Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of papers of the Mellen and related families, in particular those of Rev. John Mellen, Jr., a Congregational minister of Barnstable, Mass. The bulk of the collection is family and personal correspondence between Mellen and his wife, children, siblings, and parents, in particular his father John Mellen, Sr., and his brother-in-law Caleb Gannett. Other families whose correspondence appears include the Ward, Henshaw, Carruth, and Savage families.

Biographical Sketch

John Mellen, Jr.

Reverend John Mellen, Jr., was born on June 17, 1752, in Sterling, Mass., the second of nine children born to Reverend John Mellen, Sr., and Rebecca Prentice Mellen. His brother and sisters included Pamela (b. 1750), who married Caleb Prentiss, 1771; Rebecca (1754-1800), who married Peter Greene, 1775; Sophia (1756-1778); Henry (1757-1809), who married Elizabeth Hovey, 1791, and remarried in 1796 to Martha Wentworth Frost of Durham, New Hampshire; Mary (b. 1760), who married Nathaniel Parker, 1787, and remarried in 1797 to Abraham Duncan; Thomas (1762-1766); Prentiss (b. 1764), who married Sarah Hudson, 1795; and Charlotte (1768-1820), who married William Austin Kent in 1792.

Upon graduation from Harvard College in 1770, Mellen kept a school in Kingston (May 1771-June 1772) and Lancaster, Mass. (until June 1773). After studying divinity under the direction of his father, John, Sr., he began preaching in eastern Massachusetts. In 1774, he was invited to return to Harvard as a Hopkins Fellow for the academic year 1774-1775. However, when the Revolutionary War forced the college to move to Concord, Mellen returned to his former trade of itinerant preaching.

By the spring of 1780, Mellen was recalled to the college to serve as a science tutor and assistant professor to Samuel Williams. While not popular with the administration due to public charges he made that they were misusing college funds, Mellen was reappointed to the position of tutor in April 1783 for a three-year period. Mellen resigned his position by November 1783 to begin preaching to the First Parish of Barnstable. He was ordained on November 12, 1783. His ministry was a popular one, and he was called upon to preach the election sermon of 1797 before the governor and General Court of Massachusetts and gave the Dudleian Lecture of 1799 in Cambridge.

Mellen married Martha Fitch Wendell, daughter of John Mico Wendell and Katharine Brattle of Boston, in Cambridge on May 27, 1784. John and Martha had four children: Sophia (b. 1785), who married John Williams of Dover, New Hampshire, in 1819; Catharine Saltonstall (b. 1788), who married Harvard professor Levi Frisbie (Harvard class of 1802) in 1815 and, after Frisbie's death in 1822, married Professor James Hayward (Harvard class of 1819) in 1828; John Wendell (b. 1794), Harvard class of 1814, who married E. B. Wilde in 1818; and Martha Fitch (1802-1802).

Active in the community, Mellen was elected to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1792 and was later elected to the New York Historical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After moving to Cambridge in 1799 on account of his wife's poor health, Mellen managed the Harvard College lotteries of 1806 and 1811 which resulted in the building of Holworthy Hall. He was also a trustee of the Hopkins Charity, a member of the Massachusetts Humane Society, and in 1806, was appointed a justice of the peace for Middlesex County. In 1808, Mellen was chosen to represent the town of Cambridge in the General Court, a position he held until 1813. He also actively served in the Fourth Regiment of the Massachusetts Militia and reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He died September 19, 1828.

Other family members represented in the collection

Caleb Gannett, steward of Harvard College, was born on August 22, 1745. He was the eldest son of Captain Joseph and Betty (Latham) Gannett of the East Parish of Bridgewater. Gannett was admitted to the college at the age of fourteen, receiving a Saltonstall Scholarship, and graduated in 1763.

Upon graduation, Gannett joined the Pembroke church, leaving in June 1768 to preach in Nova Scotia to New England settlers. By October 12, 1768, Gannett returned to Massachusetts and was ordained in the Hingham meetinghouse. Once ordained, Gannett moved to Cumberland, where his ministry prospered.

However, by 1771, Gannett asked to be dismissed. Supporting himself by preaching where needed, Gannett was finally appointed a tutor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics at Harvard in 1773. Although respected by the students, Gannett left the college to again serve as an itinerant preacher during the Revolutionary War. Once appointed steward of the university, around 1780, Gannett became a member of the First Church of Cambridge. He served as treasurer of the parish for the next thirty-six years.

On January 17, 1781, Gannett married Katherine Wendell, daughter of John Mico and Katharine (Brattle) Wendell of Cambridge. Katherine died on July 25, 1798, and Gannett remarried to Ruth Stiles, daughter of Yale president Ezra Stiles, on January 19, 1800. From his first marriage, Gannett had four children: John Mico, Harvard class of 1802; Katharine Brattle, who married William Bascomb; Thomas Brattle, Harvard class of 1809; and Elizabeth Latham, who married John Dudley Andrews, Harvard class of 1810. From his second marriage, one child was born: Ezra Stiles, Harvard class of 1820.

Active in the community, Gannett was a member of the Cambridge School Committee, a founder of the Friendly Fire Society and the Humane Society of Cambridge. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1804 for Middlesex County. He was also a trustee of the Hopkins Charity, treasurer of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, the Massachusetts Humane Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. A founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gannett contributed many papers on eclipses and the aurora borealis. Gannett died on April 25, 1818, of pulmonary consumption.

Collection Description

The Mellen family papers are dated 1739-1883. The collection is divided into four series: correspondence, miscellaneous papers, Levi Frisbie student essays, and volumes.

The collection centers around Rev. John Mellen, a congregational minister of Barnstable, Mass., and later of Cambridge. The correspondence series contains letters to and from him and his wife, children, siblings, and parents, in particular his father John Mellen, Sr. The series also contains a run of letters from Mellen's brother-in-law Caleb Gannett to Mellen concerning business, politics, health, and family matters. (Gannett was married to Katherine Wendell, the sister of Martha Fitch Wendell Mellen.) The miscellaneous papers (series II) contain sermons and prayers written by Mellen, including his farewell address to his Harvard graduating class (1770). The collection also contains letters written by Mellen to Gen. Artemas Ward during the American Revolution. Papers after 1800 contain much correspondence of Catharine Saltonstall Mellen, who married Levi Frisbie in 1815 and James Hayward in 1828. Later correspondence (after 1840) is largely to and from members of the Carruth family.

Papers of Levi Frisbie (series III) include a series of student essays written for Frisbie while he was a member of the Harvard faculty, 1817-1822, and a number of bills and receipts related to his household accounts (located in series II).

Other families represented in the collection (and all intertwined by various marriages) include the Ward, Henshaw, Hayward, Carruth, and Savage families. Correspondence of various family members appears in series I. Additional Carruth family materials include bills and receipts from their trips to Europe in 1854 and periodically between 1863 and 1868 (located in series II).

Bound volumes (series IV) include Catharine S. Mellen's penmanship and extract book of 1802, a commonplace book of 1806-1807 (previously identified as being written by R. B. Hinckley), Catharine S. Mellen Frisbie Hayward's book of household and stock accounts from 1829-1833, with diary and household accounts for 1836; and genealogies of the Mellen and Henshaw families, historical notes by Anna Henshaw, and an account book (1785-1789) of Thomas Brattle as administrator of his father's estate.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Carol Loring of Duxbury, Mass., 1992.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1739-1883

Arranged chronologically.

The correspondence relates to family matters such as domestic relations, business, religion, and health. The letters were written between John Mellen, Jr., his wife Martha, his children (Sophia, Catharine Saltonstall, John Wendell), his siblings (Pamela, Rebecca, Henry, Mary, Thomas, Prentiss, and Charlotte), and his parents, in particular his father John Mellen, Sr. The series also includes notes from John, Jr.'s nieces and nephew (Caroline Kent, Sophia Prentiss, and Henry Prentiss).

