Skip to main content

Curwen Family Papers, 1641-1902

Identifier: MSS 45

Scope and Content Note

The Curwen Family Papers contains the shipping, business, political, legal, and personal papers of Captain George Curwen (1610-1684/5), his son Johnathan Curwen (1640-1718), grandson Reverend George Curwen (1683-1717), and great-grandsons Samuel (1715-1802), and George (1717-1746) Curwen. Also included are the papers of Curwen relatives: the Wards, Sparhawks, Ropes, Carletons, and Barrs. The collection has been divided into six series.

Series I. Captain George Curwen (1610-1684/5) Papers contains his shipping papers, correspondence, legal papers, and his immediate family papers from 1641 to 1729. Subseries A. Shipping and Business Papers, from 1641 to 1685, include accounts and receipts for ships that George either owned, or on which he shipped cargo. In addition to the ships' and shipping accounts in the account books (Volumes 1-7), there are also accounts for his fishing voyages and his warehouses from 1652 to 1684. The correspondence and legal papers incorporate the business and legal correspondence, land grants from Salem, and George's personal accounts. Volumes 4, 5, and 7 have been reproduced on microfilm, roll #120-1. Subseries B. Estate Papers includes inventories of his estate, funeral expenses and accounts, correspondence, and receipts relating to the settlement of his estate by his son, Johnathan. Subseries C. Immediate Family Papers contains letters from his second wife, Elizabeth, letters to Elizabeth from family and friends, and legal accounts of George's in-laws, the Winslows, Sergeants, and Gibbses.

Series II. Jonathan Curwen (1640-1718) Papers contains his shipping business, legal, and family papers. Subseries A. Business Papers include shipping correspondence and accounts of cargo that Jonathan consigned to other vessels. Ships' papers, which are filed alphabetically, contain accounts and receipts for cargo consigned to other merchant vessels. Subseries B. Court, Legal and Estate Papers is comprised of a variety of papers. The bulk of Jonathan's legal papers contains correspondence and accounts that were generated from Jonathan's ownership, and legal battle over the Cape Porpoise River Falls Mill in Wells, Maine. Filed with the legal papers are court papers, reflecting Jonathan's years as a judge in Salem. The majority of these court papers are depositions from Salem residents. Of note are the January 17, 1692 letter from Samuel Parris concerning some of his parishioners' loss of estate, and the 1701 will of John Gedney, which was witnessed by Jonathan. The estate papers contain several inventories of his estate and accounts regarding the settlement by his son-in-law, James Lindall. Johnathan's miscellaneous legal papers include deeds, his wife, Elizabeth's, will, and a distant in-law, Richard Russell's, 1674 will.

Subseries C. Family Papers incorporate the John Curwen estate papers, Margaret Thatcher estate papers, Jonathan's immediate family papers, and his in-laws' papers. The John Curwen and Margaret Thatcher estate papers contain accounts and receipts for the settlement of the estate of Jonathan's brother, John, and correspondence, funeral expenses, and accounts for Jonathan's mother-in-law, Margaret Thatcher. The bulk of the family papers includes domestic accounts for Jonathan's family. Jonathan's in-law papers contain correspondence from in-laws Sergeants and Gibbs, and letters, accounts, and receipts for Jonathan's brother-in-law, William Browne and his family.

Series III. Reverend George Curwen (1683-1717) Papers has been subdivided into three subseries. Subseries A. Papers and Accounts includes letters from George to his parents and fiancé, Mehitable Parkman, while at Harvard, letters from his relatives, Henry and Robert Gibbs, and letters from George refusing the position of minister for the town of Reading (1710). It also includes a 1713/4 acceptance of the minister's position at the First Church in Salem, 1717 minister's rates, his estate papers, and poetic eulogies on the death of his sister Anna, his niece Sally Curwen, and several of his parishioners. Subseries B. Sermons includes the sermons he preached while at Harvard, and as a guest preacher at various churches. The unarranged sermons contain miscellaneous unidentified sermons.

Subseries C. Family Papers include his in-laws' papers. The Lindall and Parkman papers include correspondence and legal papers of George's brother-in-law, James Lindall, and father-in-law, Captain Deliverance Parkman.

