1704-1916; bulk: 1818-1879

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the professional and personal papers of Samuel Whitcomb, bookseller, custom house clerk, and correspondent for the Boston Journal, 1818-1879.

Biographical Sketch

Samuel Whitcomb was born in Hanover, Mass. on 14 Sept. 1792. He served in many careers throughout his life including bookseller, landowner, clerk, journalist, and education advocate. He began selling books in 1810 and served in this capacity until the 1820s. His bookselling career was interrupted only by service in the War of 1812. In 1817 Whitcomb married Mary Simmons Joy who traveled with Whitcomb as he sold subscriptions of Thomas Waits' publication, Publick Documents and State Papers. While traveling throughout the Southern states and the Midwest (primarily Illinois), Whitcomb purchased land that he later rented through an agent for profit.

Whitcomb originally settled in Cohassett and Dorchester, Mass. By 1825 he had obtained a position as a foreign entry clerk in the Boston Custom House. While working in Boston and living in Dorchester, Whitcomb became involved with various organizations such as the Dorchester Workingmen's Party, and served as its secretary from 1830-1832. As early as 1833 Whitcomb began pursuing work in Washington, D.C., and by 1837 became a revenue clerk in the U.S. Treasury.

In 1845 while still living in Washington, D.C., Whitcomb worked as a correspondent for the Boston Journal. He researched and wrote articles on politics and education, specifically advocating the high and graded school systems. His work for the Boston Journal fostered his friendships with Edward Everett and Horace Mann. While in Washington, Whitcomb also worked for the Teachers Placement Agency, 1845-1849.

As early as 1836 Whitcomb had purchased land in Springfield, Vt., but still spent most of his time in Washington. In 1850 he and Mary retired to their home in Vermont and there he pursued his personal interests in education, politics, religion, railroads, and canals; and assisted Vermont veterans of the War 1812 in obtaining bounty land from the government as payment for their service. Whitcomb died in Vermont on 5 March 1879.

Collection Description

This collection consists of seven manuscript boxes and one oversize box containing the professional and personal papers of bookseller, custom house clerk, land owner, and correspondent for the Boston Journal, Samuel Whitcomb of Cohassett and Dorchester, Mass. and Springfield, Vt., 1818-1879 (series I); and related Whitcomb and Joy family papers, 1794-1916 (series II). Series I., which contains the bulk of the collection, had been organized into six subseries: Correspondence, Writings and research, Legal and financial, Teachers Placement Agency, Diaries, and Miscellaneous.

Samuel Whitcomb's tenure as a bookseller is reflected in his correspondence with Thomas B. Wait discussing sales of subscription to State Papers and Publick Documents in various places in the South and Midwest, 1818-1822; letters from family and friends while traveling as a book salesman, 1818-v25; account books, 1819-1822; and diaries, 1818-1826. Of particular interest is an entry removed from a diary describing a visit to Monticello, Va., and a discussion with Thomas Jefferson regarding politics and books, 1824.

Whitcomb's work as a foreign entry clerk in the Boston Custom House and clerk in the U.S. Treasury is reflected through letters sent and received while in Dorchester, Mass., 1825-1832, and Washington, D.C., 1833-1843; his work as a correspondent for the Boston Journal is reflected through letters sent and received while writing from Washington in 1845, and in research notes on various topics covered in his articles, such as politics and education.

The collection also includes papers related to land purchased by Whitcomb in Illinois and rented through as agent for profit; papers related to work on behalf of Whitcomb to secure land grants in Vermont for veterans of the War of 1812; papers related to work with the Dorchester Workingmen's Party (including a letter sent by William Lloyd Garrison, 20 Feb. 1832); and papers related to Whitcomb's work as an agent for the Teachers Placement Agency.

The second series includes papers related to the Joy and Whitcomb families of Cohassett and Hingham, Mass., and include deeds, receipts, quitclaims, ships papers, correspondence, 1704-1916.