The series also contains letters among the friends and extended family members of the Mellens. It includes letters from Levi Frisbie, Jr., husband of Catherine S. Mellen, to his father Levi Frisbie, Sr. A large amount of the correspondence is between members of the Ward, Henshaw, Carruth, and Savage families. These letters contain information concerning daily matters such as health, business, and politics. The series also includes John Mellen, Jr.'s personal correspondence during his service as manager of the Harvard College lotteries, a request for him to speak before the governor and council of Massachusetts, and a letter written to Gen. Artemas Ward during the Revolutionary War concerning military matters.

There is a series of letters (1865) received by members of the Carruth family while in Paris, France, and London, England, and letters to family members in Boston. The letters contain travel information, tourist observations, and notes on family and domestic issues.

Box 1
Correspondence, 1739-1795
Box 2
Correspondence, 1796-1808
Box 3
Correspondence, 1809-1826
Box 4
Correspondence, 1829-1883
Box 5Folder 1-13
Correspondence, undated

II. Miscellaneous papers, 1777-1882

The miscellaneous papers include materials not generally filed in the correspondence series, such as calling cards, drawings, and poetry; bills and receipts for various family members, including the Carruth family's bills and receipts from European travel in 1854; and John Mellen's sermons and other writings.

Box 5Folder 14
Calling cards
Box 5Folder 15
Sketches and drawings
Box 5Folder 16
Poetry, 1801-1824
Box 5Folder 17
Other miscellaneous manuscripts, 1796-1881
Box 5Folder 18-22
Bills and receipts, 1796-1881
Box 5Folder 23-24
John Mellen sermons, prayers, etc., 1777-1882

III. Levi Frisbie student essays and writings, 1817-1822

Arranged by topic.

This series contains student essays written for Levi Frisbie during his tenure as the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University.

Box 6Folder 1-5

IV. Bound volumes, 1785-1845

Arranged chronologically.

Box 6Folder 6Vol. 1
Account book, 1785-1789

William Winthrop in account with Thomas Brattle, administrator for the estate of William Brattle. (Brattle's sister, Katharine Brattle Wendell, was John Mellen Jr.'s mother-in-law.) Note: Volume removed to Oversize Box.

Box 6Folder 7-8Vol. 2
Mellen family genealogy and records, 1797-1820
Box 6Folder 9Vol. 3
Catharine S. Mellen penmanship and extract book, 1802-?
Box 6Folder 10Vol. 4
[Catharine S. Mellen] commonplace book, 1806-1807

Note: This volume was previously attributed to R. B. Hinckley, whose name appears on the cover.

Box 6Folder 11Vol. 5
Catharine S. Mellen Frisbie Hayward household and stock accounts, 1829-1833; household accounts and diary, 1836
Box 6Folder 12-13Vol. 6
Anna Henshaw historical notes, 1839

Genealogical and historical notes relating to the Henshaw family kept by Anna Henshaw. Also includes poetry and prayers.

Box 6Folder 14Vol. 7
Henshaw genealogy by Sarah A. Henshaw Carruth, 1845

Preferred Citation

Mellen family 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.


Brattle, Thomas, 1742-1801.
Carruth family.
Frisbie, Catharine Saltonstall Mellen, b. 1788.
Frisbie, Levi, 1783-1822.
Gannett, Caleb, 1745-1818.
Henshaw family.
Henshaw family--Genealogy.
Mellen family--Genealogy.
Mellen, John, 1722-1807.
Mellen, John, 1752-1828.
Savage family.
Ward family.
Ward, Artemas, 1727-1800.


Harvard University--Finance.
Harvard University--Students.


Account books.
Congregational churches--Clergy.
Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918.
Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.
Women's commonplace-books.