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Ropes Family Papers

Ropes Family Papers

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ROPES FAMILY PAPERS, 1702-1932, 1960-1972


Processing and conservation of this collection was funded by a gift from the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-948-6012
Creator:Ropes family
Title:Ropes Family Papers
Dates:1702/1932, 1960/1972
Quantity:20.5 linear feet (23 boxes, 16 volumes, 2 flat files)
Abstract:The Ropes Family Papers document the business and personal activities of four generations of Nathaniel Ropes' descendants who inhabited the Ropes House at 318 Essex Street in Salem.
Collection Number:MSS 190

Series List

SERIES I. Early Ropes Family
SERIES II. Nathaniel Ropes IIISERIES III. Orne Family Series IV. Nathaniel Ropes IV
Series V. Nathaniel Ropes V and Ropes Sisters
Series VI. Miscellaneous Ropes Family
Series VII. Ropes House

Scope and Content Note

The Ropes Family Papers document the business and personal activities of four generations of Nathaniel Ropes' descendants who inhabited the Ropes House at 318 Essex Street in Salem. The collection includes the papers of Nathaniel Ropes I (1692-1752), Judge Nathaniel Ropes II (1726-1774), Salem shipping merchant Nathaniel Ropes III (1759-1806), Sally Ropes Orne (1795-1876), Joseph Orne (1796-1818), Cincinnati merchant Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885), and his children Nathaniel V (1833-1893), Sarah (1827-1899), Eliza (1837-1907), and Mary (1843-1903). The collection has been divided into seven series.

Series I. Early Ropes covers the years 1702-1815, and contains the personal and business records of Salem merchant Nathaniel Ropes I (1691-1752), his wife Abigail (Pickman) Ropes (1706-1775), their son Judge Nathaniel Ropes II (1726-1752), his wife Priscilla Sparhawk (1739-1778), their children Samuel, Jane, and John Ropes, and Sparhawk relatives. The account books of Nathaniel I, Nathaniel II, and Abigail Ropes contain accounts of their stores which were operated first on Washington Street, and later on Essex Street. Of interest in Nathaniel II's personal and financial papers is an account book of the committee to build a prison in Salem in 1764. The original 1769 deed for the Ropes house on Essex Street is filed with Nathaniel II's legal papers; there are also five of his judicial appointments located in box 19. Priscilla Ropes' papers include a household account book dated 1778, and letters from Sparhawk family members in Kittery, Maine. The folder of Reverend John Sparhawk's church papers relate to the dismissal of Reverend Samuel Fiske from the Salem First Church in 1738, the subsequent appointment of Reverend Sparhawk, and his salary disputes. The folder of miscellaneous papers (box two, folder two) contains Joseph Ropes 1815 Mediterranean passport for the ship Morgann, John Ropes' 1798 ship's papers for the brig Hind, and Hannah Ropes' 1803 copy of Jonathan Harradin's will.

Series II. Nathaniel Ropes III covers the years 1777 to 1831, and includes his business and personal records as well as the papers of his two wives, Sarah (Putnam) Ropes (1765-1801) and Elizabeth (Cleveland) Ropes (1757-1831). This series contains three subseries. Subseries A. Nathaniel Ropes contains the papers of Nathaniel Ropes III. The account books contain records for both his shipping partnership, Hussey and Ropes, and his own businesses. Nathaniel Coverly's stationary store was located in Ropes' Essex Street building, and Coverly's account book (box three, folder four) was evidently left behind when he moved to Charleston in 1802. The three boxes of Nathaniel Ropes receipts include receipts for Hussey and Ropes, Ropes' stores, and family expenses. Included in the undated receipts is a list of Hussey and Ropes debts. The 1803 to 1805 receipt book (box seven, folder one) also includes Ropes' manuscript songbook. His violin instruction book is filed with the miscellaneous papers (box seven, folder nine).

