1684-1831; bulk: 1750-1797

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of correspondence, bills & receipts, and accounts of Boston merchant Caleb Davis and papers of family members.

Biographical Sketch

Caleb Davis was born in 1738 in Woodstock, Conn., the son of Joshua Davis (1706-1755) (who later moved to Brookline, Mass.) and Sarah (Pierpont) Davis (1714-1795), originally of Roxbury, Mass. Caleb was one of seven children, among whom were Amasa (1744-1825), Robert (b. 1747), Nathaniel (b. 1750), and Joseph (b. 1752). Caleb (known as "the Honorable") married three times: first to Hannah Ruggles in 1760, second to Mary Ann Lewis (1743-1787), and third to Eleanor Cheever (1750-1825). Eleanor was the daughter of William Downes Cheever (1720-1788) and Elizabeth (Edwards) Cheever.

Caleb Davis began his career as a merchant in the grocery business and would eventually prosper in the shipping trade, doing extensive business with the firm of Cravath and Dugan of Baltimore, Md. in fish, rum, flour, iron, and staves. He was also a public official, politician, and shipowner, and after 1787 was active in the management of the Cheever Sugar Refinery. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, the Committee of Correspondence, and the Massachusetts General Court (1776-1788), and in 1780 served as speaker of the first House of Representatives of Massachusetts. In 1788, he was a representative to the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution and, in 1789, one of the electors of George Washington for president.

Caleb Davis had six children, four with his first wife and two with his third wife: Elizabeth (b. 1764), Matilda (baptized 1768), Caleb (baptized 1772, died 1792), Hannah Pierpont (baptized 1773, died 1795), Eliza Cheever (1790-1828), and John Derby (baptized 1792, died 1809). John Derby Davis attended Harvard but died before graduating.

Collection Description

The Caleb Davis papers, spanning from 1684-1831, include correspondence, bills and receipts, and accounts of Boston merchant Caleb Davis and papers of family members. Starting in the grocery business in the late 1750s, Davis expanded into the shipping trade, doing extensive business with the firm of Cravath and Dugan of Baltimore in fish, rum, flour, iron, and staves. After the Revolutionary War, he continued trade with several firms in Europe and the West Indies. During the Revolution, he corresponded with Gen. William Heath and Dr. Barnabas Biddle, mostly about equipment and supplies. Davis became speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was a representative to the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. His correspondence includes letters from Rufus King, Nathaniel Gorham, and Theodore Sedgwick concerning the U.S. Constitution.

Also included are two letters from J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1782), one from George Washington (Aug. 1781), one from Paul Revere (Feb. 1779), and several from Samuel Adams (1778-1781), as well as letters from his brothers Amasa, Joshua, and Nathaniel Davis. Volumes in the collection include an early arithmetic notebook of William D. Cheever (1736); millinery business accounts, probably of Dorothy Murray Forbes; account books of Caleb Davis, the estate of William D. Cheever, and Eleanor Cheever Davis; housebuilding accounts of John Derby; letterbooks of William D. Cheever, William Cheever, and Caleb Davis; a cargo daybook for the brigantine William, brig Juno, and schooner Dighton; invoices of prizes captured by the Massachusetts Navy frigate Protector (1781), commanded by John Foster Williams; diaries of William D. Cheever and Eliza Cheever Davis; a diary and records kept by Benjamin Shattuck while surveying lands for the Cherokee reservation (1823); and a record of preachers at the West Church (1825-1831).

Acquisition Information

Gift of George B. and Frederick C. Shattuck, June 1917.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Loose papers, 1684-1826

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains correspondence, bills, and receipts pertaining to Caleb Davis's merchant trade and involvement in the American Revolution. Notable correspondents include Gen. William Heath, Dr. Barnabas Biddle, Rufus King, Nathaniel Gorham, Theodore Sedgewick, and Samuel Adams. Included are two letters from Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1782), one from George Washington (Aug. 1781), and one from Paul Revere (Feb. 1779). The series also contains family correspondence and John D. Davis's school essays.

Box 1
1684-Mar. 1762
Box 2
Apr. 1762-May 1764
Box 3
June 1764-Apr. 1767
Box 4
May 1767-Apr. 1769
Box 5
May 1769-Oct. 1771
Box 6
Nov. 1771-Apr. 1773
Box 7
May 1773-1774
Box 8
Box 9
1778-Aug. 1781
Box 10
Sep. 1781-July 1784
Box 11
Aug. 1784-Aug. 1785
Box 12
Sep. 1785-July 1786
Box 13
Aug. 1786-1787
Box 14
1788-July 1789
Box 15
Aug. 1789-Apr. 1791
Box 16
May 1791-Oct. 1792
Box 17
Nov. 1792-July 1795
Box 18
Aug. 1795-1826
Box 18
Undated material

II. Volumes, 1736-1831

Arranged chronologically

Box 19Vol. 1
William Downes Cheever arithmetic workbook for geometry, trigonometry, and navigation, 1736
Box 19Vol. 2
Eleanor Cheever (later Davis) copybook, July-Aug. 1761
Box 19Vol. 3
Eleanor Cheever (later Davis) copybook, Apr.-June 1762
Box 19Vol. 4
Caleb Davis receipt book, 1765-1767
Box 19Vol. 5
William Downes Cheever letterbook, 1765-1788
Box 19Vol. 6
[Dorothy Murray Forbes] accounts for mantua and millinery business, 1771-1782

Kept in a volume identified as belonging to John Forbes.

Vol. 7
Caleb Davis account book, 1773-1783Cased volume shelved at end of collection.
Box 19Vol. 8
William Cheever (son of W. D. Cheever) letterbook, 1774-1786
Box 19Vol. 9
Cargo daybook for brigantine William, brig Juno, schooner Dighton, 1777-1790
Box 20Vol. 10
William Downes Cheever travel diary, 1778-1779
Box 20Vol. 11
William Downes Cheever letterbook, 1781-1784
OS Box 1Vol. 12
Invoices of prizes captured by frigate Protector, 1781
Box 20Vol. 13
Caleb Davis letterbook, 1782-1786
Vol. 14
Accounts of William Downes Cheever estate, 1788-1793Cased volume shelved at end of collection.
Box 20Vol. 15
John Derby housebuilding accounts, 1790-1812
Vol. 16
Caleb Davis sugarhouse daybook, 1795-1796Cased volume shelved at end of collection.
Box 20Vol. 17
[John Derby Davis] notebook of poetry and essays, [ca. 1800]
Box 20Vol. 18
Eleanor Cheever Davis accounts of monies received, 1800-1824
Box 20Vol. 19
Eliza Cheever Davis diaries, 1809-18112 slim volumes.
Vol. 20
Unidentified daybook, 1810-1811Cased volume shelved at end of collection.
Box 20Vol. 21
[Eleanor Cheever Davis] accounts of monies received, 1813-1830
Box 20Vol. 22
Benjamin Shattuck diary kept on survey of Cherokee land, 11 Sep.-19 Oct. 1823
Box 20Vol. 23
Benjamin Shattuck survey notebook, Sep.-Oct. 1823

Titled: "Commencement of the meanders of White River on the [illegible]."

Box 20Vol. 24
Benjamin Shattuck survey notebook, beginning 12 Oct. 1823

On the Cherokee reservation. Titled: "Meanders of White River continued on the 12th of Oct. 1823."

Box 20Vol. 25
Benjamin Shattuck survey notebook, Nov. 1823

On the Cherokee reservation. Titled: "Meanders of Arkansas from Point Remove up."

Box 20Vol. 26
Benjamin Shattuck survey notebook, Dec. 1823

On the Cherokee reservation. Titled: "Notes of the western boundary line of the Cherokees."

Box 20Vol. 27
Record of preachers at West Church (unidentified writer), 1825-1831

III. Card files, [20th century]

This series consists of index cards and research notes on the Caleb Davis papers.

Box 21
Card file box #1
Box 22
Card file box #2

IV. Oversize material, 1759-1826

Arranged chronologically.

OS Box 1
OS Box 2

Preferred Citation

Caleb Davis 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.


Adams, Samuel, 1722-1803.
Biddle, Barnabas.
Cheever, William, 1752-1786.
Cheever, William Downes, 1720-1788.
Davis, Amasa, 1744-1825.
Davis, Eleanor Cheever, 1750-
Davis, Joshua, 1736-
Davis, Nathaniel, 1750-
Derby, John, 1767-1831.
Forbes, Dorothy Murray, 1745-1837.
Gorham, Nathaniel, 1738-1796.
Heath, William, 1737-1814.
King, Rufus, 1755-1827.
Revere, Paul, 1735-1818.
St. John de Crevecoeur, J. Hector, 1735-1813.
Sedgwick, Theodore, 1746-1813.
Shattuck, Benjamin, 1777-1831.
Shattuck, Eliza Cheever Davis, 1790-1828.
Washington, George, 1732-1799.
Williams, John Foster, 1743-1814.


Cravath and Dugan Co. (Baltimore, Md.).
Dighton (Schooner).
Juno (Brig).
Massachusetts Naval Militia.
Protector (Frigate).
United States. Constitution.
United States. Continental Army.
West Church (Boston, Mass.).
William (Brigantine).


Account books--1771-1782.
Account books--1773-1783.
Account books--1788-1793.
Account books--1790-1812.
Account books--1800-1824.
Arithmetic--Problems, exercises, etc.
Baltimore (Md.)--Commerce--Massachusetts--Boston.
Boston (Mass.)--Commerce--Maryland--Baltimore.
Boston (Mass.)--Commerce--Europe.
Boston (Mass.)--Commerce--West Indies.
Cherokee Indians--Government relations.
Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918.
Grocery trade--Massachusetts--Boston.
Indian reservations.
Massachusetts--Politics and government--1775-1865.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.
United States--Politics and government--1783-1789.
West Indies--Commerce--Massachusetts--Boston.