Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of the personal, business, and family papers of merchant Matthew Ridley of Maryland and France, spanning the dates 1717-1812.
Matthew Ridley (1746-1789) was born in England in 1746. In approximately 1770 he moved to America and settled in Baltimore, where he worked as the manager of the Maryland branch of the London mercantile firm of Stewart and Campbell. While in Baltimore, Ridley maintained a correspondence with Nancy Richardson (ca. 1754-1784), who was still living in London. In 1775, Ridley returned to England to marry her, and in 1777, Nancy gave birth to a son, Essex Sherbourne Ridley (b. 1777).
The Revolutionary War made it difficult for Ridley to conduct business with his contacts in America while he was living in England, and his allegiance to and support for American independence apparently led him to feel that he was being closely watched by the authorities. As a result, in late 1778 he relocated to France, leaving his wife and young son in England. By July of 1779, he had returned to Maryland, leaving his family in Europe once again.
In March of 1781, Ridley was appointed agent for the state of Maryland, and was sent to Europe to secure a loan for the state. Following a year in Paris, he traveled to Holland in May of 1782, where in July he secured a loan of 300,000 fl. from the firm of Nicolaas and Jacob van Staphorst of Amsterdam. He returned to Paris in August of 1782. During his time in France and Holland, Matthew spent time with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.
In September of 1783, Nancy (Richardson) Ridley gave birth to a second son, Lucius Lloyd, who died in early January 1784. Weak from consumption, Nancy died later that month, on January 21, with Matthew at her side.
After his wife's death, Ridley spent some time in London. In the Spring of 1786 he returned to Baltimore with his son Essex and his sister Jane and her son. The following spring he married Catherine Livingston (1751-1813), daughter of William Livingston, governor of New Jersey. He and Catherine had two daughters, Susan Ann Livingston Ridley (Mrs. Theodore Sedgwick, Jr., 1788-1867), and Matilda Frances Sherbourne Ridley (Mrs. Robert Watts, 1789-1862). After a prolonged illness, Matthew Ridley died in Baltimore on November 13, 1789, six days before Matilda's birth.
The Matthew Ridley papers consist of three boxes of his correspondence, eleven volumes of letterbooks, four diaries, one account book and a collection of loose accounts, one miscellaneous volume; one unidentified notebook possibly belonging to a John Ridley; and two volumes of math lessons, one belonging to Matthew Ridley and the other to his son Essex Sherbourne Ridley. The letterbooks and diaries are available on microfilm, P-178, reels 1-4. The collection spans from 1717 to 1812, with the bulk of the collection falling between 1771 and 1796. The collection is divided into three series: Personal Correspondence; Business Correspondence; and Bound Volumes.
Of particular interest in this collection are letters and diary entries that pertain to Ridley's business as agent for the state of Maryland in 1781-1782, during the Revolutionary War. One entire diary, Bound Volume 14, and most of Letterbook 7, are dedicated to the time he spent in Holland in 1782 securing a loan for the state from the firm of Nicolaas and Jacob van Staphorst.
Also of interest are the many letters and diary entries that discuss the Revolutionary War. A firm supporter of American independence, Ridley documented the progress of the war in his diaries, and in his private business correspondence the war is often discussed in terms of its effect on commerce. While in Europe, Ridley was involved in the sale of military stores to America, and these activities are documented throughout his correspondence and in a collection of loose accounts.
The remainder of the collection documents Ridley's business matters as manager of the Maryland branch of Stewart and Campbell, a London mercantile firm, and in his private business endeavors. Information about his personal life can be found in the series Personal Correspondence and in his diaries.
The Matthew Ridley Papers consist of items acquired by two separate sources. All of the correspondence, nine of the letterbooks, and the remaining bound volumes except for the four diaries kept by Matthew Ridley were the gift of Dr. Charles L. Nichols, March 9, 1922. One letterbook (July 18, 1783 - May 7, 1785) and the four diaries were given to the Society by Mr. Alexander Sedgwick on March 8, 1923.
Alternative Form Available
The letterbooks and diaries are available on microfilm, P-178, reels 1-4
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Personal Correspondence, 1771-1812
A. Correspondence with Nancy (Richardson) Ridley, 1771-1782
These letters cover the time period before Matthew and Nancy's marriage, while Matthew was in America, and the period after their marriage when they were apart for a period of approximately four years. During these years, Nancy remained in London, while Matthew went to France in order to conduct business with clients in America during the Revolution, to Baltimore, and back to Europe where he worked as agent for the state of Maryland. The letters discuss day-to-day affairs, their desire to see one another, and the health of their son, Essex.
B. Family Correspondence, 1771-1812
This subseries includes a small amount of correspondence between Matthew Ridley and his mother, sister, and father-in-law, Captain Richardson. It also includes correspondence between Essex, Matthew's son by his first wife, and Catherine, Matthew's second wife. The bulk of these were written in the years 1795 and 1796, six years after Matthew's death. Catherine had become Essex's legal guardian, and in the letters she refers to him as her son. Correspondence from 1810 to 1812 includes Catherine's letters to her daughter, Susan Livingston Ridley Sedgwich, and her son-in-law, Theodore Sedgwick (1780-1839).
II. Business Correspondence, 1772-1786
Included here are letters between Matthew Ridley and the many business contacts he made both as a merchant and as agent for the state of Maryland. Of particular interest are the many letters that discuss the effects of the Revolutionary War on various aspects of commerce. The letters are to and from many different people, but there are a select few who make up a large portion of the series: Mark Pringle, John Hunt, William Russell, John Holker, and Joshua Johnson.
III. Bound Volumes, 1717 - 1793
A. Letterbooks, 1770 - 1788
On Microfilm, P-178, Reels 2-4
(P-178, reel 2)
These letters mainly discuss Ridley's business interests as manager of the Maryland branch of Stewart and Campbell, a London mercantile firm. The Revolutionary War is also discussed, mostly in terms of how it is affecting commerce.
(P-178, reel 2; volume 3 not microfilmed)
These letters were written when Matthew Ridley moved from London to Paris. Of interest are the letters Matthew wrote to his contacts in America upon his relocation to France, describing the hostile conditions in England that prevented him from writing earlier, and repeatedly asserting his allegiance to America. Ridley was concerned with an American law involving penalties for those who left the colonies after August 1775. He also wrote of his interest in securing an appointment as U.S. Consul in Nantes. The letters focus mainly on business and the war. This volume is housed with Volume 3, which contains duplicate letters covering most of this time period.
(P-178, reel 2)
These letters were written when Ridley was living in Baltimore. They primarily relate to his personal business, and after March 1781 they pertain to his position as agent for the state of Maryland.
(P-178, reel 2)
These letters discuss personal business, and cover the time when Ridley was in Paris and Amsterdam. While Ridley was in Amsterdam, this letterbook was kept by someone else, possibly Mark Pringle. Many of these letters are in French. See also Letterbook 7 for Ridley's time in Amsterdam.
(Not on microfilm)
This book contains multiple copies of letters. They relate mainly to business. They cover the time of Mrs. Ridley's death, but make very little mention of it. This volume is housed in Box 4 and is not on microfilm.
(P-178, reel 3)
This book includes letters both from and to Ridley, primarily during the time Ridley spent in Amsterdam securing a loan for the state of Maryland.
(P-178, reel 3)
Although these dates overlap with Letterbook Six, the two volumes contain different letters. Some are written on the same day as those in Book Six. Some of these letters are in French. They include both personal and official business.
(P-178, reel 4)
These letters were written while Mr. Ridley was in England, after his wife's death. They are mostly related to Ridley's personal business. In September, Ridley discussed his plans to return to America in the spring.
(P-178, reel 4)
This book starts upon Ridley's arrival with his son and sister in Baltimore, a year after he planned. In April 1787 he wrote of his marriage to Kitty Livingston, and soon after of his sister's death. These letters are more personal in nature, and convey a feeling of depression on the part of Mr. Ridley. He also wrote of being ill.
(P-178, reel 4)
These letters involve both business and personal matters. Of interest is one letter to someone who is to sell three of Ridley's slaves. Reasons for the sale are given, as are evaluations of the slaves' characters. Ridley's illness is discussed throughout these letters.
B. Diaries, 1777 - 1784
On microfilm, P-178, reel 1
The majority of this diary consists of updates about the Revolutionary War, which he gets from copies of an American newspaper. There are some entries that involve business as well.
This diary includes more details about Ridley's everyday life, such as the day's weather or his dining companion. The entries describe traveling through France, and mention some meetings with Benjamin Franklin. The war remains the primary subject, and he writes more about business, including his efforts to secure a loan for Maryland.
This diary covers the time period when Ridley was in Amsterdam securing the loan for the state of Maryland from Nicolaas and Jacob van Staphorst. The entries revolve mainly around those efforts. The diary also describes his return to Paris in August of 1782.
This diary includes both personal and business information. Entries discuss his son's birth in September of 1783 and death in January of 1784. It is important to both Mr. and Mrs. Ridley that the child is buried in a Protestant burying ground. He writes of his wife's death the day she died, and of his having been there at the time. His last entry is the day she was buried, January 23, 1784.
C. Account Books, 1776 - 1785
This series contains a daybook of commercial transactions (February 1, 1776 - August 21, 1778), as well as a collection of loose accounts. Covering the time period between 1782 - 1785, the loose accounts consist of accounts kept by Ridley for the state of Maryland, including bills of exchange with Nicolaas and Jacob van Staphorst and shipments of military stores to Maryland.
D. Miscellaneous, 1717-1793
This series consists of four miscellaneous bound volumes. The first (Bound Volume 17, 1717-1751) is an unidentified notebook primarily containing business records, including accounts of a salt mill in Portsmouth, England. The volume may have been kept by a John Ridley. The series also includes a math lesson book belonging to Matthew Ridley (Bound Volume 18, 1761), a book of notes also belonging to Ridley (Bound Volume 19, 1769-[178-]), and a math lesson book belonging to Essex Sherbourne Ridley (Bound Volume 20, 1793).
Matthew Ridley papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.