Series IV. Samuel and George Curwen contains the papers of Samuel (1715-1802), and his brother George (1717-1746) Curwen, the sons of Reverend George Curwen (1683-1717). Subseries A. Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) Papers has been divided into four sub-subseries. Sub-subseries 1. Personal Journals, which cover 1775 to 1793, provide an almost daily account of his life in Salem, Philadelphia, and England. Noteworthy are the descriptions of the political scene in England during and after the American Revolution. Sub-subseries 2. Personal Correspondence and Letter Books contains letters from friends, family, and in-laws, the Russells and Lyndes. Of note is the July 16, 1738 letter to his brother, George, describing his grief over the death of a woman he loved. The personal letter books contain Samuel's copies of letters to his wife, family, and friends, from the beginning of the Revolution until his death in 1802. Like the personal journals, the letter books document Samuel's flight to England, his years abroad, political philosophy, and personal turmoil. Both the personal journals and personal letter books include notations from George Rea Curwen of important entries, such as an evening with George Washington (see box 3, Journal 3, May 9, 1775 entry). Also included in Samuel's personal papers are a 1760-1761 memorandum book for the building of his house and personal expense books (1760 to 1775).

Sub-subseries 3. Business Papers contains shipping papers, receipts, and accounts. The invoices and bills of lading from consigning merchandise to other vessels are filed chronologically. Also filed here are documents resulting from his years as Commissioner and Receiver of Impost in Salem. The letter books, which cover 1754 to 1775, record business letters for his shipping business, official correspondence written while Commissioner of Impost, and letters concerning domestic affairs. Noteworthy is Samuel's Light and Impost Account Book, 1752 to 1774, which records names of ships entering Salem Harbor, port of origin, type of cargo, and impost paid.

Sub-subseries 4. Political, Civic, and Legal Papers includes the 1756-1773 Book of Oaths from his years as Justice of the Peace; the 1744 rules for the Fire Club; lists of inoculations in Salem in 1752 and 1764; a list of houses built in Salem between 1750 and 1762; a 1773 list of lightning rod locations in Salem; letters from Salem residents describing events before the Revolution; an updated list of vessels and owners; and an undated list of people and their occupations. The legal papers contain commissions for Deputy Judge of the Admiralty Court and Commissioner of Impost and Tonnage (1750), a 1756 appointment of Samuel as a Justice of the Peace, as well as legal agreements and indentures.

Subseries B. George Curwen (1717-1746) Papers include correspondence with his fiancé, and later wife, Sally (Pickman) Curwen; deeds with his brother Samuel; and military papers for the 1745 expedition to Canada where he died. Also filed here are letters from George and Sally's son, George (1739-1768), to his mother.

Series V. Curwen Relatives' Papers contains papers from members of the Curwen family and other branches of the family. The papers have been arranged chronologically according to generations. The papers were maintained by the Curwen family and reflect their genealogical awareness and necessity for maintaining all family records. Subseries A. Curwen Family Papers contains material from 1664 to 1764, and includes papers of little known or less documented Curwen family members, such as Captain George Curwen (1666-1696), a sheriff of Essex County. His account book, Volume 17, is a copy of the volume in possession of the American Antiquarian Society. Subseries B. Ward Family Papers incorporate the business papers of Richard and Miles Ward, the ships' and shipping papers of Richard, the personal correspondence of Abigail Ward, the personal and genealogical correspondence of George Atkinson Ward, and the undated will of Joshua Ward.

Subseries C. Barr and Carleton Family Papers contain mostly shipping and business papers of Samuel Curwen Ward's in-laws. The ships' papers of Barr include mostly legal documents from foreign ports, while the Carleton papers contain personal correspondence as well as shipping records.

Subseries D. George Rea Curwen Papers include not only personal and genealogical correspondence, but also genealogical charts, coats of arms of the Curwens, and notes of family history collected and researched by many Curwens.

Series VI. Other Papers contains maps of various houses and land in Salem, miscellaneous non-Curwen shipping papers, correspondence, legal papers, accounts, and receipts.


  • Creation: 1641-1902


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Box 9 contains covers from volumes and is restricted due to fragility.

Biographical Sketches

Captain George Curwen was born in 1610 in Sibbertoft, England, the son of John Curwen. He immigrated to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1638 from Cumberland County, England, with his first wife, Elizabeth (Herbert) White Curwen, and their two children. They had two more children in Salem. After Elizabeth's death in 1668, George married Elizabeth (Winslow) Brooks, with whom he had three children.

Upon George's arrival in Salem, he began building ships. Later he entered the mercantile business and quickly prospered, laying the foundation for much of Salem's mercantile business. He traded with the West Indies, England, and other foreign ports, in addition to owning several fishing vessels. At the time of his death in 1684/5, he owned five dwelling houses, four warehouses, and two wharfs in Salem, a warehouse in Boston, three farms, and four ships.

Captain George was chosen as a Salem selectman and a deputy in the General Court between 1659 and the 1680s. He was also appointed a captain in the colonial militia and commanded a troop in the Indian wars. George died leaving one of the largest estates in the colonies; he had four surviving children.

