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Derby Family Papers, 1716-1925

Identifier: MSS 37

Scope and Content Note

The Derby Family Papers include shipping, legal, business, and personal papers of Richard Derby (1712-1783), his sons Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) and John Derby (1741-1812), and grandsons Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826), John Derby (1767-1831), Ezekiel Hersey Derby (1772-1852), and Richard Crowninshield Derby (1777-1854). The bulk of the collection contains the shipping papers for the shipping business begun by Richard (1712-1783) Derby, John (1767-1831), and Ezekiel Hersey (1772-1852) Derby. These papers reflect the growth and diversification of a mercantile business that traded with the Orient, India, the East Indies, Russia, Europe, Africa, Canada, the West Indies, and coastwise America. Derby ships were involved in activities such as privateering, fishing, and East and West India trading.

The remainder of the collection concerns the personal and business papers of Richard (1712-1783), Elias Hasket (1739-1799), John (1741-1812), Elias Hasket Jr. (1766-1826), John (1767-1831), Ezekiel Hersey (1772-1852), and Richard Crowninshield (1777-1854) Derby. In addition, there are businesses and personal papers for Derby relatives and in-laws. The collection has been arranged into six series.

Series I. Derby Shipping Papers covers the years 1717 to 1827, and incorporates ships owned by, mastered by, or which carried cargo for Richard Derby (1712-1783), his son Elias Hasket Derby (1793-1799), and grandsons Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826), John Derby (1767-1831), and Ezekiel Hersey Derby (1772-1852). The shipping papers have been arranged into three subseries.

Subseries A. Ships' Papers are arranged alphabetically, and contain ships' orders, accounts of sales, disbursements, invoices, merchant house correspondence, port ledge bills, and crew lists. In addition, there is some captains' correspondence, mostly from Derby family members, bills of lading, and miscellaneous accounts and receipts while in foreign ports. This subseries includes papers of the Ranger and Volant, both ships that were mastered by Richard (1712-1783), the Grand Turk, Astrea, Henry, John, and Peggy, as well as other less documented vessels (see Appendix I). Several Derby ships were captured during the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and before the War of 1812. The correspondence or documents related to these captures are located with the ship's papers, or with the folder of spoliation claims (box 9, folder 9). Papers of vessels captured by Derby ships are located with the Derby privateer or letter of marque. Included in this series are papers of the sloop Union, mastered by Richard's uncle Samuel Derby (1673-1728), and the Mary and Restitution, both mastered by John Derby (1767-1831).

Subseries B. General Shipping Papers include all documents that either could not be identified, or that are related to more than one ship. These general shipping papers include financial papers, invoice books, account books, and Customhouse bonds. Accounts of Derby family members with each other or with their captains are included in the folders of miscellaneous shipping accounts (box 8, folders 7 and 8). Elias Hasket's (1739-1799) outbound invoice books, volumes 2 and 3, contain invoices of cargoes on ships sailing from Salem while the inbound invoice book, volume 4, records cargoes on ships sailing from foreign ports. Volumes 2 and 4 contain detailed indexes that list ship, master, and destination for all entries. Within the folder of miscellaneous account books are two account books with entries for privateers, and one pamphlet that records fishing voyages in the 1750s. The folders of outfitting accounts (box 9, folders 2-5) include all accounts, receipts, and contracts made for the building, altering, or outfitting of ships.

Subseries C. Shipping and Merchant House Correspondence is organized into four sub-subseries. The merchant house correspondence contains correspondence, accounts, and ship's papers for cargo shipped by the house. The correspondence, arranged alphabetically by name of the firm, has been divided into the correspondence of Richard (1712-1783), Elias Hasket (1738-1799), and of the grandsons: Elias Hasket Jr. (1766-1826), John (1767-1831), and Ezekiel Hersey (1772-1852) Derby. The majority of the correspondence in the latter groups is to John, either while he was in business with Benjamin Pickman, John Prince, Samuel G. Derby, or by himself. One folder (box 14, folder 5) contains letters to John Prince and Benjamin Pickman, sons-in-law of Elias (1739-1799) and partners of the Derbys in many shipping ventures. See Appendix II for a detailed listing of major merchant houses that the Derbys employed, and their locations.

