Skip to main content

Thomas Perkins (1758-1830) Papers

Thomas Perkins (1758-1830) Papers

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

THOMAS PERKINS (1758-1830) PAPERS, 1755-1863


Processing and conservation of this collection were funded by a grant by a gift from the Pingree family heirs.

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:Perkins, Thomas, 1758-1830
Title:Thomas Perkins (1758-1830) Papers
Quantity:3 linear feet (5 boxes, 3 volumes)
Abstract:The Thomas Perkins papers contain correspondence, account books, and legal and estate papers of this Salem, Massachusetts, ship owner and businessman.
Collection Number:MSS 196

Series List

SERIES I. Correspondence
SERIES II. Business Records
SERIES III. Legal and Personal Papers
SEEIES IV. Estate Records

Scope and Content Note

The Thomas Perkins papers contain correspondence, account books, and legal and estate papers of this Salem, Massachusetts, ship owner and businessman. The bulk of the collection documents Perkins' later business affairs and the settlement of his estate. It has been divided into four series.

Series I. Correspondence documents only a fraction of Perkins' extensive business affairs. Letters are primarily from Perkins' business associates David Pingree and Michael Shepard. Written to Perkins after his retirement to Topsfield, they describe not only financial transactions, but also daily events in Salem, in particular the numerous business failures which occurred in 1829. Of interest are the letters by both Pingree and Shepard describing the murder of Joseph White in April, 1830 and the subsequent murder trial in November.

Series II. Business Records contains account books, stock certificates, insurance policies, and receipts. The account books contain records of Perkins' shipping investments, loans, and farm accounts. The ledger in Box 5 (1787-1829) is a yearly summation of Perkins' goods and property. There is only a single folder of shipping papers; most of Perkins' shipping records were probably destroyed by fire along with his partner Joseph Peabody's in the 1880s. Although Perkins owned seventeen vessels, there are records for only two – the schooner Saucy Jack and the brig William Charles. There are papers for several additional vessels: brig Cynthia, sloop Dolphin, schooner Eliza, brig Phoenix, and sloop Three Friends. The two folders of receipts pertain primarily to farm and personal accounts.

Series III. Legal and Personal Papers contain deeds for various Topsfield and Rowley farm properties belonging to Thomas and his father Moses Perkins. The land was left to David and Asa Pingree and later records can be found in the David Pingree's papers (MSS 901). The folder of miscellaneous papers contains a certificate of Perkins' military service, a vote of town of Reading regarding a poor house, and empty wrappers.

Series IV. Estate Records pertain to the executor's attempts to collect on Perkins' loans and their accounts with Perkins' numerous heirs.

Biographical Sketch

Thomas Perkins was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1758, the third son of Moses Perkins (1733-1805) and Anna Cummings Perkins (1734-1825). His father was a cooper by trade.

Thomas Perkins had very little formal education and before the revolution worked as a cordwainer in his native town. During the Revolution, Perkins served as first mate and later master of the privateer brig Ranger. Perkins' first mate on the Ranger was Joseph Peabody (1757-1844), who later became a prosperous Salem merchant and Perkins' business partner. In 1783, Perkins served as Peabody's first mate on the brig Three Friends owned by Jonathan Gardner.

During the eight years of his shipping partnership with Peabody, Perkins owned eight vessels and built himself a considerable fortune. In 1810, Perkins went into business for himself. Although he continued to own vessels, the focus of his business switched to loaning money to companies and municipalities. Perkins also invested in real estate, including the Franklin Building, a commercial building in Salem. By 1819, Perkins had retired to Topsfield, leaving merchant Michael Shepard to act as his Salem agent.

Perkins never married and acted a benefactor to his siblings and their children. His sister Annar Perkins (1771-1853) was married to Asa Pingree (1770-1834). When Pingree's saw and grist mill in Bridgton, Maine, failed, Perkins purchased the Pingree homestead in Rowley, Massachusetts, which he put under Pingree's management. Perkins also became the mentor of their son David Pingree (1795-1863) whom he had trained in Michael Shepard's merchant firm and later had managed his own financial affairs. David Pingree was named executor of Perkins' estate and inherited the bulk of his fortune when Perkins died in 1830.

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.

Peabody, Joseph, 1757-1844
Perkins, Moses, 1773-1805
Pingree, David, 1795-1863--Correspondence
Shepard, Michael, 1786-1856--Correspondence
White, Joseph, 1747 or 1748-1830
Cynthia (Brig)
Dolphin (Sloop)
Elvira (Schooner)
Phoenix (Brig)
Saucy Jack (Schooner)
Three Friends (Sloop)
William Charles (Brigantine)
Decedents' estates
Executors and administrators--Massachusetts
Real property--Massachusetts
Real property--Massachusetts--Topsfield
Trials (Murder)--Massachusetts
Massachusetts--Crime and criminal affairs
Rowley (Mass.)--Agriculture--Farms and farming
Rowley (Mass.)--Land records
Salem (Mass.)--Business, industries, and trades--Shipping
Salem (Mass.)--Legal affairs
Topsfield (Mass.)--Agriculture--Farms and farming
Topsfield (Mass.)--Land records


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

Thomas Perkins (1758-1830) Papers, MSS 196, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated by Pingree family heirs.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline Preston, October 1985. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, February 2016.

Related Material

Eastman, Joel Webb. "David Pingree's Iron Works." Historical Collections of the Essex Institute. Vol. 103, 1967. Page 189-200.

Endicott, William Crowninshield, and Walter Muir Whitehill. Captain Joseph Peabody; East India Merchant of Salem (1757-1844). Salem: Peabody Museum, 1962.

Perkins, George A. "The Perkins Family." Historical Collections of the Essex Institute. Vol. 22, 1885 p. 200. and Vol. 23, 1886 p. 53.

Pingry, William M. Genealogical record of the descendants of Moses Pengry, of Ipswich, Mass.: so far as ascertained/collected and arranged by William M. Pingry. Ludlow, Vt.: Warner & Hyde, printers, 1881.

Joseph Peabody Family Papers, 1721-1936, MH 178

Michael Shepard Papers, 1813-1937, MSS 237

David Pingree Papers, 1810-1939, MSS 901

you wish to report:

Select the collections to add or remove from your search