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Nathaniel Kinsman (1798-1847) Papers, 1784-1882

Identifier: MSS 43

Scope and Content Note

The Nathaniel Kinsman Papers contain the business and personal papers of Nathaniel and Rebecca (Chase) Kinsman. Nathaniel's business papers include correspondence and shipping papers from 1817 to 1847. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence between Nathaniel, Rebecca, and their families during Nathaniel's time as an agent for the firm Wetmore and Company in China, from 1843 until 1847. In addition, there are legal and business papers, correspondence, and receipts for Nathaniel's children, parents, brother, and in-laws: Chase, Buffington, and Nichols. This collection consists of five series.

Series I. Business Papers consists of shipping records and business correspondence, which reflects Nathaniel's mercantile pursuits from 1818 to 1847. Subseries A. Ships' Papers includes ship's orders, merchant correspondence, invoices, disbursements, and insurance. It also includes account and invoice books for vessels owned, chartered, or for which Nathaniel was either the master or the supercargo. The ships which sailed for Boston and New York to ports in Amsterdam, Batavia, Calcutta, Canton, Manila, and Sumatra, carried cargoes of hides, opium, muskets, coffee, species, silk, shellac and salt peter. The papers of the Diamond, owned by Nathaniel's patron William Gray, are included here. Among the shipping account books are accounts current and disbursements (Volume 4), invoices and accounts for the Zenobia and Canova (Volume 3), and a letter book (Volume 6) which records letters written while on the Zenobia and as an agent in Canton. Volume 3 also includes estate accounts and an inventory of Joshua Kinsman's estate.

Subseries B. Business Correspondence, which covers the years 1820 until 1847, includes letters from merchant houses, business associates, and friends. Several letters were written by Salem residents who were agents in foreign ports. These letters related news of Salem as well as the commerce business in their own ports. Included here are several letters about J. Cunningham's engagement to Nathaniel's niece, Mary Anne Southwick.

Series II. Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman Correspondence contains correspondence between Nathaniel and his wife, Rebecca, that was written during their stay in China, from 1843 until 1847. These letters give an almost daily account of their lives, both personal and business, during their periods of separation. The correspondence contains descriptions of life as an American coping in a foreign environment, as well as the political events in China at the time. The remaining letters, 1834 to 1839, were written during their courtship, vacations, and business trips. Letters written by Nathaniel from New York include references to political events.

Series III. Personal Papers of Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman include correspondence with their friends and family, legal documents, and miscellaneous receipts. Although Nathaniel received and sent letters to his family during his sea voyages (1818-1831), the majority of the letters in Subseries A. Nathaniel's Correspondence were exchanged during his stay in China. Included in the letters to Nathaniel are two letters, written by a friend, which inform him of the deaths of his father and sister. Nathaniel's correspondence with friends is located in the business correspondence (see box 3).

Correspondence with her sister Maria forms the bulk of Rebecca's correspondence with her family in Subseries B. Rebecca's Correspondence, although there are letters from her parents, her son William, and niece Mary Anne as well. An interesting series of letters that form a journal were sent to Rebecca and Nathaniel from their sister-in-law, Anne Chase. Correspondence with friends includes Rebecca's refusal of a marriage proposal from Edward Robinson in 1834 and letters of sympathy at the time of Nathaniel's death. Nathaniel's autopsy report is also located here. One folder contains letters from family and friends after Rebecca's return from China. Included in this folder are letters from her son Abbott, while at school and on his voyage, and accounts of his death in Iloilo, Philippines. Among Subseries C. Rebecca's Papers are calling cards of friends in China, a common place book, and her death announcement.

In Subseries D. Other, the legal papers contain insurance on Nathaniel's warehouse in New York, powers of attorney, and bank books. The miscellaneous receipts span the years 1817 to 1847, although the majority of the receipts are during Nathaniel's years in Salem, 1836 until 1843.

Series IV. Relatives' Papers contains correspondence, legal papers, and receipts for Nathaniel's children, his parents, his brother, and in-laws—Chase, Buffington, and Nichols. The majority of the papers of the immediate family are letters from William to his siblings, Rebecca, Abbott, and Nathaniel. There are also letters from Abbott to Nathaniel about his voyage, and from Rebecca, after her return from China, to her sons Abbott and William, and her daughter-in-law Augusta. Correspondence to William includes letters from business associates, from friends at the time of Abbott's death, and a letter from John Greenleaf Whittier (circa December 1867). There are also letters from William to his wife, Augusta.

Nathaniel Kinsman Sr.'s (1775-1808) papers contain an invoice of goods on the schooner Four Sisters, ships' orders, and an invoice book of the Minerva. Papers for his wife, Deborah Webb, are predominately receipts and insurance forms on their Brown Street house. The papers of Joshua Kinsman, Nathaniel Kinsman Jr.'s (1798-1847) brother, include records of the brig Waverly, ship Canova, miscellaneous business correspondence between the brothers, account of sales for the schooner Shepardess, and miscellaneous receipts. The shipping invoice and account book (Volume 3) contains accounts and an inventory for Joshua's estate.

The bulk of the Chase family papers are letters to Maria Chase from her sister Rebecca's suitor, Edward Robinson. In addition there are letters from Francis and Edward Chase to their family, receipts, and estate papers for Stephen Abbott. Papers of the Buffington family contain letters from James while on voyages and a bill of sale for the bark Prudent. Included in the Nichols family papers are legal documents and correspondence to Mary and William Frye Nichols.

