Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 1233

Melville family papers


Business correspondence and papers of Thomas Melvill, Sr. and his son Thomas Melvill, Jr. of the Massachusetts-based Melville family, ancestors of the author Herman Melville.


  • 1787-1863

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


1.5 linear feet (3 boxes)

Chiefly business correspondence of Thomas Melvill or his son Thomas, Jr. Includes letters and documents reflecting the elder Melvill's position as naval officer; correspondence between father and son concerning the latter's commercial ventures in Europe; letters about the farm at Pittsfield; and papers pertaining to legal matters such as the lawsuit of Melvill heirs to recover some French property to which they had a claim by marriage, material concerning the seizure of cargo of the sloop Falmouth in 1789, and letters to or from Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts (1830-1860). Also contains accounts, receipts, promissory notes, insurance policies and other business papers.

Biographical / Historical

The Melville family (or Melvill family) of this collection were ancestors of the author Herman Melville. Thomas Melvill (1751-1832), Herman Melville's grandfather, was a merchant in Boston, participated in the Boston Tea Party, served as a Major in Crafts' Artillery Regiment during the Revolutionary War, was appointed Surveyor of the Port with the formation of the federal government, and after 1811 held the post of Naval Officer of the Port of Boston and Charlestown. Thomas Melvill, Junior (1776-1845), was a businessman in Europe from 1794 to 1811, chiefly in France, where he met and married his first wife. He served with the rank of Major in the War of 1812, settling in Pittsfield after the war to work the farm his father bought there in 1816. He moved to Galena, Illinois, in the 1830s.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. I. Melville family letters to others
  2. II. Letters from various correspondents
  3. III. Business papers

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

49M-288. Gift of Eleanor Melville Metcalf; received: 1950.

Melville family. Melville family papers, 1787-1863: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

Harvard Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2440