Jonathan Belcher was born in Cambridge, Mass., on January 8, 1682, the second son of Andrew and Sarah (Gilbert) Belcher. After graduating from Harvard in 1699, he worked as a merchant in Boston. In 1705, he married Mary Partridge, the daughter of New Hampshire's lieutenant governor, and entered the Second Church in Boston. Mary (Partridge) Belcher would bear him five children before her death in 1736.
Belcher's public career began in 1717. First a member of the Massachusetts Council, then an agent of the House of Representatives in London, he became the governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1730. During his 11-year tenure, he often antagonized the legislature with his uncompromising positions, such as his opposition to the popular Land Bank. In August 1741, he retired to his estate at Milton.
However, Belcher had developed many important friendships in London, where he had traveled four times. In 1744, he went to London, hoping to secure a pension or another appointment. While there, he entered a community of Congregationalists and Quakers, and when the governor of New Jersey died in 1746, Belcher sought and won the appointment with the help of prominent Quaker friends. Arriving back in the colonies in August of 1747, he found New Jersey a violent and provincial place and its government stymied over land claims, taxes, and other issues.
In the fall of 1748, Belcher married his second wife, Louise Teale, a Quaker from London. In his later years, Belcher became devoted to religion. He believed religious and educational decay was the root of the province's problems, and he encouraged the development of a "godly government." To this end, he helped establish a college to educate this "unpolisht ignorant Part of the World" in the merits of "vital religion." The college was called the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University.
Weary of politics, Belcher moved his family to Elizabethtown in the fall of 1751 and gradually withdrew from government. Stricken with palsy, he died on August 31, 1757.
Batinski, Michael C. "Jonathan Belcher." The Governors of New Jersey, 1664-1974: Biographical Essays. Ed. Paul A. Stellhorn and Michael J. Birkner. Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1982. http://www.njstatelib.org/NJ_Information/Digital_Collections/Digidox6.php
The papers of Jonathan Belcher consist of 11 volumes of letterbooks containing copies of Belcher's outgoing correspondence, including official letters related to his tenure as governor; letters to Richard Waldron, brother-in-law Richard Partridge, Benjamin Lynde, and many others discussing trade, politics, his copper mine in Connecticut, and his farm in Milton, Mass.; and personal letters to his son Jonathan Belcher, Jr., discussing the death of his mother and family members. Other individuals and subjects represented in the correspondence include: Robert Auchmuty, General Braddock, William Brattle, Admiral Boscawen, the Selectmen of Boston, Thomas Hollis, William Johnson, Benjamin Lynde, Josiah Quincy, Peter Thacher, Lord Townshend, John Walley, Hugh Walpole, Isaac Watts, the Wentworths, Lords of Admiralty, Commissioners of the Customs, Lords of Trade, the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Assemblies, the salary question, Maine lands and timber, and many others.
This 11-reel microfilm edition covers the years 1723-1755 (with gaps) and includes a manuscript index for 8 of the volumes (see the Index List for a complete list). All of the indexes appear on Reel 1 of the microfilm.
Gifts of: Jeremy Belknap, 1791 (vols. II, III, IV, and VI); Joseph McKean (vol. VII); the American Antiquarian Society (vol. VIII); Nathanial G. Snelling (vol. IX); Charles H. Warren (vol. X); and the Paine family, 1954 (vol. V).
Some of the letters from 1731-1735 and 1739-1743 have been published in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 6th series, vols. 6-7. Those volumes also include a calendar of the unpublished letters for those years. See the volume list for more specific information.
The indexes to Volumes II-IV, VI-IX, and XI appear on Reel 1 of this microfilm. These manuscript indexes were apparently compiled late in the nineteenth century when the MHS's collection of Belcher letterbooks consisted of only eight volumes. As a result, there are no indexes for Volumes I, V, and X, which were acquired later. Although Volume V has no complete index, there is a calendar for the letters from 27 Sep. 1736 - 16 Feb. 1737. There is no calendar for the remainder of the volume from 17 Feb. 1737 - 23 Jan. 1738.
With the donation of the additional volumes, Volume I became Volume II, etc. The manuscript indexes refer to the older volume numbers. The index identified as Volume I is, in fact, the index to Volume II. The list below identifies these changes and the microfilm contains a label for each index identifying the correct letterbook to which it refers.
Jonathan Belcher letterbooks, 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.
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