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Francis Henry Lee Papers, 1848-1912, undated

Identifier: MSS 128

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content Note

The Francis Henry Lee Papers comprised primarily of diaries and correspondence, document the historical research and personal life of a Salem, Massachusetts resident, who lived on Chestnut Street. The collection describes Mr. Lee's years as an army clerk during the Civil War; notes his interest in financial investments, coins, music, and libraries; and features his scrapbooks of early 19th century life in Salem. The collection consists of three series.

Series I. Diaries contains thirty-four diaries covering the years 1851-1908 with periodic gaps, especially in the earlier years. These volumes mirror the broad range of Mr. Lee's interest: the course of the Civil War (volume 1862); his avid interest in music; his role in the building of a library in Petersham, Massachusetts; and many entries and memoranda regarding his work on his historic scrapbooks.

Series II. Scrapbook Materials include four volumes of scrapbooks, and one box of correspondence and miscellaneous notes. These represent Lee's work in the 1880s during which he sought to collect historical information and personal reminiscences regarding the inhabitants and social life of Salem, Massachusetts in the early 19th century. The three major scrapbooks (the fourth consists of copied extracts concerning the Tucker family) contain historical notes, biographies, anecdotes, and reminiscences. They also include 19th century clippings, and numerous photographs of Salem streets, homes (exteriors, interiors, and gardens), group scenes, and portraits. The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters which Lee received in response to his requests for personal reminiscences and photographs from old Salem residents; they contain much of the information from which the scrapbooks were compounded. Of note is a letter (January 28, 1885) describing Salem's black population, and a number of hand sketched maps of Salem streets. The scrapbook notes include genealogical notes, copies of correspondence, and memoranda.

Series III. Personal Papers contain correspondence, sent and received, an investment ledger, and miscellaneous papers. Correspondence Sent includes letters written by Lee to his family, and his friends Henry M. Brooks and George (surname unknown). Written between 1861 to 1864, they describe a soldier's life and Lee's view of the Civil War while he was a clerk in the Office Commissary of Subsistence in New Berne, North Carolina. Correspondence Received includes personal letters from friends while Lee was in the army, and letters regarding Lee's interests in stocks, railroads, coins, music, and libraries. Of note are letters reflecting Lee's participation in the planning and building of the Petersham, Massachusetts library (1887-1888). Also of interest are responses (1893) to Lee's requests for donations to send the Essex Institute's exhibit to the Chicago World's Fair. The investment ledger contains accounts and memoranda reflecting Lee's interest in banking, railroads, mining, mills, and insurance. Miscellaneous papers include bills and receipts, clippings, school report cards (1848-1849), the muster roll of the 23rd Massachusetts Volunteers (circa 1862), and two additional letters of Civil War soldiers.


  • 1848-1912, undated


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

Francis Henry Lee was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 23, 1836 to John Clarke Lee and Harriet Paine Rose. Mr. Lee's father was one of the founders of the banking house, Lee, Higginson & Company. During the Civil War, Mr. Lee enlisted with Company F, 23rd Infantry Regiment of Massachusetts on December 4, 1861. He served honorably until his discharge due to disability on July 19, 1864 in New Berne, North Carolina. Mr. Lee married Sophia Willson circa 1872. Mr. Lee was a noted philanthropist who served on the boards of many organizations such as the Peabody Academy of Science, the Plummer Farm School (now known as the Plummer Home for Boys), and the Salem Fraternity. He was the founder and former director of the Salem Oratorio Society, Director of the Essex Institute, and a member of the Salem Athenaeum. Mr. Lee summered in Petersham, Massachusetts where he was active in raising funds for the Petersham Public Library. Mr. Lee died on October 7, 1913 and is interred at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


6.21 linear feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Francis Henry Lee Papers comprised primarily of diaries and correspondence, document the historical research and personal life of a Salem, Massachusetts resident, who lived on Chestnut Street.

Series List

SERIES I. Diaries

SERIES II. Scrapbook Materials

SERIES III. Personal Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This material was donated by Mrs. Francis H. Lee in 1914, 1916, and 1923. Additional material was donated by Mrs. Henry C. Hart in 1945.

Bibliography and Related Collections

Extracts from Lee's diaries are published in the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, volume 59-61, 65, 1923-1925, 1927.

Scrapbook correspondence received by Lee is published in the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, volume 81-84, 1945-1948.

See Lee Family Papers (MSS 129) for the papers of Lee's relatives.

See Salem Evening News, October 8, 1913, page 10 for obituary (Mr. Lee died on October 7, 1913).

Search term of Lee, Francis H. with parameters from 1900 to 1920. Mount Auburn Cemetery. n.d. Web. Retrieved July 10, 2012.

Search term of Francis H. Lee, with 1836 date of birth and spouse name of Sophia Lee. n.d. Web. Retrieved July 10, 2012: U. S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles and United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Sylvia B. Kennick, June 1984. Updated by Jennifer J. Quan, July 2012 and Hilary Streifer, November 2017.

Processed by: Sylvia B. Kennick; Updated by Jennifer J. Quan and Hilary Streifer; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan; updated by Hilary Streifer.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA