1665-1830; bulk: 1720-1809

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the personal and business papers of the Dolbeare family, primarily of Boston and Dorchester, including the papers of William Clarke. It contains correspondence, legal papers, business and financial papers, diaries, ledgers, and memoranda books.

Biographical Sketch

William Clarke (1709-1760), son of William Clarke and Hannah Appleton Clarke, was born in Boston. He attended Harvard College from 1722 until 1729, after which he traveled to London to study medicine. After his father's death, his mother married Josiah Willard, the provincial secretary of Massachusetts, in 1726. William returned to Boston in 1733 and immediately began his medical practice, with many of his patients a part of Boston's political and social aristocracy. He married Sarah Brandon that same year, and together they had one daughter, Sarah. He briefly entered into the iron business with his brother, Richard, and moved to Attleboro, Mass. William moved back to Boston in 1738 after receiving part of his father's estate, which also included land in central Massachusetts that resulted in prolonged lawsuits. In 1744, he accepted a commission as surgeon at Castle William, where he cared for sick and wounded soldiers, and he served at Louisbourg in 1745. Around that time his first wife died, and he married Sarah Dolbeare, sister of Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787). He died of camp fever on 8 June 1760.

Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787) was one of nine children of John Dolbeare (1669-1740) and Sarah Comer (1675-1744). He lived in Boston where he worked as a merchant, pewterer, ironmonger, and brazier in a shop on Dock Square. In 1741, he married Hannah Vincent (1712-1763), and together they had eleven children, including Sarah Dolbeare Gray (1746-1811), Thomas Dolbeare (1747-1804), Grizel Dolbeare (1751-1825), and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). Another son, Benjamin Dolbeare (1745-1767), was killed after falling overboard off a ship from London. After Hannah Vincent's death in 1763, he married Elisabeth Dowding (1709-1789) in 1764.

Thomas Dolbeare (1747-1804) was the son of Benjamin Dolbeare and Hannah Vincent. He became a merchant in Kingston, Jamaica, but after suffering financial troubles he left for London, where he was arrested in 1784. After his release and in order to hide from his creditors, he assumed the surname "Smith" and moved to Connecticut about 1787. His wife, Rebecca, and their two children, Thomas Clarke and Rebecca, remained in England. Thomas suffered from a medical condition involving his spine for the remainder of his life and received numerous surgeries. He lived as a boarder in various places in Connecticut, relying on his brother, John Dolbeare, for financial assistance until his death in 1804.

John Dolbeare (1752-1830) was the son of Benjamin Dolbeare and Hannah Vincent. He worked in Boston where he was a merchant and businessman after an apprenticeship with his father. He also conducted business in Kingston, Jamaica. He married Zebiah Royall Robinson, daughter of Col. Lemuel Robinson, in 1787, and together they lived in Dorchester. He died without children in 1830.

Collection Description

The Dolbeare family papers consist of six document boxes and six cased volumes spanning the years 1665 to 1830, with the bulk of the material dating from 1720 to 1809. The collection contains correspondence, legal papers, business and financial papers, diaries, and other volumes. Correspondence includes that of Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787), his brother-in-law William Clarke, and his sons Thomas Dolbeare and John Dolbeare concerning merchant business, travels, weather, finances, illnesses, and other family news, including the successful breast cancer surgery of Mary Dolbeare Townsend. Letters from St. Elizabeth and Kingston, Jamaica, where the family did business, include several that discuss the resistance of enslaved people on the plantations in St. Elizabeth in 1760.

Legal papers consist of deeds, bonds, and indentures, including deeds for lands in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire; records of enslaved people, detailing the sale of several enslaved individuals in both Boston and Kingston, Jamaica; and wills, estate inventories, and probate records, including the will and estate records of Sarah Comer Dolbeare and Hannah Vincent Dolbeare. Of note are the 1733 search warrant for James Dolbeare (1705-1743) to investigate the neglect of his sick wife, Mary, and their subsequent divorce papers in 1738. Also of interest are William Clarke's 1744 and 1757 commissions as surgeon at Castle William in Boston Harbor.

Business and financial papers include bills, receipts, and accounts related to personal and business expenses, primarily of Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787) and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). Also included are business papers such as shipping records and contracts for business partnerships.

The volumes consist of William Clarke's medical ledger and his journal from Louisbourg during King George's War, as well as Benjamin Dolbeare's ledger, memorandum book, and 1739 diary of his travels in England. The diaries of John Dolbeare (1752-1830) document daily life; business; privateering in the American Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars; and local Massachusetts election results. His 1777 diary describing the Battle of Saratoga contains copies of letters from Horatio Gates, including one to Gen. John Burgoyne discussing an exchange of prisoners for Ethan Allen. Other volumes include 18th-century bills of lading and the estate records of Nathaniel Loring.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Katherine B. Harris, March 1851, and Edward Everett, March 1919.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1731-1817

Arranged chronologically.

A large component of this series consists of the correspondence of Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787), William Clarke, Thomas Dolbeare, and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). William Clarke corresponded with his stepfather, Josiah Willard, and William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts. Additional correspondents include George Dolbeare (1715-1772), brother of Benjamin Dolbeare; Bernard Townsend, brother-in-law of Benjamin Dolbeare; Benjamin Dolbeare (1745-1767), son of Benjamin Dolbeare; John Dolbeare, nephew of Benjamin Dolbeare; and Rebecca Dolbeare, wife of Thomas Dolbeare. Much of the correspondence contains details on weather, crops, family news, illnesses, travel, trade, money, and the shipping business. From 1793 to 1805, John Dolbeare received many letters from his cousin Susanna Thomas Haydon, her husband, Nathaniel Haydon, and James Brooke concerning the estate of Bernard Dolbeare, Susanna's brother.

Of note is a letter from William Shirley to William Clarke in 1731 which describes his impressions of Boston and Harvard College. Also of interest is a letter from Bernard Townsend to William Clarke and Benjamin Dolbeare concerning his appointment to Lower Works Plantation in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica and a resistance by enslaved people that occurred there in 1760. In 1763, Benjamin Dolbeare wrote to Bernard Townsend concerning his wife, Mary Dolbeare Townsend, and described her successful surgery to remove part of her breast due to cancer. A letter in 1784 from Rebecca Dolbeare to John Dolbeare details the arrest of Thomas Dolbeare and his health troubles. From 1787 until 1802, a majority of the letters in the series are from Thomas Dolbeare, under the name of Thomas Smith, to his brother John Dolbeare, asking for financial assistance and detailing his expenses.

Box 1

II. Legal papers, 1665-1830

This series consists of legal papers related to the Dolbeare family, including deeds, bonds, indentures, records of the enslaved, wills, estate inventories, probate records, and other legal documents. A large portion of the records are concerned with land ownership in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.

A. Deeds, bonds, and indentures, 1665-1796

Arranged chronologically.

The majority of deeds involve lands in Massachusetts, including Boston, Bedford, Worcester, Barnstable, Bellingham, Attleboro, Wrentham, Malden, Nottingham, Lancaster, Watertown, Leominster, and Dorchester. Deeds from 1735 and 1736 involve digging for iron ore in Attleboro. Within Boston, properties mentioned include a lot on Wing's Lane, as well as a Newbury Street property belonging to Dame Hannah Willard, mother of William Clarke; land near Boston Common belonging to Madam Mary Saltonstall; and Bear Tavern. In Maine, deeds dating as early as 1665 involve lands near Kennebunk River. In 1750, deeds were created for Thouts Plantation near Kennebunk River, Damariscove Island, and Squirrel Island. Lands mentioned in New Hampshire include Nottingham (1727) and Monson (1746).

Indentures include the apprenticeship of Thomas Mason to Benjamin Dolbeare in 1740 and the apprenticeship of John McElroy to William Clarke in 1760. Leases and mortgages are also included.

Box 2

B. Records of the Enslaved, 1732-1781

Arranged chronologically.

These records concern the sale and detainment of enslaved people in Massachusetts and Jamaica. Included are a bill of sale in 1732 for an enslaved person named Loran from William Richardson to James Dolbeare; a 1736 deed for the sale of an enslaved woman named Dido from Habijah Weld to William Clarke; a 1743 deed for the sale of an enslaved person named Rose from Nathaniel Brown to James Dolbeare; a 1747 indenture for the sale of an enslaved person named Robin to William Clarke from Ebenezer Griggs; a 1774 deed for the sale of an enslaved person named Boston to Benjamin Williams from the estate of Nathaniel Loring; a 1780 bill of sale for an enslaved person named Dick from Thomas and Rebecca Dolbeare to John Dalling; a 1780 deed for an enslaved person named Peggy from William Clarke to Rebecca Dolbeare; and a 1781 deed describing the sale of an enslaved person named Thomas from John Dolbeare to George Ackinson.

Also included are a 1770 promissory note for the safe passage of an enslaved woman named Quasheba on the voyage from Kingston, Jamaica, to Alexandria, Virginia, and a 1778 list of ensalved captives on Buffet's Pen who were delivered to William Clarke.

Box 3Folder 1

C. Wills, estate inventories, and probate records, 1736-1830

Arranged chronologically.

Wills included are those of Mary Saltonstall, John Dolbeare (1669-1740), Sarah Comer Dolbeare (1675-1744), Edward Gray, William Fisher, Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787), and Bernard Dolbeare. Estate inventories are included for the estates of Sarah Comer Dolbeare, Hannah Vincent Dolbeare, Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787), Lemuel Robinson, and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). Additional records include probate records, opinions on Sarah Comer Dolbeare's legacy, a letter granting Nathaniel Loring guardianship of Susanna Loring, and the dying words of Thomas Gray.

Box 3Folders 2-8

D. Miscellaneous legal papers, 1701-1817

Arranged chronologically.

Of note is a copy of Queen Anne's commission to Joseph Dudley and others in 1704. Also of interest are a 1733 search warrant for James Dolbeare, who was accused of neglecting his sick wife, and the 1738 divorce papers of James Dolbeare and Mary Vallentine Dolbeare; the 1744 and 1757 commissions of William Clarke as surgeon at Castle William; maritime court documents concerning the Brigantine Hiram David; various powers of attorney and inferior court records; and findings from the Council of Seven Churches in Concord related to the conduct of a minister.

Box 3Folders 9-20

III. Business and financial papers, 1698-1825

This series consists of business and financial papers, primarily related to the expenses of Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787) and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). Included are bills, receipts, and accounts for personal and business expenditures and business papers concerning their work as merchants.

A. Bills, receipts, and accounts, 1698-1825

Arranged chronologically.

The majority of papers included are a mix of personal and business bills, receipts, and accounts of Benjamin Dolbeare and John Dolbeare. Bills and receipts include payments from the sale of land, household goods, food, services rendered, and various funeral costs. Receipts for payments of college bills for Benjamin Dolbeare (1745-1767) while at Harvard are included. Of note is an account for Dr. Thomas Bulfinch that includes costs for doctor's visits related to Mary Townsend's breast cancer surgery.

Box 4Folders 1-7

Business records, 1718-1789

Arranged chronologically.

Business records contain excerpts from John Dolbeare's (1669-1740) bill of lading book, shipping records, and ship registers. Also included are articles of agreement for business partnerships between Joseph Brandon and Benjamin Dolbeare in 1739 and between Thomas Dolbeare and John Dolbeare in 1774.

Box 4Folders 8-10

IV. Volumes, 1726-1830

This series consists of volumes belonging to William Clarke, Benjamin Dolbeare (1711-1787), and John Dolbeare (1752-1830). William Clarke's Louisbourg journal is included, recounting his experiences during King George's War. John Dolbeare's diaries describe daily life, business, and local elections, as well as details from the Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

A. William Clarke volumes, 1734-1746

Arranged chronologically.

William Clarke's Louisbourg journal includes entries from King George's War, detailing the arrival of the troops, the construction of the battery, and the siege of Louisbourg. Copies of letters to William Bollan, dated 1745-1746, and extracts from the minutes of a Council of War held at camp in May and June of 1745 before the expedition against Cape Breton are included. The ledger includes accounts and payments related to his medical practice in Boston.

Vol. 1
Ledger, 1734-1746
Box 4Folder 11
Louisbourg journal, 1745-1746

B. Benjamin Dolbeare volumes, 1735-1781

Arranged chronologically.

The ledger of Benjamin Dolbeare and Joseph Wise details the merchants' accounts for various goods, including sugar, flour, rum, and broadcloth. Benjamin Dolbeare's memorandum book includes lists of goods from invoices, lists of books, and receipts. Also included are recipes for remedies of colds, sore throat, gravel, consumption, and rheumatism. His 1739 diary details his travels to various sites in England including London, Oxford, Bath, and Bristol, particularly the House of the Duke of Beauford and a description of Oxford University.

Box 4Folder 12
Benjamin Dolbeare and Joseph Wise ledger, 1735-1742
Box 4Folder 13
Memorandum book, 1739-1781
Box 4Folder 14
Travel diary, 1739

C. John Dolbeare volumes, 1726-1830

Arranged chronologically by dates of John Dolbeare's diary entries and writings.

