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Peirce-Nichols Family of Salem, Massachusetts, 1702-1967, undated

Identifier: MSS 468

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the papers of five generations of the Peirce and Nichols families of Salem, Massachusetts. It has been organized into seven series.

Series I. First Generation Papers contain the business and personal papers of Jerathmiel Peirce and Ichabod Nichols and twelve other family members. Subseries A. Jerathmiel Peirce (1747-1827) includes business and personal letters, an inventory of his house, and a membership certificate. Subseries B. Ichabod Nichols (1749-1839) includes shipping papers, accounts, correspondence, a journal, and his will. Subseries C. Other Family Members contains the papers of various people of this generation who may be related to the Nichols family.

Series II. Second Generation Papers is comprised of business and personal papers, journals, obituaries, accounts, deeds, receipts, and genealogical research of 16 members of the Peirce and Nichols families, as well as nine other relatives. It has been organized into 17 subseries, one for each family member plus a subseries for other relatives.

Series III. Third Generation Papers contain the business and personal papers of 19 family members and has been organized into 19 subseries, one for each family member.

Series IV. Fourth Generation Papers is comprised of correspondence, legal documents, genealogy, diaries, tintypes, and other papers of 14 family members. It has been organized into 14 subseries, one for each family member.

Series V. Fifth Generation Papers contain the papers of three family members. Subseries A. George Nichols (1878-1953) contains a letter, the transcript of a diary of a voyage to Hawaii in 1900-1901, and a report to a yacht club. Subseries B. John W. T. Nichols (1884-1977) contains a letter and the transcript of a diary of a voyage to Hawaii in 1900-1901. Subseries C. Susan N. Pulsifer (1892-1967) contains material about the Nichols family reunion in 1967 and an article about Susan's brother's trip to Hawaii in 1900-1901.

Series VI. Other Papers and Ephemera contain correspondence and other documents which did not belong to any family member in any of the series above. It contains correspondence, written pieces, account books, receipts, printed items, and ephemera.

Series VII. Copies of Correspondence and Stories is divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Typed Transcripts contain typed transcripts of many of the letters found in this collection as well as additional letters. The Slocum family is only represented in this part of the collection. Subseries B. Photostats contains copies of Nichols and Slocum family letters, most of which are in the collection.


  • Creation: 1702-1967, undated


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical Sketches

Peirce-Nichols Family of Salem, Massachusetts

First Generation

Jerathmiel Peirce was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on February 1, 1747, the youngest of seven children of Jerahmeel and Rebecca Hurd Peirce. After the death of his parents, Jerathmiel moved to Salem, Massachusetts in 1763 when his older brother and guardian, Benjamin, sold his Charlestown bakery. Jerathmiel began his business life as a leather dresser.

On February 6, 1772 he married Sarah Ropes (1752-1796), the oldest daughter of Benjamin Ropes. They had nine children: Benjamin (1772-1772); Joseph (1774-1793); Benjamin (1776-1778); Benjamin (1778-1831); Sarah (1780-1835); Elizabeth (1783-1783); Elizabeth (1785-1785); Elizabeth (1787-1864); and Henry (1789-1863).

In 1778 Jerathmiel jointly purchased a two-gun schooner, Greyhound, with Aaron Waite (1742-1830) in anticipation of a privateering venture. Peirce and Waite conducted business together for almost fifty years. Ten vessels were registered at the Salem Custom House to the firm Waite and Peirce between 1789 and 1819. In 1782 he built a house at 80 Federal Street, Salem designed by architect Samuel McIntire. The firm of Peirce and Waite was formally dissolved on January 22, 1825. Jerathmiel Peirce had a share in three additional vessels until his bankruptcy in 1826. In 1827 his creditors forced him to sell his house. It was bought by a family friend, George Johannot. Jerathmiel went to live with his daughter, Sally, and her husband until his death. His health failed soon after the bankruptcy; he died in August, 1827.

Ichabod Nichols was born 1741 in Salem, Massachusetts to David Nichols (1709-1756) and Hannah Gaskell (1709-1795). His father died when he was seven years old and his mother apprenticed him to a blacksmith. At the age of about 20, he was made a captain by Richard Derby and made several successful voyages to the West Indies. In 1776 he joined the volunteer militia company in Salem. He was originally a Quaker, but was read out of the Society because he engaged in privateering during the Revolutionary War.