The correspondence includes Hussey and Ropes merchant house correspondence as well as numerous letters regarding the estates for which Nathaniel Ropes was acting as executor. Filed in the shipping papers (box seven, folder five) are miscellaneous documents for the following vessels: Betsey (Brig), Cato (Privateer), Cicero (Brig), Hannah (Schooner), Joseph's Brother (Schooner), Light Horse (Ship), Louisa (Sloop), Lucy (Schooner), Nancy (Schooner), Olive Branch (Ship), Polly (Schooner), Polly (Privateer), Sally (Schooner), Satisfaction (Schooner), Silvanus (Brig), Success (Schooner), and Two Brothers (Sloop). The folder of Salem sheep pasture papers contains Ropes' records as a member of the committee of proprietors including legal papers, two memorandum books, and meeting records. Subseries B. Sarah (Putnam) Ropes contains the papers of Nathaniel II's wife, Sarah (Putnam) Ropes. Filed after Sarah (Putnam) Ropes' papers are the estate papers of her father, Dr. Eben Putnam (1717-1788), for whom Nathaniel Ropes acted as executor. Subseries C. Elizabeth Cleveland Ropes contains the papers of Elizabeth Cleveland Ropes, Nathaniel III's second wife. Elizabeth Ropes' account books and receipts contain records for the Danvers farm, and 1807 renovation of the Ropes house, and the expenses of her three stepchildren.

Series III. Orne Family covers the years 1811 to 1876, and contain papers of Joseph Orne (1796-1818), Sally (Ropes) Orne (1795-1876), Elizabeth Ropes Orne (1818-1842), and Abigail Ropes (1796-1839). It contains three subseries. Subseries A. Joseph Orne contains the papers of Joseph Orne. His correspondence includes letters from Harvard University classmates Willliam Henry Moulton, Stevens Everett, and John G Palfrey. The folder of receipts (box nine, folder four) documents the expenses of outfitting their first house at the time of their marriage in 1817. Also included are receipts listing books purchased from Reverend John Prince's estate for Orne's extensive library. The folder of writings contains copies of lectures, essays, poems, eulogies, and two notebooks of Biblical explications.

Subseries B. Sally Ropes Orne contains the papers of Sally Orne. Her correspondence contains letters to her stepmother and brother, letters from relatives Margaret Prescott and Margaret Emery, and Salem friends Humphrey Devereux, Reverend Charles Upham, and Reverend Charles Sewell. Of particular interest are copies of the letters written by Sally and Elizabeth Orne on a trip to visit Nathaniel IV in Cincinnati, from 1838 to 1840. Also of note is the February 26, 1829 letter from A.E. Cleveland describing a ball given for the British minister in Washington, and Humphrey Devereux's April 27, 1834 letter describing the White House. The papers relating to the guardianship of Elizabeth Orne (box 10, folder two) document Sally's questioning her uncle Jonathan Hodge's handling of Elizabeth's financial affairs, and replacing him with Benjamin Merrill as guardian. The miscellaneous papers include poems written and copied by Sally after the death of her daughter. Subseries C. Elizabeth Orne contains the papers of Elizabeth Orne, which consist primarily of school notebooks, sermon books, pencil sketches, watercolors, and commonplace books. Of interest is the diary kept on her trip to Cincinnati from 1839 to 1840, which describes a visit to the Mt. Lebanon, New York Shaker settlement.

Series IV. Nathaniel Ropes IV covers the years 1805 to 1876, and contains the business and personal papers of Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885) and his wife Sarah (Brown) Ropes (1807-1873). The letter books and unbound letters contain both personal and business letters, and document Ropes' various moves and business ventures in the West. Numerous letters concern Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg and his theology. Of interest are copies of correspondence between Ropes' cousin Margaret Prescott and the minister Samuel Worcester on various religious issues (box 14, folder three), and Ropes' correspondence with the prominent Swedenborgian George Bush (1796-1859) about his writings (volume 15). Included in the financial records are several early banknotes, 1814 to 1838 (box 14, folder six), issued by banks in Cincinnati, Lexington, and Louisville. Also included in this series are a number of titles and deeds, most of which are for property in Ohio and Kentucky, including his cemetery plot. It is possible that some of the titles and deeds belonged to his son, Nathaniel Ropes V, but that is not easily discernable due to the dates. Contained in the miscellaneous and personal papers are membership certificates, advertisement cards from Nathaniel Ropes' Lard Oil Company, poems, and a copy of the eulogy delivered at Ropes' funeral in 1885.

Series V. Nathaniel Ropes V and Ropes Sister covers the years 1847 to 1904, and contains papers of Nathaniel Ropes V (1833-1893), and his sisters Sarah Putnam (1827-1899), Eliza Orne (1837-1907), and Mary Pickman Ropes (1843-1903). Nathaniel Ropes V’s papers include deeds, titles, receipts and letters. The deeds and titles are for property in Ohio and Salem, Massachusetts. The Ropes sisters’ papers and printed ephemera document their various social and club activities in Cincinnati and Salem where they moved in 1893. The folder of financial and legal records contains copies of Sarah and Mary Ropes’ wills. There are also deeds and titles, in which Mary was listed as a trustee. Of note in the folder of printed material is the brochure used to purchase the Magee stove for the Ropes' kitchen, and a small collection of Civil War patriotic envelopes.

Series VI. Miscellaneous Ropes Family includes genealogy records, unidentified poetry, printed materials, deeds, and envelopes found in the collection. The genealogical notes relate to the Ropes, Sparhawk, and Putnam families.

Series VII. Ropes House contains photographs, surveys, and blueprints of the Ropes house. Daguerreotypes and a carte de visite photograph album of the Ropes family and house are not included in this collection; they are located at the Ropes house. The photo albums of the interior and exterior of the house were made after the Ropes house became a museum in 1912. Included in this series are two photographs of Edward S. Morse given by Morse to the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial.

Biographical Sketches

Nathaniel Ropes was born in 1649. He became a merchant in Salem, Massachusetts, and married Abigail Lindall Pickman (1706-1775), the daughter of Captain Benjamin Pickman. They had one child together, Nathaniel II (1726-1774). Nathaniel died October 22, 1752.

The Honorable Nathaniel Ropes II was born in Salem on May 20, 1726, to Nathaniel (1692-1752) and Abigail Ropes. He graduated from Harvard University in 1745 and returned to Salem to practice law. In 1755, he married Priscilla Sparhawk (1739-1778), the daughter of Salem First Church minister John Sparhawk. They had six children together: Nathaniel III (1759-1806), Abigail, John (1763-1828), Elizabeth (born 1764), Jane (born 1767), and Samuel (1773-1794). In 1768, Nathaniel II purchased the house that is now 318 Essex Street, from Joseph and Ebenezer Barnard.

Nathaniel II was elected to the House of Representatives in 1760; this was the only political office he ever held. Starting in 1761, he received a number of important civic and judicial appointments. He served on the Governor's Executive Council from 1762, until 1768, was appointed a judge of the Essex County Court of Common Pleas in 1761, and was both Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and Judge of Probate in 1766. Nathaniel II resigned these positons in 1772, when he became a Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature. In addition to his judicial responsibilities, Nathaniel II had a small merchant business and ran a store in the first floor of the Essex Street house. He was also active in Salem organizations including the Salem Social Library, the Monday Night Club, and was a ruling elder of the First Church.

In 1773, the Massachusetts General Court required that judges no longer receive compensation from the Crown. Nathaniel II's failure to refuse the King's Grant (compensation) earned him the enmity of the House of Representatives and the residents of Salem. Around this same time, Ropes was inoculated for smallpox in 1774, and as a result, contracted the disease. As he lay dying, a mob incensed by the salary controversy attacked his house. Before his death, he declared his non-acceptance of the King's Grant, thereby protecting his estate from seizure because of his Tory sentiments. Nathaniel II died on March 18, 1774.

Nathaniel Ropes III was born in 1759, to Nathaniel II (1726-1774) and Priscilla Ropes. He ran the store in the Essex Street house with his mother after his father's death in 1774. In approximately 1784, Nathaniel III formed a partnership with the shipping merchant Silas Hussey, which consigned goods primarily to merchant agents in Virginia, South Carolina, and London. The partnership was dissolved before 1796. In addition to Hussey and Ropes, Nathaniel III had other mercantile investments: he was a partner in a ropewalk and a proprietor of the Salem sheep pasture. In 1794, he purchased a farm in Danvers where he moved with his family after 1801.

