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James Gillis (1798-1835) Papers

James Gillis (1798-1835) Papers

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JAMES GILLIS (1798-1835) PAPERS, 1821-1864

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:Gillis, James Dunlap, 1798-1835
Title:James Gillis (1798-1835) Papers
Quantity:1 linear foot (2 boxes)
Abstract:This collection contains shipping, business, and personal papers that relate to ships of which James D. Gillis was Master.
Collection Number:MSS 90

Series List

SERIES I. Shipping Papers
SERIES II. Business Papers
SERIES III. Personal Papers

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains shipping, business, and personal papers that relate to ships of which James D. Gillis was Master. The material originally contained in MSS 90 included shipping, business and personal papers and was combined with material in MH 106, which contained shipping papers and household accounts. The collection has been organized into three series. Most materials are in English, some are in Italian and Dutch.

Series I. Shipping Papers comprise the bulk of the collection. The ships' papers document the shipping activities and concerns of a shipmaster, and include manifests, letters of instruction, provision lists, and crew lists. Of particular interest in this series is a protest for the ship Endeavor, which ran aground in the Straits of Magellan in October, 1824. A significant amount of information regarding the Sumatran pepper and opium trade, is included in this series. The shipping account book contains entries for all but one of the vessels Gillis mastered, the ship Equator, and includes some correspondence. There is also a listing of vessels departing for India in 1835.

Series II. Business Papers include accounts, invoices, and business correspondence relating to the consignment of Gillis' own merchandise on the vessels he mastered. Included are reports written by and for Captain Gillis regarding tradable materials. Also included is a document titled "Remarks on Mocha," which discusses the port of Mocha in what is now Yemen. This report includes information on the state of Mocha at the time and the tradable materials (mostly coffee) from this port.

Series III. Personal Papers consist mainly of personal and household accounts of James Gillis and his wife, Lydia. Of interest is a bill from Charles Osgood for painting a portrait of James Gillis. It also includes correspondence from Gillis to his brother-in-law George D. Richardson, which provide a detailed description of his life at sea, his various personal shipping ventures, (including his investments on the ship Senator) and family news. Military papers include James' commission and promotion while in the United States Army during the War of 1812.

Biographical Sketch

James Dunlap Gillis, Salem shipmaster, was born in Boston near Park Square in 1798 of Scotch-Irish parentage. By the age of 25, Gillis was serving on the Crowninshield privateer, America, as a gunner's yeoman and had a partial share in the vessel. In 1818 he had command of the ship Endeavor owned by the Salem merchant firm Stone Silsbee & Pickman. Other vessels mastered by Gillis, and owned by Stone Silsbee & Pickman, include Arnold Welles, Borneo, Delphos, Equator, Franklin, and Malay. Gillis also commanded the ship William, owned by Stephen White and Gideon Barstow. His vessels traded cargoes of Sumatran peppers, opium, East Indian coffee, tortoise shells, indigo, and hemp in European and New England ports.

During his 13-year career as a shipmaster, Gillis established a reputation as a skilled navigator and supercargo with particular knowledge of the East Indian and Sumatran markets. He prepared a navigational chart and sailing directions from the pepper ports of western Sumatra, which were published in Salem in 1834. Gillis became a member of the East India Marine Society in 1823.

By 1835, Gillis had grown tired of life at sea and hoped to form a merchant house in Portland, Maine with his brother-in-law, George D. Richardson. These plans were never realized for Gillis died on board the ship Equator on December 10, 1835.

In 1826 Gillis married Lydia D. Richardson (1800-1875), the daughter of Jesse Richardson, a merchant in the East Indies trade, and Eunice (Dodge) Richardson. They had three children: James Andrew (b. 1827); George Putnam Gillis (b. 1831); and Elizabeth Richardson Gillis (b. 1834).

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.

Barstow, G. Forrester (Gideon Forrester), 1815-1864
Gillis, James D. (James Dunlap), 1798-1835
Gillis, Lydia D. Richardson, 1800-1875
Osgood, Charles, 1809-1890
Richardson, George D. (George Dodge), 1806-1868
White, Stephen
Arnold Wells (Ship)
Borneo (Ship)
Catherine (Ship)
Delphos (Ship)
Endeavor (Ship)
Equator (Ship)
Franklin (Ship)
Malay (Brig)
Senator (Ship)
Stone, Silsbee, and Pickman
William (Ship : 1821-1841)
Estates, Administration of
Freight and freightage--Opium
Seafaring life
Ship captains
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

James Gillis (1798-1835) Papers, MSS 90, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Three folders of William (Ship) and Endeavor (Ship) papers were purchased in October 1982. The remainder of the collection is from an unknown source. In October 2013, papers from the MH 106 James Gillis Papers, 1821-1833 were combined with MSS 90 James Gillis Papers, 1822-1864 to form this comprehensive collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline Preston, February 1983 and Catherine Robertson, October 2013.

Related Material

Gillis, James D. Chart of the West Coast of Sumatra, between Rigas and Diah. Salem: John M. Ives, 1834.

Gillis, John D. Sailing Directions for the Pepper Ports of the West Coast of Sumatra, North of Analaboo, to Accompany a Chart of that Coast. Salem, 1834.

Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, v. 57. Salem, 1921, 281.

Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, v. 73. Salem, 1937, 367-368.

Vinton, John A. The Richardson Memorial. Portland: Brown Thurstan & Co, 1876. 577-178, 628-32, 691-692.

Arnold Welles (Ship) Logbook, 1833-1834, Log 325

Borneo (Ship) Logbook, 1831-1832, Log 287

Delphos (Ship) Logbook, 1830-1832, Log 1453

John Nichols Papers, 1822-1841, MSS 98

Richardson Family Papers, MSS 167

Stone Silsbee & Pickman Papers, MSS 63

Appendix I

Appendix II

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