He married Lydia Ropes (1754-1835) in 1774 and they had eleven children: John (1776-1798); George (1778-1865); Lydia (1781); Ichabod (died in infancy); Ichabod (1784); Benjamin Ropes (1786-1848); Henry (1791-1791); Henry (1793); Joseph Peirce (1795-1823); and David (1797-1814). He and his family lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for about 12 years and six of his children were born there. They returned to Salem in 1792. When the crash of 1827 occurred, he operated a milk farm, which he had bought earlier and lived there for many years.

Second Generation

Benjamin Peirce was born in 1778, the son of Jerathmiel Peirce and Sarah Ropes. He graduated Valedictorian of his class at Harvard College in 1802. He was a member of the Massachusetts Legislature; he represented Essex County in the Massachusetts Senate and later served as Representative from Salem in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. When his family business failed in 1826 he became the Librarian of Harvard College. He issued the first complete printed catalog of the Harvard Library.

He married his cousin, Lydia Ropes Nichols in 1803; they spent the first 25 years of their married life in Salem. They had four children, Charlotte Elizabeth (1804-1888), John Nichols (1806-1810), Benjamin, Jr. (1809-1880), and Charles Henry (1814-1855). He died in 1831.

John Nichols was born in Salem to Ichabod Nichols and Lydia Ropes in 1776. His family moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1778. At age 14 he worked in the wholesale grocery business for his father. When he was 17, he left home for employment in the Counting House of Messrs. Joseph Anthony and Sons in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He died of yellow fever in 1798 while on a voyage in the West Indies.

George Nichols was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Ichabod Nichols and Lydia Ropes on July 4, 1778. When he was about 11 months old his parents moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He attended Phillips Academy Exeter; at the age of thirteen he became a clerk in his father's grocery store. When his father gave up the store and returned to Salem in 1793, he purchased several vessels with Capt. Benjamin Hodges and engaged in the West Indies trade. George was employed as a clerk in their counting room. In 1795 he sailed on the bark Essex for Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. He made a number of voyages to Europe and the Indies, several as captain of his ship. He was one of the earliest members of the East India Marine Society, having joined it in 1800. But he made only two voyages after his marriage, retiring from seafaring in 1804. In 1805 he was one of a number of men who formed a corporation to build Hamilton Hall in Salem. In 1824 he, and others, withdrew from the North Church and founded the Fourth Unitarian Church, which took the name of Independent Congregational Society in Barton Square.

George married his cousin, Sarah (Sally) Peirce (1781-1835) in 1801. Sally and George had eight children: Sarah (1804-1879); Lydia Ropes (1806-1894); George (1809-1882); John H. (1811-1898); Mary Jane (1813-1902); Elizabeth P. (1814-1897); Henry Peirce (1818-1889); and Charles Sanders (1819-1900). After Sally's death in 1835, he married his sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Betsey) Peirce. He remained active in business until he was almost 70 years old. He died in Salem in 1865.

Ichabod Nichols was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1784 to Ichabod Nichols and Lydia Ropes. He graduated from Harvard University at seventeen years old. After his graduation he studied for the ministry. He was the minister of the First Parish Church of Portland, Maine for fifty years. He married Dorothea Folsom Gilman (1784-1831), daughter of the Governor of New Hampshire. They had two sons, Henry and John Taylor Gilman. Dorothea died in 1831; in 1833 Ichabod married Martha Higginson (1801-1889). He died in 1859.

Benjamin Ropes Nichols was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1786 to Ichabod Nichols and Lydia Ropes. He graduated Harvard University in 1804 and practiced law in Boston. He married Mary Pickering (1793-1863), the youngest daughter of Col. Timothy Pickering. They had five children: Lucy Orne (1816-1883); Charlotte E. (1821-1846); Benjamin White (1823-1910) and twins, Elizabeth Pickering (1829-1912) and Mary Pickering (1829-1915).

Henry Nichols was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1793 to Ichabod Nichols and Lydia Ropes. He went to sea by the age of 20 and was captured by a British ship of war in 1813 and imprisoned at Cape of Good Hope. In the years following his early voyages, Henry appears to have returned to Salem, probably to work in the counting house or other businesses connected with the shipping interests of his father. He married Sarah Hardy Ropes (1799-1826) in 1822. She died in 1826; in early 1836 he moved to Illinois and bought land to farm. Early in the 1840s Henry returned East and became a Boston tax collector. At the age of 57 he married Rebecca Anne Thayer (1814-1870) in 1850. They had no children. He died in 1871.

Third Generation

George Nichols, Jr., the son of George Nichols (1778-1865) and Sarah (Sally) Peirce (1781-1835), was born in Salem in 1809. In 1828 he graduated from Harvard College. He then studied theology and was ordained in the Unitarian Church. He preached as a substitute minister in parishes in Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire and occupied the pulpit of a country church in Pennsylvania. In 1834 he married Susan Farley Treadwell (1811-1892). He decided to leave the ministry and to enter the field of literary criticism and editing. He was editor to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. In 1842 he purchased the Harvard University Press along with Charles Mitchell and Owen Keith. His highest achievement was his editing of the five volumes of the Life and Letters of Charles Sumner. He had seven children: Susan Farley (1835-1899); Sarah Peirce (1836-1848); Harriet Farley (b. 1840); Elizabeth Peirce (1843-1890); Lucy Treadwell (1844-1905); Mary (b. 1845); and John White Treadwell (1852-1920). He died in 1882.

John Henry Nichols was born in Salem to George Nichols (1778-1865) and Sarah (Sally) Peirce (1781-1835) in 1811. He attended the Salem Latin Grammar School; in 1827 left school and worked in his father's office, a real estate brokerage and insurance business. He learned surveying and became an expert at drawing of deeds. He was the first President of the Salem Mutual Fire Insurance Company. In 1835 he married Sarah Augusta Leach (1811-1885). They had four daughters: Elizabeth Peirce (1844-1870); Sarah Augusta (1838-1916); Martha (b. 1840); and Charlotte S. (1854-1935).

During the Civil War he worked in close cooperation with the United States Sanitary Commission for the relief of the suffering in the hospitals of the Union Army. In 1866 Nichols went to New York to conduct business. He entered into a partnership with Edmund Blunt. The firm was a combination of commission business and investments, which involved a number of Western connections. When his daughter Elizabeth ("Peircie") died of typhoid fever in 1870, the whole family went to Europe for three years. When they returned in 1874, they sold their house in New York and later, in 1878, moved to South Wilton, Connecticut. John occupied his years with the daily care of his ill wife, gardening, and work on a genealogical record of his Salem family. Sarah Augusta died in 1885 and in 1888 he and his three unmarried daughters moved back to the family home at 80 Federal Street in Salem. He died in 1898.

Henry Peirce Nichols was born in Salem in 1816. He was a book publisher at the firm of William Crosby and N. P. Nichols, which was later called Crosby, Nichols and Company. He married Anna E. Gamble in 1852. He died after being struck by a carriage while crossing a street in Boston in 1889.

John Taylor Gilman Nichols was born to Ichabod Nichols and Dorothea F. Gilman (1784-1831) in 1817. He attended Phillips Academy Exeter for one year. He entered Harvard College in 1834 and graduated in 1836. In 1839 he entered the Divinity School at Cambridge and graduated in 1842. He was ordained in 1843 and became the pastor at the Second Parish (Unitarian) Church in Saco, Maine. He served there for 45 years and remained pastor emeritus until his death. He married Caroline M. Tucker in 1850. They had five children: William Ichabod (1852-1917); Henry Gilman (1854-1900); Edgar Hamilton (1856-1910); Charles S. D. (b. 1859); and Mary H. (1861-1868). He died in 1900.

Dr. John T. G. Nichols was born in Portland, Maine in 1837 to Dr. George Henry Nichols (1814-1890) and Sarah Ann Atherton (b. 1814). He was educated at Harvard and received his MD degree in 1859. At the outbreak of the Civil War he went to the front as acting assistant surgeon and later he was a private in the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. He mustered out in 1864. Dr. Nichols was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Cambridge Society for Medical Improvement, the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, the Harvard Medical Alumni Association, and the Boston Medical Library. He died at Little Boar's Head, New Hampshire in 1911.