Nathaniel III married Sarah Putnam (1765-1801), the daughter of Dr. Ebenezer Putnam (1728-1788) in 1791. They had three children together: Nathaniel IV (1793-1885), Sally Fiske (1795-1876), and Abigail Pickman (1796-1839). He married his second wife, Elizabeth Cleveland (1757-1831), in 1803. According to William Bentley, Nathaniel III was "one of the many victims of intemperance and died under strong convulsions" in 1806. After his death, Elizabeth had the Essex Street house remodeled and moved back to Salem with her three stepchildren.

Sally Fiske Ropes was born in 1795 in Salem, to Nathaniel (1759-1806) and Sarah (Putnam) Ropes. She married her cousin Joseph Orne (1796-1818) in 1817. He was the son of the wealthy Salem merchant William Orne and his wife Abigail (Ropes) Orne. Joseph graduated from Harvard University in 1818, with a degree in divinity. Sally and Joseph's only child, Elizabeth Ropes (1818-1842) was born in May 1818. Joseph died from tuberculosis in September 1818.

Sally and Elizabeth Orne and Sally's sister, Abigail Ropes (1796-1839), resided at 318 Essex Street for the rest of their lives. Abigail died from burns when her dressing gown accidently caught on fire in 1839. Elizabeth Orne died from consumption in 1842; at the time of her death she was considered the wealthiest single woman in Salem as the heiress to William Orne's fortune. After her daughter's death, Sally Orne lived a very retired life. Finding the responsibility of renting a store onerous, she converted the store into a woodshed in 1849. She turned the management of her extensive financial affairs over to Benjamin Merrill, followed by the minister Charles Upham, and later to her nephew Nathaniel Ropes V (1833-1893). Sally Orne died in 1876.

Nathaniel Ropes IV was born in 1793 in Salem, to Nathaniel III (1759-1806) and Sarah (Putnam) Ropes. He received his education at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, and following his father's death, inherited the family farm in Danvers. He left Salem in 1819 to form a commission merchant firm with Samuel W. Phelps of Marblehead. Phelps proved to be dishonest, and by 1821 the firm was dissolved. Ropes then moved to Covington, Kentucky, which was directly across the river from Cincinnati. By 1819, Ropes was part owner of the Miami Distillery in Anderson, Ohio, and eventually acquired other investments in Anderson which he kept until 1857. Between 1836 and 1840, he operated a shoe business in Cincinnati, at first under the name Cleveland and Ropes, and then called Nathaniel Ropes and Company after the death of his partner Stephen Cleveland in 1837. Ropes and his family moved to Cincinnati in 1842 and he bought several commercial properties in the rapidly expanding city in the early 1840s. After 1846, Ropes owned a lard and candle factory. When the factory was destroyed by fire in 1856, Ropes bought out his partners and rebuilt it. Through his many business ventures, Ropes built up a considerable fortune and became a prominent member of the Cincinnati community. Since the early 1820s, he had been interested in the Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg and was active in the Swedenborgian Church of New Jerusalem. Nathaniel IV married Sarah Evans Brown (1802-1873) in 1826. They had nine children, six of whom lived to maturity: Sarah Putnam (1827-1899), Nathaniel V (1833-1893), William Augustus (1834-1879), Eliza Orne (1837-1907), and Mary Pickman (1843-1903). Nathaniel IV died in 1885.

Nathaniel Ropes V was born in 1833 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the fourth of nine children to Nathaniel IV (1793-1885) and Sarah Ropes. After graduating from Harvard University in the class of 1855, he returned to Cincinnati and worked at his father's candle and oil factory for ten years. In 1866, he moved to Salem to manage the financial affairs of his elderly aunt, Sally Ropes Orne, with whom he had lived periodically during his college years. After her death in 1876, he continued to live in the Essex Street house and inherited a considerable portion of her fortune. Nathaniel V invested in real estate in Salem, building a large number of housing units including the original Orne Square houses. He also invested heavily in stocks, primarily in the Boston Water and Power Company, and the Eastern Railroad. Nathaniel V never married; he died in 1893.