Series V. Miscellaneous Papers contains two folders of typed and handwritten transcripts and notes from Mary Kinsman Munroe's article on Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman which was published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections. There is also a folder of unidentifiable Kinsman or non-Kinsman manuscripts and several folders of envelopes. The envelopes have been separated from the letters, and roughly follow the arrangement of their corresponding letters within the collection. Pertinent information on any envelope has been transferred to the letter.

Manuscripts and journals of Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman remain in the possession of the Kinsman family. Many of these letters and portions of the journals have been reproduced in the notes of Mary Kinsman Munroe and the Essex Institute Historical Collections.


  • Creation: 1784-1882


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

Nathaniel Kinsman was born on February 6, 1798, the eldest son of Nathaniel (1775-1808) and Deborah (Webb) Kinsman. He began his career as a shipping merchant by consigning a cargo of fish and palampores (a type of hand-painted and mordant-dyed bed cover) to the schooner Springbird, bound for the West Indies. Before its return however, Nathaniel left for Amsterdam as a clerk on the Union. Advancing to supercargo two years later, Nathaniel continued to sail ships for William Gray and Pickering Dodge. By 1830, Nathaniel was part owner of the ship Parachute, as well as its master.

Between 1834 and 1839, Nathaniel remained in Salem. During this time he married Rebecca Chase (1810-1882), the daughter of Quakers Abijiah and Mary (Abbott) Chase. They had three children while in Salem: William, Rebecca Reed and Nathaniel. Their fourth child, Abbott, was born in 1844 while the family was in China. While in Salem, Nathaniel continued to ship cargo on vessels he chartered with other merchants. In 1839, he returned to sailing, mastering the Zenobia, which was owned by Daniel Parker of New York.

After a voyage to Canton, Nathaniel arrived in New York, hoping to make a large profit on the sale of teas. When this venture failed, he accepted an offer of partnership with the firm Wetmore and Company, a New York-based merchant house. Nathaniel left Salem for China in June 1843 with his wife, two children (Rebecca and Nathaniel), niece (Mary Anne Southwick), and servant (John Alley). The family arrived in Macao, China, in October 1843. Once the family was settled, Nathaniel left for Canton, to establish a new house for the firm. His wife remained in Macao, serving as a secretary and as the official business hostess for Wetmore and Company. The Kinsmans lived in China for three and a half years.

A month before their planned departure for Salem, Nathaniel succumbed to a reoccurring stomach disorder and died in Macao on April 30, 1847. Rebecca returned to Salem in June 1847 with their two sons (Rebecca Reed had died in 1846), and John Alley. In 1865, Rebecca married Joseph Grinnell of New Bedford.


6 linear feet (10 boxes; 14 volumes)

Language of Materials



The Nathaniel Kinsman Papers contain the business and personal papers of Nathaniel and Rebecca (Chase) Kinsman. In addition, there are legal and business papers, correspondence, and receipts for Nathaniel's children, parents, brother, and in-laws: Chase, Buffington, and Nichols.

Series List

SERIES I. Business Papers

  • A. Ships' Papers
  • B. Business Correspondence
  • C. Financial Records
SERIES II. Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman Correspondence
  • A. Nathaniel to Rebecca
  • B. Rebecca to Nathaniel
SERIES III. Personal Papers of Nathaniel and Rebecca Kinsman
  • A. Nathaniel's Correspondence
  • B. Rebecca's Correspondence
  • C. Rebecca's Papers
  • D. Other
SERIES IV. Relatives' Papers

SERIES V. Miscellaneous Papers


This material is an integration and reorganization of 5 boxes, 5 scrapbook volumes, 10 account books and several miscellaneous folders. The bulk of the collection is from an unknown source. Volume 3, shipping invoice and account book, is a 1908 gift of S. A. Kinsman. Several documents from the ship Bengal, and business correspondence are a 1952 gift of Mrs. Frank G. Munroe.



Munroe, Mrs. Frederick C. "The Daily Life of Mrs. Nathaniel Kinsman in Macao China." Essex Institute Historical Collections. LXXXVI (1950): 257-284, 311-330.

Munroe, Mrs. Frederick C. "The Daily Life of Mrs. Nathaniel Kinsman in Macao China." Essex Institute Historical Collections. LXXXVII (1951): 114-149, 269-305, 388-409.

Munroe, Mrs. Frederick C. "Life in Macao in the 1840's: The American Mission to China." Essex Institute Historical Collections. LXXXVI (1950): 15-40, 106-143.

Munroe, Mary Kinsman. "Nathaniel Kinsman, Merchant of Salem, In the China Trade." Essex Institute Historical Collections. LXXXV (1949): 9-40, 101-142.

Stickney, Lucy Waters. The Kinsman Family. Boston: Alfred Mudge and Sons, 1876.

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Mary and Susan (ship) Journal and logbook abstract, 1835-1836. Log 971

Union (ship) Logbook, 1818-1819. Log 146

Union (ship) Logbook, 1821-1823. Log 179

Congress (ship) Logbook, 1824-1825. Log 179

Zenobia (ship) Logbook, 1839-1840. Log 447

Zenobia (ship) Logbook, 1839-1840. Log 976

Processing Information

Collection processed by Prudence K. Backman, January 1982. Updated by Hilary Streifer, October 2014.

NATHANIEL KINSMAN (1798-1847) PAPERS, 1784-1882
Processed by: Prudence K. Backman; Updated by: Hilary Streifer; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description
Processing and conservation 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