Acquisition Information

A portion of this collection was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society by Kate H. Whitcomb (Mrs. Leslie C. Wead), Howard Whitcomb, Russell Whitcomb, and Mary Whitcomb Clark (Mrs. Alden H. Clark) in 1921 and a portion by Howard Whitcomb, Frederick W. Wead, Mary Whitcomb Clark in 1948.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Samuel Whitcomb papers, 1818-1879

A. Correspondence, 1818-1878

Arranged chronologically

Primarily letters sent and received by Whitcomb related to his professional work as a bookseller, including a series of letters from Thomas B. and William Wait regarding the sale of State Papers and Publick Documents, 1818-1822 (see also C. Legal and financial); clerk in the Boston Custom House and U.S. Treasury; correspondent for the Boston Journal, including letters to Edward Everett; and his memberships in various organizations such as the Dorchester Workingmen's Party (see also B. Writings and research), including a letter from William Lloyd Garrison discussing slavery, 20 Feb. 1832.

Also includes letters of introduction in Washington, D.C., 1833; correspondence regarding land purchased in Cohassett, Mass., Greenville and Vandalli, Il., and Springfield, Vt., 1820-1850s (see also B. Writings and research and C. Legal and financial); claims for bounty land for members of the Vermont Militia who served in the War of 1812, ca. 1840-1850s (see also B. Writings and research and C. Legal and financial); and personal letters addressed to his son, William Whitcomb, 1850-1878, discussing his family, religion, and land.

Box 1
Correspondence, 1818-1834
Box 2
Correspondence, 1835-1840
Box 3
Correspondence, 1841-1845
Box 4Folder 1-24
Correspondence, 1846-1878

B. Writings and research notes, 1820-1870

Arranged chronologically

Consists primarily of undated notes kept by Whitcomb recording research on such topics as education, politics, and religion. The research was conducted for speeches and publications. Also includes research notes regarding bounty land granted to members of the Vermont Militia who served in the war of 1812 (see also A. Correspondence); and for documenting land transactions (see also A. Correspondence and C. Legal and financial).

Also includes drafts of speeches on Edward Everett and other topics, 1824-1851; secretarial notes kept at meetings held in Dorchester, Mass. and various other locations, 1824-1840; and some family genealogy.

Box 4Folder 25
Speeches, n.d
Box 4Folder 26
Speeches, 1824-1829
Box 4Folder 27
Speeches, 1830
Box 4Folder 28
Speeches, 1833-1834
Box 4Folder 29
Speeches, 1855
Box 5Folder 1
Meetings, 1824-1840s
Box 5Folder 2-13
Research and personal notes, [1820]-1860
Box 5Folder 14
Research and personal notes, 1824-1840
Box 5Folder 15
Research and personal notes, 1842-1844
Box 5Folder 16
Research and personal notes, 1855-1870

C. Legal and financial papers, 1818-1879

Arranged chronologically

Receipts, writs, deeds, quitclaims, and account balances related to land transactions primarily in Illinois and Vermont, 1820-1850s (see also A. Correspondence and B. Writing and research); bookselling activities in the Midwest; 1818-1822 (see also A. Correspondence and E. Diaries); commissions authorizing Whitcomb to work in various jobs; and bounty land claims presented by members of the Vermont Militia who served in the War of 1812, ca. 1840-1860s (see also A. Correspondence and B. Writing and research).

Includes an account book recording sales of books in Illinois, 1819-1820; account book recording land purchases in Illinois, 1826-1827; and Whitcomb's pension claim, 1879.

Box 5Folder 17
Legal and financial papers, 1818-1827
Box 5Folder 18
Legal and financial papers, 1828-1833
Box 6Folder 1
Legal and financial papers, 1834-1836
Box 6Folder 2
Legal and financial papers, 1837-1839
Box 6Folder 3
Legal and financial papers, 1840-1844
Box 6Folder 4
Legal and financial papers, 1848-1853
Box 6Folder 5
Legal and financial papers, 1855-1879
Oversize Box
Oversize documents, 1842
Box 6Folder 6
Bookselling account book, 1819-1822
Box 6Folder 7
Account book, 1826-1827

D. Teachers Placement Agency, 1846-1849

Arranged chronologically

Loose documents and volumes kept by Whitcomb while serving as an agent for the Teachers Placement Agency. Includes letters and research notes related to the Agency, 1847-1848; a volume with a list of donations, 1846; and volumes containing lists of teachers requesting placement, 1846-1849.

Box 6Folder 8
Loose records, 1826-1827
Box 6Folder 9
Memoranda and accounts, 1846-1848(bound volume)
Box 6Folder 10
Register of applicants, 1846-1848(bound volume)
Box 6Folder 11
Register of applicants, 1846-1849(bound volume)

E. Diaries, 1818-1845

Arranged chronologically

Diaries, 1818-1826, were kept while Samuel was traveling as a bookseller in the South and Midwest, and include his observations on slavery, agriculture, and religion, as a well as visits with Andrew Jackson in 1818, and Thomas Jefferson in 1824.

Diaries, 1839-1844, describe a visit to Whitcomb's land investments in Illinois, 1839; and a journal containing some observations on various cities while on a railroad trip from Vermont to the Midwest, 1843. The verso of the 1843 journal includes the records of a railroad convention in Brattleboro, Vt., 1845.

Box 7Folder 1
Diary, 1818
Box 7Folder 2
Diary [transcript], 1818
Box 7Folder 3
Thomas Jefferson discussion, 1824
Box 7Folder 4
Thomas Jefferson discussion [transcript], 1824
Box 7Folder 5
Diary, 1825-1826
Box 7Folder 6
Diary, April-June 1839
Box 7Folder 7
Diary, 1843
Box 7Folder 8
Diary, 1845

F. Miscellaneous papers, 1828-1879

Arranged chronologically

Includes empty envelopes which contain notes written most likely by Whitcomb, ca, 1850s; printed material such as flyers for bounty land; circulars for various organizations such as the Dorchester Workingmen's Party, and clippings from newspapers, ca, 1830-1879; and biographical information about Whitcomb written by an unknown author.

Box 7Folder 9
Envelopes, 1850s
Box 7Folder 10
Printed material, 1828-1879
Box 7Folder 11
Biographical information

II. Joy and Whitcomb family papers, 1704-1916

Deeds, quitclaims, and receipts of the Joy family of Hingham and Cohassett, Mass. reflecting land between the Joy and Whitcomb families. Includes the financial papers of Caleb, Jared, Elisha, and Olive Joy.

Personal and financial papers of the Whitcomb family of Cohassett, Mass. and includes deeds, quitclaims, receipts reflecting land transactions in Cohassett between the Whitcomb and Joy families; ships' papers; and correspondence, 1704-1828. Also includes financial papers and letters received by Samuel Whitcomb's son, William, 1879-1915; and an essay written in 1916 by William's son-in-law, Leslie C. Wead, discussing Rev. Eleazer Williams.

Box 7Folder 12
Joy family, 1768-1819
Box 7Folder 13
Whitcomb family, 1704-1791
Box 7Folder 14
Whitcomb family, 1800-1819
Box 7Folder 15
Whitcomb family, 1824-1828
Oversize Box
Whitcomb family, 1704-1826(oversize)
Box 7Folder 16
William Whitcomb, 1879-1915
Box 7Folder 17
Leslie C. Wead essay, 1916

Preferred Citation

Samuel Whitcomb papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

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.


Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879.
Joy family.
Wait, Thomas Baker, 1762-1830.
Wead, Leslie C.
Whitcomb, William Wirt, 1833-1914.
Whitcomb family.


Dorchester Workingmen's Party.
Teachers Placement Agency.
United States. Division of Customs.


Account books--1818-1844.
Booksellers and bookselling.
Customs administration--Officials and employees.
Family history--1850-1899.
Land grants--Vermont.
Real property--Massachusetts.
Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)--Politics and government--1775-1865.


Boston Journal.State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States.