The miscellaneous shipping correspondence (box 9, folder 8) includes letters of instruction and captain's correspondence as well as letters regarding cargo and general shipping business. Correspondence that deals with more than one vessel or appears to discuss more than the specifics of a case is located in the folder of spoliation claims (box 9, folder 9). Of special interest among the spoliation claims is the correspondence with John Gardner, 1761-1765, which refers to the corruption in the claims court, and the protest from Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) regarding duties on tea.

Series II. First Generation Business and Personal Papers: Richard Derby (1712-1783) contains the papers of Richard Derby (1712-1783), and range from 1738 until 1783. They include business correspondence, distillery receipts and accounts, miscellaneous receipts, account books, and legal documents. The miscellaneous business correspondence contains primarily letters regarding the purchase or sale of goods or the settlement of accounts. The distillery owned and operated by Richard is reflected in the distillery accounts and receipts, 1760-1781. Included here are also two account books recording purchases of rum from 1767 to 1769. The miscellaneous receipts, 1731-1783, contain all receipts and accounts that appear to be of a non-shipping origin. The account book ledger, 1757-1776, 1786-1790 (Volume 1), contains not only entries for shipping and non-shipping business, but also accounts for the settlement of Richard's estate and a copy of his will (dated October 27, 1783). A duplicate copy of Richard's will as well as deeds, powers of attorney, summonses, and bills of exchange are located in the folder of legal documents (box 16, folder 4). Volume 1, which is a ledger book from the years 1757-1776, and 1786-1790, has been microfilmed (#184).

Series III. Second Generation Business and Personal Papers contains the records of Richard's sons, Elias Hasket (1739-1799) and John (1741-1812) Derby. Subseries A. Elias Hasket Derby Papers includes business correspondence, financial papers, account books, legal documents, and estate papers from 1761 to 1827. Purchase and sale of commodities, petitions for employment, settling of accounts, and transactions of business are included in Elias Hasket's business correspondence, which covers the years 1775 until 1798 (box 16, folders 5 and 6). The lengthy correspondence between Elias Hasket and Metcalf Bowler, from 1781 until 1786, concerns the purchase and payment of coal for the French army. A separate folder (box 16, folder 7) contains the correspondence, receipts, and deeds for land owned by Elias Hasket in Raymondtown, a township in the County of Cumberland, Maine. The bulk of Elias Hasket's papers comprise the miscellaneous receipts from 1761 to 1799, and accounts from 1762 until 1799. All of Elias Hasket's account books contain both shipping and non-shipping entries. The consecutive account book volumes, Ledgers B and C (Volumes 9 and 10), list name and occupation for account entries. A separate index is enclosed in the front of Volume 10.

The legal papers (box 18, folder 9) of Elias Hasket Derby include property deeds, promissory notes, agreements, a liquor license, stock certificates, and an inventory of goods and property deed for a farm in Wolfborough, New Hampshire. Of interest here is a list of furniture received by Elizabeth Crowninshield upon her marriage to Elias, and a bond between Richard Derby (1712-1783) and Elias Hasket for a gift to Elias Hasket's son, Richard Crowninshield Derby. There are also estate papers from 1763 until 1774, and a partial will for Elias Hasket's mother-in-law, Anstiss Crowninshield. The estate papers of Elias Hasket Derby (box 19, folders 1-2) include all documents that do not pertain to the shipping business. Of special note is the inventory of Elias Hasket's house and goods purchased from the estate, and the executor's accounts of the settlement of the estate. Two estate account books record the transactions of the estate following Elias Hasket's death.

Subseries B. John Derby (1741-1812) Papers contains correspondence to John (1741-1812) and Elizabeth Derby from 1786 until 1801 (box 19, folder 3). The majority of the letters are from either Sally (Gardner) Crowninshield or Martha (Derby) Prince. The letters relate the activities of their respective families.

Series IV. Third Generation Business and Personal Papers include the papers of Elias Hasket's (1739-1799) heirs: Elias Hasket Jr., John, Ezekiel Hersey, and Richard Crowninshield Derby. The deeds, accounts, and receipts for the Derby Wharf, owned jointly by Elias' sons and sons-in-law, precede their personal papers (box 19, folder 4).

Subseries A. Elias Hasket Derby Jr.'s (1766-1826) Papers contain documents of his wife, Lucy (Brown) Derby, as well as himself. The folder of miscellaneous letters, receipts, accounts, and legal documents (box 19, folder 5) includes papers of Lucy's before her marriage to Hasket. The letters from Hasket to Lucy were written during their courtship, and from on board the Mount Vernon and Mount Hope. There are also letters to Hasket and Lucy from their friends and relatives.

Subseries B. John Derby (1767-1831) Papers includes business and legal papers, miscellaneous receipts and accounts, and personal correspondence. The business papers contain correspondence between John and his brother-in-law and business associate, John Prince Jr. There are additional business letters as well as deeds and powers of attorney in the miscellaneous business and legal papers, 1791-1827. John's miscellaneous receipts, which span the years 1786-1817, include receipts for his children while they were minors. The folder of personal correspondence (box 20, folder 8), contains letters to John from his nephew John Clark Derby, sister-in-law Lucy, and brother-in-law Francis Coffin. There is also a letter to his daughter Sarah Ellen.

The bulk of Subseries C. Ezekiel Hersey Derby's (1772-1852) Papers concerns the building of a new south bridge, and the reclaiming of William Brown's tomb. The papers of the new south bridge include deeds, petitions, receipts, restitution, maps for the laying out of the new highway (Lafayette Street), and the building of a new bridge over the South River. There is an interesting series of correspondence and petitions by Ezekiel Hersey Derby, and the Bowditch and Sargent families for the violation of their ancestors' tombs in 1835. Deeds for property bought by Hannah Browne Derby comprise the majority of the legal documents.

Within Subseries D. Richard Crowninshield Derby (1777-1854) Papers are letters written by his wife, Martha (Coffin) Derby, while abroad. A December 29, 1802 letter describes her audience with the Pope, and a January 17, 1818 letter givers her observations of Paris.

Series V. Derby Relatives and In-Laws contains financial records, legal documents, and correspondence for additional family members, and individuals related to the Derbys by marriage: Alden, Brown, Freeman, Grafton, Greenwood, and Johonnet. Included here are papers of Richard's (1712-1783) mother, Martha (Hasket) Derby; Samuel Gardner Derby, a partner in many shipping ventures; Jonathan Derby, master of many Derby ships; and a will belonging to Sarah (Langley) Derby, dated 1789. The correspondence of Marianne Browne Derby and E. Hasket Derby (1803-1881) narrates their family history. There is also a bill of sale, dated February 14, 1839, from Elias H. Derby (1796-1840) to his cousin E. Hasket Derby (1803-1881) for machinery in a silk factory, and correspondence between Richard Henry Derby and Robert Rantoul regarding Rantoul's article on John Derby (1741-1812) and the voyage of the Quero. The majority of the documents for the Alden family are letters from Bradford Ripley Alden to his future wife, Anne Colemen. Records of Jonathan Freeman include papers for his mercantile business, Freeman and Vans, and an extract from his will. The business papers of Joseph Grafton are followed by correspondence from his wife, Martha Elkins, after his death. The papers of George S. Johonnet include estate papers for his father, Daniel, as well as his own business papers.

Series VI. Miscellaneous Papers contains notes on Derby family history and unidentifiable Derby or non-Derby material. Included in the non-Derby papers are miscellaneous shipping papers, letters, accounts, and insurance claims for the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance and Social Insurance Companies, correspondence and shares for the Essex and Salem Banks, and papers of James O'Dell.


