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Northey Family Papers, 1688-1901, 1964, undated

Identifier: MSS 78

Scope and Content Note

The Northey Family papers illustrate the activities of one of Salem's prominent Quaker families during the later 18th and 19th centuries. The collection contains personal and business papers of goldsmith and selectman William Northey (1735-1804), merchants Abijah (1774-1853) and Ezra Northey (1779-1855), maritime insurance agent William Northey (1829-1900), and personal papers of Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866) and her daughter Rebecca Maria (Northey) Buffum (1825- ). Also included are the papers of other family members and relatives. The collection has been divided into nine series.

Series I. William Northey (1735-1804) Papers contains business and personal papers. The business papers include legal and financial papers relating to his goldsmithing business, shipping papers reflecting his consignment of goods to the West Indies, receipts and notices relating to his role as Treasurer and clerk of Salem's Great Pasture, and regulation and requests made as Salem selectman. William's personal papers include letters from the Collins family, in particular from his brother-in-law Stephen Collins describing his merchant business in Philadelphia. Also found here is a letter from I. Churchill (1794) asking William's advice concerning the impressment of his son onto a British vessel. William's legal papers include deeds for his father's land, his will, and estate inventory.

Series II. Abijah Northey (1774-1853) Papers includes shipping, business, and personal papers. The shipping papers, comprised of correspondence, contain few documents relating to the trading activities of Abijah's vessels. Of note are Abijah's letters (1805) to a British aide-de-camp appealing for safe passage to St. Helena for the ship Argo, of which Abijah was master. Abijah's business papers include his deed for a Salem distillery (1819) and two account books (1796-1803; 1816-1823) for china, pottery, and glass bought at auction or shipped from Britain.

Series III. Ezra Northey (1779-1855) Papers is mostly comprised of personal papers and includes a few folders which reflect his shipping and business career. The business and shipping papers include papers for three of his vessels, the Saucy Jack, Anson, and Criterion, financial materials relating to his partnership with Archelaus Rea, and financial and legal papers regarding his administration of the assets of shipping merchants John Dutch and Thorndike Deland. Of interest in Ezra's personal correspondence are several letters written to his wife Cynthia during their courtship (1820-1821) and an account (1826) of the apostate minister Anna Brathwait's activities in New York. Ezra's legal papers include his will (1844), his Quaker marriage certificate, and land deeds to the Eastern Railroad Company.

Series IV. Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866) Papers consists almost entirely of correspondence. Cynthia's letters convey news of the New England Quaker community and include descriptions of Society unrest caused by the Hicksite separatists. She also records the visits of various preachers, such as Joseph John Gurney (1838) and Charles F. Coffin (1844).

Series V. Rebecca Maria (Northey) Buffum (1825- ) Papers mostly contains correspondence. Rebecca's letters are primarily undated and in fragmentary form. Writing chiefly to her mother and brother William, she describes the activities of friends and family, her hiking trips, and the many religious and abolitionist lectures which she attended. Such lectures included those of her friends William Lloyd Garrison and Samuel Johnson. She also speaks of meeting the president of the Underground Railroad in 1860.

Much of the correspondence to Rebecca consists of letters from the Bridges, Chase, and Whitney sisters. The letters of these intelligent and articulate women note the lectures and sermons which they attended, lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederic Frothingham, Thomas W. Higginson, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Longfellow, Theodore Parker, and Wendell Phillips. In addition, the correspondence of Eliza, Elizabeth, and Fidelia Bridges describes their attempts to open a school, first in Salem and then in Brooklyn, New York (circa 1854). Anne and Sarah Whitney's letters include discussions of Quaker ideology and the abolitionist movement. Anne also recounts an 1856 meeting with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell who was then raising funds for a women's hospital and medical school. Additional correspondence includes letters from Rebecca's cousin Martha Boody, who relates scenes from the teaching experiences in Boston (1844) and short notes from James Mott and William Lloyd Garrison (1856).

Series VI. William Northey (1829-1900) Papers includes business, shipping, and personal papers. The business and shipping copybooks which William kept as secretary of the Salem Marine Insurance Company include correspondence and bills of lading regarding the insurance of vessels, cargo, and storehouses. These copybooks also include correspondence relating to William's personal shipping interests and family stocks.

Of interest in William's personal papers is correspondence with his family and Salem friend Richard Wheatland while William was a student at the Friends Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island (1843).

Series VII. Miscellaneous Northey Family Papers is comprised of the papers of William Northey's father David (died circa 1788), wife Rebekah (1740-1826), brother Abijah (1741-1816), son William Jr. (1767-1788), and other miscellaneous family members. David Northey's papers contain financial and legal papers relating to his goldsmithing and shipping businesses, including bills of sale for the sloop Two Friends (1737) and the schooner Traveller (1759). Rebekah Northey's papers include religious and personal correspondence from Mary Adams Spofford of Boxford (1814-1816) and Rebekah's Collins and Shove relatives. The papers of goldsmith Abijah Northey consist primarily of personal correspondence with family and friends. Miscellaneous papers contain printed material, financial and legal documents of John Sr., John Jr., Nehemiah, Israel, Herbert, and Annie Northey, including a 1759 assessment list of Quakers in Salem and many undated maps.

Series VIII. Relatives' Papers contains papers of: William Northey's in-laws, the Collins family; Cynthia (Winslow) Northey's family, the Winslows; and Margaret (Anthony) Northey's family and relatives, the Anthonys, Ashburners, Grieves, and Hollands. These families are arranged alphabetically within the series. The Anthony papers include correspondence relating to Edward's merchant and fire insurance business, early letters from Margaret (Anthony) Northey, and typescripts of correspondence relating to a painting of the Anthony children. The Collins papers include shipping correspondence of Quakers Stephen and Zaccheus Collins. Additional Collins papers may be found in the personal correspondence of William (1735-1804) and Ezra Northey. The Grieve papers include correspondence from their relatives Abiel Folger, Lucretia and Samuel Starbuck of Milford, England, describing the business of that port and the depression caused by Napoleon's exploits. David Grieve's guardianship papers may be found in Edward Anthony's papers. The Winslow papers contain correspondence describing Jeremiah's shipping business in France, Quaker precepts, and contemporary news of the Society.

Series IX. Miscellaneous Papers includes correspondence of the Chase, Hastings, Starbuck, and Swain families. Included is a copy of an 1827 letter from Samuel Starbuck to the New Times (London) concerning a method to ameliorate and extinguish slavery, and an 1831 letter/story from a young girl about black people. Financial papers include miscellaneous shipping papers (1798-1815). Printed material includes an 1866 report of the Female Anti-Slavery Society and an 1856 circular for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell's School of Medicine.


  • Creation: 1688-1901, 1964, undated


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketches

William Northey (1735-1804) was the son of David and Miriam Northey of Salem, Massachusetts. In addition to operating a prosperous goldsmithing business and being an active member of the Quaker Society, William held several civic positions: by 1774 he was a member of the Salem town committee; from 1786 to 1799, clerk, treasurer, and moderator of Salem's Great Pasture; and by 1789, chairman of Salem's selectmen. William also engaged in maritime trade with the West Indies in conjunction with his brother, Nehemiah in approximately 1759. William and his wife Rebekah (Collins) Northey (1740-1826) had two sons, William Jr. (1767-1788) and Ezra (1779-1855).

Abijah Northey (1774-1853), a son of Abijah (1741-1816) and Abigail (Wood) Northey (1745-1814), was a prosperous Salem merchant and shipmaster. He was partial owner of seven vessels, three of which he owned with his cousin Ezra Northey. Among other commodities, he dealt in British china and glass. Abijah also owned a distillery, ran a farm in Boxford, Massachusetts, and was president of the Essex Marine Insurance Company.

