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COLLECTION Identifier: HOLLIS 13146751

John Pitman, 1785-1864, correspondence from Joseph Story and others


Correspondence received by John Pitman, judge in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, 1824-1864. Most of the correspondence is from Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, whose responsibility it was to attend the sessions of the circuit courts for the New England Circuit.


  • 1817-1869

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open to the public. Consult the Historical & Special Collections staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Historical and Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


1 boxes (.3 linear feet)
The John Pitman Correspondence spans Pitman’s professional career, from just before his appointment as a federal judge in the U. S. District Court of Rhode Island to his death in 1864. The majority of the correspondence is of a professional nature, and the bulk of the collection comprises of letters from Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Additionally, there is correspondence to Pitman from Story’s successors on the Supreme Court – Levi Woodbury, Benjamin R. Curtis and Nathan Clifford.

During this time period, the Supreme Court worked closely with the federal circuit courts, overseeing hearings and advising judges. Each circuit had a Supreme Court justice assigned to it, and Joseph Story served as the justice for New England . Much of his correspondence to Pitman concerned legal matters, often touching on the disbursement of costs. One legal matter that dominated the end of their correspondence was the Dorr Rebellion, and the case of Luther v. Borden, which went to the Supreme Court after Story’s death. However, the two were friends before Pitman took up his position in Providence, and their friendship grew stronger as they worked together. Many letters touch on personal matters such as family illnesses and deaths, as well as happy events such as weddings and graduations. Although Story began teaching law at Harvard University in 1829, none of his correspondence to Pitman touches upon Harvard or his teaching.

Historical/Biographical Information

John Pitman served as a federal judge in the U. S. District Court of Rhode Island for 40 years. For the majority of that time, Pitman had a close personal and professional relationship with Joseph Story, who was the Supreme Court justice assigned to handling federal circuit court cases in New England. Pitman and Story first met in 1812 when Pitman moved to Salem, MA. This relationship grew until Story’s sudden death in 1845.

Pitman was born February 23, 1785, in Providence, RI, and at age 10 entered college at Rhode Island College (now Brown University). He remained tied to the University, earning his JD in 1843 and serving as a trustee or fellow for 36 years. In the seven years between graduating college and becoming eligible to become a member of the bar (at age 21), Pitman studied law in New York. In 1806 he was admitted to practice both in the mayor’s court of New York and in the New York Supreme Court. Pitman practiced law in New York, and then moved to Kentucky for two years. In 1809 he made his final return to New England where many of his professional relationships flourished. He practiced law in Providence for three years until moving to Salem. From there, Pitman worked in Portsmouth, NH for four years, finally returning to Providence in 1820, where he remained until his death, November 17, 1864.

Series List/Description

  1. Series I. Correspondence - Joseph Story to John Pitman, 1817-1845 1817-1845
  2. Series II. Correspondence - Supreme Court Justices to JohnPitman, 1850-1864 1850-1864
  3. Series III. Other correspondents to John Pitman, 1818-1857 1818-1857
  4. Series IV. Business and Personal records, 1820-1869 1820-1869

    Withineach series and/or subseries individual items or folders areidentified by box and folder number. For example, the number 5-12corresponds to box 5, folder 12.

Physical Location

Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased by the Harvard Law School Library, October 2011.

Existence and Location of Copies

The entirety of the John Pitman Correspondence has been digitized. To access individual folders, please click the appropriate link in the container list below. Series I, Correspondence from Joesph Story to John Pitman, also comprises part of the Joseph Story Digital Suite , which brings together all of the digitized holdings of the Harvard Law School Library by or about Joseph Story.

Related Materials

Processing Information

Processed by Edwin Moloy and Margaret Peachy, 2011.
Link to catalog
Pitman, John, 1785-1864. Correspondence from Joseph Story and others, 1817-1869
Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA 02138

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

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