Charles Fessenden Nichols, the son of Charles S. Nichols and Amelia Ainsworth was born in Salem in 1846. He attended the Salem public schools then worked as curator of coins at the Peabody Academy of Science from 1860 to 1864, until he left to attend college in Europe. After studying in Germany for two years (1864-1866), he attended Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1870. He opened his own office in Boston. Soon after going into practice Dr. Nichols went to Hawaii to test homeopathic treatment in leprosy and other diseases prevalent there. He treated prominent American families and was the physician to Queen Liliuokalani and the royal family of Hawaii. Upon his return to Boston he resumed his general practice and was extensively known. He was a member of many organizations and societies, and contributed articles to Harper's Magazine, The Overland Monthly, and Popular Science Monthly. He married Grace Houston (1863-1903) in 1884; they had a daughter, Cherry Elizabeth (1887-1960). By 1900, they had divorced and in 1901 he married Anna Jenetta von Arenberg (1874-1947) and had two sons: Benjamin B. (1912-1920) and Fessenden A. (1903-1989). He died in 1915.


17.5 linear feet (26 boxes; 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



This collection contains the papers of five generations of the Peirce and Nichols families of Salem, Massachusetts.

Series List

SERIES I. First Generation Papers

  • A. Jerathmiel Peirce (1747-1827)
  • B. Ichabod Nichols (1749-1839)
  • C. Other Family Members
SERIES II. Second Generation Papers
  • A. Joseph A. Peirce (1774-1793)
  • B. Benjamin Peirce (1778-1831)
  • C. Sarah Peirce Nichols (1780-1835)
  • D. Elizabeth Peirce (1787-1864)
  • E. John Nichols (1776-1798)
  • F. George Nichols (1778-1865)
  • G. Lydia Nichols (1781-1868)
  • H. Charles Sanders (1783-1864)
  • I. Ichabod Nichols (1784-1859)
  • J. Benjamin Ropes Nichols (1786-1848)
  • K. Charlotte Nichols Saunders (1788-1872)
  • L. Mary Pickering Nichols (1793-1863)
  • M. Henry Nichols (1793-1871)
  • N. Joseph Peirce Nichols (1795-1823)
  • O. Sarah Hardy Ropes Nichols (1796-1826)
  • P. John W. Treadwell (1795-1857)
  • Q. Other Relatives
SERIES III. Third Generation Papers
  • A. Sarah P. Nichols (1804-1879)
  • B. Charlotte E. Peirce (1804-1888)
  • C. Lydia Ropes Nichols (1804-1894)
  • D. George Nichols, Jr. (1809-1882)
  • E. Benjamin Peirce, Jr. (1809-1880)
  • F. Susan F. Treadwell Nichols (1811-1892)
  • G. John H. Nichols (1811-1898)
  • H. Sarah Augusta Leach Nichols (1811-1885)
  • I. Elizabeth P. Nichols Ainsworth (1813-1897)
  • J. Calvin C. Ainsworth (1818-1902)
  • K. Mary Jane Nichols (1814-1902)
  • L. Henry Peirce Nichols (1816-1889)
  • M. Amelia Ainsworth Nichols (1816-1898)
  • N. Rev. John T. G. Nichols (1816-1900)
  • O. Charles S. Nichols (1820-1900)
  • P. Charlotte E. Nichols (1821-1840)
  • Q. Benjamin White Nichols (1823-1910)
  • R. Mary Pickering Nichols (1829-1915)
  • S. Anne Gamble Nichols (1830-1910)
SERIES IV. Fourth Generation Papers
  • A. Sarah Carter Nichols (1838-1916)
  • B. Sarah Augusta Nichols (1838-1910)
  • C. Martha Nichols (b. 1840)
  • D. George Ropes Nichols (1842-1856)
  • E. Charles P. Bowditch (1842-1921)
  • F. Elizabeth Peirce Nichols (1844-1870)
  • G. Charles F. Nichols (1846-1915)
  • H. Harry Pierce Nichols (1850-1940)
  • I. John White Treadwell Nichols (1852-1920)
  • J. William I. Nichols (1852-1911)
  • K. Mary B. Slocum Nichols (1854-1943)
  • L. Charlotte S. Nichols (1854-1935)
  • M. Mary S. Nichols (b. 1854)
  • N. Grace Houston Nichols (b. 1863 or 1864)
SERIES V. Fifth Generation Papers
  • A. George Nichols (1878-1956)
  • B. John W. T. Nichols (1884-1977)
  • C. Susan N. Pulsifer (1892-1967)
SERIES VI. Other Papers and Ephemera

SERIES VII. Copies of Correspondence and Stories
  • A. Typed Transcripts
  • B. Photostats

