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Aaron W. Berry Papers, 1798-1869

Identifier: MH 38

Scope and Content Note

The Aaron W. Berry Papers consist of business, shipping, and personal papers, and some miscellaneous materials for this Salem, Massachusetts ship master and shipping agent. The collection is divided into four series.

Series I. Business Correspondence and Receipts contains material largely associated with Berry's service as agent on the West Coast of Africa for Matthew Bartlett and Charles H. Miller. The Bartlett collection is extensive and includes letters from Bartlett and his clerk, John F. Brooks, covering the years 1859 to early 1864. The Miller correspondence covers the remainder of 1864. This material contains information largely related to trade matters such as prices, business conditions, etc. Of interest is a nearly constant reiteration of his business philosophy by Matthew Bartlett. There is some discussion of the Civil War and its impact on business and trade conditions as well as a smattering of local (Salem) news and gossip. Few letters from Berry exist in this series. Bills and receipts for the period 1860-1864 are for goods and services on the West Coast of Africa, which include gold and palm oil, hospital and medical care, board and lodging, provisions, water, hardware and services rendered.

Series II. Ships' Papers contains merchant to master instructions, cargo invoices and bills of lading, receipts for cargo discharged and loaded, customs clearance certificates, a customs health certificate, ship's expenses, etc., for the following vessels: brig Vintage, bark Isabella, bark Catherine, brig Said Bin Sultan, brig Robert Wing, brig Anglo Saxon, bark Manchester, bark D. Godfrey, steamship Cleopatra, bark Kedar, schooner Black Hawk, bark Tidal Wave, and ship Darwin, 1850-1864.

Series III. Personal Papers includes a collection of miscellaneous bills and receipts, etc., of a largely personal nature, for the period 1860-1865. These include: food, household goods and furnishings, house repairs, clothing, advertisements, a recommendation for a domestic from Mrs. Berry, a dog license, city tax bill, pew tax from the Tabernacle Society of Salem, meeting notices of the Salem Marine Society, Essex Lodge of Masons, and Washington Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. In addition there is a contract for the construction of his house on Skerry Street, Salem, an insurance policy on that property, transferred to their house on Emerson Street, Melrose, in 1864, and a small collection of a West African newspaper, The West African Herald, between May 1860 and January 1861.

Series IV. Miscellaneous Materials contains materials associated with Captain Berry, as well as material with no obvious association. Included are several Seaman's Protection Certificates issued by the U.S. Customs Service, including Captain Berry's (1854); a West African court summons dated April 18, 1860; memoranda, etc., for gold bullion deposited at the Philadelphia Mint, 1859-1862; a congressional constituent communication dated Philadelphia, 30 May 1798, outlining congressional action aimed at stemming hostile French actions against American shipping; a letter to Secretary of State William Marcy dated 21 August 1854; and a letter, in Portuguese, between C. Nobre and J. Morgan dated 8 April 1858 - these last three pieces appear to have no direct connection to A. W. Berry.


  • Creation: 1798-1869


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

Aaron W. Berry was born about 1 October 1827, probably in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel and Anna (Darling) Berry. His early life is obscure and he is first documented in October 1850, associated with the brig Vintage. In October 1852, he served as first officer aboard the ship Shirley, owned by Stone, Silsbee & Pickman, under Captain Nicholas T. Snell, bound for Australia, Manila and New York. He was issued a Seaman's Protection Certificate from the Salem & Beverly District of the customs service on 28 April 1854. Between 1855 and 1858 Captain Berry was employed by Salem merchant Robert Brookhouse as master of the barks Isabella and Catharine trading primarily in palm oil on the West Coast of Africa. The following year he was associated with Boston merchant Matthew Bartlett, first as master of the brig Robert Wing, then as Bartlett's agent on the West Coast of Africa. This period of employment is well documented by letters from Bartlett and his clerk, John F. Brooks, to Captain Berry. Subsequent to his involvement with Bartlett, he served Salem merchant Charles H. Miller in the same capacity as agent on the West Coast of Africa during 1863 and 1864.

Captain Berry married Elizabeth Day Godfrey (b. 16 Dec. 1835), daughter of Captain Jonathan and Theodate (Hobbs) Godfrey of Hampton, New Hampshire; they had one son. He contracted for a house to be built on Skerry Street, Salem, in 1859 in which they lived until moving to Emerson Street, Melrose, Mass., in May 1864. Captain Berry died in Melrose on 7 April 1865 at the age of 37 years.

Captain Berry was a member of the Salem Marine Society, having joined 5 November 1861. Additionally, he held membership in Essex Lodge of Masons, Washington Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, and was a communicant of Tabernacle Church, all of Salem.


0.5 linear feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



The Aaron W. Berry Papers consist of business, shipping, and personal papers, and some miscellaneous materials for this Salem, Massachusetts ship master and shipping agent.

Series List

Series I. Business Correspondence and Receipts

Series II. Ships' Papers

Series III. Personal Papers

Series IV. Miscellaneous Materials

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This material was donated by James W. Berry on June 21, 1927 (acc #7,984).

Bibliography and Related Collections

Putnam, George Granville, "Salem Vessels and their Voyages," Essex Institute Historical Collections 61 (1925): 339.

Portraits of Shipmasters and Merchants in the Peabody Museum of Salem: With an Introduction by Walter Muir Whitehill (Salem, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1939), 11-12.

Hoyt, Joseph B., "Salem's West African Trade, 1835-1863 and Captain Victor Francis DeBaker," Essex Institute Historical Collections 102 (1966): 37-73.

Salem Gazette, 11 April 1865.

A 54x38-inch oil on canvas portrait of Captain Berry is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, item number M3125

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert F. Craig, September 1998.

AARON W. BERRY (1827-1865) PAPERS, 1798-1869
Processed by: Robert F. Craig; machine-readable finding aid created by: Casey Cheney.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA