Skip to main content

Caleb Cushing Papers, 1822-1879

Identifier: MSS 265

Scope and Content Note

The Caleb Cushing Papers document the personal, business, and legal affairs of Caleb Cushing. The papers are divided into three series.

Series I. Business and Legal Papers contain notes and documents from 1822 to 1867. These papers include notes about certain legal cases, receipts, wills, titles, and legal advice. Correspondence clearly about business matters can be found here as well. Of interest in the "Pettingate vs. Piper" case, in which Richard Pettingate, a Navy first office, was accused by second mate Walter Piper of smuggling tobacco for personal use. The two men later made threats to kill one another. A number of papers concerning this case will be found in Box 1, Folder 2. Also included is an anonymous letter detailing the possibility of the swindling of American ships in exchange for free status at a brothel in London in May 1861.

Series II. Personal Correspondence is divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Correspondence contains a sampling of Cushing's letters to and from many people. They include complaints, invitations to several functions, thank you notes, letters recommending promotions, and letters asking for favors. Also included is a letter from a man who claimed he was held against his will for twelve years. He wanted justice, asking for Cushing's help. Other notes, such as an original love poem, can be found here as well.

Subseries B. Spofford Correspondence is of both a personal and business nature. The two earlier letters from 1829 and [1834], are addressed to Doctor Richard Spofford (1787-1872), a Newburyport physician who apparently treated Cushing's wife during her illness. His son, Richard Smith Spofford (1833-1888), was a Newburyport attorney and husband of writer Harriet Prescott Spofford. He was a friend and business acquaintance of Cushing a most of the Spofford correspondence is addressed to him, primarily from the early 1860s. Cushing detailed a trip to Europe, describing his interest in astronomy and biology. He discussed business transactions with Spofford and also gives an account of a possible scandal. Cushing related to Spofford details of his legal cases and asked him to handle some business transactions for Cushing while Cushing was out of town.

Series III. Manuscripts and Printed Material includes notes Cushing made in preparation for a history of Newbury, Massachusetts he was writing. Also included is a manuscript of this history written for the Newbury bi-centennial in 1835. Folder 10 includes a miniature printing of the Boston Transcript from 1874 and campaign pamphlets against Benjamin Franklin Butler, who lost his campaigns for governor in 1878 and 1879, but became governor from 1883 to 1884.


  • Creation: 1822-1879


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

Caleb Cushing was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts on January 17, 1800, the son of Lydia (Dow) and John Newmarch Cushing. He graduated (as Latin salutatorian) from Harvard College in 1817, and he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar four years later.

On November 23, 1824, Cushing married Caroline Elizabeth Wilde. In that same year, he became a representative in the Massachusetts General Court. In 1826, Cushing became a state senator. His wife died in 1834, leaving him childless. In that same year, he was elected to Congress as a representative, serving four consecutive terms.

In 1843, Cushing was appointed United States Commissioner to China, where he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Wang Hiya, which opened several Chinese ports to American merchants. During his time as commissioner, he learned the Manchu language. Known for his linguistic ability, Cushing was fluent in French, Spanish and Italian as well.

By 1851, Cushing was back in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he was elected the first mayor of that city. A year later, he resigned after accepting the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Judiciary Court of Massachusetts. Later that same year, Cushing became United States Attorney General under President Franklin Pierce. In 1857, with a new administration in Washington, Cushing returned to the Massachusetts legislature. Cushing was active in the administrations of both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant appointed Cushing United States Minister to Spain in December 1873. He retired to Newburyport in 1877, where he died on January 2, 1879, after suffering from erysipelas, an acute skin disease.


0.25 linear feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



The Caleb Cushing Papers document the personal, business, and legal affairs of Caleb Cushing.

Series List

SERIES I. Business and Legal Papers

SERIES II. Personal Correspondence

  • A. Correspondence
  • B. Spofford Correspondence
SERIES III. Manuscripts and Printed Material

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


Many of the items in this collection were purchased in 1929, 1934, 1935, 1940, 1954, 1955, 1959, 1962, 1991, and 2003. Thirty-three items, mostly correspondence with Richard Spofford, were purchased in 1949. Series III was a gift from the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 2009 (Acc 2009.023). The rest of the collection is of unknown origin.

Bibliography and Related Collections

Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 4. New York: 1930, 623-630.

Currier Family Papers, 1836-1913, MSS 180

John Newmarch Cushing Papers, MSS 186

Young Men's Union Records, 1855-1880, MSS 245

Cushing, Caleb, Receipt dated July 8, 1772, Fam. Mss. 217

Letters signed by Caleb Cushing (earlier generation), Autograph Collection

Processing Information

Collection processed by Michael Willens, December 1993. Updated by Rachel Jirka, March 2010.

CALEB CUSHING PAPERS, 1822-1876, undated
Processed by: Michael Willens; Updated by: Rachel Jirka; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA