Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of the family papers, professional papers, music, and genealogical notes of Nahum Mitchell, a lawyer and legislator from Bridgewater, Mass.
Nahum Mitchell (1769-1853), son of Jennet Orr and Cushing Mitchell, was born 12 February 1769 in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He prepared for college under the Hon. Beza Hayward of Bridgewater, graduating from Harvard University with an A.B. in 1789. Mitchell taught school both during college and after he entered the bar on 24 November 1792. On 11 June 1794, he married Nabby, daughter of General Silvanus Lazell and a native of East Bridgewater. They had five children: Harriet (Mitchell) Davis, Silvanus L. Mitchell, Mary Orr (Mitchell) Ames, Elizabeth Cushing (Mitchell) Hyde, and James Henry Mitchell.
In 1798, Mitchell began a public service career that lasted the better part of forty years. First elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Mitchell served from 1798 to 1802. From 1803-1805, Mitchell went as a Federalist representative to the 8th United States Congress. He returned to the Massachusetts State House as a representative in 1809 and 1812. He subsequently acted as Massachusetts state senator from Plymouth County (1813-1814), was a member of the Governor's Council (1814-1821), and occupied the post of state treasurer (1821-1827). He sat on the Massachusetts General Court as a representative from Boston (1839-1840).
Highlights of his legal career include tenure on the Massachusetts Circuit Court of Common Pleas (1812-1821), where he sat as chief justice during the last two years; membership on commissions to establish boundaries with Rhode Island (1801) and Connecticut (1823); and his selection as chairman of the first commissioners to survey and explore a land route for the Boston & Albany Railroad (1827).
The line between Mitchell's public and private activities often blurred, as he routinely turned hobbies into professional accomplishments. Concerned with both the intellectual and moral improvement of his community, Mitchell actively fostered projects toward that end throughout his life.
In 1799, Mitchell helped found the Plymouth County Academy, where he served as trustee for fifty-four years. He was elected to membership of the Massachusetts Historical Society on 25 August 1818, where he served as both librarian (1835-1836) and treasurer (1839-1845). He helped to found the Plymouth County Agricultural Society (1819), founded the first temperance society in East Bridgewater, and was president of both the Bible Society in Plymouth County, and Bridgewater's first Lyceum (1827).
An avid music lover, Mitchell assisted Bartholomew Brown and others in a compilation of music first published as Columbian and European Harmony: or Bridgewater Collection of Sacred Music (1802). The third edition was published under the title Templi Carmina. . . or The Bridgewater Collection of Sacred Music (1810). Almost thirty subsequent editions ensued, collectively known as "The Bridgewater Collection." Critically applauded and popular in New England churches, these volumes contained some original Mitchell compositions.
Mitchell also spent forty years systematically collecting and organizing genealogical information. First published in the MHS Collections 2 series, vol. VII, (1818), his research culminated in History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater, in Plymouth County Massachusetts (1840), which contained a meticulous genealogical register. He was elected to membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society on 7 May 1845.
Mitchell died in Plymouth on 1 August 1853 and was buried in Old Central Street Cemetery, East Bridgewater.
Also represented in this collection, Samuel Davis (1765-1829), son of Thomas Davis and Mercy Hedge, was born 5 March 1765 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. During his youth, poor health and a literary inclination combined to improve upon the education he otherwise would have received in the town grammar school. He also studied mathematics under a private tutor, Eleazer James.
In April 1779, he was apprenticed to George Tyler, a goldsmith and jeweler at No. 15 Cornhill, Boston. His branches of training were "Jewellery, Engraving, and Seal Cutting." Davis cheered under the balcony of Boston's Town House in the Spring of 1783, when peace was declared between Great Britain and America. Meanwhile, his self-study continued, and in 1784, Davis contributed pieces to the [Boston] Columbian Centinel, a newspaper which first appeared 24 March 1784.
In 1785, Davis returned to Plymouth, where he worked for several years as a talented jeweler and engraver. Soon, however, he abandoned commercial pursuits for academic ones, composing poetry, writing, sketching, and studying.
During the latter part of his life, Davis focused his intellectual investigations on the history and genealogy of the Old Colony. He studied Native American languages in an attempt to glean historical information about his native area. He became a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society on 30 January 1812 and published an article, "Notes on Plymouth, Massachusetts," in the MHS Collections 2 series, vol. III, (1815). He received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1819.
Davis died in Plymouth on 10 July 1829.
NOTE: Several connections of a personal and professional nature existed between Nahum Mitchell and Samuel Davis. They were friends, sharing common interests in genealogy, history, and music. Davis helped Mitchell compile information for his ongoing work on the history of Bridgewater, Mass. In addition, Nahum Mitchell read law with the Hon. John Davis (1761-1847), the brother of Samuel Davis. Finally, Samuel Davis's nephew, Nathaniel Morton Davis (1785-1848), married Nahum Mitchell's daughter Harriet in 1817.
The Nahum Mitchell papers consist of 1 cased volume and 4 boxes (1 narrow). They span from 1711 to 1864. The collection is divided into five series: Family papers; Professional papers; Music papers; Genealogical papers; and Samuel Davis papers. While the Family papers series is well dated, the remaining four series contain large sections of undated material.
The bulk of the collection consists of Nahum Mitchell's correspondence with family members and genealogical notes. The remainder of the collection includes legal and professional records, music, notes, and other miscellaneous items.
One particularly well-documented subject is Nahum Mitchell's work on commissions to establish boundaries with Rhode Island and, later, Connecticut. These papers include notes, copies and extracts of reports, agreements, and depositions, as well as a manuscript map. Many of the actual dates of documents are unclear, although the majority are extracts from 17th- and 18th-century legal papers. There are also documents concerning these land disputes in Mitchell's family correspondence, with the bulk ranging in date from 1815-1821.
Political concerns are also mentioned in the Mitchell collection, particularly during Nahum Mitchell's stint as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1803-1805). These papers contain correspondence, mostly from Mitchell to his wife Nabby, addressing varied topics, such as the impeachment trials of Judges Pickering of New Hampshire and Chase of Maryland, the Louisiana Purchase, and Federalist/Democratic struggles.
The Samuel Davis papers contain notes from his work on Native American languages, including translations of local dialects, vocabulary lists, etymologies of Native American words including New England place names, and passages of the Bible translated into local languages. There are also notes on the history and boundaries of Bridgewater, as well as church music. These papers are largely undated, although approximate dates range from 1814-1828.
The Nahum Mitchell papers were given to the Massachusetts Historical Society by T. W. Stedman of Farmington, Connecticut, in 1975.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Family papers, 1747-1864
Includes correspondence, receipts, and invitations. There are a substantial number of letters between Samuel Davis and Nahum Mitchell from 1791 to 1795 concerning local Massachusetts history and genealogy. Materials from 1796 to 1805 are dominated by correspondence between Nahum and Nabby Mitchell and cover the years that Mitchell served in the Massachusetts and U.S. Houses. Sections of material from 1805 to 1821 cover Nahum Mitchell's involvement with the New Bedford and Bridgewater Turnpike Corporation, as well as efforts to settle boundary disputes with Rhode Island and Connecticut. Later correspondence is dominated by letters between Nahum Mitchell and family members--particularly Nabby Mitchell, his daughter Harriet Mitchell Davis, and his son James Henry Mitchell--about personal, family, and local concerns.
II. Professional papers, 1801-1827, bulk: [ca. 1800-1825]
A. Boundary dispute materials, [ca. 1800-1825]
These include notes, extracts of records, depositions, reports, lists, and copies of resolutions. The majority of the documents are undated, but include information from 17th- and 18th-century materials. These include extracts of reports; depositions and notes concerning placement of boundary lines; and discussions of commissioner appointments.
NOTE: Manuscript map, n.d., "Plan of Colony Lines, A True Plan of Lands in Controversy Betwixt the Inhabitants of Dorchester + Jonathan Randel as also the several lines of places requested by each party to by run + described-taken in consequence of an order of the Superior Court last term" has been removed to Ms.-L.
B. Plymouth County legal record book, 1797-1822, 1827
A Plymouth County record book contains legal documents, including writs and pleas, and records of the cases before Nahum Mitchell as a justice of the peace in Bridgewater, Mass. While each case heard was assigned a number, some cases were misnumbered. There are several pages of manuscript notes at the beginning of the volume signed by Silvanus Mitchell, dated 1827, in his duties as justice of the peace.
Legal cases are arranged chronologically in two numbered series:
10 November 1795-28 October 1820, #1-669
23 May 1801-7 August 1813, #0-21
III. Music papers, 1804-1811
Nahum Mitchell's notes on musical composition and technical topics, such as harmonies, melodies, scales, chords, and ancient musical practices. Several bound booklets include manuscript music and compositions by various authors, including M. P. King, J. W. Calcott, and S. Ball. A bound volume of manuscript music includes mostly undated songs and lyrics by a variety of composers, including Nahum Mitchell, W. Barker, Dr. Arnold, J. W. Calcott, and M. P. King. Most are religious hymns.
IV. Genealogical papers, n.d., [ca. 1700-1823]
A. Loose genealogical notes, n.d.
These papers consist of notes and correspondence. They are arranged alphabetically by family name. The families listed are largely from Plymouth County.
B. Notebooks, n.d. [ca. 1700-1823]
These two soft-bound notebooks list births, marriages, deaths, and publishments (public notices of intent to marry) at towns in Massachusetts, including but not limited to: Abington, Bridgewater, and South Bridgewater. The arrangement is not chronological or alphabetical, although dates covered range from ca. 1700-1823.
V. Samuel Davis papers, 1711, 1814-1827
A. Linguistic and historical notes, 1711, 1814-1827
These papers consist of mostly undated manuscript notes from the early 19th century, although they contain information from earlier 17th- and 18th-century sources. Notes on Native American languages include vocabulary lists; etymologies of Native American words and names, including Massachusetts and other New England place names; and translated Bible passages. Numerous dialects are covered, including but not exclusive to: Algonquin; Chippewa; Massachusetts; Massapee; Micmac; Mohegan; Nantucket; Narragansett; New Zealand Aborigine; Peleu Island; and Sioux. Notes on the history of Bridgewater and the surrounding area include information on original land grants, additions, and boundaries to the land; a list of original proprietors; Native American testimony concerning custody of the Elizabeth Islands; and details of land exchanges with Native Americans. Numerous citations from Plymouth County Court Records include two Native American deeds from 1711.
B. Musical notes, n.d.
These undated notes cover music and musical history. They discuss the music of ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Christians. One set of notes is entitled, "Historical Sketches of Sacred & Church Music from the Earliest Times to the Present."
Materials Removed from the Collection
Printed Materials Removed
For a list of printed materials removed from this collection, see Curator of Manuscripts.
Visual Materials Removed
The following item was removed from the collection for cataloging and placement with the MHS visual materials collection.
Engraving. Nahum Mitchell, "engraved by F.T. Stuart, from a picture painted by Otis in 1837." (3 copies)
Nahum Mitchell 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.