Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection contains the papers of the Lowell family of Massachusetts from 1728-1878, specifically those of John Lowell, his wife Rebecca Amory Lowell, and their daughters Anna Cabot Lowell and Rebecca Amory Lowell. Papers of the related Sohier family are also represented. Included are correspondence, travel diaries, school lesson notebooks, and account books.

Biographical Sketch

John Lowell was born in 1769, the eldest son of John Lowell (1743-1802) and Sarah Higginson. Known as the "Old Judge," the elder John Lowell was a lawyer and judge and was active in the politics of post-revolution United States. He is regarded as the patriarch of the Lowell family in Boston. Among his other children was Francis Cabot Lowell, the businessman for whom Lowell, Massachusetts, is named.

John Lowell was educated at Andover and Harvard, excelling in public speaking and classics. After studying in the law offices of his father, Lowell was admitted to the bar at age 21. Eventually taking over his father's accounts, Lowell began a successful legal career. In 1793, he married Rebecca Amory (1771-1842). Together they had five children: Rebecca Amory (1794-1873), John Amory (1798-1881), Anna Cabot (1801-1802), Anna Cabot (1808-1894), and Sarah Higginson (1810-1816). Lowell was an ardent Federalist and contributed in writing as a pamphleteer.

In 1801, Lowell defended a man named Jason Fairbanks, who was accused of killing a woman named Betsey Fales. Despite a passionate defense from Lowell, Fairbanks was found guilty and executed. The verdict took a great toll on Lowell, and in 1803, having settled the accounts at his firm, he retired from law. Needing a respite, Lowell traveled throughout Europe for the next three years.

When Lowell returned, refreshed from his travels, he remained active in local and national affairs. A life-long interest in agriculture led him to become a member and president of the Massachusetts Agricultural Society. He was also a supporter and president of the Boston Athenaeum. Lowell was also a Harvard fellow, continuing a family tradition of involvement at Harvard begun by his father and continued long after his death. Maintaining his earlier support of the Federalists, Lowell wrote extensively in opposition to James Monroe and the events leading to the War of 1812, as well as against the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. Lowell's health deteriorated rapidly in his last years, though he was alive to see the opening of the Lowell Institute in 1839. He died at his home in 1840.


Greenslet, Ferris. The Lowells and Their Seven Worlds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1946.

Lowell, Delmar R. The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639-1899. Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Co., 1899.

Weeks, Edward. The Lowells and Their Institute. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Collection Description

The Lowell family papers consist of six boxes and sixteen volumes in cases that span the years 1728-1878. The collection is divided into three series: family correspondence, bound materials, and printed materials.

A large portion of the collection consists of letters sent and received by John and Rebecca Amory Lowell, which detail their courtship, married life, and travel. Another large portion of the collection is correspondence received by Anna Cabot Lowell, which details her private life with friends and family and her involvement in charitable work. The collection also contains a limited amount of correspondence from other family members, including a letter from Aaron Burr to Francis Cabot Lowell, 1802.

In addition, the collection contains bound materials of the Lowell and Sohier families. These consist of diaries detailing travel throughout Europe; practice books containing mathematical, nautical, and surveying problems; a letterbook by Anne MacVicar Grant; Sunday school lesson notebooks from a variety of subjects; and account books of both personal and professional transactions. The school lesson notebooks were most likely kept for teaching purposes by Rebecca Amory Lowell (1794-1873), who taught Sunday school at the First Church of Roxbury for about forty years. Lastly, the collection contains clippings, as well as miscellaneous materials kept by the family.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by Mrs. Lewis F. Perry, November 1968.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Lowell family correspondence, 1728-1878

This series primarily contains correspondence written and received by John Lowell and Rebecca Amory Lowell during their courtship from 1789-1791 and after their marriage in 1793. The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters written by John during his travels to France, Italy, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Charleston, South Carolina, Saratoga Springs, New York, and other areas in New England from 1804-1822, and includes his observations and descriptions of the places he visited and the people he encountered. John's letters from Europe include hand-drawn maps of selected areas visited in France, Italy, and England. Included are letters written to and received from John and Rebecca's son John Amory Lowell and daughter Rebecca Amory Lowell, as well as John's brother Francis Cabot Lowell and sister Sarah C. Lowell. Also included are letters received by Anna Cabot Lowell from 1850-1878 from family and friends, as well as correspondence regarding her charitable activities. These activities, detailed in the letters, included working to promote adoption and working to match orphaned infants with specific parents willing to adopt. She also worked to obtain funding and donation of goods for children's welfare, schools and libraries, and "freedmen." The organizations she was involved with include the New England Branch of the Freedmen's Union Commission, New England Freedmen's Aid Society, Rooms of the American Unitarian Association, Massachusetts Infant Asylum, The Christian Register, and the New England Hospital for Women and Children, among others. Correspondents include family members Rebecca Amory Lowell and Augustus Lowell, as well as Fanny Blake, E. W. Hooper, Mary Wigglesworth, and Lucie Solger, among others. There are several letters written in French.

Box 1
Box 2
1856-June 1870
Box 3
July 1870-April 1877
Box 4Folders 1-8
May 1877-1878

II. Bound materials, 1776-1858

A. Diaries, 1804-1825

This subseries contains diaries kept by various members of the Lowell family, mostly while traveling. There are four diaries kept by John Lowell detailing his European travels. Three of the diaries were written with his wife Rebecca in 1804 and pertain to his travels in England, Wales, Scotland, France, and Switzerland. The fourth was written in 1817 while at sea on a return voyage from Liverpool to Boston with his wife Rebecca. There is also a diary of Rebecca Lowell, 1805, detailing her travels in France, England, and Wales. There are two volumes of diaries kept by Ann McLean Lee, 1815-1817, copied by Anna Cabot Lowell, of travels in Italy and France. There are diaries kept by an unidentified author while traveling through Wales, Scotland, and England from September-October 1814, with descriptions of towns visited, social engagements with acquaintances, and daily activities. Rebecca Amory Lowell's diary, ca. 1825, records a trip to western Massachusetts with stops at Williamstown, Lenox, and Hancock. Lowell describes her impressions of the Shaker religion and a village located at Hancock, Massachusetts, and her experience at the meetinghouse during a service.

Vol. 1
John Lowell European diary, 1804
Box 6Folder 1
John and Rebecca Amory Lowell European diary, March-April 1804
Box 6Folder 2
John and Rebecca Amory Lowell European diary, April-May 1804
Box 6Folder 3
Rebecca Amory Lowell European diary, 1805
Box 6Folder 4
John and Rebecca Lowell sea voyage diary, July 1817
Vol. 2
Unidentified European diary, 12-30 September 1814
Vol. 3
Unidentified European diary, 1-20 October 1814
Vol. 4
Unidentified European diary, 20-25 October 1814
Vol. 5
Rebecca Amory Lowell diary and school notebook, [ca. 1825]
Vol. 6
Ann Amory McLean Lee European diary, vol. 1, 1815-1817, copied by Anna Cabot Lowell
Vol. 7
Ann Amory McLean Lee European diary, vol. 2, 1815-1817, copied by Anna Cabot Lowell

B. Account books, 1789-1858

This subseries contains an account book of Rebecca Amory Lowell, as well as account books of the Sohier family of Boston, including John Baker Sohier, Susan Cabot Lowell Sohier, and her husband William Sohier. The John Baker Sohier account book and ledger contain information on business transactions, including the purchase of household goods, food, and dry goods. Susan and William Sohier household account book records purchases of meat, milk, vegetables, household supplies, and children's clothing, among other things. Rebecca Amory Lowell's account book records payments made to charity, purchases made, and payments received for services provided.

Box 6Folder 5
John Baker Sohier account book, 1789-1795
Box 6Folder 6
John Baker Sohier ledger, 1789-1795
Box 5Folder 1
Rebecca Amory Lowell account book, 1828-1834
Vol. 8
Susan and William Sohier household account book, 1846-1858

C. Mathematical practice books, 1776-1785

Included here are practice books containing mathematical, navigation, and surveying questions and answers kept by members of the Sohier family.

Box 6Folder 7
John Baker Sohier practice book, 1776
Box 6Folder 8
Martin B. Sohier surveying practice book, 1776
Box 6Folder 9
Sohier math and navigation practice book, 17 October 1785
Box 6Folder 10
Edward Sohier math practice book, undated

D. Sunday school lesson notebooks, 1838-1853, undated

This subseries consists of Sunday school lesson notebooks containing questions, essays, and quotations relating to French, history, geography, geology, religion, and zoology. Many of the notebooks contain lessons on various subjects; listed below are titles taken from the first page and/or cover of each notebook, but more subjects may be covered inside. The majority of the notebooks are undated and apparently in the handwriting of Rebecca Amory Lowell (1794-1873) (except as noted below), most likely composed for her Sunday school students at the First Church of Roxbury. Three students are referenced: Anna E. Putnam, Caroline/Carrie, and Lizzie. Also included in this subseries are two notebooks containing lessons for the Sunday school at King's Chapel, Boston.