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


This material was acquired from a variety of sources. In 1892, John H. Nichols donated "a quantity of old papers" to the Essex Institute and in 1893 he donated "350 deeds and old papers." The papers of Benjamin R. Nichols were a gift of Mary P. Nichols on October 2, 1911. The papers of Benjamin W. Nichols were a gift from Charles P. Bowditch on October 26, 1911. The sale of stock by John H. Nichols in 1849 was a gift of Mrs. Wallis H. Ropes on February 12, 1917. The John Nichols letter and accounts book (formerly Fam. Mss. 665) and the greeting cards to Charlotte and Augusta Nichols were a gift of the estate of Charlotte Nichols on December 2, 1938. Many documents were donated by Mrs. Harold T. Pulsifer on May 13, 1949. The George Nichols letter to John Nichols dated 1796 was a gift of Mrs. David Pulsifer on July 6, 1949. The Stephen Nichols estate inventory dated 1847 was a gift of M. A. Battis on September 27, 1949 (acc# 20,843). Money due the estate of Joseph Southwick, dated 1791, and "Meeting minutes of the Women's Aid Association for the Relief of Colored Freemen" held May 14, 1864, were a gift of Mrs. Frank C. Munroe on August 22, 1952. Some material was donated by George Nichols and some material was donated by Susan N. Pulsifer in 1966 and 1971 (previously arranged as Fam. Mss. 668 and 669). The Nichols Family Bible was donated by William I. Nichols on May 20, 1969. Five letters of Harry Peirce Nichols were a gift from Mrs. Clarence Hardenbergh on February 15, 1974. Martha Nichols' passport, two photographs dated 1881, and a 1921 postcard were a gift of John Sarnacki on January 30, 2000 (acc# 2002.002). This collection includes material previously arranged as MH 170, MSS 98, Acc 87009, Fam. Mss. 660, Fam. Mss. 661, Fam. Mss. 662, Fam. Mss. 663, Fam. Mss. 664, Fam. Mss. 665, and Fam. Mss. 737.

Bibliography and Related Material

Clayton, W. W. History of York County, Maine with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1880.

Nichols, George, and Martha Nichols. George Nichols, Salem Shipmaster and Merchant. Salem, MA: Salem, [1913].

Nichols Pulsifer, Susan. Witch's Breed: The Peirce-Nichols Family of Salem. Cambridge, Mass.: Dresser, Chapman, & Grimes, 1967.

Richter, Paula. Genealogical chart of Nichols Family. Salem, MA. Unpublished.

Richter, Paula. Genealogical chart of Peirce Family. Salem, MA. Unpublished.

United States. National Park Service, US Dept. of the Interior. Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Partners for Eternity. By John Frayler. No. 7 ed. Vol. I. Salem, Mass.: National Park Service, 1999.

Benjamin White Nichols Diary, 1845-1846, DIA 122

Waite Family Papers, MSS 88

Cyphering book of Joseph Peirce, 1784, MSS 399, Box 1, Folder 13

Cyphering book of Ichabod Nichols, undated [circa 1784], MSS 399 Box 2, Folder 11

Cyphering/navigation book of Ichabod Nichols, 1802, MSS 399, Box 13, Folder 6

Account book of Charlotte S. Nichols, 1926-1927, MSS 1267.5 Day book of Charlotte S. Nichols, 1910-1926, MSS 1267.2

Day book of Charlotte S. Nichols, 1929-1930, MSS 1267.3

Day book of Charlotte S. Nichols, 1930-1931, MSS 1267.4

Day book of Charlotte S. Nichols, 1931-1933, MSS 1267.1

Day book of Ichabod Nichols and Stephen Nichols, 1798-1805, MSS 1268

Account book of John H. Nichols, 1856-1867, MSS 1269

Account book of John H. Nichols and George Nichols, 1844-1853, MSS 1270

Glass negatives of George Nichols (1175-1860) and John White Treadwell, Fam. Mss. 670

Logbook of the ship Active by George Nichols, 1801-1803, MH 88, Microfilm Reel 1 Logbook of the barque Active, 1804-1806, Log 1233

Photographs of the Peirce-Nichols House, Frank Cousins Photograph Collection

Processing Information

Collection processed and cataloged by Tamara Gaydos, August 2013.


Inventory prepared by Tamara Gaydos
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of this collection was funded by a grant from the NHPRC (National Historical Publications and Records Commission).

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA