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Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) Papers

Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) Papers

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JOSEPH BOWDITCH (1700-1780) PAPERS, 1699-1941


Processing and conservation of 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:Bowditch, Joseph, 1700-1780
Title:Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) Papers
Quantity:4 linear feet (6 boxes)
Abstract:The Joseph Bowditch Papers record the activities of Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780), a Salem shipping merchant, sheriff, court clerk, and Justice of the Peace.
Collection Number:MSS 156

Series List

SERIES I. Business Papers
SERIES II. Personal and Shipping Papers
SERIES III. Family Papers
SERIES IV. Miscellaneous Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Joseph Bowditch Papers record the activities of Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780), a Salem shipping merchant, sheriff, court clerk, and Justice of the Peace. The collection includes papers of other Bowditch family members and records generated from Revered Samuel Fiske's controversy with the First Church of Salem. The collection has been divided into four series.

Located in Box 1 Folder 1 is a typescript volume containing a biographical sketch of Joseph Bowditch and transcriptions of much of the material contained in this collections. The volume was written and compiled by Harold Bowditch in 1937.

Series I. Business Papers, 1737-1779, contains correspondence, tax assessments, court and legal documents, and accounts. These documents reflect Joseph's roles as sheriff, court clerk, and Justice of the Peace. Within the small amount of correspondence are a number of items of special note: 1744-1745 directives to Sheriff Bowditch to impress seamen for British naval expeditions against the French at Cape Breton; and letters concerning the attempted desertion of Michael Coas from a 1758 campaign against Canada. The tax assessments, also directed to Joseph as sheriff, require him to insure the collection of taxes from the Essex County towns of Amesbury, Bedford, Beverly, Bradford, Haverhill, Ipswich, Lynn, Manchester, Marblehead, Methuen, Middleton, Newbury, Rowley, Salem, Salisbury, Topsfield, and Wenham. The court and legal papers contain documents notarized or copied by Joseph as Justice of the Peace or clerk, as well as such wide variety of legal cases which range from selling rum without a license to treason. The accounts include receipts for court costs and financial executions. Joseph's sheriff's expenses for impressing seamen in 1744-1745 may also be found here. Papers relating to the Reverend Samuel Fiske controversy which was brought to trial in 1735 are located in box 4, folder 5.

Series II. Personal and Shipping Papers consists of correspondence, legal, and financial papers from 1722 to 1782. Included are such personal items as bonds, deeds, minutes from a library meeting, articles calling for cooperative assistance in extinguishing town fires, Joseph's will, and estate papers. Materials relating to Joseph's shipping concerns include merchant and masters' correspondence, seamen's contracts, a shipbuilding agreement, and ships' and shipping accounts (see Appendix II for a list of vessels mentioned in these papers).

Series III. Family Papers, 1712-1941, includes the papers of Joseph's father William (1663-1728), his daughter Elizabeth (1734/5-1797) and her husband William Jeffry (1737-1772), his grandson Joseph (1757-1800), Charles Pickering Bowditch (1842-1921), and other family members. William Bowditch's papers contain shipping bills and receipts, accounts and inventories of his estate, and accounts of Salem ropemaker James Butler of whose estate William was administrator. The bulk of William Jeffry's papers reflect his role as agent for shipping merchant Samuel Garner. Also included is correspondence to William as court clerk and his will. Of interest in the papers of Elizabeth (Bowditch) Jeffry, which consist primarily of bills and receipts, is a notebook recording each Sunday's Bible text, and a 1779 letter from her nephew Joseph (1757-1800) in Boston describing the scarcity and cost of provisions. Joseph Bowditch's (1757-1800) copybook includes genealogical notes on the Bowditch and Gardner families. The papers of Charles Pickering Bowditch, grandson of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), contain two volumes of reminiscences and miscellaneous correspondence. The first volume describes Charles' childhood and youth, including a meeting with President Lincoln in 1861. The original correspondence contained in this volume has been removed and may be found in box 4, folder 1. A photocopy of the first page of each item marks the original's location in the volume. Charles' second volume contains a nearly complete account of his 1911 voyage to the East Indies and Japan. He includes descriptions of the native people, traditional theatre and dance, shrines, temples, and castles. His miscellaneous correspondence includes an account of an ocean voyage to Cape Cod, the Boston fire of 1872, information concerning a portrait of Nathaniel Bowditch, and letters from Harold Bowditch. Of interest in the miscellaneous family papers are estate papers of Habakkuk Bowditch (1738-1798), and correspondence of Lucy (Nichols) and Jonathan I. Bowditch (1806-1889).