  • Creation: 1716-1925


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketches

Richard Derby, the founder of the Derby shipping empire, was born in 1712 to Richard (1679-1715) and Martha (Hasket) Derby. Before establishing himself as a merchant, Richard mastered the sloop Ranger from 1736 until 1738, the schooner Volant from 1741 until 1742, the sloop Jolly Bachus in 1743, and the schooner Exeter in 1745. He was also part owner of the Volant and Exeter. By 1746, Richard had begun importing cargo to Salem from London. He appears to have retired from the sea soon after, leaving his sons Richard Jr. (1736-1781), John (1741-1812), and son-in-law George Crowninshield to captain his vessels. From 1750 until 1775, Richard owned at least twenty vessels and carried cargo on numerous other ships. His ships traveled to the West Indies, the Spanish peninsula, Canada, and South Carolina. They carried cargoes of fish, rum, timber, grains, sugar, cocoa, wine, coffee, and salt. At least five of Richard's ships engaged in fishing voyages, especially in the early years of his merchant business. While Richard's shipping business prospered greatly, he also experienced financial setbacks through the capture of his ships during the French and Indian War. By 1775, Richard appears to have completely relinquished control of the shipping business to his son Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799).

Richard's life did not solely revolve around his prosperous business. From 1756 until 1763, he served as a collector of excise taxes. He operated a distillery from 1760 until 1781. He served on the Massachusetts General Court from 1769 until 1773, was a member of the Governor's Council in 1774, 1776, and 1777, and was an ardent supporter of the Revolution. Richard married twice. His first wife, Mary Hodge (1713-1770), had six children: Richard Jr., Mary, Elias Hasket, John, Martha, and Sarah. In 1771, he married his second wife, Sarah (Langley) Hersey, the widow of Dr. Ezekiel Hersey. Richard died in 1783.

Elias Hasket Derby was born in 1739 to Richard (1712-1783) and Mary (Hodge) Derby. He was the founder of the East India shipping trade and America's first millionaire. Instead of becoming a sea captain like his brothers, Elias assisted his father in the management of their expanding shipping business. As early as 1760, he had begun to assist his father with this mercantile business, gradually assuming the entire control and management of the shipping affairs.

At the commencement of the Revolution, the Derby shipping empire was completely in the hands of Elias Hasket. The capture of three ships by the British turned his interests away from commerce and towards retaliation. During the course of the war, he owned, either solely or in part, at least twenty-five armed vessels, and had shares in numerous others. Initially the vessels were privateers, but as the war progressed, and Elias' interests began to return to commercial pursuits, the privateers were supplanted by letters of marque.

The end of the Revolutionary War marked the beginning of Elias' East India shipping trade. The privateers and letters of marque, while suiting the needs of the war, were no longer suited to the coastwise and West Indian trade. Their increased size and cargo capacity necessitated finding new markets and new commodities that would bring a profit. While Derby ships continued trading on established routes of trade (Europe, the West Indies, New York, and Philadelphia), additional vessels sought new ports. The Light Horse was the first American ship to sail directly to Russia. The Grand Turk was the first American vessel to the isle of France (Mauritius), and the first New England ship to go to Canton, China. The Astrea was the first ship to dock in Siam (Thailand). Derby ships initiated trade with St. Helena, Cape of Good Hope, Bourbon (Reunion), Ceylon, India, and Batavia. Although Elias continued to trade in traditional ports, and search for new markets in Europe and Asia, he focused his trade on ports in the Indian Ocean. To help organize the Derby trade in the East Indies, Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826) was dispatched to the Isle of France for a three-year period, from 1788 until 1790. From 1785 until 1799, ships owned or managed by Elias made at least 125 voyages to points in Europe, Africa, India, the East Indies, and the Orient.

