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Michael Shepard (1786-1856) Papers

Michael Shepard (1786-1856) Papers

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MICHAEL SHEPARD (1786-1856) PAPERS, 1809-1859


Processing and conservation of this collection was funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 161 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-948-6012
Creator:Shepard, Michael, 1786-1856
Title:Michael Shepard (1786-1856) Papers
Quantity:12.5 linear feet (26 boxes)
Abstract:This collection is comprised of the shipping, business and personal papers of Michael Shepard and a few other family members.
Collection Number:MH 23

Series List

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

Scope and Content Note

This collection is comprised of the shipping, business and personal papers of Michael Shepard and a few other family members. The bulk of the collection is related to Shepard's shipping activities at various ports in East Africa from 1835-1855, when he traded in ivory, copal, textiles and cloves. The collection is divided into four series.

Series I. Shipping Papers includes ships' papers, correspondence, account books, bills and receipts, and various memoranda and notes relating to Michael Shepard's trading activities in the Zanzibar area. Ships' papers are comprised of materials relating to vessels owned or mastered by members of the Shepard family (See Appendix 1). Although the majority of the ships' papers concern Michael Shepard's shipping activities in East Africa from 1835-1855, some material from 1852-1856 was actually produced by Shepard's son Michael Webb Shepard (born 1826) during the period when his father battled various illnesses. The papers of brig Hopewell and schooners Bird and Union document Michael's brother, Jeremiah Shepard's (1782-1826), activities as a ship master on voyages to Europe and South America.

Ships' papers concerning trade in East Africa are voluminous. Shepard maintained a number of vessels that sailed continuously between Zanzibar, Mocha, Musqat, Majunga, Aden and Bombay and occasionally sent a vessel back to America with portions of cargo from each of the vessels. As a result the papers of vessels Brenda, Cherokee, Eben Dodge, Elizabeth Hall, Emily Wilder, La Plata, Rattler, Said Bin Sultan, Star, and Tom Corwin often contain interrelated accounts and correspondence concerning the activities of other Shepard vessels in the area. Shepard formed partnerships with John Bertram, B. Frank Fabens, and Charles Ward to manage this trade, with Fabens and Ward acting as agents at Zanzibar. They referred to themselves collectively as "the concern" in their correspondence. Almost every set of ship papers includes a crew list.

Of particular interest in the ships' papers are the protests and/or condemnations of the following vessels: Bhering, Cherokee (voyage six), Elizabeth Hall (voyage one), Emily Wilder (voyages one and two), Hopewell, Jenny Cushman, Rattler (voyage five), Star (voyages three and nine), and Tom Corwin (voyage one). The papers of brig Ann contain broadsides advertising the sale of Zanzibar goods at Salem. Documentation of an adventure to California at the outbreak of the gold rush is found among the papers of the third voyage of brig Eliza. On this adventure mining equipment and supplies were shipped to Sacramento and sold along with the vessel. The proceeds of the voyage were invested in California gold that was shipped to the United States Mint at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania via steamer. Miscellaneous ships papers are materials concerning vessels chartered by Shepard for coastal transfers of cargo in America. These papers are filed alphabetically by ship (See Appendix II).

Correspondence is comprised of letters from mercantile agents (including Fabens and Ward) and prices current. A series' of letters from piano manufacturers George Read and Company and Julius Pratt and Company begins in 1848 and concerns shipments of ivory that continued until at least 1856. An interesting item in this section is a letter (August 1841) from E.A. Webster to Captain Andrew Ward regarding the prospects for an adventure in ice to Calcutta. Correspondence after 1865 is almost entirely comprised of letters to Michael W. Shepard from William. H. Nichols III, who acted as his agent in Zanzibar during this period.

The letterbook contains outgoing correspondence of Michael and Michael Webb Shepard and is largely concerned with shipping activities. However, this volume also contains important outgoing correspondence relating to Shepard's investments in Illinois real estate and some executor's correspondence from various estates.

The shipping account books in the collection are associated with Shepard's relations with a number of partners, agents and ship masters (See Appendix III). Some of these volumes were started by Michael Shepard and continued by his son as Shepard's health failed. Other volumes were kept by Michael W. Shepard even though some of the shipping information concerns events during his father's lifetime.

Series II. Personal and Business Papers document Shepard's family relationships and investments in securities and real estate. Correspondence with Matthew Bolles is generally about investments that Bolles managed for Shepard from his Boston office. Other correspondence with Moore, Morton and Company describes Shepard's investments in land in Illinois that he purchased from Ebenezer Rand and his children.

The personal correspondence in this section contains a number of letters from his sons Thomas P. Shepard (1817-1877) and Henry F. Shepard (born 1832) and his nephew Joseph C. Shepard, mostly relating to financial matters and family news. There is also some correspondence in this section concerning the affairs of the Baptist churches in the area, the Newton Theological Institute and missionary work abroad.

A letter from a Mrs. Butman to Shepard (August 31, 1830) contains her reactions to the murder of Captain Joseph White in Salem. The letter from Michael Webb Shepard to his father (January 31, 1847) describes his first voyage and conditions at Pernambuco, Brazil. For additional information on this trip see the diary in MSS 237. A series of letters from Jonathan Mansfield beginning in 1848 documents his commitment to an insane asylum in Brattleboro, Vermont, and his belief that he was unjustly abandoned there by his mother. A letter from Edward King to Shepard (October 29, 1849) related the death of Captain Thorndike Proctor, who was driven to suicide by the passengers on board his ship Capitol.

Series III. Civic and Religious Papers document Shepard's involvement with the Baptist Church and his financial assistance on behalf of a number of Salem area residents. Shepard made himself available as an executor to a number of families who could not afford professional assistance in managing a deceased relative's estate. As a result the papers of the estates of various individuals not related to Shepard are found in his papers. The material is largely composed of accounts, inventories, bills and receipts, and correspondence. Assignments were legal agreements whereby an individual in financial difficulty could assign legal title of his assets to an unbiased financial manager. Shepard accepted assignments from some local individuals in danger of bankruptcy.

The Baptist Church papers document Shepard's active role in local church organizations. He was treasurer of the First Baptist Church of Salem and the Salem Baptist Association, and as a result he was responsible for the procurement of some funding for the Salem Bible Translation and Foreign Mission Society. The majority of this material is financial correspondence received with donations, however, the correspondence in the Salem Baptist Association papers includes substantive letters from the Lowell Baptist Aboriginal Society (September 18, 2830) and the Female Baptist Burman Missionary Society. The memoranda/notes contain diffuse information that sometimes refers to more than one of the above Salem Baptist organizations on a single document.

Series IV. Family and Miscellaneous Papers are comprised of materials associated with other individual family members but not associated with family shipping activities. Although the majority of this material is made up of bills and receipts, the material related to Michael Webb Shepard offers more substantive information. The account books are largely concerned with personal investments in securities and real estate but also contain accounts related to a number of other Shepard family members

Biographical Sketch

Michael Shepard was born on September 4, 1786, the fifth son of Jeremiah and Elizabeth (Webb) Shepard of Salem, Massachusetts. Little is known of his childhood or his introduction to the shipping business. Shepard became a successful merchant in Salem by specializing in trade with ports in East Africa. He maintained a fleet of vessels that circulated among the ports of Zanzibar, Musqat, Mocha, Aden, Majunga and Bombay and traded in ivory, cloves, copal, and textiles. His partnerships with John Bertram, B. Frank Fabens, and Charles Ward enabled him to exert considerable influence upon trading activities in the region. In the last years of his life he shared ownership of some vessels with his son Michael Webb Shepard, who eventually took control of the family's shipping interests upon his father's death.

Shepard was a well-respected individual in the community. He was the treasurer of the First Baptist Church of Salem and the Salem Baptist Association and was concerned with church matters including missionary work in America and abroad. On August 14, 1811 he married Matilda Fairfax Clarke, the daughter of Francis and Martha (Mansfield) Clarke. She passed away within a year. Shepard then married Matilda's sister, Harriot Fairfax Clarke on May 15, 1816. Together they raised nine children, at least six of which lived to maturity. Michael Shepard died October 10, 1856 after a long illness.

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.

Allen, Elizabeth
Bertram, John, 1796-1882
Blanchard, Benjamin, 1770-1843
Blanchard, Mary
Blanchard, Rebecca
Bolles, Matthew, 1769-1838
Clarke, Francis G. (Francis Gedney), 1792-1843
Ditmore, Christopher F.
Fabens, B. Frank, 1817-1869
Fuller, Jesse
Goodnow, Sophia
Hooper, Robert S.
Jackson, Susanna, d. 1820
Kinsman, Nathaniel, 1798-1847
Knight, John B.
Mansfield, Jonathan
Marston, Zachariah
Perkins, Thomas Handasyd, 1764-1854
Procter, J. H.
Proctor, Thorndike, 1789-1834
Rand, Ebenezer
Shepard, Henry F., 1832-
Shepard, Michael, Webb, b. 1826
Shepard, Samuel, 1784-1863
Shepard, Thomas Perkins, 1818-1877
Ward, Charles
Webster, E. A. (Elijah Ashley), 1813-1855
Amesbury Factory Company
Ann (Brig)
Bhering (Bark)
Bird (Schooner)
Brenda (Ship)
Capitol (Ship)
Cherokee (Brig)
Cynthia (Brig)
Eben Dodge (Bark)
Economy (Schooner)
Eliza (Bark)
Elizabeth Hall (Bark)
Emily Wilder (Bark)
Exchange (Schooner)
Female Baptist Missionary Society
First Baptist Church (Salem, Mass.)
Forrester's Wharf
Generous (Brig)
Generous (Schooner)
George Read and Company
Hopewell (Brig)
Iosco (Bark)
Jenny Cushman (Brig)
Joseph (Schooner)
Julius Pratt and Company
La Plata (Bark)
Lowell Baptist Aboriginal Society
Moore, Morton, and Company
Neptune (Brig)
Newton Theological Institution
North America (Ship)
Potomac (Brig)
Rattler (Brig)
Return (Brig)
Said Bin Sultan (Bark)
Salem Baptist Association (Mass.)
Salem Bible Translation and Foreign Mission Society
Star (Bark)
Thomas Perkins (Brig)
Tom Corwin (Bark)
Union (Schooner)
Victory (Brig)
Waverly (Brig)
Abandonment (Maritime law)
Clove trade
Copal trade
Crew lists
Gold mines and mining
Ivory trade
Mauritius--Commerce--United States
Account books


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

Michael Shepard (1786-1856) Papers, MH 23, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The majority of the Michael Shepard Papers were received from Miss Sally W. Shepard in two gifts. Twenty-six boxes of papers were given to the museum in 1936 (acc #9963) and thirty-four boxes of papers and twelve volumes were donated in 1938 (acc # 10,449). One volume was purchased in 1939. One volume was purchased in 1939. Three letters (1848-1849) were donated by Nick Kardasis on January 12, 2009 (acc #2009.003).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, August 1988. Updated by Catherine Robertson, April 2014.

Related Material

Michael Shepard Papers, 1786-1856, MSS 237

Fabens Family Papers, 1706, 1797-1912, 1947, 1978, 1989, MH 94

Charles Ward Papers, 1746-1888, MSS 47

Papers of William Henry Nichols, 1862-1918, MSS 0.435

Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III: Shipping Accounts

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