Skip to main content

Parsons Family Papers

Parsons Family Papers

1 of 2
Open Finding Aid
small (250x250 max)
medium (500x500 max)
Extra Large
large ( > 500x500)
Full Resolution



Processing and conservation of this collection were 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:Parsons family
Title:Parsons Family Papers
Quantity:4 linear feet (8 boxes)
Abstract:The Parsons Family Papers consist of the shipping, business, and personal papers of a successful Gloucester, Massachusetts, merchant family.
Collection Number:MSS 145

Series List

SERIES I. Aaron Parsons Sr. Shipping Papers
SERIES II. Aaron Jr. and Winthrop Parsons Shipping Papers
SERIES III. Aaron Sr. and Mary Parsons Personal Papers
SERIES IV. Aaron Parsons Jr. Personal Papers
SERIES V. Family and Miscellaneous Papers
A. Winthrop Parsons (1795-1873) Papers
B. Nancy Parsons (1784-1860) Papers
C. Aaron Parsons (1848-1901) Papers
D. Miscellaneous Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Parsons Family Papers consist of the shipping, business, and personal papers of a successful Gloucester, Massachusetts, merchant family. The collection contains shipping papers of ship owner and master Aaron Parsons Sr. (1759-1809), and privateering, merchant, and wharfage papers of his sons, Aaron Jr. (1790-1838) and Winthrop Parsons (1795-1873). Also included are papers of Aaron's Sr.'s wife, Mary (Dolliver) Parsons, his daughter Nancy Parsons (1784-1860), and his grandson Aaron Parsons (1848-1901). The collection is divided into five series.

Series I. Aaron Parsons Sr. Shipping Papers contains ships' papers, shipping correspondence, and financial papers which reflect Aaron Sr.'s career as a shipmaster and owner. There are a few papers documenting the majority of the vessels found in this collection. The ships' papers, however, briefly cover all of Aaron Sr.'s voyages as master from 1783 to 1794. They also provide a glimpse at all but one of the vessels which Aaron Sr. owned (See Appendix II for a complete list). The bulk of the shipping correspondence contains information regarding cargo and finance, and includes correspondence with Aaron's partners Ignatius Sargent and Eben and Thomas Parsons. In addition to general shipping accounts, the account and memorandum books contain ships' accounts, and storage and wharfage memorandums. For additional outfitting and cargo sales receipts, and papers relating to the final settlement of the schooner Martin's voyage to Spain, see Aaron's estate papers (B3 F9).

Series II. Aaron Jr. and Winthrop Parsons Shipping Papers records the shipping and mercantile activities of Aaron Sr.'s sons. Of interest in this subseries are ships' papers of the fishing schooner Dover. The legal papers contain an 1811 partnership agreement between Aaron Jr. and Samuel Elwell to engage in retail trade. The account and memorandum books include personal accounts of family members and estate accounts of Aaron Sr. and Mary Parsons.

Series III. Aaron Sr. and Mary Parsons Papers include an 1809 inventory. Additional estate papers may be found in the bills and receipts of their children and in the account books of Series II.

Series IV. Aaron Parsons Jr. (1790-1838) Personal Papers consists primarily of business and personal correspondence covering Aaron's interest in bank stocks and lotteries. Also included are letters reflecting his role as fiscal agent for Anne Somes, his sister Nancy Parsons, cousin Susan Widgery, and cousin Anthony Morse. Of special note is a letter from Aaron dated September 17, 1830 describing the effects of a large fire in Gloucester and an 1834 letter to the Directors of the Gloucester Canal regarding steamboat traffic.

Series V. Family and Miscellaneous Papers includes personal and business papers of Winthrop, Nancy, and Aaron Parsons, bills and receipts of Daniel and Ann Parsons, shipping papers of Captain Paul Dolliver (father of Mary Dolliver Parsons), and legal papers relating to Susan Widgery's husband William. The papers of Winthrop and Nancy Parsons describe their interests in bank stocks. Aarons' papers contain an essay on a voyage to the Orient, minutes from town and club meetings, and a volume of Gloucester warehousing bonds. Of special note are Captain Dolliver's shipping papers generated from his voyages to the West Indies circa 1750 to 1770. William Widgery's papers concern his death by drowning. This series has been divided into four subseries.

Appendix II

Biographical Sketches

Aaron Parsons was born in Essex, Massachusetts, on January 25, 1759 to Isaac (1714-1767) and Hannah Burnham (1717-1767) Parsons. He became a ship owner and master who traded with Europe, Russia, the West Indies, and the East coast of the United States. On April 25, 1784 he married Mary Dolliver (1760-1816). They had three children: Nancy (1784-1860), Aaron (1790-1838), and Winthrop (1795-1873). He died in Gloucester in 1809.

Aaron Parsons, Jr. was born in Gloucester in 1790 to Aaron and Mary Parsons. It appears that Aaron Jr. and Winthrop Parsons did not continue their father's extended mercantile business. Rather they engaged in minor shipping ventures, owned shares in privateers and fishing vessels, and with Thomas Parsons, offered wharfage and storage services at the family wharf. Aaron Jr. died unmarried in 1838.

Winthrop Parsons was born in Gloucester in 1795 to Aaron and Mary Parsons. He worked with his brother in shipping ventures and at the family wharf. He married Susan Riggs (b. 1795) in 1839 and they had a son, Aaron (1848-1901). He died on October 2, 1873 in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Aaron Parsons was born on May 4, 1844 in Gloucester to Winthrop and Susan Parsons. In 1871 he married Sarah Ellen Barnhardt (1852-1918) in Syracuse, Ohio. They had six children. He died in 1901 in Pamroy, Ohio.

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.

Bray, John
Dolliver, Paul, 1727-1760
Dolliver, Rachel
Elwell, Samuel
Hutching, Fitz Edward
Morse, Anthony
Parsons, Aaron, 1759-1809
Parsons, Aaron, 1790-1838
Parsons, Aaron, 1848-
Parsons, Ann
Parsons, Ebenezer, 1746-1819
Parsons, Mary Dolliver, 1760-1816
Parsons, Nancy Coulston, 1784-
Parsons, Solomon
Parsons, Thomas, 1756-
Parsons, Winthrop, 1795-
Sargent, Ignatius
Somes, Anne
Widgery, Susan
Widgery, William, approximately 1753-1822
Dover (Schooner)
Financier (Bark)
Goodspeed (Schooner)
Joseph (Brig)
Lydia Head (Bark)
Martin (Schooner)
Nymph (Schooner)
Peregrine (Brig)
Sally (Schooner)
Stork (Sloop)
Winthrop & Mary (Ship)
Administration of estates
Fishing industry
Shipping--Russia (Federation)--St. Petersburg
Gloucester (Mass.)
Account books


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

Parsons Family Papers, MSS 145, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material is from an unknown source. It is a reorganization and integration of one account book and 8 boxes of manuscripts. Removed from the collection are papers of the Gloucester Fire and Marine Insurance Company (MSS 141).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kenick, August 1984. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, July 2015.

Related Material

"Aaron Parsons, Capt./Mary Dolliver." Descendants of Thomas Wells of London, England and Ipswich, Plymouth Colony, New World. N.p., 2000. Web. 23 July 2015.

Dolliver, William H. "Some Notes on the Dolliver Families." Putnam's Historical Monthly Magazine 1896: 163.

Charles Parsons and Thomas Parsons, Jr. Papers, 1777-1864, MH 175

you wish to report:

Select the collections to add or remove from your search