Israel Thorndike business records
- Majority of material found within 1791-1811
- Thorndike, Israel (Person)
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Extent8.0 linear feet (15 boxes)
There are some records dated 1776-1782 concerning Brown & Thorndike's investments in building and financing voyages of privateer ships Black Prince and Pilgrim during the Revolutionary War. Correspondents in the collection include Thorndike's business partners Moses Brown, George Dodge, David Sears (1752-1816), and London agent Thomas Dickason & Co., ship captains William Leech and Tarbox Moulton, and his nephew and supercargo Andrew Thorndike. Letters regard trade and shipment of goods, the demand for certain commodities in Europe, and the East and West Indies, prices current, and market fluctuations and instability caused by ongoing conflict between Britain and France.
In addition, there are correspondence and documents related to the capture of Thorndike's ships by privateers, which increased in occurrence as the Napoleonic Wars continued, and the legal steps taken to recover his property through the British Court of Vice Admiralty and the French government. In the latter case, his estate pursued French Spoliation claims after his death, and there are letters and ships' papers used in court cases attempting to settle those claims.
Invoices, bills, accounts current, and bills of lading in the collection reflect the cargo Thorndike traded and imported, such as pepper, sugar, coffee, cocoa, molasses, and East India goods like nankeens. There are also marine insurance papers, crew lists, and bills from shipwright Enos Briggs (1746-1819), Paul Revere (1735-1818), and other tradesmen for work done building Thorndike's ship Cyrus.
An addenda to the collection contains papers related to the ships Alexander Hodgdon and Cyrus, brigantines Rambler and Fairy, and schooner Three Brothers. These papers, sometimes grouped in wrappers, were kept in original order. There are also assorted business and personal accounts, bills of lading, correspondence, and miscellaneous shipping papers. The addenda further include bills of lading of the New York firm H.L. Routh & Co.; it is unclear if these are connected to Thorndike, his partners, or heirs, although a possible relation is Thorndike associate William Routh.
Additionally, there are personal accounts for the Thorndike family, including tuition bills for his sons, who attended boarding schools like Phillips Academy, Andover, and Phillips Exeter Academy; and charges for private instruction for the children, usually paid by Thorndike's wife, Anna, as well as bills for clothing, shoes, and accessories. There are also bills for tutoring girls not related to the family, most likely the daughters of Thorndike servants and shipmasters.
Papers of wholesale merchant Benjamin Winslow of Boston, and Dudley Hall, of Medford, Massachusetts, as well as papers of the Clifford family of New Hampshire, are mainly dated after the death of Israel Thorndike. Winslow's papers include records for his store in Boston and his railroad investments. Hall's papers contain bills for operating Temple Place, for which he may have been a proprietor or treasurer, and shares in railroad companies. It is unclear how the men were associated with Thorndike, although they may have served as executors of his estate. The Clifford family were merchants and landowners, and their records include deeds and invoices for commodities they purchased.
The records of the Boston Sugar Refinery include prices current for sugar in New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and bills and accounts for refining and shipping sugar products. The records of the Provident Institute of Savings in Boston include bills and invoices for office supplies, furniture, acquiring shares in other banks, salaries for clerks and door attendants, advertising in papers, day labor like cleaning and washing in the office, and repairs to the bank building.
Israel Thorndike was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1755, to Anna and Andrew Thorndike, a farmer and sailor. He was apprenticed to a cooper before finding work as a fisherman. In 1772, he formed a partnership with his future brother-in-law, Moses Brown (1742-1827; Harvard AB 1768). Both men served during the Revolutionary War; Thorndike commanded privateer ships and enlisted in the newly created Massachusetts State Navy. Brown & Thorndike also collaborated with other Beverly and Salem merchants in 1777-1778 to fund construction and voyages of privateer ships, including the Black Prince and Pilgrim. After the war, Brown & Thorndike briefly engaged in the slave trade and marketed fish and dry goods in Europe and the West Indies. The firm was formally dissolved in 1793, although Brown would still occasionally invest in voyages with Thorndike.
Thorndike also partnered with his father-in-law George Dodge in shipping ventures to the West and East Indies, with his son-in-law Ebenezer Francis (1775-1858), who served as Harvard College treasurer for several years, and with Boston merchant David Sears (1752-1816), who owned a stake in the voyage of the ship Alexander Hodgdon to the East Indies and Europe. Other family members he employed included nephew Andrew Thorndike, who served as a supercargo for the ship Alexander Hodgdon, and Luke Thorndike, who was a shipmaster.
In 1810, he moved from Beverly to Boston, where he continued his shipping enterprise. Thorndike also began to explore manufacturing. In 1813, he invested in Francis Cabot Lowell's (1775-1817; Harvard AB 1793) newly established Boston Manufacturing Company, which made textiles. After Lowell died, Thorndike was president of the company, from 1817 to 1831. He also had a stake in the Merrimack Manufacturing Company.
Thorndike was active in politics and was a member of the Federalist Party. As a delegate to the Massachusetts Convention on the Constitution in 1788, he supported ratification. In 1802, Thorndike was elected Beverly's representative to the Massachusetts state legislature. He and Daniel Webster (1782-1852) hosted a dinner for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825, and Thorndike contributed funds to construct the Bunker Hill Monument.
In 1818, Thorndike purchased the library of Americana collected by University of Hamburg professor Christophe Daniel Ebeling (1741-1817) and donated it to Harvard College.
Thorndike was married three times, to Mercy Trask (1756-1783), Anna Dodge (1765-1817), and Sarah Dana (1780-1846). He had ten children who survived to adulthood, including Elizabeth Thorndike Francis (1778-1853), Israel, Jr. (1785-1867), George (1789-1811), Andrew (1790-1854), Sally (1793-1819), Edward (1794-1821), Charles (1795-), Augustus (1797-1858), Oliver (1800-1822) and Anna Thorndike Loring (1804-1872).
By: Brooke McManus
The Israel Thorndike business records were bound into volumes in the early 20th century, with the documents affixed to paper sheets. The records were arranged mostly in chronological order. The materials were removed from their paper binders and rehoused into folders, with the previous order maintained, in 2017 as part of the Colonial North America at Harvard Library Project. The unbound pages, which contain mixed material types, are now labeled as "records." Oversize materials were removed to box 14. An addenda to the collection, which was purchased in 2008, was arranged and labeled by record type in boxes 13 and 14.
The following box list reflects the current location of the 20th century volumes:
Box 1: Volumes 1-2
Box 2: Volumes 2-4
Box 3: Volumes 4-6
Box 4: Volumes 6-8
Box 5: Volumes 9-10
Box 6: Volumes 11-12
Box 7: Volumes 13-14
Box 8: Volumes 15-16
Box 9: Volumes 16a, 16b, 17
Box 10: Volumes 18-20
Box 11: Volumes 21-23
Box 12: Volumes 23-25
Box 13: Volume 26
In select folders, numbered pages of the volumes were blank; these were removed from the collection.
- Thorndike, Israel, 1755-1832. Israel Thorndike Business Records, 1740-1899 (inclusive), 1779-1811 (bulk)
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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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