In addition to his shipping activities, Elias served as selectman from 1768 until 1772, and was a member of the Committee of Correspondence in 1774. He donated money towards the erection of the new courthouse, and towards the building of the naval frigate Essex. In 1795, Elias began building an impressive mansion, designed by Samuel McIntire, for his wife, Elizabeth (Crowninshield) Derby. Occupied only for a few months before Elias died in 1799, the mansion was located at the present site of Derby Square in Salem. At his death, Elias' estate was divided equally among his children: Elias Hasket Jr., John, Ezekiel Hersey, Richard Crowninshield, Elizabeth West, Martha Prince, and Anstiss Pickman.

Elias Hasket Derby Jr., the oldest son of Elias Hasket and Elizabeth (Crowinshield) Derby, was born in 1766. Upon the completion of his undergraduate degree from Harvard College in 1782, he entered his father's shipping business. He mastered two vessels for his father, the Grand Turk and the Mount Vernon. In 1788, he left Salem for the Isle of France to act as an agent for his father, and to oversee the trading of cargo, and the purchase or sale of his father's ships. Upon his return in 1790, he continued his mercantile activities by owning ships jointly with his brothers, or shipping cargo on his father's ships. Elias Hasket Jr.'s prosperity diminished after the death of his father in 1799. In an effort to repair his fortunes, Hasket purchased the Mount Hope in 1809. The 1809 to 1811 voyage to Brazil and London, however, was a complete failure, and soon after he moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire.

In addition to his shipping activities, Elias Hasket Jr. was a colonel of the Salem militia. He was the inventor of a machine for clearing mud from docks, and during the War of 1812, he set up the first power broadcloth loom in Massachusetts. He married Lucy Browne in 1797. They had six children: Elias Hasket (1803-1881), John Clark, Lucy Ann, Harriet Browne, E. Augusta, and Eleanor. He died in 1826.

John Derby was born in 1767 to Elias Hasket (1739-1799) and Elizabeth (Crowninshield) Derby. After graduating from Harvard College in 1786, John became a merchant. In addition to shipping cargo, John owned vessels with this father, brothers Elias Hasket Jr. and Ezekiel Hersey, cousin Samuel Gardner Derby, and his brother-in-law Benjamin Pickman, John Prince Jr., and Nathaniel West. His ships traveled to India, the East Indies, West Africa, Russia, the Spanish peninsula, Europe, and the West Indies. The Margaret, owned partially by John, was one of the first vessels to sail to Japan.

John served as a director of the Salem Marine Insurance Company, and the Salem Bank. He married Sally Barton in 1791, and they had three children. Sally died in 1798. John married Eleanor Coffin in 1801, and they had six children. John died in 1831.

Ezekiel Hersey Derby, the fifth child of Elias (1739-1799) and Elizabeth (Crowninshield) Derby, was born in 1772. Following his graduation from Harvard College in 1791, Ezekiel's early adulthood was spent engaged in mercantile pursuits. He owned, chartered, or shipped cargo on vessels that traveled to France, Copenhagen, the West Indies, the East Indies, Bilbao, and Russia. Retiring early from the sea, Ezekiel moved to the family farm in South Salem where he became involved in agricultural endeavors. In 1805, he initiated the building of a new bridge over the South River, and the enlargement of the road to Marblehead (Lafayette Street). He married Hannah Brown Fitch in 1794, and they had seven children. Ezekiel died in 1852.


17.5 linear feet (25 boxes; 23 volumes)

Language of Materials



The Derby Family Papers include shipping, legal, business, and personal papers of Richard Derby (1712-1783), his sons Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) and John Derby (1741-1812), and grandsons Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826), John Derby (1767-1831), Ezekiel Hersey Derby (1772-1852), and Richard Crowninshield Derby (1777-1854).

