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Richard Derby (1712-1783) Papers

Richard Derby (1712-1783) Papers

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RICHARD DERBY (1712-1783) PAPERS, 1706, 1756-1797, 1841

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:Derby, Richard, 1712-1783
Title:Richard Derby (1712-1783) Papers
Dates:1706, 1756/1797, 1841
Quantity:0.25 linear feet (1 box, 1 flat file)
Abstract:The Richard Derby papers include shipping and business papers of Richard Derby (1712-1783), his son Richard Derby Jr. (1736-1781), and other family members.
Collection Number:MH 78

Series List

SERIES I. Business Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Richard Derby papers include shipping and business papers of Richard Derby (1712-1783), his son Richard Derby Jr. (1736-1781), and other family members. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Business Papers contains ships' papers, accounts, and business related correspondence. Included in this series is an appeal on behalf of the ship Ranger, which was captured by British privateers during the Seven Years War in 1761, and taken to the Bahamas where it was confiscated. There is one piece of correspondence from Richard Jr. discussing a delayed shipment.

Series II. Other contains items not directly related to Richard (1712-1783) or Richard Jr.'s (1736-1781) shipping business. This includes: a collection of maxims by an unknown author, and correspondence to Lucy and Nancy Brown from a Dr. Clark. This series also includes a letter from a Richard Derby (born circa 1835) to his mother, Mrs. E. Hasket Derby, who was likely Mary Ann Derby, the wife of Elias Hasket Derby (1796-1840).

Biographical Sketches

Richard Derby, the founder of the Derby shipping empire, was born in 1712 to Richard (1679-1715) and Martha (Hasket) Derby. Before establishing himself as a merchant, Richard mastered the sloop Ranger from 1736 until 1738, the schooner Volant from 1741 until 1742, the sloop Jolly Bachus in 1743, and the schooner Exeter in 1745. He was also part owner of the Volant and Exeter. By 1746, Richard had begun importing cargo to Salem from London. He appears to have retired from the sea soon after, leaving his sons, Richard Jr. (1736-1781), John (1741-1812), and son-in-law, George Crowninshield, to captain his vessels. From 1750 until 1775, Richard owned at least twenty vessels and carried cargo on numerous other ships. His ships traveled to the West Indies, the Spanish peninsula, Canada, and South Carolina. They carried cargoes of fish, rum, timber, grains, sugar, cocoa, wine, coffee, and salt. At least five of Richard's ships engaged in fishing voyages, especially in the early years of his merchant business. While Richard's shipping business prospered greatly, he also experienced financial setbacks through the capture of his ships during the French and Indian War. By 1775, Richard appears to have completely relinquished control of the shipping business to his son, Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799).

Richard's life did not solely revolve around his prosperous business. From 1756 until 1763, he served as a collector of excise taxes. He operated a distillery from 1760 until 1781. He served on the Massachusetts General Court from 1769 until 1773, was a member of the Governor's Council in 1774, 1776, and 1777, and was an ardent supporter of the Revolution. Richard married twice. His first wife, Mary Hodge (1713-1770), had six children: Richard Jr., Mary, Elias Hasket, John, Martha, and Sarah. In 1771, he married his second wife, Sarah (Langley) Hersey, the widow of Dr. Ezekiel Hersey. Richard died December 8, 1781.

Richard Derby Jr. was born on January 6, 1736 to Richard (1712-1783) and Mary (Hodge) Derby. As a young man he studied medicine, but ended up becoming a merchant. When his father retired from the sea after 1746, Richard (1736-1781) took over captaining some of his vessels. Richard was also a patriot, and during the Revolution took part on the Committee of Safety and Correspondence. He was also a representative to the General Court from 1769-1773; a counselor from 1774 to 1777; a delegate to the Provincial Congress from 1774 to 1775; and in 1778 he was appointed one of the state agents for prizes in the Middle District.

Richard was married twice. His first wife was Lydia Gardner whom he married on September 13, 1759. He and Lydia had eight children together: Richard, Samuel, Johnathan, Charles, Lydia, Mary, Elizabeth, and Thomas. He married his second wife, Lucy Smith, on March 5, 1778. Richard died in December 8, 1781 (Derby 154-167).

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.

Derby, Richard, 1736-1781
Derby, Richard, b. circa 1835
Antelope (Ship)
Betsy (Sloop)
Hasket and John (Ship)
Mary (Schooner)
Patty (Schooner)
Ranger (Brigantine)
Ranger (Ship)
Three Sisters (Schooner)
Salem (Mass.)


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

Richard Derby (1712-1783) Papers, MH 78, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was found in the collection. A letter to Richard Derby (1712-1783) from Daniel Conant dated 1771 was purchased in January 2016 (acc #2016.002).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, March 2015.

Related Material

Derby, Perley. "Genealogy of the Derby Family," Essex Institute Historical Collections 3 (1861): 154-67, 201-7, 283-89.

Peabody, Robert E. "Derby of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 49 (1908): 193-347.

Phillips, James Duncan. "The Life and Times of Richard Derby, Merchant of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 65 (1929): 243-92.

Revolutionary War Collection, 1770-1856, MM 2.

Felt Family Papers, 1750-1924, MH 95.

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