Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Lost Customs Records of Colonial Massachusetts

Article by Sandra Webber See PDF View

The disappearance of the Colonial Customs records of Massachusetts has long been lamented by maritime and economic historians. Many people have tried to locate whatever records might have survived from the various Customs districts, primarily those of Boston and Salem. What little has been published on the topic is clouded in myth and conjecture, some of which sounds logical, yet searches have repeatedly ended in frustration. My own interest in the Customs service stems from years of research towards a biography of Boston Customs officer Benjamin Hallowell. A challenge from a maritime history friend brought me to the many questions surrounding the story of the missing Customs records. 1 Although definitive answers remain elusive, retracing and weaving together what is known about the early events and the subsequent searches, while presenting new evidence, reveals the probable fate of these records.
Although scattered Naval Office Returns, Admiralty Court records, newspapers, and shipping insurance papers survive in America and London, they are only fragments of the larger story of maritime Massachusetts. Boston and Salem were the busiest ports in the Province during the years just prior to the Revolution, and Boston had been the center of British Customs for New England since the late seventeenth century. After the arrival of the five-man American Board of Customs Commissioners in 1767, the town also became the supervisory center for all British North American Customs operations. It had been hoped that having a Board in the colonies would alleviate problems for both merchants and Customs officers, who previously had to channel their complaints through London. The Port Books kept by Custom House officers recorded shipping entrances and clearances, destination points, vessel name, rig type and tonnage, master, owners, and cargoes. Port records were also kept by Naval Officers, direct appointees of Colonial governments, including those residing at several ports in Massachusetts. The Customs information was tracked in order to charge the appropriate duties and bonds under the British Navigation Laws, and to collect the fees that supplemented the officers’ salaries. The Commissioners and their staff oversaw all North American Customs officers, and collated and summarized their records, including the collected revenues. As such, the early Custom House Port Books, as well as the Commissioners’ Records, would be an unparalleled resource… if they still existed and could be found.
The story of the disappearance of the Massachusetts Customs Records is traditionally associated with the Evacuation of Boston in March 1776, when the British Army and Navy suddenly withdrew from the harbor. Lord Germain’s order to evacuate had arrived in December 1775, too late to implement, so despite food and fuel shortages the British troops wintered in place. General William Howe had also delayed leaving Boston due to insufficient transports, so he began detaining incoming cargo vessels, knowing he would need to remove the besieged Loyalists along with his troops. Although the evacuation was being planned in February 1776, once the rebellious Americans took over Dorchester Heights on March 4, and bad weather intervened, negotiations followed to allow the British departure.2 During the chaos of the embarkation, which began in earnest on March 10, military supplies and many already packed personal belongings had to be left behind to afford space for 12,000 British troops and over 1100 fleeing civilians, including many Customs employees and their families.3 Transports had to be quickly loaded with passengers and moved away from the wharves, to gather in the lower harbor among the British Navy escort ships. The first clue in the story comes from an original 1776 Loyalist witness, writing thirty-five years after the fact.4 Speculation on the whereabouts of the Customs records depended to some extent on the presumed veracity of this correspondence.
In 1811, George W. Murray of New York contacted Edward Winslow in New Brunswick, seeking information about two volumes missing from the Suffolk County Register of Deeds. Rumor alleged that two books marked “Suffolk”, found by the family of Samuel Fitch,5 had supposedly been given to someone to return to Boston. One assumes Murray had a direct real estate interest in locating these volumes. In his response, Winslow stated that in 1776 he was Register of Probate for Suffolk County, as well as Boston’s Acting Collector of Customs.6 During the Evacuation British troops were looting supplies under command, but were also damaging and stealing property as they departed, despite a death penalty warning from General Howe. Witnessing the mayhem, Winslow stated that he feared for the safety of the Government records. The previous night the Custom House had been occupied as a military guard room, so he considered the Customs records to be especially vulnerable. The Boston Custom House at this time stood several doors down from the east end of the Town (Old State) House on King (State) Street, which ran in a direct line to Long Wharf, Boston’s principle deep-water dock. Having a party of men at his command7, Winslow stated that he “found means to pack up and place on board a transport, the Probate Records, the Registry of Deeds, and the Custom House books.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Albert J Proulx and Diana Gill

Albert Joseph Proulx (1881-1953) was born in St Guillaume D'upton, Canada to Olivier Proulx (1855-1919) and Emelina Chapdelaine
He married Diana Gill (1885-1971) born in Canada to William "Willie" Henry Gill (1860-1895) and Malvina Bergeron (1863-1907)
Diana a direct descendant of Samuel Gill (1651-1709) and Sarah Worth (1654-1715) parents of Samuel Gill (1687-1723) who was abducted from his home in Salisbury, Massachusetts, in 1697. He was one of the captives who did NOT return. Samuel stayed with his native family and his oldest child, Joseph Louis Gill, became known as the White Chief of the Abenaki. see

Albert's father was a carriage-maker in Canada (St. Guillaumo d'Upton Quebec) and inspired his sons to learn the trade. Joseph attended school to learn the trade of a draftsman.

His father encouraged him to relocate to Amesbury, Massachusetts  and make his way in the booming carriage industry.

Albert and his family lived at 39 Church Street and later moved to 11 Chester Street in Amesbury, Massachusetts. He started out at Atlantic Corp and later worked as an engineer draftsman for Biddle & Smart, Walker Body Company, and American Specialty Company. 

