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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:734 1762-1903 P965

Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf records

The Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf records consist of loose manuscripts, account books, daybooks, journals, and correspondence that document the day-to-day activities along the pier.

Dates

  • 1762-1903 (inclusive)

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edu for more information.

Extent

17 linear feet (19 volumes, 2 boxes)

The collection documents the history of the Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf from 1762 to 1903. The earliest materials document the activities of the Proprietors and day-to-day business at the Long Wharf during the tenure of wharfinger George Homer, who held the post from 1792 to 1808. Another group of records cover the controversy between the Proprietors and the owners of the T Wharf, circa 1822 to 1833. The collection is arranged chronologically.

Historical Note:

The “Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf” originated in 1710, when a group of local merchants proposed to build a wharf at the base of King (now State) Street, colonial Boston’s main commercial thoroughfare. Construction of the wharf began in 1712 and incorporated the remnants of derelict 17th century fortifications located on the same site. By the 1780s, the Boston Pier extended nearly two thousand feet into Boston Harbor; it was commonly known as the Long Wharf. The wharf was large enough for the biggest ships of the day to dock directly at its side. Their cargoes could be loaded and unloaded without the use of smaller boats. Storehouses and shops that served the shipping trade were built along the length of the wharf.

The owners of the pier were officially named the Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf. The Proprietors were incorporated in 1772 when they received a charter from the colony of Massachusetts. Each proprietor owned shares in the Long Wharf and collected quarterly dividends proportional to size of the share. Many prominent Boston families were listed among the Proprietors, and family shares were passed down from generation to generation.

The corporation employed a wharfinger, who served as the Proprietors’ agent and clerk. The wharfinger managed the day-to-day operations of the Long Wharf; collected the wharfage and dockage fees; collected rent from the tenants of the wharf’s shops and warehouses; and supervised the frequent improvements made to the Long Wharf. As clerk, the wharfinger organized corporation meetings, recorded the Proprietors’ votes, provided quarterly and annual financial reports, and distributed dividends to the shareholders. The wharfinger’s duties remained consistent from the late 18th century to the early 20th century.

Like the city of Boston itself, the layout of the Long Wharf changed markedly throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The so-called T Wharf, a remnant of the 17th wharf structures that was named for its shape, protruded from the side of the Long Wharf during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Although the two piers were connected, the T Wharf was not owned by the Proprietors. As the Boston waterfront became busier, disagreements over access and unloading rights arose between the owners of the two piers. During the 1820s and 1830s, the two groups fought a lengthy court battle that was ultimately resolved by arbitration. The court case was known as “Brimmer et al vs. the Proprietors of the Boston Pier or Long Wharf.” The piers were finally separated in the mid-nineteenth century when Boston Harbor was partially filled around them. The Long Wharf was shortened and the T Wharf was connected directly to the waterfront. Although the Long Wharf lost some of its namesake length, it remained an important shipping outlet throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Provenance:

Gift of Charles H. Taylor, 1925; Purchase, 2003.

Accession no.: M-03-006

Related Collections

Baker Library holds a small collection of George Homer’s personal account books (Mss: 8995 1790-1801 H766) and two collections concerning the family of Daniel Rea, a Boston tailor (Mss:451 1736-1784 R281), and his son, Daniel Rea Junior, a house painter (Daniel Rea & Son, Mss:715 1764-1802 R281).

The Massachusetts Historical Society also holds a small collection of related materials entitled “Papers related to the Long Wharf (Boston, Mass.), 1862-1894.”

Processing Information

Processed: May 2004

By: Timothy J. Mahoney
Processing Note: The collection originally consisted of the materials in Boxes 1-2 and Volumes 3-12. The collection was formerly entitled “Boston Long Wharf Collection” (Mss:734 1792-1807 L849). The remaining materials were acquired by purchase in 2003. The entire collection was combined and reprocessed in 2004. Loose manuscript materials were placed in new acid-free folders and boxes. The volumes were placed in conserphase boxes.
Link to catalog
Title
Proprietors of the Boston Pier, or Long Wharf records, 1762-1903 (inclusive): A Finding Aid
Author
Baker Library
EAD ID
bak00108

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

Contact:
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Boston MA 01263 USA
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