Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers of the Gardner family of Wenham and Boston, Mass., 1772-1915. Includes deeds and family correspondence of merchants and ship owners John, Samuel P., John L. Sr. and Jr., George, George A., Joseph P., and George P. Gardner; and Rebecca R. (Lowell), and Catherine E. (Peabody) Gardner, among others.

Biographical Sketch

Samuel Pickering Gardner (1767-1843), was born in Salem, Mass. to John Gardner (1731-1805) and Elizabeth Pickering (1737-1823). He graduated from Harvard College in 1786 and moved to South Carolina, where he engaged in the mercantile business with his brother John. In 1793 he moved to Boston, where he remained for the rest of his life. He maintained an office at 66 Long Wharf, then later at 15 Winter Street. He held various properties in Beverly, Wenham, and Newburyport.

In 1797, he married Rebecca Russell Lowell, daughter of Judge John and Rebecca (Russell) Lowell. They had five children who lived to adulthood: Elizabeth Pickering (1799-1881, m. John Chipman Gray), Mary Lowell (1802-1874, m. Francis Cabot Lowell), John Lowell (1804-1884), m. Catherine Endicott Peabody), Sarah Russell (1807-1893, m. Horace Gray), George (1809-1884, m. Helen Maria Read).

John Lowell Gardner (1804-1884), was born in Boston, the eldest son of Samuel Pickering and Rebecca Russell Gardner. He graduated from Harvard in 1821, and in 1824 began his successful career as a merchant in Boston. In 1825 he was a partner in the firm of Gardner & Lowell at 23 Long Wharf with Francis G. Lowell. In 1836, John L. Gardner and his brother George formed a partnership under the name John L. Gardner & Company, with offices at 47 India Street. In 1850 he moved to State Street and in 1853 took his son George A. Gardner into the business. Largely interested in commerce in the East Indies and Russia, he traded also with Sumatra, primarily importing pepper. During his later years, he took a less active role in his merchant business and turned his attention to real estate matters in Boston and Brookline. He held properties in Salem, Boston, Brookline, and Maine.

He married Catherine Endicott Peabody (1808-1883) in 1826. They had five children survive into adulthood: Joseph Peabody (1828-1875, m. Harriet Sears Amory), George Augustus (1829- 1916, m. Eliza Endicott Peabody), John Lowell (1837-1898, m. Isabella Stewart), Julia (1841-1921, m. Joseph Randolph Coolidge), and Eliza Blanchard (1846-1898, m. Francis Skinner).

George Augustus Gardner (1829-1916) was the second son of John Lowell and Catherine E. Peabody Gardner. Born in Boston, he graduated from Harvard College in 1849. Shortly thereafter he became a member of the firm of John L. Gardner & Company at 39 State Street. He owned many merchant ships. When the Civil War caused a decline in shipping, he took an interest in railroads, banking and real estate. He owned properties in Boston, Bourne, New York, and Maine. He served as vice-president of the Provident Institution for Savings and as a director of the Old Colony Railroad, Boston & Providence Railroad and Boston & Lowell Railroad. He was one of the heaviest taxpayers in Boston. His wealth made it possible for him to serve his city as a philanthropist.

In 1854 he married Eliza Endicott Peabody (1834-1876, daughter of George and Clarissa Endicott Peabody). They had four children survive into adulthood: George Peabody (b. 1855, m. Esther Burnett), Ellen (b. 1860, m. Augustus Peabody Loring), John Lowell (1867-1939), and Olga Eliza (b. 1869, m. George Howard Monks).


Archives, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Carter, Morris, Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court, 1925.

Gardner, Frank Augustine, Gardner Memorial, A Biographical and Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Thomas Gardner, Planter, Cape Ann, 1624; Salem (Naumkeag, 1626-1674), 1933

Collection Description

The Gardner family papers document family relationships and business endeavors from 1772-1915. The collection consists of nine boxes, one oversize box, and four volumes. Series I: Gardner Family Personal Papers contains personal and family letters from correspondents throughout their lives. Series II: Gardner Family Business Papers contains records of four Gardner business firms, begun in the 1790s and passed down through generations.

Series I: Gardner Family Personal Papers begins with the courtship between Samuel Pickering Gardner and Rebecca Russell Lowell, including a letter to her father, expressing his devotion and intent to marry. A large section of correspondence is between Rebecca Russell Lowell and her daughter-in-law Catherine Endicott Peabody. Of particular interest are the impressions noted by family members as they travel throughout Europe, which include reflections on Japan and India, as recorded by John Lowell Gardner, Jr. and his wife, the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. The correspondence briefly records their engagement, the death of their only son, and their earliest collecting habits.

Series II: Gardner Family Business Papers span four generations (1772-1915). Because the business was run by family members, both business and personal topics are covered throughout the collection of correspondence. In addition to business matters, the letters encompass a small range of topics, including politics, family births and deaths, tragedies, and travel.

Early business records include accounts of piracy, ship desertion and political discussions prior to and during the War of 1812. The earliest records include letters from Timothy Pickering regarding importing ventures. As shipping becomes less profitable during the Civil War, business primarily consists of railroads, real estate, and other investments, the majority of which is represented through correspondence between George Augustus and John Lowell. Family members and others are invited to join the firm, and their successes and failures are recorded here. The professional and personal lives of the nephews of Rebecca Russell Lowell, Henry and Francis Blanchard, are briefly represented in this collection.

Acquisition Information

Donor unknown.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Gardner Family Personal Papers, 1780-1890

Arranged chronologically

The bulk of this series is made up of correspondence, as well as educational material, such as the oversize Harvard commencement declaration, a chapbook, and memoranda books compiled by John L. Gardner (1846-1899). The first generation begins with Samuel Pickering Gardner and his wife Rebecca Russell Lowell. Their courtship is recorded at the beginning of the series, as are the lives of their children as they are born, marry, travel, have children of their own and begin the next generation. The correspondence between Rebecca Lowell and her daughter-in-law Catherine Endicott Peabody represents a bulk of the correspondence and reflects a loving relationship. They discuss mostly family matters, as Rebecca is often in charge of the care Catherine's children. Letters between brothers, George Augustus and John Lowell, Jr., describe happy times but also record tragic events such as the loss of their young children and the loss of their brother Joseph and their nephew Joe. Descriptions of travel to Europe, India, and Japan are of particular interest and include letters written by the wife of John L. Gardner, Jr., Isabella Stewart. Bound volumes include a memoranda book containing colored engravings, kept by John L., Jr. (1846). The series also includes correspondence of related Gardner family members. Note: The Gardner family business correspondence also contains information on personal and family matters.

Box 1
Gardner family correspondence, 1794-1843
Box 2
Gardner family correspondence, 1845-1870
Box 3
Gardner family correspondence, 1871-1881
Box 4
Gardner family correspondence, 1883-1885
Box 5
Gardner family correspondence, 1886-1890
Vol. 1
John L. Gardner scrapbook, 1846
Vol. 2
John L. Gardner memoranda book, 1846-1869
Vol. 3
John L. Gardner memoranda book, 1869-1899
Box 6Folder 1
Unidentified chapbook, ca. 1780
Box 6Folder 2
Educational material, ca. 1822
Box 6Folder 3
Related family correspondence, 1817-1887
Oversize Box
Harvard commencement declaration, 1786(Oversize)
Oversize Box
Greek Tree, ca. 1811(Oversize)
Oversize Box
L'Amerique article, by Robertson, 1822(Oversize)

II. Gardner Family Business Papers, 1772-1915

Arranged chronologically

Early business papers describe the import of tea, saltpeter, and sugar. Timothy Pickering, the father-in-law and business colleague of S. P. Gardner, is an early correspondent. Included is mention of an enclosed letter written by George Washington (now in the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum archives). Property and financial transactions are the main focus early in the collection. Later materials include business and property dealings and correspondence of Henry and Francis Blanchard, first cousins of John Lowell. The firm John L. Gardner & Company concentrated particularly in pepper importations. Two bound volumes are included in this series: A letterpress (maintained from 1864-86), holding copies of letters from John L. Gardner Sr., John L., Jr., Joseph Peabody, George Augustus and George Peabody; and a memoranda book noting sales of ship cargoes. The business later turned to real estate, then finally, banking, stocks, and railroads. Oversized materials include a Statement of the Expenses for the Town of Boston (1801) and The Boston Mercantile Directory (1805). The series also includes business correspondence of related Gardner family members.

Box 7
Gardner family business correspondence, 1772-1883
Box 8Folder 1-12
Gardner family business correspondence, 1884-1915
Box 8Folder 13
Gardner family legal documents, 1772-1869
Box 8Folder 14
John L. Gardner estate inventories, 1883-1884
Box 8Folder 15-19
John L. Gardner will and supporting papers, 1883-1886
Vol. 4
John L. Gardner letterbook, 1864-1886
Box 9Folder 1
Related family business correspondence, 1803-1840
Box 9Folder 2
Empty envelopes and printed material
Oversize Box
Abstract of the Act to Establish the City of Boston(Oversize)
Oversize Box
Statement of the Expenses of the Town of Boston, 1801(Oversize)
Oversize Box
The Boston Mercantile Directory,1805(Oversize)

Photographs Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the Gardner family photographs, ca. 1860-1940. Photo. Coll. 500.17.

Preferred Citation

Gardner 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.


Blanchard, Francis, 1784-1813.
Gardner, Catherine Endicott Peabody, 1808-1883.
Gardner, George, 1809-1884.
Gardner, George Augustus, 1829-1916.
Gardner, George Peabody, 1855-1939.
Gardner, Isabella Stewart, 1840-1924.
Gardner, John, 1731-1805.
Gardner, John Lowell, 1837-1898.
Gardner, John Lowell, 1804-1884.
Gardner, Rebecca Russell Lowell, 1779-1853.
Gardner, Samuel Pickering, 1767-1843.
Pickering, Timothy, 1745-1829.


Coffee industry.
Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
Family history--1850-1899.
Pepper (Spice).
Sugar trade.
Tea trade.
Voyages and travels.
Women travelers.
Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918.