and died
in a shipwreck in 1835, at the age of 25.
George Benjamin Prescott was born in 1810 to Harriet
and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He appears to have
had a brief career. By 1831 he was penniless and unemployed, having tried his
fortunes both on land and at sea. At one point he was incarcerated, but was released
in 1832, when his affairs were settled by his brother Joseph. George never married,
and died at sea in 1832 at the age of 21.
Harriet Goddard Prescott was born in 1811 to Harriet
and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She never married,
and died on December 30, 1887.
Catharine Fraser Watson Prescott Montague was born in
1814 to Harriet and William Pepperell Prescott, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She
married George Little Montague in 1847, and they had six children together.
Catharine's date of death is unavailable.
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.
Betton, Elizabeth Ellis Prescott, b.1805
Prescott, Harriet L., 1775-1864
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