Ezra Northey (1779-1855), son of William (1735-1804) and Rebekah (Collins) Northey (1740-1826), was a Salem merchant especially active between 1810 and 1825. He owned six vessels in partnership with his cousin Abijah Northey (1774-1853), Archelaus Rea, and others. He and his wife Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866) had two children, Rebecca Maria (1825- ) and William M. (1829-1900).

Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866) was the daughter of John (1751-1829) and Lydia (Hacker) Winslow (1756-1839) of Westbrook, Maine. An intelligent and well-educated woman, she was a school mistress in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and Salem before her marriage to Ezra Northey in 1821. As a fervent Quaker, she took an avid interest, not only in the Society of Friends, but in political and social reform movements such as abolition.

Rebecca Maria (Northey) Buffum (1825- ) was the daughter of Ezra (1779-1855) and Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866). She was a well-educated woman who maintained a firm interest in the abolitionist movement. Among her friends were William Lloyd Garrison, Samuel Johnson, James and Lucretia Mott, artist Fidelia Bridges, and sculptress Anne Whitney. She married John Henry Buffum (1821-1878) in 1863; they had no children.

William M. Northey (1829-1900) was the son of Ezra (1779-1855) and Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866). He received his early schooling at the Friends Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island (now Moses Brown School). On returning to Salem, he engaged in maritime trade, became partial owner of three vessels, and worked at the Salem Marine Insurance Company. William also invested in railroad stocks for himself and his family and by 1871 was sufficiently affluent to fund the erection of a building on the corner of Washington and Essex Streets. William and his wife Margaret (Anthony) Northey (1833- ) had four sons. Their grandchild John Tucker Northey was the donor of this collection to the Essex Institute.

See Appendices I and II for Northey and Anthony Family Trees.


6.75 linear feet (13 boxes; 1 volume)

Language of Materials



The Northey Family papers illustrate the activities of one of Salem's prominent Quaker families during the later 18th and 19th centuries.

Series List

SERIES I. William Northey (1735-1804) Papers

SERIES II. Abijah Northey (1774-1853) Papers

SERIES III. Ezra Northey (1779-1855) Papers

  • A. Shipping and Business Papers
  • B. Personal Papers
SERIES IV. Cynthia (Winslow) Northey (1790-1866) Papers

SERIES V. Rebecca Maria (Northey) Buffum (1825- ) Papers

SERIES VI. William Northey (1829-1900) Papers
  • A. Business and Shipping Papers
  • B. Personal Papers
SERIES VII. Miscellaneous Northey Family Papers

SERIES VIII. Relatives' Papers
  • A. Anthony Papers
  • B. Adam and Mary Folger Grieve Ashburner Papers
  • C. Collins Family Papers
  • D. David and Margaret Grieve Papers
  • E. Nathaniel and Martha Hastings Holland Papers
  • F. Winslow Family Papers
SERIES IX. Miscellaneous Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


The Northey family papers are a reorganization and integration of 13 boxes, 4 account books, 2 journals, and a few miscellaneous letters. The bulk of the collection was donated by John Tucker Northey of Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1963. Abijah Northey's (1774-1853) Boxford farm journals and his account book for the estate of William S. Marland were purchased in 1970. Removed from the collection are 21 issues of the Essex Gazette (1774-1775), a memorandum relating to the estate of Col. John Hathorne (undated), and an 1829 letter from Joseph Balch to Leverett Saltonstall. All items removed from the collection are marked with their original location.

Bibliography and Related Collections

Perley, Eleanor S. [Descendants of William Northey], CS71.N678

Salem Marine Insurance Company Records, 1856-1897, MSS 137

Argo (Ship) Logbook and Journal, 1806-1807, Log 1291

Gentoo (Ship) Shipping Journal and Logbook Abstract, 1816-1817, Log 119

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia Kennick, October 1982. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, June 2015.


NORTHEY FAMILY PAPERS, 1688-1901, 1964, undated
Processed by: Sylvia Kennick; Updated by: Tamara Gaydos; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description
Processing and conservation for this collection were funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA