Guide to the Microfilm Edition

Collection Summary


This collection consists of letterbooks containing copies of outgoing letters, 1723-1755, written by Jonathan Belcher, governor of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Biographical Sketch

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.

Collection Description

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.

Acquisition Information

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).

Other Formats

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.

Black and white digital images of this collection--produced from the microfilm edition--are available as part of History Vault: Revolutionary War and Early America, a digital resource from ProQuest. This resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS also provides access onsite to the Society's contributions to this resource; see a reference librarian for more information.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Reel 1
Indexes to vols. II-IV, VI-IX, XI

See Index List.

Reel 1Vol. I
4 Jan. 1723 - 29 Mar. 1725
Reel 2Vol. II
3 Sep. 1731 - 20 Nov. 1732
Reel 3Vol. III
21 Nov. 1732 - 21 Jan. 1734
Reel 4Vol. IV
23 Jan. 1734 - 31 Apr. 1735
Reel 5Vol. V
27 Sep. 1736 - 23 Jan. 1738
Reel 6Vol. VI
24 Aug. 1739 - 23 Sep. 1740
Reel 7Vol. VII
26 Sep. 1740 - 25 July 1743
Reel 8Vol. VIII
16 Sep. 1747 - 12 Oct. 1748
Reel 9Vol. IX
16 Oct. 1750 - 25 Aug. 1752
Reel 10Vol. X
27 Aug. 1752 - 28 Sep. 1754
Reel 11Vol. XI
9 July 1755 - 30 Dec. 1755

Index List

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.

Dates Current volume number Indexed as:
4 Jan. 1723 - 29 Mar. 1725 Vol. I No index
3 Sep. 1731 - 20 Nov. 1732 Vol. II Vol. I
21 Nov. 1732 - 21 Jan. 1734 Vol. III Vol. II
23 Jan. 1734 - 31 Apr. 1735 Vol. IV Vol. III
27 Sep. 1736 - 23 Jan. 1738 Vol. V Partial calendar only
24 Aug. 1739 - 23 Sep. 1740 Vol. VI Vol. IV
26 Sep. 1740 - 25 July 1743 Vol. VII Vol. V
16 Sep. 1747 - 12 Oct. 1748 Vol. VIII Vol. VI
16 Oct. 1750 - 25 Aug. 1752 Vol. IX Vol. VII
27 Aug. 1752 - 28 Sep. 1754 Vol. X No index
9 July 1755 - 30 Dec. 1755 Vol. XI (Incomplete vol.)

Preferred Citation

Jonathan Belcher letterbooks, 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.


Belcher, Jonathan, 1710-1776.
Lynde, Benjamin, 1700-1781.
Partridge, Richard, 1681-1759.
Waldron, Richard, 1694-1753.


Massachusetts--Governor (1730-1741 : Belcher).
New Jersey--Governor (1747-1757 : Belcher).


Copper mines and mining--Connecticut.
Family history--1700-1749.
Family history--1750-1799.
Massachusetts--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
Massachusetts--Politics and government--To 1775.
New Jersey--Politics and government--To 1775.