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Mss:733 1728-1803 B775

Bourn, Melatiah. Melatiah Bourn Papers, 1728-1803: A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University


Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss:733 1728-1803 B775
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Title: Melatiah Bourn papers
Date(s): 1728-1803
Quantity: 8.4 linear feet (20 boxes)
Language of materials: English


Gift of Harvard College Library, 1932.

Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edu for more information.

Historical Note

Silvanus Bourn, son of Colonel Melatiah and Desire (Chipman) Bourn, was born in Sandwich, Massachusetts, on September 10, 1694. He was a successful merchant and engaged in commercial business in both Barnstable and Sandwich. In addition, he was a colonel in the militia, member of the Governor's Council, Register of Probate, and Judge of Probate. Silvanus married Mercy Gorham, a member of one of the wealthiest families of Barnstable, on March 20, 1718/19. The couple had ten children: (1) Desire, b. January 19, 1718/19; (2) Mary, b. April 22, 1720; (3) Melatiah, b. November 14, 1722; (4) William, b. February 27, 1723/24; (5) Hannah, b. December 8, 1725; (6) Mercy, b. August 22, 1727; (7) Abigail, b. June 21, 1729; married to Kenelm Winslow; (8) Silvanus, b. November 21, 1731; (9) Eunice, b. February 16, 1732; and (10) Richard, November 1, 1739. Silvanus Bourn died at Barnstable on September 18, 1763.
Melatiah Bourn, son of Silvanus and Mary (Gorham) Bourn, was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on November 14, 1722. Family tradition has it that he moved to Boston in his teens to apprentice with a merchant. It is known that he eventually went into partnership with Joseph Freeman, Jr. In addition to his successful business ventures, Melatiah served as Overseer of the Poor in Boston as well as Town Auditor in 1772.
Melatiah married Mary Bayard of Boston prior to January 25, 1753. The couple had four children: (1) Melatiah, b. about 1754; (2) Silvanus, b. about 1756; (3) Sarah [called Sally], b. about 1769; and (4) Mary [called Polly], b. about 1769. Mary (Bayard) Bourn's grandfather, James Bowdoin, Sr., provided in his will for his daughter [also named Mary and married to Balthazar Bayard] a generous monetary inheritance as well as George Tavern and other Boston property. Mary (Bowdoin) Bayard received her inheritance beginning October 1749. After Mrs. Bayard's death, the principal of the original inheritance went to her children. Mrs. Bayard's daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, Melatiah Bourn, continued to accumulate real estate by inheriting or purchasing large tracts of land from other family members.
Melatiah Bourn died at Barnstable on September 9, 1778. However the family resided chiefly in Boston-on Milk Street-during Mr. Bourn's merchant career. Son Melatiah lived in Barnstable after his marriage in 1778, and son Silvanus was U.S. Consul in Amsterdam for many years. At the time of Melatiah's death, his daughters were minors; Bessinger Foster of Boston, merchant, was appointed their guardian. It is unclear where the two daughters resided in adult life, but Mrs. Bourn eventually sold the Milk Street house in 1787.
Silvanus Bourn, son of Melatiah and Mary (Bayard) Bourn, was born about 1756. He married Rebecca Haslett of Baltimore, Maryland, on October 28, 1797. In 1790-1791, Silvanus was consul to Cap Francois. From 1794-1797, he was appointed vice consul of Amsterdam and from 1797-1816, he was consul general in the same city. In 1817, he became agent for seamen at The Hague. He died at his post April 25, 1817.
Nathaniel Holmes, son of Captain Nathaniel and Sarah (Thaxter) Holmes, was born in Boston on December 29, 1703. In early life, he worked as a cabinet maker as did his father. In 1735, Nathaniel purchased a distillery from the heirs of Elizur Holyoke. Located on what is now Salem Street, Boston, Holmes sold 1/3 interest of this business to his nephew Malachi Salter, Jr. and 1/3 interest to his brother George in 1740. In April 1743, Salter sold out his interest to his uncles Nathaniel and George. The distillery business was a lucrative venture for Holmes, and by the 1740s he entered into domestic and foreign trade.
Holmes married (1) Mary Webber, on March 1, 1726; and (2) Rebecca Goodwill on October 1, 1747. He had no issue with his first wife; children by his second wife are: (1) Rebecca, b. January 22, 1749; married to William Fowle on May 25, 1768; (2) Mary, b. September 2, 1750; (3) Nathaniel, b. March 11, 1752; (4) Nathaniel, b. September 20, 1755; and (5) Lydia, b. July 17, 1758. Nathaniel Holmes died in Boston on November 29, 1774.
Holmes's son-in-law, William Fowle, was at one time in partnership with him in a sugar baking business. Working under the name Holmes andamp; Fowle, the partnership dissolved in January 1773 after the death of Nathaniel Holmes. However, Fowle continued to sell sugar and molasses. Fowle, son of Colonel Jacob and Mary (Rowland) Fowle, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in February 1745.
George Holmes, son of Captain Nathaniel and Sarah (Thaxter) Holmes, was born in Boston circa 1706. He married Ann Mulberry on July 7, 1737. The couple had six children: (1) Benjamin, b. April 24, 1738; (2) Ann, b. December 25, 1739; (3) Sarah, b. June 22, 1742; (4) Elizabeth, b. August 22, 1744; (5) Lydia, b. in 1746; and (6) Mary, b. in 1751. Holmes was deacon of the New Brick Church, Boston, as well as selectman in that city from 1750-1752. He went into partnership with his brother, Nathaniel, in the distilling business circa 1740 and eventually purchased owned his own distillery in 1750. His son, Benjamin, managed his distillery along with Andrew Symmes. Additionally, George Holmes also owned a sugar refinery. Holmes died in Boston in the fall of 1752.
Samuel Sturgis, son of Samuel and Mercy (Howe) Sturgis, was born October 28, 1706. Even at this early date, the Sturgis family was one of wealth and prominence as both Samuel, Jr., and his brother, John, graduated from Harvard. Samuel, Jr., John and another brother, Prince Sturgis, jointly invested in a number of business ventures. In addition to his merchant career, Samuel was appointed notary public for the port of Barnstable. He married Lucretia Wendell, daughter of Abraham and Catherine (De Key) Wendell of Boston, on September 17, 1734. From that time, Samuel and his wife lived with her parents in Boston while the General Court was session; the rest of the year they lived in Yarmouth.
By 1741, the couple decided to make Boston their permanent residence. At this time, Sturgis purchased land and a warehouse near the waterfront and began his export business by trading rum, dry goods, marine supplies, and other commodities. Additionally, he was part owner of many vessels. Samuel Sturgis died in Boston on July 8, 1767.

Scope and Content

Collection consists of accounts, bills, receipts, orders, notes, account of sales, bills of exchange, letters, memoranda, and ships' papers for Boston merchants Melatiah Bourn, Samuel Sturgis, and Nathaniel Holmes. Intertwined both professionally and personally, the three merchants contributed to the growth of domestic trade during the colonial period. Bulk of collection concerns Melatiah Bourn with a small amount of material for his father, Silvanus, and son, also named Silvanus, as well as Timothy Bourn (1703-1780) and William Bourn (1723-1770). Topics represented in Bourn record series are money lending, domestic and foreign trade, whaling, and estate settlement. Documents for Nathaniel Holmes and his family members concern the distillery business, domestic and foreign trade, sugar house, and furniture making. Majority of records in Samuel Sturgis series detail Nantucket whaling.

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