After Nathaniel V's death in 1893, his three unmarried sisters, Sarah, Eliza Orne, and Mary Pickman inherited his estate, and moved from Cincinnati into the Ropes house. Starting in 1893, they extensively remodeled the house: moving it back from the street, building a McIntire style fence, and adding a rear wing with a modern kitchen and plumbing. By the bequest of Eliza and Mary Ropes, the Essex Institute of Salem was left the Ropes house and its contents, to be used as both a historic house and botany school. The Institute declined the bequest, and the Ropes house was established as an independent museum, the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial, in 1912. The house was first opened to the public on June 25, 1913.

The Essex Institute took over curatorial management in 1978 and assumed legal possession of the property and collections in 1989, replacing the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial.

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.

Bush, George, 1796-1859
Cheever, Ariel G.
Coverly, Nathaniel, 1775?-1824
Devereux, Humphrey, 1779-1867
Dietrich, Clement
Everett, Stevens
Greenwood, Miles
Gross, Andrew
Moulton, William Henry
Orne, Elizabeth Ropes, 1818-1842
Orne, Joseph, 1796-1818
Orne, Sally Ropes, 1795-1876
Palfrey, John Gorham, 1796-1881
Putnam, Eben, Dr., 1717-1788
Ropes, Abigail Pickman, 1706-1775
Ropes, Abigail, 1796-1839
Ropes, Eliza Orne, 1837-1907
Ropes, Elizabeth Cleveland, 1757-1831
Ropes, Joseph, 1812-1885
Ropes, Mary Pickman, 1843-1903
Ropes, Nathaniel, 1691-1752
Ropes, Nathaniel, 1726-1774
Ropes, Nathaniel, 1759-1804
Ropes, Nathaniel, 1793-1885
Ropes, Nathaniel, 1833-1893
Ropes, Priscilla Sparhawk, 1739-1778
Ropes, Sarah Brown, 1807-1873
Ropes, Sarah Putnam, 1765-1801
Ropes, Sarah Putnam, 1827-1899
Sewell, Charles Chauncey, Reverend, 1802-1886
Sparhawk family
Sparhawk, John, Rev.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, 1688-1772
Upham, Charles Wentworth, 1802-1875
Betsey (Brig)
Cato (Privateer)
Cicero (Brig)
Hannah (Schooner)
Hind (Brig)
Hussey & Ropes
Joseph's Brother (Schooner)
Lard Oil Company
Light Horse (Ship)
Louisa (Sloop)
Lucy (Schooner)
Morgann (Ship)
Nancy (Schooner)
Olive Branch (Schooner)
Polly (Privateer)
Polly (Schooner)
Sally (Schooner)
Satisfaction (Schooner)
Silvanus (Brig)
Success (Schooner)
Two Brothers (Sloop)
Account books
Covers (Philately)--United States--History--19th century
Estates, administration of
Letter writing
Cincinnati (Ohio)
Kittery (Me.)
Salem (Mass.)
Salem (Mass.)--Sheep pasture
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Pictorial works


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

Ropes Family Papers, MSS 190, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Ropes Family papers are an integration of two large collections of Ropes papers which belonged to the Essex Institute and the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial. The Essex Institute's collection included seven scrapbooks, two envelopes of Ropes family papers dated 1783-1874, one Nathaniel Ropes account book, and one Priscilla (Sparhawk) Ropes account book. These papers originated from the Ropes house at 318 Essex Street and were probably donated by Eliza and Mary Ropes prior to 1907. The remainder of the Ropes papers remained at the Essex Street house which became a museum in 1912. The collection, which contained five boxes, four scrapbooks of unbound papers, and 45 account books, was donated by the Trustees of the Ropes Memorial to the Essex Institute on February 11, 1985. Two folders of Ropes papers were removed from the Curwen Family collection (MSS 45) and added to the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline Preston, September 1985. Updated by Hilary Streifer, April 2015, June 2019.

Related Material

Messer, Nellie Sterns. "The Ropes Memorial, Salem, Massachusetts." Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities Old-Time New England (April 1924): 149-163.

"The Nathaniel Ropes Estate." Essex Institute Historical Collections 40: 1-14.

"Nathaniel Ropes." Essex Institute Historical Collections 3: 148-149.

"Nathaniel Ropes." Sibley's Harvard Graduates XI: 572-574.

"Ropes Family Genealogy." Essex Institute Historical Collections 7.

Trustees of the Ropes Memorial Records, 1911-1979. MSS 191.

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