Series IV. Miscellaneous Papers, 1699-1920, includes the papers of Reverend Samuel Fiske's controversy with Salem's First Church, of which Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) was a member. The dispute, which began over Fiske's refusal to give a certain lecture and his tampering with the church meeting records, led to a split in the congregation with a number of members leaving. Fiske finally received ecclesiastical censure from the Council of Churches and was dismissed in 1735. The House of Representatives voted to try him in court later that year. The miscellaneous papers also include a 1742 apprenticeship indenture of a French boy to Captain Benjamin Swinnerton, and a 1787 eulogy of Asa Dunbar, once a minister of the First Church.

Photocopies (located in box 5) were made of Joseph Bowditch materials in the Salem Court House Records. These documents were bundled in wrappers marked "Private Papers." The records include personal bills and receipts, and materials relating to Joseph as collector for the First Parish Church.

Biographical Sketch

Joseph Bowditch was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1700 to William Bowditch (1663-1728) and Mary Gardner (1669-1724). Like his father, he was a merchant and ship owner. He served as sheriff, Justice of the Peace, clerk of the court, and town treasurer in Salem. He married Elizabeth Hunt (1703-1742) on July 25, 1725. They had three children, Joseph, (1730-1758), Mary (1732-1813), and Elizabeth (1734/5-1797). Bowditch suffered a paralytic shock in the 1770s, and died in Salem on October 6, 1780.

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.

Bowditch, Charles P. (Charles Pickering), 1842-1921
Bowditch, Habakkuk, 1738-1798
Bowditch, Harold
Bowditch, Jonathan Ingersoll, 1806-1889
Bowditch, Joseph, 1757-1800
Bowditch, Lucy Orne Nichols, 1816-1883
Bowditch, Nathaniel, 1773-1838
Bowditch, William, 1663-1728
Butler, James
Coas, Michael
Dunbar, Asa, 1745-1787
Fisk, Samuel, 1689-1770
Gardner, Samuel, 1800-1856
Hunt, William, 1701-1780
Jeffry, Elizabeth Bowditch, 1734/5-1797
Jeffry, William, 1737-1772
Swinnerton, Benjamin, Captain
Adventure (Schooner)
Church buildings--Massachusetts--Salem--First Church
Church controversies
Decedents' estates
Desertion, Military
Indigenous peoples
Justices of the peace
Merchants--Salem (Mass.)
Trials (Treason)
Voyages and travels
Worship programs
Amesbury (Mass.)--Taxation
Bedford (Mass.)--Taxation
Beverly (Mass.)--Taxation
Bradford (Mass.)--Taxation
East Indies--Description and travel
Haverhill (Mass.)--Taxation
Indonesia--Indonesia--Java--Description and travel
Ipswich (Mass.)--Taxation
Japan--Description and travel
Lynn (Mass.)--Taxation
Manchester (Mass.)--Taxation
Marblehead (Mass.)--Taxation
Methuen (Mass.)--Taxation
Middleton (Mass.)--Taxation
Newbury (Mass.)--Taxation
Rowley (Mass.)--Taxation
Salem (Mass.)--Taxation
Salisbury (Mass.)--Taxation
Topsfield (Mass.)--Taxation
United States--History--Colonial Period--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
United States--History--French and Indian War--1755-1763
United States--History--King George's War, 1744-1748
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
Wenham (Mass.)--Taxation


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

Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) Papers, MSS 156, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The bulk of the Joseph Bowditch Papers were received from an unknown source. Integrated into these were items removed from other collections: 3 folders of William and Joseph Bowditch's (1700-1780) accounts removed from the Bowditch Family Papers (MSS 3); and papers of Joseph (1700-1780) and his daughter Elizabeth (Bowditch) Jeffry, and an inventory of William Bowditch's estate, originally filed with the Nathan Reed Papers (MSS 148). Donations to the collection included the following: correspondence regarding Reverend Samuel Fiske and accounts of Joseph (1700-1780), William Hunt and William Jeffry, donated by William J. Bowditch in 1937; a Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780) bond given by G. Andrews Moriarty in 1959; Joseph Bowditch's (1757-1800) copybook, papers of William and Habakkuk Bowditch, Charles Pickering Bowditch's two volumes of reminiscences, and the typescript of Joseph Bowditch's (1700-1780) papers, donated by Harold Bowditch in 1946 and 1959.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kennick, November 1984. Updated by Catherine Robertson, March 2015.

Related Material

Bowditch, Harold. Captain Joseph Bowditch (1700-1780): His Papers. 1937.

Bowditch Family Papers, 1726-1942, 1961, 1975, undated, MSS 3.

Nathan Read Papers, 1709-1914, MSS 148.

Appendix II

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