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Woodwell Family Papers

Woodwell Family Papers

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Processing and rehousing of this collection were funded by grants from the following Essex Institute corporate members: Gulf of Maine Research Group, Bursaw Oil Corp., and Salem Laundry Company.

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:Woodwell family
Title:Woodwell Family Papers
Quantity:2.25 linear feet (4 boxes, 2 volumes)
Abstract:The Woodwell Family Papers document the activities of the Woodwell shipyard and the ship chandlery and hardware business established by David T. Woodwell.
Collection Number:MSS 222

Series List

SERIES I. Woodwell Shipyard Records
SERIES II. D. T. Woodwell & Company Records

Scope and Content Note

The Woodwell Family Papers document the activities of the Woodwell shipyard and the ship chandlery and hardware business established by David T. Woodwell. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Woodwell Shipyard Records begins with account books and receipts for Gideon’s activities as a ship carpenter and conclude with the closing of the yard by the Woodwell brothers in 1852. Both Gideon and John (1752-1822) appear to have operated a general store in addition to building ships, since accounts for vessels built and repaired run alongside those for the sale of dry goods merchandise. In addition to ship carpentry accounts, the Woodwell Brothers daybook contains entries for their work on the Parker River and Plum Island bridges.

Series II. D. T. Woodwell & Company Records provides a comprehensive documentation on the fiscal status of the business, but limited information on the company’s actual retail activities. Only the journals contain itemized listings of goods purchased. The remaining volumes list customer or supplier’s name and the debit or credit rendered. The shipping and estates account books (B3 F4) may reflect Woodwell’s management and part ownership in sailing vessels as well as his administration of various estates.

Biographical Sketches

Gideon Woodwell (1720-1790) began his career as a ship carpenter; he had begun building vessels by 1759. From the time he established his Newbury, Massachusetts, shipyard in 1762 until the Revolutionary War halted manufacturing, Woodwell had built 52 vessels, He resumed shipbuilding in 1783, forming a company, Woodwell & Hale, with his son John (1752-1822) and son-in-law Enoch Hale. After Gideon’s death in 1790, Gideon (1750-1840), John, and Enoch Hale continued operating the yard.

John (1752-1822) and his sons John (1786-1861), David (1788-1857), and Gideon (1790-1871) ran the yard under the name Woodwell Brothers. After John’s death in 1822 his sons continued the business until the yard closed in 1852. In addition to building ships, the brothers also rebuilt the Parker River Bridge and repaired the Plum Island Bridge.

David Titcomb Woodwell (1820-1884), the son of David (1788-1857) learned the trade of ship carpenter in the Woodwell yard. After the yard closed in 1852, he formed a hardware business with his father-in-law, Jacob Haskell. The company, which was known as D. T. Woodwell * CO., specialized in ship chandlery.

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.

Hale, Enoch, 1757-1825
Haskell, Jacob
Woodwell, David T. (David Titcomb), 1820-1884
Woodwell, David, 1788-1857
Woodwell, Gideon, 1720-1790
Woodwell, Gideon, 1750-1840
Woodwell, Gideon, 1790-1871
Woodwell, John, 1752-1822
Woodwell, John, 1786-1861
D. T. Woodwell & Co. (Newbury, Mass.)
Woodwell Brothers (Newbury, Mass.)
Bridges--Maintenance and repair
Estates, administration of
General stores
Hardware stores
Ship building
Ship carpentry
Ship chandlers
Shipping--New York--New York
Newbury (Mass.)
Parker River Bridge (Mass.)
Plum Island Bridge (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

Woodwell Family Papers, MSS 222, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The D. T. Woodwell & Company records were purchased on August 19, 1930. The John Woodwell account books were purchased June 3, 1924. The remainder of the collection is from an unknown source.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Prudence K. Backman, March 1987. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, September 2015.

Related Material

Cheney, Robert K. Maritime History of Merrimac Shipbuilding. Newburyport Press Inc.: 1964, p. 14-28.

Woodwell, W. H. "Matthew Woodwell of Salem Mass. and His Descendants", Essex Institute Historical Collection, 1910, v. 46. P. 129-149.

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