Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: HUG 1203.5

Papers of William Bentley

Overview

William Bentley (1759-1819) was a Unitarian clergyman in Salem, Mass., a journalist for the Salem Gazette and the Essex Register, a book and coin collector, and a scholar. Bentley served as the minister of the East Church in Salem from 1784 until his death in 1819, and was a prominent presence both in Salem and in the larger intellectual community. This collection contains a selection of correspondence sent to Bentley between 1783 and 1815, primarily by his friend and fellow Harvard alumnus, James Winthrop (1752-1821). The letters from Winthrop typically reflect Winthrop's research interests, his and Bentley's mutual interest in books and numismatics, and offer sporadic information about political and local events. The collection offers a resource for studying the informational channels among New England intellectuals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and reflect Bentley's efforts to use correspondence to locate political, scientific, and literary information, engage in debate, participate in the book trade, and collect content for his newspaper columns.

Dates

  • 1783-1815

Researcher Access

The Papers of William Bentley are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

.27 cubic feet (1 half-legal document box and 1 folder)
This collection contains a selection of correspondence sent to William Bentley between 1783 and 1815, primarily by his friend and fellow Harvard alumnus, James Winthrop. The letters from Winthrop typically reflect Winthrop's research interests, his and Bentley's mutual interest in books and numismatics, and offer sporadic information about political and local events. In addition to the letters from Winthrop, there are two letters from James's brother, William Winthrop, related to his research on Harvard alumni, three letters with Harvard Professor Levi Hedge regarding the readmission of Bentley's pupil Andrew Dunlap to Harvard, two letters from Harvard Professor William Dandridge Peck regarding the identification of fish species, one biographical note on Revolutionary War General John Starks, and one handwritten announcement for book distributor Elisha Sylvester.

The papers of William Bentley offer a resource for studying the informational channels among New England intellectuals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. James Winthrop, William Winthrop, and Professor William Dandridge Peck's letters reflect Bentley's efforts to use correspondence to locate information, engage in debate, remain involved in the book trade, and collect content for his newspaper columns. Notably, both James Winthrop (beginning in 1811) and W. D. Peck (in 1815) mention Bentley's pupil Hannah Crowninshield (1789-1834) and reference her artistic and academic pursuits, offering information about the education of a young Salem woman in the early 1800s.

Biographical Note of William Bentley

William Bentley (1759-1819) was a Unitarian clergyman in Salem, Mass., a journalist, book and coin collector, and scholar. He served as the minister of the East Church in Salem from 1784 until his death in 1819. Bentley served as the minister of the East Church in Salem from 1784 until his death in 1819, and was a prominent presence both in Salem and in the larger intellectual community.

Bentley was born in Boston on June 22, 1759. He received an AB from Harvard in 1777, and upon receiving an AM in 1780, the College appointed him a Latin and Greek tutor. Bentley remained a tutor until his ordination on September 24, 1784 as the minister of the East Church in Salem. In 1794, he began writing a weekly news summary for William Carleton's Salem Gazette. Bentley wrote the column until 1817 and also contributed regularly to the Essex Register and the Essex Gazette. The Reverend knew more than twenty languages and collected a private library of over 4,000 volumes. In 1805, while planning the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson invited Bentley to be its first president, but Bentley declined in order to continue as the minister of the East Church.

Among his many friends, he maintained regular communication with James Winthrop (Harvard AB 1769), a fellow Harvard alumnus and son of Harvard Professor John Winthrop. Winthrop and Bentley visited each other regularly and shared correspondence for over thirty years, and Bentley was aware of Winthrop's reputation as an eccentric. Bentley noted in a diary entry for July 10, 1804 that Winthrop "boasts a theory of life different from mine. He says he intends to purchase every thing with ease, I by labour... Had not my friend betrayed in early life very great excentricity, I should think more kindly of his theory which is rather a convention than a direct conquest, agreed on but not yet signed." Bentley also corresponded with James Winthrop's brother, William Winthrop (Harvard AB 1770), as part of their mutual efforts to collect the biographical histories of Harvard's graduates.

Bentley never married and boarded for more than twenty years with Hannah Crowninshield, daughter of Hannah Carlton and Jacob Crowninshield. Bentley tutored Hannah Crowninshield's niece, Hannah Crowninshield (later Armstrong) (1789-1834), the daughter of Benjamin and Mary Lambert Crowninshield; he also tutored Nathaniel Bowditch (1752-1836) and Andrew Dunlap (1794-1835). Bentley received an honorary AM from Dartmouth in 1787 and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Harvard in 1819. Bentley died on December 29, 1819. Bentley bequeathed his manuscripts and books on history and natural science to the American Antiquarian Society, and the rest of his library to Allegheny College.

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in six series:
  1. Correspondence from James Winthrop, 1783-1815
  2. Correspondence from William Winthrop, 1801; 1810
  3. Biographical note on John Stark, [1810]
  4. Correspondence with Levi Hedge and Sarah Dunlap, 1811
  5. Correspondence from W. D. Peck, 1815
  6. [Announcement for Elisha Sylvester], 1815

Acquisition information

This collection was received from the Peabody Museum of Salem, Mass. (now the Peabody Essex Museum), but its complete provenance is unknown. Presumably this small sampling of Bentley's correspondence was donated to the Harvard University Archives because the correspondents were affiliated with Harvard. Bentley, himself, bequeathed his correspondence and diaries to the American Antiquarian Society, and that collection includes additional letters by James Winthrop.

Online access

All of the papers have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Peck, William Dandridge, 1763-1822. Papers of William Dandridge Peck (HUG 1677)
  2. Winthrop, James, 1752-1821. Papers of James Winthrop, 1765-1826. (HUM 69): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua04011
  3. Winthrop, William, 1753-1825. William Winthrop Collection, 1782-1825. (HUM 27): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua12010
In the American Antiquarian Society
  1. Bentley, William. Papers, 1666-1819.

References

  • Bentley, William. The Diary of William Bentley, D. D., pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1962.
  • Buckingham, Joseph T. Specimens of newspaper literature: with personal memoirs, anecdotes, and reminiscences. Boston, C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1850.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2019 February 19.

Processing Information

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. The material was re-processed in 2011. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid.

This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in May 2011.

Preservation and description of the Papers of William Bentley was supported, in part, by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Link to catalog
Title
Bentley, William, 1759-1819. Papers of William Bentley, 1783-1815: an inventory
EAD ID
hua21011

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

Contact:
Pusey Library
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2461