Box 5Folder 2
"Anna's Question Book begun June 1853"
Box 5Folder 3
"Anna E. Putnam / Questions to be answered in writing"
Box 5Folder 4
"For Anna / Questions on Russia in Europe"
Box 5Folder 5
"For Anna / Questions on the Figures of Speech"
Box 5Folder 6
"Questions for Anna & Lizzie"
Box 5Folder 7
"Book 1st with boys at Kings Chapel," begun 27 November [1838]
Box 5Folder 8
"Questions for the Sunday school of King's Chapel continued," 17 February 1839
Box 5Folder 9
"Chronology Nahant August 1848"
Box 5Folder 10
"Principles of Zoology / Begun at Nahant August 1848"
Box 5Folder 11
"Definitions in Zoology / Nahant," 8 August 1850
Box 5Folder 12
"Carrie's Question Book," begun 3 January 1852
Box 5Folder 13
"Historical Definitions / copied at Nahant August 1845"
Box 5Folder 14
"Sketch of the Life of Napoleon Bonaparte"
Box 5Folder 15
"Questions on Zoology and Chronology for Lizzie"
Box 5Folder 16
"Facts in the Life of Napoleon"
Box 5Folder 17
Lesson notebookIn unidentified handwriting.
Box 5Folder 18
Lesson notebookIn unidentified child's handwriting.
Box 5Folder 19
"Latin mottoes"
Box 5Folder 20
French notebook
Box 5Folder 21
"Questions for Caroline"
Box 5Folder 22
"For Lizzie / Questions on Ancient History"
Box 5Folder 23
"Questions on Geography / Great Britain & Ireland"
Box 5Folder 24
"Question on Miss Lowell's History of Greece"In unidentified child's handwriting.
Box 5Folder 25
"For Carrie / Questions on Africa"

E. Miscellaneous notebooks, 1784-1843

This subseries contains miscellaneous notebooks, including essays and extract books kept by Lowell family members, as well as members of the related Sohier and Amory families. Included is a book of extracts from Thompson's Seasons kept by John Baker Sohier, 1784; Sarah Higginson Lowell's penmanship book, ca. 1815; an extract book containing quotations kept by Frances Augusta Amory, 1817, and a notebook written in Italian; Rebecca Amory Lowell's essay book kept from 1827-1835 containing topics on religion, literature, and morality; and a notebook kept by Susan Cabot Lowell (Sohier), May 1843, containing verse and poetry.

Box 6Folder 11
John Baker Sohier extracts from Thompson's Seasons, 1784
Box 6Folder 12
Sarah Higginson Lowell penmanship book, ca. 1815
Vol. 9
Frances Augusta Amory Italian notebook, 1817
Vol. 10
Frances Augusta Amory notebook, 1817, with note by Rebecca Amory Lowell, 1833
Vol. 11
Rebecca Amory Lowell essays on literary, moral, and religious topics, 1827-1835
Vol. 12
Susan Cabot Lowell (Sohier) poetry book, May 1843

F. Anna Cabot Lowell writings, 1825-1848

This subseries contains the writings and extract books of Anna Cabot Lowell (1808-1894). Included are works on religion, history, and education. Anna Cabot Lowell was a Sunday school teacher at the First Church of Roxbury, and many of these writings were most likely used in her teachings.

Box 6Folder 13
Anna Cabot Lowell extracts, 1825
Box 6Folder 14
Anna Cabot Lowell extracts, 1848
Box 6Folder 15
Anna Cabot Lowell extracts on religion, undated
Box 6Folder 15
Anna Cabot Lowell extracts, undated
Vol. 13
Anna Cabot Lowell extracts on education, undated
Box 6Folder 17
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on England, undated
Box 6Folder 18
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on France, undated
Box 6Folder 19
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on Rome, undated
Box 6Folder 20
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on Christianity, undated
Vol. 14
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on ancient history, undated
Vol. 15
Anna Cabot Lowell writings on history, undated

G. Anne Grant letterbook, 1809-1810

This subseries consists of a letterbook of Scottish author Anne MacVicar Grant from 1809-1810. However, it is unclear to whom the letters are written. The letters describe her daily activities.

Vol. 16

III. Printed materials, 1789-1866

This series contains newspaper clippings from The Commonwealth during the Civil War relating to the war effort; an article by Laura Bridgman in The Common School Journal, 16 May 1842; a pamphlet entitled "The Lord Will Provide," 1863; and an obituary of Louise M. Amory, 1866. Also included a certificate recognizing the contribution of R. A. Lowell of five dollars to the Washington National Monument Society.

Box 4Folders 9-10

Preferred Citation

Lowell 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.


Amory, Frances Augusta, 1800-1819.
Grant, Anne MacVicar, 1755-1838.
Lee, Ann Amory McLean, 1774-1834.
Lowell family.
Lowell, Anna Cabot, 1808-1894.
Lowell, Elizabeth Cabot Putnam, 1807-1881.
Lowell, John, 1769-1840.
Lowell, Rebecca Amory, 1771-1842.
Lowell, Rebecca Amory, 1794-1873.
Sohier, John Baker.
Sohier, Susan Cabot Lowell, 1823-1868.
Sohier, William,1822-1894.


American Unitarian Association.
New England Freedmen's Aid Society.
New England Hospital for Women and Children.


Account books--1789-1858.
Diaries, 1804-1864.
Europe--Description and travel
Family history--1750-1799.
Family history--1800-1849.
Family history--1850-1899.
Massachusetts--Politics and government--1775-1865.
Massachusetts--Social life and customs--18th century.
Massachusetts--Social life and customs--19th century.
Ocean travel--Diaries.
Sunday schools.
Sunday school teachers.
Voyages and travels--Diaries.
Women teachers--Massachusetts--Roxbury.
Women travelers--Diaries.