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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:766 1768-1829 J77

John Coffin Jones business records

This collection contains correspondence, accounts, legal documents, and ships' papers of Boston, Massachusetts, merchant, speculator, and politician John Coffin Jones (1750-1829; Harvard AB 1768), dated 1762-1827. The records contain papers related to voyages of Jones and his partners to trade commodities including sugar, pepper, turmeric, and cotton in Europe and Asia, endorsement of notes, and several lawsuits in which he was involved over protested bills of exchange.

Dates

  • 1762-1827 (inclusive)

Conditions Governing Access

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

Extent

5.0 linear feet (10 boxes)

This collection contains correspondence, accounts, legal documents, and ships' papers of Boston, Massachusetts, merchant, speculator, and politician John Coffin Jones (1750-1829; Harvard AB 1768), dated 1762-1827. The records contain papers related to voyages of Jones and his partners to trade commodities including sugar, pepper, turmeric, and cotton in Europe and Asia, endorsement of notes, and several lawsuits in which he was involved over protested bills of exchange.

There is correspondence between Jones and his agents in foreign countries regarding consignment of his goods, letters with partners in shipping and trade ventures, including his brother-in-law Thomas Lee, M.M. Hays (1739-1805) and Henry Jackson (1747-1809), and Jeffrey & Russell. Topics include privateering and condemnation of Jones' ships, the political atmosphere in America and Europe and the impact of war on trade, the market for indigo, cotton, sugar, pepper, coffee, and flour, and insurance of cargo. There is also correspondence regarding lawsuits and disagreements Jones had with Lee and Jackson over settlement of their accounts. Most of the outgoing correspondence from Jones is either copies or drafts of letters.

Jones' financial papers and ships' papers include accounts with other merchants and agents for transatlantic shipping, trade of goods such as hemp, sugar, staves, pepper, spermaceti, and cloth in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Asia, insurance for ships and cargo, and net proceeds from goods consigned to his agents overseas. There are also receipts, invoices, deeds, protested bills, and promissory notes, many of which Jones exchanged with Newport, Rhode Island, insurer Abraham Touro (1777/78-1822), nephew of M.M. Hays. The ships' papers additionally contain correspondence.

There are also court documents, correspondence, and other papers related to lawsuits in which Jones was involved over protested notes. In one case, Jones sued Boston merchant James Swan (1754-1830) for endorsing over to him protested bills of exchange of French Consul General Philippe de Létombe, and he subsequently sued Stephen Higginson & Co. for nonpayment of a bond on the notes. There are also documents from Jones' lawsuit seeking to recover payment from the French government, which was dismissed in court. The Swan and Higginson suits extended to a dispute over commission on cargo, and there are letters to court-appointed referees, including Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814; Harvard AB 1762) about the case. Other legal papers include numbered exhibits used in a lawsuit filed by Jones and business partners Jeffrey & Russell against Philadelphia land speculator James Greenleaf (1765-1843), claiming Greenleaf endorsed over to them fraudulently secured notes, and documents showing Greenleaf settled the case by deeding his shares in land in Georgia and Virginia and interest in the North American Land Co. to the plaintiffs. Jones and Jeffrey & Russell also gained interest in the Bellows Falls Company, which was incorporated by Vermont Congressman Lewis R. Morris (1760-1825) and New Hampshire surgeon William Page (1749-1810) to build canals on the Connecticut River, from Greenleaf.

In addition, the collection contains accounts of Jones' father, Ichabod Jones, also a merchant, and his cousin Stephen Jones, who managed the family store in Machias, Maine.

The collection was rehoused and its original order disturbed in 1942 after it was gifted to Harvard Business School; the records were reorganized in 1949, largely by account name or ship name. This arrangement and folder titles were retained when the collection was processed as part of the Arcadia-funded Colonial North American Project at Harvard University in 2016.

Biographical Note:

John Coffin Jones was a merchant, speculator, and politician in Boston, Massachusetts, who owned ships and traded commodities including sugar, pepper, indigo, and tobacco in the Unites States, Europe, and Asia, and also was involved in privateering and endorsing notes.

Jones was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, probably in 1750, to Apphia and Ichabod Jones, a merchant and store owner. He graduated from Harvard in 1768, and went into business with his brother-in-law Thomas Lee, profiting from privateering during the Revolutionary War. They also contracted to deliver clothing to the Continental Army. The partnership was often contentious and formally dissolved after the conclusion of the war. He also formed business partnerships with Boston merchants M.M. Hays (1739-1805) and General Henry Jackson (1747-1809), with whom he engaged in the shipping and trade of dry goods, fabric, and spermaceti, and Jeffery & Russell. Jones was also involved in speculation, and in several cases his endorsement of protested or allegedly fraudulent bills of exchange resulted in lawsuits against other merchants. A suit against Philadelphia land speculator James Greenleaf (1765-1843) resolved with the transfer of shares of land in Georgia, and Vermont, to Jones and Jeffery & Russell, although the Georgia grants were repudiated. After lobbying Congress, the merchants gained equivalent Mississippi land stock.

In addition to his business endeavors, Jones was involved in local and national politics and civic activities. He was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he voted in favor of ratification. In 1783, he was appointed a justice of the peace in Suffolk County, and in 1786, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives; he was House Speaker from 1802 to 1803. He was active on the Boston School Committee and in efforts to build a new almshouse in Boston. In addition, Jones was an incorporator of the Massachusetts Fire Insurance Company, a director of the Massachusetts Bank and the Boston branch of the United States Bank, and a director of the Middlesex Canal Company. In addition, he was at one point an Overseer of Harvard College.

Jones married Mary Lee, sister of Thomas Lee, in 1774. After her death in 1785, Jones remarried to Abigail Grant, who died in 1790. He then married Elizabeth Champlin, daughter of Rhode Island Senator Christopher Champlin (1768-1840; Harvard AB 1786). In all he had at least eight children, including John Coffin Jones, Jr. (1796-1861), the first United States consul to the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Jones died in 1829 in Boston.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1773-1822
  2. Series II. Financial and legal records, 1762-1823
  3. _____Subseries IIA. Individual accounts, 1795-1814
  4. _____Subseries IIB. Miscellaneous records, 1782-1823
  5. _____Subseries IIC. Ichabod Jones and Stephen Jones records, 1762-1816
  6. _____Subseries IID. Accounts with business partners, 1775-1820
  7. Series III. Ships' papers, 1772-1827

Provenance:

Gift, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1942.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2017

By: Brooke McManus
Link to catalog
Title
Jones, John Coffin, 1750-1829. John Coffin Jones Business Records, 1762-1827 (inclusive): A Finding Aid
Author
Baker Library
EAD ID
bak00302

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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