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Robert S. Rantoul (1832-1922) Papers

Robert S. Rantoul (1832-1922) Papers

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ROBERT S. RANTOUL (1832-1922) PAPERS, 1817-1920


Processing of this collection was funded by a grant from the NHPRC (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:Rantoul, Robert S., 1832-1922
Title:Robert S. Rantoul (1832-1922) Papers
Quantity:4 linear feet (5 boxes)
Abstract:This collection contains the personal records of Robert S. Rantoul, including correspondence, financial records, photos and mementos of his children, and news clippings related to his life. It also contains a significant amount of records relating to his professional positions as both the Mayor of Salem and the President of the Essex Institute.
Identification:MSS 448

Series List

SERIES I. Personal and Biographical Papers
SERIES II. Mayor of Salem Papers
SERIES III. Essex Institute Papers

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the personal records of Robert S. Rantoul, including correspondence, financial records, photos and mementos of his children, and news clippings related to his life. It also contains a significant amount of records relating to his professional positions as both the Mayor of Salem and the President of the Essex Institute. The collection is arranged into three series.

Series I. Personal and Biographical Papers contains records documenting Rantoul's personal and early professional life. Included in this series are certificates he received for various legal and political accomplishments, correspondence regarding his life and early work, and mementos of his two eldest daughters Edith and Margaret. Also included are financial records pertaining to his early work as a lawyer and Collector of the Port of Salem, as well as household finances and records pertaining specifically to his in-laws, the Neal's. Rantoul oversaw many legal and financial dealings for the Neal's and was inheritor to his father-in-law's will. Finally, the series contains a folder of Rantoul's personal effects, including early poetry transcriptions, a notebook documenting his trip to Germany for the Centennial, and a hand-drawn map of Salem, as well as a folder of news clippings pertaining both to Rantoul's life and his personal interests.

Series II. Mayor of Salem Papers documents Rantoul's life during his term as Salem's Mayor from 1890-1893. The series contains a large amount of correspondence dealing with Rantoul's professional duties as Mayor, and a folder of politically-themed speeches and writings that he delivered while in the Mayor's office or in the years of his political activity leading up to his election. Included in these speeches are Mayor's Addresses, which document the issues of the day such as water supply, expansion of railways and roads, employment, and crime.

Series III. Essex Institute Papers contains records pertaining to Rantoul's personal and professional affiliation with the Essex Institute, from his early days as a member and researcher through his years as President and later as nominal head of the organization. The series contains a wealth of correspondence addressed both to and from Rantoul as he addressed research requests, sought information or materials from others, and liaised with libraries and historical societies. Additionally, the series documents a number of the pamphlets and essays that Rantoul published as a result of his association with the Essex Institute, including notable works on the Woodbury family genealogy and the first cotton mill in the United States. Supplementing these is a folder of reports and speeches that Rantoul gave on various historical and current topics based on his research at the Institute, some of which were later reproduced in local newspapers or sent to other historians. Finally, this series contains a folder of transcriptions copied either by or for Rantoul from Essex Institute materials and other related historical records for the purposes of research. These handwritten or typed copies clearly address a number of different research interest and projects, but are all undated and detached from their original context.

Biographical Sketch

Robert S. Rantoul was born in Beverly, MA on June 2, 1832 to Robert Rantoul, Jr. and Jane Elizabeth (Woodbury) Rantoul. He was well educated from a young age and in 1853 received a bachelor's degree from Harvard, which he followed up with a law degree in 1856. After being admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, he practiced law under Charles G. Loring. In 1858 he represented the town of Beverly in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. On May 13th of that same year he married Harriet C. Neal, with whom he would eventually have nine children. In 1865 he was appointed by President Lincoln to be the Collector of the Port of Salem; he held this position until 1869. In the 1880s he again became active in politics, serving as Salem's representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1884-1885, and serving on Salem's Board of Alderman in 1880 and 1888. Rantoul had unsuccessfully run for Mayor of Salem in the past, but his political positions allowed him to mount a successful campaign to get elected in 1890. He served as Mayor of Salem from 1890-1893, during which time he wrote and spoke frequently on issues of local importance including expansion of trains and roads, management of water and waterways, and fire and crime prevention, among others. Rantoul's political associations mutated over the course of his life; in his first turn as a Massachusetts State Representative he was a Democrat; by the time he served for Salem in 1884, his allegiance had moved to the Republican Party. After leaving the Mayor's office, Rantoul was selected to be a presidential elector on the Palmer and Buckner ticket in 1896.

After 1896 Rantoul's focus began to turn from the political to the historical, which corresponded to his professional association with the Essex Institute. He served as Vice-President and eventually as President until 1904. During his time at the Institute, Rantoul was responsible for maintaining professional relationships with other historical societies and organizations, including the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as assisting with research inquiries and acquiring new materials. In addition, Rantoul used his time at the Institute to further his own scholarly pursuits, such as publishing pamphlets and articles on the Woodbury family genealogy, the history of Salem and of its ports, the first cotton mill in the United States, and other varied topics. Although Rantoul officially resigned as President of the Institute in 1904, he continued to work with and for the Institute for several more years. He died on May 1st, 1922 at his home in Beverly Farms, at the age of 90.

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.

Bennet, Josiah K.
Boutwell, George S. (George Sewall), 1818-1905
Choate, Joseph H.
Davis, S. M. F.
Derby, Ezekiel H. (Ezekiel Hersey), 1772-1852
Loring, Charles G. (Charles Greely), 1794-1867
Neal, D. A. (David Augustus), 1793-1861
Neal, Daniel A.
Peabody, George, 1795-1869
Putnam, A. P.
Rantoul Family
Rantoul, Robert S. (Robert Samuel), 1832-1922
Tillinghost, G. B.
Tuttle, Julius H.
Vinton, Frederic P.
Winsor, Justin
Essex Institute
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Salem (Mass.)
Salem (Mass.)--City government


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Request 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

Robert S. Rantoul Papers, MSS 448, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was found in the collection. Correspondence addressed to Robert S. Rantoul from MSS 449 and MSS 450, along with all material from MH 0.441 was moved to this collection. Hand drawings, correspondence and newspaper clippings pertaining to the Sun Tavern were acquired (acc #90040) and added to Box 1, new Folder 10.

Processing Information

Collection processed and cataloged by Jaimie Fritz, December 2011. Updated by Halley Grogan, February 2012 and Tatiyana Bastet July, 2019.

Related Material

McAllister, Jim. "Three Generations of Rantouls Had Prominent Role in Legal, Political Community, Salem, MA.", Salem, MA. 10 July 2006. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.

"One of a Thousand: a Series of Biographical Sketches of One Thousand Representative Men Resident in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, A.D. 1888-'89, Volume 3." Google Books. Ed. John Clark Rand. 02 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. Page 501 - Robert S. Rantoul entry.

Thayer, William Roscoe. "The Harvard Graduates' Magazine - Volume 30." Google Books. 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. Page 548 - Robert S. Rantoul obituary.

"Who's Who in New England: a Biographical Dictionary of Living Leading Men." Google Books. Ed. Albert Nelson Marquis. 04 June 2007. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. Page 889 - Robert S. Rantoul entry.

Harriet C. Rantoul Papers, 1800-1960, MSS 449

Rantoul Family Papers, 1800-1950, MSS 450

William G. Rantoul Papers, 1889-1940, ARCH 1

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