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Richard P. Waters Papers, 1830-1939, undated

Identifier: MH 14

Scope and Content Note

Although the papers range from 1831-1939, the bulk of the materials concern the mercantile activities of Richard P. Waters and his brother, John G. Waters at Zanzibar and Madagascar in the 1830s and 1840s. The collection has been divided into three series: Shipping Papers, Consular Papers, and Personal and Miscellaneous Papers.

Series I. Shipping Papers include ships papers, correspondence, contracts, account books, bills, and receipts. Ships papers are those of vessels owned or mastered by Richard P. or John G. Waters (see Appendix I). They document the lucrative trade that Waters conducted at Zanzibar on behalf of Salem merchants, particularly David Pingree and George and Benjamin West. Miscellaneous ships papers include the protests of ship Edward and brigs Formidable and Margaret Oakley. The papers of bark Malay (1842) document the loss of the vessel at Mozambique and the request of the American ships crew for passage back to the United States.

The shipping correspondence provides further documentation of trade conducted on behalf of Salem merchants. A number of letters from Pingree and the Wests are located here as well as letters from Vincent Marks, an agent at Majunga. Correspondence between Waters and Said Bin Sultan of Muscat reveals the degree of intimacy reached between the two men and the extent of their common business affairs. Letters between Richard P. Waters and John G. Waters contain business information as well as personal discussions. A few personal letters are located in this section including three lengthy letters from Dr. L. Krapf, a Christian missionary at Mombasa, Kenya. All untranslated letters in Arabic are located in this section. The papers of Norsworthy and Botsford document the dissolution of a merchant house at Zanzibar.

Series II. Consular Papers include a number of administrative materials sent between Waters and the U.S. Department of State, as well as diplomatic correspondence with His Highness Said Bin Sultan. A dispatch signed by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster regarding trade on the East Coast of Africa is also located in the Consular Correspondence. Drafts of agreements for the management of trade between Queen Victoria of England (1839), an Admiral Bagoche (Governor of Bourbon, 1843), the United States (undated) and Said Bin Sultan are located in the "Treaties" section. Consular Returns are lists of arrivals and departures that specify other ports of call, number of crew members and values and types of cargoes landed for each vessel.

Series III. Personal and Miscellaneous Papers include Waters' personal journals and his notebook. This material describes in detail Waters' deeply rooted religious convictions and his relations with the Sultan. The Memoranda/notes file contains travelogue descriptions of Zanzibar, an incomplete Waters Family genealogy, and notes on "Packing Zanzibar Oranges for Bombay." The Social Debating Society Minutes provide interesting insights on the opinions of Salem residents on a number of contemporaneous social and political issues. In the Printed matter file is a published biography of Waters and a group of newspapers including issues of The Congregationalist and Boston Museum. David P. Waters' hunting notebooks describe his annual hunting trips to Nova Scotia. A map of the city of Kabul, Afghanistan is located in the oversized box.


  • Creation: 1830-1939, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1836-1846


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketch

Richard Palmer Waters (1807-1887) was born at Salem, Massachusetts on September 29, 1807, the youngest child of Robert and Lydia (Gellison) Waters. Because of the early death of his father, Richard assumed an adult's responsibilities at an early age. The bulk of his education was received in the counting houses of Salem, and by his twenty-fifth year, he was master of a small retail store. Throughout his life he was allied with the abolitionist cause and was a supporter of the Crombie Street Church. In the early 1830s Salem merchants such as Michael Shepard and John Bertram took an active interest in trade with Zanzibar. With their assistance, the endorsement of ex-Senator Nathaniel Silsbee and an introduction to President Jackson by Stephen C. Phillips, Waters became the first American Consul at Zanzibar. While in Zanzibar he acted as an agent for a number of Salem merchants, including David Pingree and Benjamin and George West. The fortune he made in Zanzibar enabled Waters to purchase the Cherry Hill Estate in North Beverly upon his return to American in 1845. Waters was elected to the State Legislature in 1855 and was an active member of the Essex Agricultural Society, the Essex Historical Society and the Essex County Natural History Society. He died unmarried at Cherry Hill on May 19, 1887.


2.5 linear feet (6 boxes; 1 volume)

Language of Materials





Although the papers range from 1831-1939, the bulk of the materials concern the mercantile activities of Richard P. Waters and his brother, John G. Waters at Zanzibar and Madagascar in the 1830s and 1840s.

Series List

SERIES I. Shipping Papers

SERIES II. Consular Papers

SERIES III. Personal and Miscellaneous Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


The Richard P. Waters Papers are a reorganization of eleven boxes of manuscripts donated to the museum by John G. Waters (acc # 10,059) and Mrs. John G. Waters (acc # 12,376). Three photographs of Richard P. Waters circa 1862 and one photograph of "Uncle Palmer" were removed from the papers [See Separation Sheets]

Bibliography and Related Collections

Bennett, Norman Robert, "Americans in Zanzibar: 1825-1845." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 95 (3): 239-262.

Bennett, Norman Robert, "Americans in Zanzibar, 1845-1865." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 97 (1): 31-56.

Berman, Edward H. "Salem and Zanzibar, 1825-1850: Twenty-Five Years of Commercial Relations." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 105 (4): 338-362.

Eilts, Hermann Frederick. "Ahmed Bin Na'aman's Mission to the United States in 1840: The Voyage of Al-Sultanah to New York City." Essex Institute Historical Collections. (98) (4) 219-277.

Northway, Philip E. "Salem and the Zanzibar-East African Trade, 1825-1845." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 90 (2): 123-153.

"Richard Palmer Waters: A Sketch." Bulletin of the Essex Institute, 20: 174-191.

Richard P. Waters Papers, 1831-1939, MSS 230

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, September 1987. Updated by Catherine Robertson January 2014.

Processed by: Robert P. Spindler; Updated by: Catherine Robertson; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description
Processing and conservation of this collection was funded in part by grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA