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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:766 1821-1846 W541

William Shepard Wetmore papers


Personal and business correspondence, passport, and daguerreotype of China trade merchant, William Shepard Wetmore, 1821-1846.


  • 1821-1846


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


1.5 linear feet (4 boxes)
The papers of William Shepard Wetmore, 1821-1841, consist primarily of correspondence he received while living and working in Canton, China, between 1834 and 1839. The correspondence details the trade of silk, tea, and spices from China to New York, London, Peru, and Chile; business conditions including market fluctuations and business climate; financial affairs and the marketing of goods; and the shipment of goods to and from ports. Wetmore mainly traded tea and silk, but the correspondence also mentions his involvement in the opium trade. Also included is Wetmore's passport, used during his 1846-1847 European travels with his second wife. The daguerreotype of Wetmore is undated, but there is a studio mark from J. Gurney, 348 Broadway in the bottom right corner. The cameo of Wetmore dates from 1846.

Biographical Note:

William Shepard Wetmore was born in St. Albans, Vermont, on January 26, 1801. At a young age, he moved to Middletown, Connecticut, to live with his aunt and uncle, attend school, and work in his uncle's shop. At the age of fourteen, he entered the mercantile business in the employ of Edward Carrington & Co. of Providence, Rhode Island. In 1823, Wetmore sailed as the firm's supercargo on the ship Lion, bound for the port of Valparaiso, Chile. He was shipwrecked on the way, but this misfortune soon became an opportunity. Wetmore joined in a partnership with Valparaiso import merchant Richard Alsop, who was originally from Middletown. The firm Alsop & Wetmore conducted trade with the United States and England with great success. In 1825, Philadelphia native John Cryder joined the partners and the firm became Alsop, Wetmore & Cryder. This continued until 1829, when Wetmore retired and returned to the United States with a large fortune.

After several years at home while recovering from poor health, William Wetmore departed for Canton, China in 1833. William Wetmore and Samuel Archer, a family friend, completed an agreement to establish Wetmore & Co., a partnership between Wetmore and Archer's son Joseph. Wetmore's cousin, Samuel Wetmore, Jr., would serve as clerk. The elder Archer had close connections to the British textile trade, especially James Brown & Co. of Leeds. John Cryder, who was then working for the London bankers Morrison & Cryder, secured these accounts for Wetmore & Co. With these textile accounts and Joseph Archer's established connections in the tea trade, Wetmore & Co. acquire much of the business previously held by Dunn & Co., a recently disbanded China trade firm. Wetmore & Co. conducted brisk business throughout the 1830s trading in Chinese tea, silk, opium, and other goods to merchants in the United States, Britain, France, Chile, Peru, and Sumatra.

In 1839, Wetmore left China and established himself in New York City. His partner from Chile, Richard Alsop, had been the United States agent for Wetmore & Co. of Canton; however, due to a quarrel, Alsop was removed from the firm. Wetmore then became the principal United States agent for his own Canton firm. In 1844, William Wetmore and John Cryder established the New York City commission merchant firm of Wetmore, Cryder & Co. Cryder had married Wetmore's sister and had recently returned from London. Wetmore, now established in New York, left his cousin, and former clerk, Samuel Wetmore, Jr. as head of the Canton firm Wetmore & Co. William Wetmore removed himself from all business in 1847 and retired to his mansion, Chateau-sur-Mer, in Newport, Rhode Island.

Wetmore traveled from China to London, England, in 1837 to marry his cousin, Esther Phillips Wetmore of Middletown. She was the daughter of his uncle Samuel Wetmore. Esther died in October 1838, a few weeks after the birth of their firstborn daughter. William was then in Canton, and received word of his wife's death through a letter in this collection (see Box 2, folder 25). In 1843, William married Anstiss Derby Rogers, daughter of Salem, Massachusetts, merchant John Rogers. Wetmore had three children with Anstiss: William Shepard Wetmore, Jr. (1844-1858), George Peabody Wetmore (1846-1921), and Annie Derby Rogers Wetmore (1848-1884). William Wetmore died on June 16, 1862.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. Papers, 1821-1846
  2. Series II. Daguerreotype and cameo, 1846

Physical Location



Purchase, 2011, 2016.

Processing Information

Processed: September 2011

By: Andrea Cronin, Benjamin Johnson
Link to catalog
Wetmore, William Shepard, 1801-1862. William Shepard Wetmore Papers, 1821-1846: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Description rules
Language of description

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.

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