John Dolbeare's diaries contain both business and personal entries. In addition to detailing goods to be purchased, voyages, and expenses, he writes about family history, weather, and social calls. Some of these personal entries are written in French. In 1777, although he did not serve in the battle, Dolbeare records details of the Battle of Saratoga including copies of two letters from Horatio Gates, one discussing Articles of Convention for Gen. John Burgoyne's surrender and one addressed to Burgoyne discussing the exchange of prisoners of war including Ethan Allen. Lists of vessels taken at war due to privateering from 1776 to 1778 are also included. In his later diaries, John Dolbeare lists detailed local election results. He also documents the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Napoleonic Wars from 1805-1809. Dolbeare's Jamaica almanac, printed by Robert Sherlock in 1788, contains his memos and annotations for the year.

Although these volumes primarily consist of John Dolbeare's diary entries and other writings, many had been previously used by others for various purposes. The practice tables contain copies of legal documents from 1769-1772; the diary of 1787-1825 was previously Benjamin Dolbeare's book from Samuel Grainger's Writing School in 1731; the diary of 1795 was previously Benjamin Dolbeare, Jr.'s memorandum book from 1753-1763 and includes a catalog of books and an index of plant species; the diary of 1795-1797 was previously the receipt book of Michael Dennis in 1753; the diary of 1801-1802 was previously the book of James Dolbeare in 1726; and the diary of 1803-1809 was previously used as Benjamin Dolbeare and Joseph Brandon's alphabet book in 1739.

Box 4Folder 15
Practice tables, 1766

[Includes copies of legal documents, 1769-1772.]

Box 4Folder 16
Diary, 1767-1778
Box 4Folder 17
Diary, 1777
Box 4Folder 18
Jamaica almanac, 1778
Vol. 2
Diary, 1783-1799
Vol. 3
Diary, 1787-1825

[Includes writing exercises of Benjamin Dolbeare, 1731.]

Box 4Folder 19
Diary, 1792-1793
Box 5Folder 1
Diary, 1794
Box 5Folder 2
Diary, 1795

[Includes memo book of Benjamin Dolbeare, Jr., containing catalog of books and index of plant species, 1753-1763.]

Vol. 4
Diary, 1795-1797

[Includes receipt book of Michael Dennis, 1753.]

Box 5Folder 3
Extracts from John Dolbeare's diary, 1799-1801
Box 5Folder 4
Diary, 1801-1802

[Volume was previously the book of James Dolbeare, 1726.]

Vol. 5
Diary, 1802-1803
Vol. 6
Diary, 1803-1809

[Volume was previously the alphabet book of Benjamin Dolbeare and Joseph Brandon, 1739.]

Box 5Folders 5-9
Diary, 1805-1809
Box 6Folders 1-3
Diary, 1819-1830

D. Miscellaneous volumes, 1719-1782

Arranged chronologically.

Included are the bill of lading book of John Dolbeare (1669-1740) as well as estate records of Nathaniel Loring, with Benjamin Dolbeare serving as the administrator of his estate.

Box 6Folder 4
John Dolbeare's bill of lading book, 1719-1740
Box 6Folder 5
Estate records of Nathaniel Loring, 1772-1782

Preferred Citation

Dolbeare family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection and its subcollections are 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.


Allen, Ethan, 1738-1789.
Clarke, William, 1709-1760.
Dolbeare, Benjamin, 1711-1787.
Dolbeare, Hannah Vincent, 1712-1763.
Dolbeare, James, 1705-1743.
Dolbeare, John, 1752-1830.
Dolbeare, Thomas, 1747-1804.
Dolbeare, Sarah Comer, 1675-1744.
Dolbeare family.
Gates, Horatio, 1728-1806.
Loring, Nathaniel.


Account books--1735-1756.
Diaries, 1739-1839.
Divorce suits--Massachusetts--Boston.
Family history--1750-1799.
Fort Independence (Mass.).
Great Britain--Description and travel.
Louisbourg (N.S.)--History--Siege, 1745.
Medical fees.
Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1815.
Real property--Maine.
Real property--Massachusetts.
Real property--New Hampshire.
Saratoga Campaign, N.Y., 1777.
Slavery--Jamaica--Insurrections, etc.
United States--History--King George's War, 1744-1748--Personal narratives.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Campaigns.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prisoners and prisons.
Voyages and travels.
Wife abuse--investigation.