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Graves Family Shipping Papers

Identifier: MSN/EA 0506

Scope and Contents

The collection consists primarily of business letters and records retained by William Graves, Jr., in the course of managing his shipping interests after his retirement from the sea (1847). There are some 330 letters, 1850 to 1875, mostly directed to Graves (accompanied by a few retained copies of letters written by him). Much of this correspondence relates to the affairs of the ships George West, Castilian, and Josiah L. Hale. Many were written by the masters of these ships, who functioned as the owners' agent or proxy abroad. Among the most recurrent of these correspondents are Alexander Graves, Edward Graves, Edmund Pike, Samuel Pike, Robert Couch, Nehemiah Proctor, and James W. Snow. Because many of these men were Graves's relations there is often some personal content, but the letters were prompted by ship's business. There are also letters from bankers (including Barring Brothers, Graves's banker in London), ship brokers and commission merchants, and agents for other kinds of concerns. Also in the collection are a substantial number of records of the above-named ships. These include more than 460 items for George West (1855-1864); more than 880 for Castilian (1853-1866); and more than 670 for Josiah L. Hale (1857-1874). Record types include, but are not limited to, freight lists and accounts, receipts, disbursements, vouchers, customs papers, and insurance policies and charters, bearing on everything from the ship's itinerary and cargo to its outfitting, repairs, and crew. These are essentially business and financial records; strictly nautical records (like logs) are generally lacking. The collection also includes a small number of papers of William Graves, Sr. (around 70 items, 1812-1841).


  • Creation: 1812-1877
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1850-1875


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

William Graves, Sr., was born at Salisbury, Massachusetts on 23 August 1785, the son of Mark and Abigail Green Graves. He must have worked aboard ship from an early age, for at 18 he was already master of the Salem brig Henry (William Ward, owner). From 1810 to 1817 he was captain of the Newburyport brig Abigail, making regular commercial voyages between Virginia and Europe. In 1809 Graves married Mary Pike of Salisbury; a son, William, Jr., was born on 21 March 1811. Mary Graves died in 1817; William subsequently married her sister, Susannah Pike, with whom he had two more sons: Alexander (1823-1869) and Edward (1831-1873). All three sons—William, Jr. and his two half-brothers—would become successful ship masters (and, like their father, members of the Newburyport Marine Society). From the 1820s into the 1840s Graves continued at sea, ultimately commanding at least 18 vessels; in several cases he is listed as part-owner. Among his ships mentioned in the present papers are Plutarch (1824-25) and Calumet (1826-1829), both of Newburyport. In the mid-1820s Graves moved his family from Salisbury to Newburyport; around this time, also, William Graves, Jr. would have begun making voyages on his father's ships, training for a career as a master mariner.

In 1834 the Salem merchants David Pingree and Emery Johnson entrusted the younger William Graves with the command of their bark Cynthia, bound for Canton, China. Graves made three voyages to China in Cynthia (1834-37) and six more as master of Pingree and Johnson's new and larger (595 tons) ship Thomas Perkins (1837-47). After more than a decade of near-continuous sailing in the China trade Graves found himself financially secure, and retired from the sea at age 37. He built a house at 56 High St., Newburyport, and married his 24-year-old cousin Mary Pike (1848). In 1849 he set up offices at 8 Ferry Wharf and with his business partner Micajah Lunt began buying substantial interests in sailing ships of the 1000-ton class, built in the shipyard of John Currier, Jr. of Newburyport. Among these vessels were Castilian (built 1849); Volant (1853); Gleaner (1854); George West (1855); Josiah L. Hale (1857); Kenmore (1861); Winona (1862); and Tennyson (1865). These ships engaged in commerce world-wide, contracting with merchants in foreign and domestic ports to carry every manner of cargo. For example, two contracts (or charter-parties) of 8 September 1862 stipulate that George West, then at Amsterdam, sail to Sunderland, England to take on a load of coal bound for Madras, in India; from Madras she was to proceed to Burma for a full cargo of rice, and return with that cargo to a port in northwest Europe. Graves and his fellow owners were to be paid £25 per keel (21.2 long tons) of coal delivered, and £4 per long ton for the rice. Charters between merchants and shipowners were typically arranged by a ship broker (in this case George Croshaw & Co. of London). Sometimes Graves contracted to carry passengers. In addition to the Newburyport ships indicated above, Graves bought shares in several Salem vessels, including the barks Arthur Pickering and Dragon. On occasion his ships were commanded by his brothers, Alexander and Edward, or by his brother-in-law Edmund J. Pike. Apart from managing his shipping business, Graves took an active role in civic affairs in Newburyport, serving as alderman and mayor. He was also president of the Newburyport Marine Society, president of Bartlett Steam Mills, and a director of the Merchants' National Bank. Graves was twice married, to Caroline Wells (d. 1838) and Mary Pike. He died on 1 September 1877 at the age of 66.

Three vessels co-owned by William Graves, Jr. figure prominently in the papers. The ship George West (1122 tons) was built by Currier in 1855. Graves was managing owner; also holding interests were Benjamin A. West of Salem, Robert Couch, Philip H. Blumpy, Joshua Hale, and John Currier, Jr. The ship's masters were Robert Couch (1855-60); George Lunt (1861-62); and Joseph W. Snow, Jr. (1862-64). George West was operated by Graves and his partners from 1855 to 1864, when she was sold at Liverpool to British interests. Prior to the Civil War she was much engaged in the Atlantic cotton trade. A second ship whose papers are well represented is Castilian (999 tons), built by Currier in 1849 and launched in early 1850; Micajah Lunt was the ship's first managing owner (1850-1857), followed by William Graves, Jr. (1857-1867). Her first master was Alexander Graves (1850-1860), who was succeeded by Nehemiah Proctor (1860-1863) and Edmund J. Pike (from 1863). Castilian was periodically engaged in the Peruvian guano trade, and made a number of voyages to ports in South and East Asia. In 1860 she carried 400 Africans from the seized slave ship Wildfire to Liberia on the west coast of Africa, under the aegis of the American Colonization Society. In 1857, Graves and his partners took receipt of the newly built Josiah L. Hale (1094 tons); masters were Jeremiah Lunt, Edward Graves (William's younger half-brother), Edmund Pike, and Samuel Pike. During some sixteen years of operation under Graves and his fellow owners, Hale travelled the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, destined for ports in North and South America, northwest Europe, India, Burma, China, and Australia. The damaged ship was sold in 1873, to Norwegian interests.


2.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into six series, as follows: I. William Graves, Papers; II. William Graves, Jr., Correspondence; III. Ship George West, Records; IV. Ship Castilian, Records; V. Ship Josiah L. Hale, Records; VI. Unidentified Ships, Records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Graves Family Shipping Papers were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2011, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 112, Item 21).

Related Materials

Additional shipping records of William Graves, Jr. (the William Graves, Jr. Papers) are located in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. A letter book of William Graves, Jr. (William Graves Letter Book), with correspondence dating from 1846 to 1860, is held in the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Graves Family Shipping Papers
Sara Szakaly and George Rugg
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556