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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 579, MS Am 580

Bourne family papers


Primarily correspondence and papers relating to shipping and military activities of the Boston and Barnstable, Massachusetts-based Bourn family (or Bourne family).


  • 1687-1791
  • Majority of material found within 1730-1791

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


3 linear feet (11 volumes and 1 box)

Chiefly letters, accounts, deeds, wills, bills of exchange, powers of attorney, and other business papers relating to shipping and military activities of the Bourn(e) family in Boston and Barnstable, Massachusetts. Also contains letters and papers concerning families related to the Bourn(e) family by marriage: the Balthazar Bayard family, the James Bowdoin family and estate, the Helena Dekey estate, the Arthur St. Clair family, the Samuel Sturgis family. Includes extensive correspondence of Nathaniel Holmes and Joseph Gorham.

General index to this collection (MS Am 580) is bound and shelved with the Houghton Reading Room reference collection and an electronic version of this index is available at the end of the finding aid. A typescript index to each volume is also bound in at the front of each volume. The reference numbers in the index below refer to the volume and specifc page within the collection.

Biographical / Historical

Sylvanus Bourn or Bourne (1694-1763), his son Melatiah Bourn (1722-1778) and grandson Sylvanus Bourn (1761-1817) were successful merchants. Arthur St. Clair (1734-1818) married Balthazar Bayard's daughter; he was a member of the Continental Congress, 1786-1787, and its president in 1787. Samuel Sturgis (1706-1767) was a merchant and notary public for the port of Barnstable. Nathaniel Holmes (1703-1774) operated a distillery with domestic and foreign trade ventures. Joseph Gorham (1725-1790) was an army officer and officer-holder, born in Barnstable, Massachusetts.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. MS Am 579 (1-3): Correspondence of Meletiah Bourn, 1748-1779
  2. MS Am 579 (4): Correspondence of Sylvanus Bourn, 1775-1790
  3. MS Am 579 (5): Papers of the Bourne family, the Bayard family, the Bowdoin family, Dekey family estate, the St. Clair family, correspondence of Samuel Sturgis, and miscellaneous letters
  4. MS Am 579 (6-8): Correspondence of Nathaniel Holmes, 1738-1774
  5. MS Am 579 (9): Correspondence of Joseph Gorham, 1751-1774
  6. MS Am 579 (10): Miscellaneous Boston manuscripts
  7. bMS Am 579 (11): Miscellaneous Bourne materials
  8. MS Am 580: General index to Bourne manuscripts

Physical Location

Box 1 is located in b and Volume 11 is in the Houghton Reading Room.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Gift of Judge Joseph M. Day, of Barnstable, Mass.; received: 1896 April 29.

Digitization Funding

Collections and items have been digitized with the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Processing Information

Finding aid reworked by Bonnie B. Salt, March 2015.

Items have been bound into volumes to form this collection. An index was orginally created and organized alphabetically (see end of finding aid). This index was reorganized in 2015 to produce this volume listing. There is a brief general index separately bound (MS Am 580), with a typescript index to each volume bound into the front of the volume.

Bourne family. Bourne family papers, 1687-1791: Guide. MS Am 579, MS Am 580
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.

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