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Stephen Henry Phillips (1823-1925) Papers

Stephen Henry Phillips (1823-1925) Papers

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STEPHEN HENRY PHILLIPS (1823-1925) PAPERS, 1835-1926


Processing and conservation of this collection were funded in part by grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and 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:Phillips, Stephen H. (Stephen Henry), 1823-1897
Title:Stephen Henry Phillips (1823-1925) Papers
Quantity:9 linear feet (21 boxes)
Abstract:The Stephen Henry Phillips papers document the life of this Salem, Massachusetts, attorney and his wife.
Collection Number:E 4

Series List

SERIES I. Personal Papers
A. Writings
B. Correspondence
C. Legal/Financial
D. Printed Matter
E. Miscellaneous
A. Legal Practice
B. Insurance Litigation/Legislation
C. Spaulding Partnership
D. Alabama Claims Papers
E. Miscellaneous
SERIES III. Business Activities
SERIES IV. Margaret Duncan Phillips Papers
A. Correspondence
B. Journals
C. Financial
D. Photographs

Scope and Content Note

The Stephen Henry Phillips papers document the life of this Salem, Massachusetts, attorney and his wife. The material consists of holograph essays, correspondence, notebooks, business papers, financial records, and legal documents. Phillips' personal papers provide some insights to his sentiments regarding slavery, the Hawaiian question, and American history. The professional papers document his legal and business activities after 1846. Included are the papers of his wife, Margaret, which consist mainly of correspondence, journals, and scrapbooks. Her papers shed some light upon the Phillips' home life in San Francisco through letters from her husband. The collection has been arranged in four series.

Series I. Personal Papers has been organized into five subseries. Subseries A. Writings includes a group of essays on topics in American history, particularly the question of Hawaiian sovreignity in the 1870s. Of particular interest are two essays on Hawaii that are bound with an introduction by Stephen Willard Phillips, his son. Other significant items are a centennial address to the citizens of Vallejo, California, and an essay entitled "Chinamen in America." Subseries B. Correspondence includes letters and letterbooks. Drafts of letters by Phillips to King Kamehameha V of Hawaii (1867) and Charles Francis Adams reveal his respect for the Hawaiian monarch and his admiration of Adams and other Harvard University graduates. The majority of the correspondence in this series concerns an article by Phillips on the role of United States Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton on the eve of the Civil War. Letters from George O. Holyoke and an enclosure in the Charles W. Clifford correspondence (November 17, 1892) provide personal recollections from the last days of the Buchanan presidency. Subseries C. Legal/Financial contains legal documents, stock transactions, promissory notes, receipts, account books and check books. Subseries D. Printed Matter includes certificates, news clippings, bulletins, annual reports, train tickets, invitations, and other printed items. Subseries E. Miscellaneous contains notes, accounts, receipts, a sketch, a blueprint, a handwritten family tree of the Appleton family, a blank books, and more.

Series II. Legal contains a collection of documents relative to murder trials, separation agreements, probate work, and corporate matters. Subseries A. Legal Practice contains records from his partnership with George P. Sanger and other law offices. Subseries B. Insurance Litigation/Legislation contains correspondence and records from Phillips' work at various insurance companies. Subseries C. Spaulding Partnership includes a register of cases handled in 1878 and 1879. Documentation of about 40% of the cases has survived. Each case is separated with a blank sheet of acid-free paper. Within each case, legal documents are filed first, then correspondence, followed by receipts and notes. A list of cases appearing in the register, but with no documentation, is listed in Appendix I. Of interest is an 1861 letter from Edwin M. Stanton to Phillips regarding Massachusetts vs. Rhode Island, a border dispute. Subseries E. Miscellaneous consists of cases that could not be associated with any particular Phillips office or partner. The cases are separated from each other by a blank sheet of acid-free paper. Within each case legal documents are filed first, followed by correspondence, receipts, and notes. Of interest is a deposition relative to litigation between Edward Muybridge and Leland Stanford concerning early experiments in motion photography.

Series III. Business Activities documents Phillips' close association with Charles Augustus Williams, who retained Phillips as his financial manager. Other papers illustrate Phillips' work as treasurer and trustee for mining companies in Southern California and Nevada.

Series IV. Margaret Duncan Phillips Papers contains documentation of her family life. Subseries A. Correspondence begins with letters from Margaret's arrival in Hawaii and describes her life there and in San Francisco. Later correspondence is associated with the journals that document Margaret's travels to Europe and the Far East in the early twentieth century. The letters to her sons, Stephen Willard and James Duncan, describe her visits to a number of European and Asian cities. Box 21 contains condolence letters to her son, James Duncan, and his wife upon Margaret's death in 1926. Subseries D. Photographs contains about 40 photographs of Spain, 10 photographs of Europe, 20 photographs of Hawaii, and about 50 postcards from various locations collected during her travels.

Biographical Sketches

Stephen Henry Phillips was born on August 16, 1823, in Salem, Massachusetts, at the Charter Street home of Stephen Clarendon and Jane (Appleton) Phillips. The success of the Phillips family shipping business enabled him to attend a number of private schools including the "Select Classical School" founded by Salmon P. Chase in Washington, D.C. Phillips entered Harvard University in 1838 at the age of fifteen and completed his baccalaureate in 1842. He then entered the Dane Law School and completed the course in 1844.

Upon graduation Phillips worked for the Boston lawyer Benjamin R. Curtis and was accepted in to the Essex County bar in 1846. He edited the Monthly Law Reporter from 1847 to 1850 when he established his own law practice in Salem. In 1851 Phillips was appointed Essex County District Attorney and in 1857 accepted the position of Massachusetts Attorney General, which he maintained until 1860.

In 1866 Phillips accepted the post of Attorney General for the Kingdom of Hawaii under King Kamehameha V and moved to Honolulu. As one of four cabinet ministers he often handled foreign relations as well as the legal affairs of the kingdom. While in Hawaii, Phillips met Margaret Duncan (1847-1926), a Haverhill, Massachusetts native, who traveled to the island with her infirm sister Rebecca to take advantage of the more favorable climate. Phillips married Margaret in 1871, and with their newborn son, Stephen Willard (1873-1955), they moved to San Francisco in 1873. There Stephen became Resident Director and Solicitor for the Equitable Life Insurance Company and also the father of a second son, James Duncan (1876-1954). In the latter half of the decade he served as counsel for the California State Board of Railway Commissioners. In 1881 the family moved back to Haverhill, and then to Danvers, where Phillips resumed his practice. In 1883 he was appointed Assistant Counsel for the United States for Alabama Claims Cases. The last years of his life were spent handling financial and legal affairs.

After Phillips death in 1897, Margaret (Duncan) Phillips spent much of her time traveling throughout Europe and Asia. Between 1901 and 1911 she is known to have made five extensive tours of Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Japan, and China, culminating in a trip to Bermuda and the Windward Island in 1921. She passed away in Salem on July 31, 1926.

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.

Phillips, Margaret (Duncan), 1847-1926
Alabama claims
Attorneys general--Hawaii
Attorneys general--Massachusetts
Attorneys general--United States
Mineral industries--Finance
Probate law and practice
China--Description and travel--20th century
Great Britain--Description and travel--20th century
Hawaii--Description and travel--19th century
Hawaii--History to 1893
Japan--Description and travel--20th century
Massachusetts--History--18th century
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783


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

Stephen Henry Phillips (1823-1925) Papers, E 4, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated to the Peabody Museum of Salem by the estate of his grandson, Stephen Phillips (acc #19,823). Two folders of correspondence (B12 F1A and B13 F5) were owned by the Essex Institute, but the provenance is unknown. Papers were removed from the Stephen Willard Philips Papers (E 3) and added to this collection. Materials associated with Margaret Duncan Phillips were originally stored in a writing desk donated to the Peabody Museum by the Stephen Phillips estate (acc #M15054). Removed from this collection are four maps used in the Massachusetts vs. Rhode Island border dispute and two maps of Kyoto, Japan, removed from the Margaret Duncan Phillips papers.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, December 1986. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, May 2016.

Related Material

Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of Essex County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis, 1888.

Phillips, Albert M. Phillips Genealogies; including the Family of George Phillips, First Minister of Watertown, Mass. ... Also the Families of Ebenezer Phillips, of Southboro, Mass., Thomas Phillips, of Duxbury, Mass., Thomas Phillips, of Marshfield, Mass., John Phillips, of Easton, Mass., James Phillips, of Ipswich, Mass. With Brief Genealogies of Walter Phillips, of Damariscotta, Me., Andrew Phillips, of Kittery, Me., Michael, Richard, Jeremy and Jeremiah Phillips, of Rhode Island; and Fragmentary Records, of Early American Families of This Name. Auburn, MA: Press of C. Hamilton, Worcester, Mass., 1885.

Whitehill, Walter Muir. The East India Marine Society and the Peabody Museum of Salem; a Sesquicentennial History. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum, 1949.

Related Collections

Stephen Willard Phillips Papers, 1604-1950, E 3

Phillips Family Papers, 1794-1943, MSS 58

Phillips Family Papers, 1636-1897, MH 4

Essex Bar Association, In memorial: Stephen Henry Phillips, CT275.P5255 I5 1897

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