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William Graves, Jr. Family Papers, 1811-1903

Identifier: MSS 676

Scope and Content Note

The William Graves, Jr., Family papers document the business activities of this Newburyport, Massachusetts, ship owner and captain and his family. The collection has been organized into five series.

Series I. William Graves (1795-1851) contains correspondence, financial, and legal papers, including an undated inventory from the ship America.

Series II. William Graves, Jr. (1811-1877) consists of business correspondence, bills, receipts, an account book, legal papers, ships' papers, and materials documenting his business affairs. It has been further divided into three subseries. Subseries A. Business Papers contains business correspondence, bills, receipts, legal papers, cancelled checks, and handwritten notes. Subseries B. Shipping Papers contains papers for seven ships that Graves either sailed on or owned. Subseries C. Other contains correspondence, accounts, legal papers, and other evidence of his business interests.

Series III. Mary P. Graves (1824-1903) contains correspondence, receipts, accounts, and legal papers for William Graves, Jr.'s wife. After his death, she continued to deal with his business affairs, especially the Elizabethport [NJ] Water Improvement Company.

Series IV. Other contains five folders of material loosely related to the family including a letter to Charles F. Perry (1833-1897), husband of Georgiana West Graves, and a certificate for his remains.


  • Creation: 1811-1903


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketches

William Graves was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts, on August 23, 1785, the son of Mark (1748-1802) and Abigail Green (1765-1821) Graves. By age 18, he was master of the Salem brig Henry. From 1810 to 1817, he was captain of the Newburyport brig Abigail, making regular commercial voyages between Virginia and Europe.

In 1809, Graves married Mary Ann Pike (1786-1817) of Salisbury; they had a son, William, Jr. (1811-1877). Mary Graves died in 1817; William subsequently married her sister, Susannah Pike (1791-1878), with whom he had two more sons, Alexander (1823-1869) and Edward (1831-1873), and a daughter, Ellen (1833-1882). All three sons, William, Jr. and his two half-brothers, would become successful ship masters (and, like their father, members of the Newburyport Marine Society). In the mid-1820s, Graves moved his family from Salisbury to Newburyport. From the 1820s into the 1840s Graves continued at sea, ultimately commanding at least 18 vessels; in several cases he is listed as part-owner. Graves died on May 27, 1851.

William Graves, Jr., was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts, on March 21, 1811, the son of William (1785-1851) and Mary Ann Pike (1786-1817) Graves. In the 1820s he began making voyages on his father's ships, training for a career as a master mariner. In 1834, the Salem merchants David Pingree and Emery Johnson entrusted Graves with the command of their bark Cynthia, bound for Canton, China. Graves made three voyages to China in the Cynthia (1834-1837) and six more as master of Pingree and Johnson's new and larger ship, Thomas Perkins (1837-1847). After more than a decade of near-continuous sailing in the China trade Graves found himself financially secure, and retired from the sea at age 37.

In 1837, he married Caroline Wells (1811-1838) and they had a son, William Wells (1838-1838). He built a house at 56 High Street, Newburyport, and in 1848, married his 24-year-old cousin Mary Graves Pike (1824-1903). They had five children: Mary Caroline (1849-1854); William (1850-1892); Georgiana West (1852-1934); Annie Pike (1854-1934); and Edmund P. (born 1857).

In 1849 he set up offices at 8 Ferry Wharf and with his business partner Micajah Lunt began buying substantial interests in sailing ships of the 1000-ton class, built in the shipyard of John Currier, Jr. of Newburyport. Among these vessels were Castilian (built 1849); Volant (1853); Gleaner (1854); George West (1855); Josiah L. Hale (1857); Kenmore (1861); Winona (1862); and Tennyson (1865). In addition to the Newburyport ships indicated above, Graves bought shares in several Salem vessels, including the barks Arthur Pickering and Dragon. On occasion his ships were commanded by his brothers, Alexander and Edward, or by his brother-in-law Edmund J. Pike. Apart from managing his shipping business, Graves took an active role in civic affairs in Newburyport, serving as alderman and mayor. He was also president of the Newburyport Marine Society, president of Bartlett Steam Mills, and a director of the Merchants' National Bank. He died on September 1, 1877, in Newburyport.


3.25 linear feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



The William Graves, Jr., Family papers document the business activities of this Newburyport, Massachusetts, ship owner and captain and his family.

Series List

SERIES I. William Graves (1785-1851)

SERIES II. William Graves, Jr. (1811-1877)

  • A. Business Papers
  • B. Shipping Papers
  • C. Other
SERIES III. Mary P. Graves (1824-1903)


Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


Some of this material was purchased on August 23, 1979 (formerly cataloged as Fam. Mss. 391). Ten letters and one sales account (1811-1861) were purchased on February 4, 1983 (acc #82068). Seven letters to Capt. William Graves were purchased on September 22, 1992 (acc #92031). Accounts of sales for the ship Thomas Perkins in 1844 were purchased on September 9, 1994 (acc #94030). The account book was purchased on November 11, 2011 (acc #2011.053). Thirty six documents for the ship Thomas Perkins (1840-1861) were purchased on January 27, 2012 (acc # 2012.001). A group of 460 documents was purchased on March 24, 2017 (acc# 2017.006). Five letters addressed to William Graves (1795-1851) while he was stranded in Russia, dated 1813-1815, were purchased from William Reese Company on January 2, 2024, with funds from the Augustus Story Fund (Acc 2024.001).

Bibliography and Related Collections U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

Szakaly, Sara, and George Rugg. "Graves Family Shipping Papers." Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame, 2012,

Account book of William Graves Jr., 1861-1877, MSS 627

David Pingree Papers, 1810-1939, MSS 901

Angelo (Ship) Logbook, 1836-1837, Log 1194

Thomas Perkins (Ship) Logbook, 1844-1846, Log 2033

Thomas Perkins (Ship) Logbook, 1837-1838, Log 3194 (OS)

Thomas Perkins (Ship) Logbook, 1844-1846, Log 3195 (OS)

William Graves Family Research [electronic resource] by Tim Kendall, 2011, Acc 2011

For other collections of William Graves, Jr. papers, visit the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. A letter book of William Graves, Jr. (William Graves Letter Book), with correspondence dating from 1846 to 1860, is held in the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School, Cambridge.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Tamara Gaydos, June 2018.

WILLIAM GRAVES, JR. (1811-1877) FAMILY PAPERS, 1811-1903
Processed by: Tamara Gaydos; 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