Johnathan Curwen was born in 1640 in Salem, the second son of George and his wife, Elizabeth (Herbert) White Curwen. Johnathan married Elizabeth (Sheafe) Gibbs, and they had ten children, none of whom survived them.

Johnathan entered the mercantile business in Salem but quickly gained prominence as an important political figure. He was chosen as a deputy for the General Court from 1684 until 1689 and was a delegate to the convention of the Committee of Safety after the overthrow of Sir Edmund Andros' government in 1689. He was also a councilor to the General Court from 1689 until 1714; was appointed a Justice of the Inferior Court of Pleas from the 1690s to 1708; was a judge of probate from 1698 until 1702; and a judge in the Superior Judicial Court in 1708, in addition to serving in many other offices. Johnathan's name became infamous when he was a judge in the 1692 Court of Oyer and Terminer, which was formed for the famous "witch trials".

He does not appear to have owned any ships; however, he did consign merchandise to other merchants' vessels. He also owned lumber mills in Wells, Maine. Johnathan died in 1718, followed soon after by his wife. His estate was administered by his son-in-law, James Lindall.

Reverend George Curwen was born in 1683 in Salem, one of the sons of Jonathan and Elizabeth (Sheafe) Gibbs Curwen. He attended Harvard College, taking his first degree in 1701. He remained at Harvard for nine years to obtain his second degree. During this period, he was also a guest preacher at various churches, primarily in the Salem Village parsonage. George delayed the completion of his second degree when he was unable to obtain a minister's position due to unforeseen circumstances.

Upon completing his second degree at Harvard, he married Mehitable Parkman, the daughter of Captain Deliverance Parkman. The Reverend Nicholas Noyes accepted George as an assistant at the First Church in Salem and George was ordained in 1714. George died in 1717, followed soon after by his wife, and his associate Reverend Noyes. Reverend Samuel Fiske was appointed their successor.

Samuel Curwen was born in 1715 in Salem, the first son of Reverend George and Mehitable (Parkman) Curwen. Orphaned as a young boy when his parents died in 1717/18, Samuel's inheritance was protected by his cousin, Colonel Samuel Browne. Samuel completed his first degree at Harvard College in 1735 and began to study for the ministry. After a two-year leave, from 1736 to 1738, to enter trade, he returned to complete his Master of Art.

Evidence indicated that Samuel sank into a deep depression between 1738 and 1740 due to the death of a woman he loved. He sailed for London and Bilbao in 1738 and upon his return to Salem, again entered trade. He bought his brother George's share in the ship Tavern, which is the only ship that Samuel ever owned. He owned the Tavern until 1745. While Samuel was not primarily a ship owner, he was active in consigning merchandise to other merchants' vessels.

Samuel accepted a captaincy in the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment and, in 1745 he joined the expedition to Louisburg, Canada. While in Louisburg, he was in charge of the prisoners. When he was wounded at the end of 1745, Samuel returned to Salem to recover.

In 1750, Samuel married Abigail Russell, the daughter of the prominent Salem residents, Daniel and Rebecca (Chambers) Russell. By 1760 they had begun work on their new house, which became a social center for the elite families of Salem. Aware of the possible extinction of the Curwen name, Samuel began genealogical research of the Curwen family.

In 1750, Samuel was appointed as the Commissioner of Impost and Tonnage for Essex County, and in 1756, he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace. An organizer of the Social and Philosophical Libraries, Samuel became much more vocal and active in civic and political affairs in Salem. After he refused to protest the British attack at Lexington and Concord in 1775, he was threatened with physical violence. Samuel fled first to Philadelphia, and finding no refuge there, sailed for England at the end of 1775. During his ten years in England, he became a sympathizer of the American cause and longed to return home. Upon his return in 1784, he found that most of his estate had been squandered by his nephew, Russell Wyer. Depressed by his change of fortune and his wife's unstable behavior, Samuel again sailed for England in 1787. He returned to Salem after his wife's death in 1794.

Destitute upon his return to Salem, Samuel lived his remaining years with his nephew Richard Ward, grandnephew Samuel Curwen Ward, and Mr. E. Pope. The remainder of his estate was bequeathed to his great-grandnephew, Samuel Curwen Ward, upon Samuel's request that his nephew's name be changed to Samuel Curwen.

George Curwen was born in 1717, the son of Reverend George and Mehitable (Parkman) Curwen. He was orphaned as a young boy when his parents died in 1717/18. He married Sarah Pickman in 1738. George died in 1746.

The early Curwen name was spelled "Corwin" by Captain George (1610-1684/5), Jonathan (1640-1718), and Reverend George (1683-1717). The "Corwin" to Curwin name change occurred when Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) began his genealogical research, and discovered the proper spelling and pronunciation of the family name.


10 linear feet (9 boxes; 17 volumes)

Language of Materials



The Curwen Family Papers contains the shipping, business, political, legal, and personal papers of Captain George Curwen (1610-1684/5), his son Johnathan Curwen (1640-1718), grandson Reverend George Curwen (1683-1717), and great-grandsons Samuel (1715-1802), and George (1717-1746) Curwen.

Series List

SERIES I. Captain George Curwen (1610-1684/5) Papers

  • A. Shipping and Business Papers
  • B. Estate Papers
  • C. Immediate Family Papers
SERIES II. Jonathan Curwen (1640-1718) Papers

  • A. Business Papers
  • B. Court, Legal, and Estate Papers
  • C. Family Papers
SERIES III. Reverend George Curwen (1683-1717) Papers

  • A. Papers and Accounts
  • B. Sermons
  • C. Family Papers
SERIES IV. Samuel and George Curwen

  • A. Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) Papers
    • 1. Personal Journals
    • 2. Personal Correspondence and Letter Books
    • 3. Business
    • 4. Political, Civic, and Legal Papers
  • B. George Curwen (1717-1746) Papers
SERIES V. Curwen Relatives' Papers

  • A. Curwen Family Papers
  • B. Ward Family Papers
  • C. Barr and Carleton Family Papers
  • D. George Rea Curwen Papers
SERIES VI. Other Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This material is a reorganization and integration of four scrapbook volumes, forty-six journal, letter book, and account book volumes, and many miscellaneous items. The bulk of the manuscripts, in addition to Volumes 5, 7, 11, 12, 14 and 15, came to the Essex Institute in 1916 from the American Antiquarian Society. Volume 10, a daybook, was donated by George Rea Curwen in 1887. The 1666 and 1737 religious meditation books were an 1890 gift from George Rea Curwen. The Samuel Curwen personal journals, 1 to 13, and personal letter books, A-G, were a 1900 gift from the estate of George Rea Curwen. Volume 16 and part of Volume 14 were a 1914 purchase; Volume 6 was purchased in 1919. The April 28, 1717 Reverend George Curwen sermon was a 1960 gift from Russell A. Sibley. The George Atkinson Ward personal and genealogical correspondence came from the Ward Family Papers, MSS 46.



Corwin, Edward Tanjore. The Corwin Genealogy (Curwin, Curwen, Corwine) in the United States. NY: S. W. Green, Printer, 1872.

Curwen, George Rea. "Notice of the Curwen House and of its Occupants." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 2 (1860): 228-230.

Curwen, John F. A History of the Ancient House of Curwen : of Workington in Cumberland and its Various Branches, Being a Collection of Extracts from the Monastic Chartularies, Inquisitions, Wills, English and Scottish Public Records, Historical Manuscripts and Other Available Sources. Kendal, England: Titus, Wilson and Son, 1928.

Jackson, W. The Curwens of Workington Hall and Kindred Families. England: T. Wilson, 1880.

Lockwood, Allison. "The Times of Samuel Curwen". American History Illustrated. 13 (April 1978): 22-32.

Shipton, Clifford K. Sibley's Harvard Graduates. Vol. 5. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1937.

Shipton, Clifford K. Sibley's Harvard Graduates. Vol. 9. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1956.

"The Misery Islands, and What Has Happened There." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 38 (1902): 225-256.

Ward, George Atkinson. The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen: An American in England from 1775 to 1783; With an Appendix of Biographical Sketches. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1864.

Ward, George Atkinson. Journal and Letters of the Late Samuel Curwen: Judge of Admiralty, etc., a Loyalist-Refugee in England, During the American Revolution. New York: Leavitt, Trow and Company, 1845.

Related Collections

Ward Family Papers, 1718-1946. MSS 46

Papers of Barr Family, 1757-1823. MSS 0.092

Ropes Family Papers, 1702-1907. MSS 190

Genealogical information about the Curwen family of Salem, MA, including births, deaths, and marriages. Acc 1996.031

Curwen Family Papers, 1637-1808. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts

Processing Information

Collection processed by Nancy C. Barthelemy, January 1982, Jane E. Ward, August 1996. Updated by Hilary Streifer, October 2014.

Processed by: Nancy C. Barthelemy and Jane E. Ward; Updated by: Hilary Streifer; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description
Processing and conservation for this collection was 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