His sons played on the famous ice hockey team the Maples:  The History of the Amesbury Maples, America's Oldest Amateur Hockey Club

Photo of Albert and Diana
Photo of children, Alice (sister), Olivier (father), Albert age 17, and Joe Alpheche (far right) taken in 1900

Obit Page 3 of Newburyport Daily News published in Newburyport, Massachusetts on Tuesday, October 13th, 1953

Sunday, July 28, 2019

More on Blaisdell Clocks

From Antiques and Fine Art Magazine Gary Sullivan Antiques: A rare and important early American tall case clock, by Nicholas Blasdel, Amesbury, Massachusetts, circa 1760

The Blaisdell/Blasdel family produced nine clockmakers in four generations. I came across this article in the archives written by Rev Roland D Sawyer published in Amesbury Daily News Amesbury, Massachusetts Saturday November 10, 1951.
The Purington family who were Quakers also made clocks
Read more from my blog on Blaisdell Clock family at

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Charles Freeman Russell Newburyport Massachusetts

Zafris family photo collection and is not labeled but others images resemble Charles Russell and his brother Albert Russell

Charles Freeman Russell (1850-1880) son of Samuel Chester Russell (1820-1884) and Eunice Gertrude Berry (1828-1897). He was born in Newbury, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Elizabeth Pearson (1851-1910) daughter of Michael Morrison Pearson (1791-1869) and Elizabeth Farnham (1816-1894).
Charles was the Grandson of Samuel Perkins Russell (1796-1872) and Nancy Knight (1797-1872) and Gr Grandson of John Russell (1763-1800) and Elizabeth Perkins

Charles listed in city of Newburyport:
Assistant City Marshall, Member of the Odd Fellows, St John's Masonic Lodge, Newburyport, Massachusetts. The listing for residence is 3 Oak Street Newburyport, MA 

6 California Street Newburyport, MA (Redfin photo) Residence of Pearson family. Michael Prearson in his will gave the house to his wife Elizabeth and daughters Mary and Sarah--wife of Charles F Russell. After Charles died Sarah is living here with her mother listed as a dressmaker in a 1880 census. Sarah married second George William Cahoon
and third in 1952 she married Thomas Trenholm Ferguson son of William Ferguson and Sarah Akerley. 

Charles F Russell obit in the Boston Post February 16 1880
Page  3 Newburyport Daily Herald Thursday February 19th, 1880

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Portrait Mary Davenport and Charles Coffin by John Brester JR

Mary Davenport (1783-1852) and Charles Coffin (1779-1851) painted by John Brewster JR (1766-1854) Mary was daughter of Anthony Davenport (1752-1836) and Elizabeth Woodburn (1755-1785). Charles son of Paul Coffin (1736-1821) and Mary Gorham (1739-1803)

A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, J  Harlan L. Lane, John Brewster Beacon Press, 2004

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

1683 Jackman Willett House Newbury Ma Book

The 1683 Jackman Willett House: A history of the families who lived here and of the current owner The Sons and Daughters of the First Settlers of Newbury (SDFSN) The 1683 Jackman Willett House is a one and one half story house still standing in the Old Town section of Newbury, Essex County. Massachusetts. It is currently owned by the Society of the Sons and Daughters of the First Settlers of Newbury (SDFSN). This book tells the story and history, of the house and Society and the genealogy of the families who lived there or owned and rented out the house including Jackmans, Willetts, Samuel Gerrish, Joseph Stanwood, Plumers, Danforths, and Hales. Richard Jackman and Elizabeth Plummer were the first residents. Their daughter Elizabeth Jackman married Joseph Willett. Stephen Pettengill Hale's estate sold the house to SDFSN in 1930. Several U. S. Presidents are descendants of the First Settlers of Newbury, Massachusetts and nearby Rowley, MA.

To Purchase the book visit SDFSN AMAZON
To Join Sons and Daughters of Newbury Settlers
Visit Facebook Group of SDFSN

Monday, May 13, 2019

Edward Little Davenport JR and Saray Nye

Looking for more info on the relatives of Edward Little Davenport JR (1875-) son of Edward Little Davenport SR (1838-1884) and Sophronia Angelina Cross (1827-1915) married Sarah Nye (1875-1911) daughter of Hiram Francis Nye (1852-1900) and Julie Crowel (1853-1937). The couple lived in Boston, MA. Thank you!

Photo of Hiram Nye (I have PDF Article please contact me) Bottom L to R: Edmond F Partridge, Albert B Mann, Samuel B Shapleigh, Benjamin H Ticknor,

Hiram Nye enlisted at the age of 46 as a private on 9/12/1862. On 9/26/1862 he mustered into Co. D, MA 45th Infantry. He was mustered out on 7/7/1863 at Readville, MA. The 45th Massachusetts, a nine-month regiment, which was organized in the fall of 1862, constituted part of the garrison at New Bern, NC, with Company G detached to nearby Fort Macon. The 45th saw action at Kingston on December 14, 1862, losing 15 killed and 43 wounded, and was engaged at Whitehall the next day suffering another 20 casualties. During the winter and spring, the 45th Massachusetts was employed on several scouts and expeditions and saw action at Core Creek on April 28, losing one killed and four wounded storming a Confederate fortification.