Series List

SERIES I. Derby Shipping Papers

  • A. Ships' Papers
  • B. General Shipping Papers
  • C. Shipping and Merchant House Correspondence
    • 1. Richard Derby Merchant House Correspondence
    • 2. Elias Hasket Derby Merchant House Correspondence
    • 3. John Derby, Elias Hasket Derby Jr., Ezekiel Hersey Derby Merchant House Correspondence
    • 4. Miscellaneous Shipping and Merchant House Correspondence
SERIES II. First Generation Business and Personal Papers: Richard Derby (1712-1783)

SERIES III. Second Generation Business and Personal Papers

  • A. Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) Papers
  • B. John Derby (1741-1812) Papers
SERIES IV. Third Generation Business and Personal Papers
  • A. Elias Hasket Derby Jr. (1766-1826) Papers
  • B. John Derby (1767-1831) Papers
  • C. Ezekiel Hersey Derby (1772-1852) Papers
  • D. Richard Crowninshield Derby (1777-1854) Papers
SERIES V. Derby Relatives and In-Laws

SERIES VI. Miscellaneous Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This material is a reorganization and integration of 34 scrapbooks, three boxes, eighteen account books, and several miscellaneous folders. While the bulk of the collection is from an unknown source, many items were either donated or purchased. Richard Derby's account book from 1761-1763 (volume 15), was a gift from John Felt in 1894. Many of the ships' papers were donated by Senator George Peabody Wetmore in 1915. Several receipts were a gift from the estate of Alfred P. Goodell in 1957. Paul L. Veeder and Francis Veeder donated documents from the Derby, Pickman, and Toppan families. Mrs. Richard Derby donated one box of Derby and Alden papers. Lucy Ann Derby's composition books were donated by Helen Hagar in 1964. Two letter books (volumes 11 and 12), and two account books (volumes 17 and 18), in addition to several other items, were donated in 1980 by Roger A. Derby Jr. All loose manuscripts have their original location written on the back.

Volume 23 was removed from MSS 5 Benjamin Pickman Papers, where it was formerly cataloged as Volume 32. A package of letters, sewn together (box 8, folder 2), was donated by Mrs Richard Derby, who received them from the New York Historical Society. The package of letters was disbound in 2021 for digitization; the items have been kept together within a sleeve of acid free paper.



Derby, Perley. "Genealogy of the Derby Family," Essex Institute Historical Collections 3 (1861): 154-67, 201-7, 283-89.

"Lives of American Merchants. Elias Hasket Derby," Hunt's Lives of American Merchants, vol. 2 (New York, 1858): 17-100.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby and the American Revolution," Essex Institute Historical Collections 97 (1961): 165-97.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby, Merchant of Salem, Massachusetts, 1739-1799." Thesis, Clark University, 1961.

McKey, Richard H. "Elias Hasket Derby and the Founding of the Eastern Trade," Essex Institute Historical Collections 98 (1962): 1-25, 65-83.

Peabody, Robert E. "Derby of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 49 (1908): 193-347.

Phillips, James Duncan. "The Life and Times of Richard Derby, Merchant of Salem," Essex Institute Historical Collections 65 (1929): 243-92.

Previous Inventories of the Collection:

W.P.A. Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Essex Institute, vol. 1, pp. 33-84. Gives a detailed listing of the majority of the documents in the collection, listing ships, cargoes, merchant houses, and ports.

Snell, Charles W. Guide to the Derby Family Manuscripts and Papers Located in Essex Institute and Peabody Museum at Salem, Massachusetts. 1973.

Related Collections

Felt Family Collection, 1750-1924. MH 95

Samuel McIntire Papers, 1749-1822. MSS 264

Benjamin Pickman Papers, 1763-1843. MSS 5

Logbooks: Alonzo, Brig. Log 107

Antelope, Ship. Log 879

Arab, Ship. Log 75

Astrea, Ship. Log 15

Chance, Schooner. Log 2

Grand Turk, Ship. Log 23 (bound w/William & Henry, Brig.

Lighthorse, Ship. Log 22

Margaret, Ship. Log 896

Martha, Ship. Log 34

Scorpion, Schooner. Log 12 Three Sisters, Brig. Log 11

Processing Information

Collection processed by Prudence K. Backman, December 1981. Updated by Jane E. Ward, December 2000, Hilary Streifer October 2014.


Processed by: Prudence K. Backman; Updated by: Jane E. Ward, 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