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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:766 1856-1905

J. Howard Nichols papers


Personal and professional papers of China trader and textile manufacturing firm treasurer J. Howard Nichols, 1856-1905.


  • Creation: 1856-1905


Conditions Governing Access

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


3 collection (9 boxes)

The J. Howard Nichols papers consist of business records and personal and professional correspondence during the period from 1856 to 1905. The early business letters, 1856-1875, make up the bulk of this collection and refer primarily to his work as a China trader in the 1860s. The later letters, 1875-1905, refer to his work as treasurer for the Dwight Manufacturing Company. The business records consistof shipping invoices, letters of credit, receipts, accounts, and deeds, mostly pertaining to his time in China and to his land holdings inTexas and Missouri. His personal correspondence consists of letters from his family, friends, and missionaries and reveal close family ties and a strong religious faith. Also included in the papers are telegrams about business matters written in secret code with translation beneath; references to the Civil War and the ensuing financial chaos; the competition of the trans-Atlantic cable; and the Taiping Rebellion. Additionally, there are papers of his son, Howard Gardner Nichols, which include business correspondence, 1895-1896, and a Harvard College report card, 1890-1891.

Biographical Note:

John Howard Nichols was born in Kingston, New Hampshire in 1838. At the age of 19, while working as a clerk in a wholesale grocery store in Boston, he attracted the attention of some China merchants. In 1857, he was sent to China by John L. Gardner and Company as supercargo of one of their ships. He decided to stay in China as an agent buying tea, cloth, straw hats,and other dry goods for his employers, and shipping them back to America for resale. He worked closely with several other companies involved in China trade, including Augustine Heard & Company, Olyphant & Co., and Russell & Co. It does not appear from the content of his correspondence that he himself interacted much with the Chinese at all, but he seems to have had friendly relationships with his business associates and other Westerners in the area.

Nichols was in China during three separate periods, 1857-1863, 1865-1868, and 1873. In December 1873, he returned to America permanently and in January 1876 was offered the position of treasurer for the Boston, Massachusetts textile firm Dwight Manufacturing Company. He also served as treasurer of the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, and as president of the board of directors of the Lyman Mills and the Manchester Mills. He invested in property in Galveston, Texas, which his brother Frank Nichols managed, and in Kansas City, Missouri. He died in Newton, Massachusetts, at the age of 67 on September 15, 1905.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Business records, 1856-1905
  2. Series II. Business correspondence and telegrams, 1857-1905
  3. Series III. Personal correspondence, 1857-1905
  4. Series IV. Personal papers, 1863
  5. Series V. Howard Gardner Nichols papers, 1894-1896

Physical Location



Gift of John G. Greene, 1957 and 1969.

Gift of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1981.

Related Collections:

See Dwight Manufacturing Company records for more information regarding J. Howard Nichols' tenure as treasurer.

Processing Information

Processed: November 2011

By: Benjamin Johnson

Baker Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

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

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives 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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