Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of family correspondence, diaries, genealogies, deeds, business accounts, writings, and other papers of the Rotch family of New Bedford, Mass., as well as related families, together with correspondence, deeds, logbooks, and shipping records of William and Francis Rotch, Quaker merchants and owners of a whaling fleet, at Nantucket and New Bedford, Mass.

Biographical Sketches

William Rotch, Sr. (1734-1828) was a Nantucket and New Bedford, Mass. shipping merchant, whaling fleet owner, and Quaker leader. His brother, Francis Rotch (1750-1822), was a New Bedford shipping merchant and inventor.

William Rotch, Sr. married Elizabeth Barney (1735-1824), and their children included: Elizabeth Rotch (1757-1856), who married Samuel Rodman (1753-1835), a New Bedford merchant and textile industrialist; William Rotch, Jr. (1759-1850) of New Bedford and Benjamin Rotch (1764-1839) of Milford Haven, Wales, both associated with their father as whaling merchants; and Thomas Rotch (1767-1823), an industrialist and early settler of Kendal, Ohio.

William Rotch, Jr. married Elizabeth Rodman (1759-1828), and their children included: Sarah Rotch (1786-1860), who married James Arnold (1781-1868), business partner of William Rotch, Jr.; William Rodman Rotch (1788-1860); and Joseph Rotch (1790-1839) of New Bedford, who married Anne Smith (1795-1842).

William James Rotch (1819-1893), the son of Joseph and Anne (Smith) Rotch, married Emily Morgan (1821-1861), daughter of Charles W. Morgan. Their daughter Emily Morgan Rotch (1860-1949) married in 1889 John Thornton Bullard (1864-1927).

Collection Description

This collection consists of family correspondence, diaries, genealogies, deeds, business accounts, writings, and other papers of the Rotch family of New Bedford, Mass., as well as the Arnold, Bullard, Morgan, Rodman, Thornton, and related families, together with correspondence, deeds, logbooks, and shipping records of William and Francis Rotch, Quaker merchants and owners of a whaling fleet, at Nantucket and New Bedford, Mass. Included is material related to Nantucket during the Revolution, the tea ship Dartmouth, the removal of the whale fishery to France (1790-1809), inventions of Francis Rotch, the settlement of Kendal (now part of Massillon), Ohio, and John Morgan Bullard's The Rotches (1947). Among the correspondents are Eliza Ware (Rotch) Farrar, James Monroe, Thomas Rotch, and William Thornton.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Catherine Tappan (Crapo) Bullard, November 1968.

Other Formats

Digital facsimiles of the Horatio S. Rotch journal and the log of the bark Rodman are available on Life at Sea, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Loose papers, 1684-1968

Early papers include a copy of a deed of land in Salem, Mass. belonging to William Rotch (b. 1650), 1696/7, and a copy of his widow Hannah's bond as executrix, together with an inventory of his estate, 1705. Papers concerning his son Joseph (1704-1784) include a copy of a release to his brother William upon receipt of his share of his father's estate, 1732; a chiding letter to Thomas Boylston, 7 Feb. 1750, on the unsatisfactory settlement of his accounts for provisioning ships; and an invoice of goods shipped by commission merchant William Jones in 1757 for the account of Joseph and William Rotch, his son.

Papers pertaining to William Rotch, Sr. include accounts, typescript correspondence, deeds, and other papers, 1757-1841, documenting his dealings as whaling merchant and his difficult role as spokesman for Nantucket neutrality during the American Revolution. Correspondence with family agents about whaling ventures and the market for whaling products provides a picture of the whaling industry of the Revolutionary and post-war periods. Included are several court documents related to Thomas Jenkins's complaint to the Massachusetts General Court against Rotch and others for treasonable actions and a letter from William Rotch, Jr. to Samuel Rodman assessing his father's chances for acquittal, 1779.

Included are accounts of John Pease, Jr., 1770-1777; detailed invoices for oil and cargo from the brig Somerset, 1782; references to the outcome of a whaling voyage to Canton in 1786; and shipping orders to Capt. Prince Coleman on a whaling voyage in the Ann, 1796. Of particular interest are letters from Rotch to his family about restitution from the British for ships taken during the war, his efforts to establish the Nantucket whale fishery in England, and the subsequent transplant of that operation to Dunkirk in 1790. Family correspondence, 1790-1793, contains colorful accounts of Rotch's treatment in France by the Revolutionist faction. Included is Rotch's "Petition of the Christian Society of Friends called Quakers delivered before the French National Assembly," 1791, and a draft of a letter to John Adams, 10 Apr. 1823, defending his removal of the whale fishery to Europe and a summary of his contribution to the industry. Papers relating to the settlement of his estate, 1828-1842, include accounts and records of property owned at New Bedford and Nantucket.

Francis Rotch's papers include correspondence, reports, deeds, accounts of business transactions, patent applications, receipts, and letters patent, 1774-1824. Items of note include a copy of his memorial to customs regarding the seizure of his ship Dartmouth, 4 Jan. 1774, which had been involved in the Boston Tea Party. Subsequent papers deal with attempts to gain protection for the whale fishery at Nantucket in 1776 and his time as a representative of the business in France, 1793-1809. Also included is a detailed account written in Brazil by Capt. Stephen Gardner of a whaling voyage, Aug. 1793; correspondence from 1796-1803 relating to restitution for the seizure of the Industry and claims against Britain; and communications from Capt. William Mooers about the disposal of cargoes at Dunkirk. A French license documents Rotch's marriage to Alicia Church Fleeming in 1798, and correspondence with her son John W. C. Fleeming and his agent William Capper describes the family's activities in France.

Returning to New Bedford in 1809, Francis Rotch began developing numerous inventions. Notes, schematics, patent applications, and letters, 1810-1818, relate to his development of a double-hulled boat called "Hornbug" and other devices and refinements for ship design and propulsion, tools, schemes for perpetual motion, and even a trap arrangement to rid 19th-century stables of horse flies. Correspondents include William Thornton, superintendent of U.S. patents; Thomas Biddle; John Wharton; and James Munroe. Papers concerning the settlement of Francis Rotch's estate and its administration by Samuel Rodman and Francis Rotch date from 1822-1824.

Papers pertaining to William Rotch, Jr., Benjamin Rotch, and Samuel Rodman, all partners in the parent firm as whaling merchants, supplement the accounts and records of the earlier Rotch whaling empire. Letters from Benjamin while he was in London to family members in New Bedford, 1785-1798, detail news of commodity prices, whaling ventures, shipping litigation, and settlements. A representative letter to Samuel Rodman, 2 Mar. 1786, discusses shipping, inventions to expedite whaling procedures, a report on Greenland ventures, and the use of whale oil in London city street lamps. Letters from William Rotch, Jr. to John Reed (1814-1815) describe war conditions, hindrances to shipping, and tax levies on whaling products.

Personal papers of William Rotch, Jr. include correspondence of himself and his wife Elizabeth (Rodman) Rotch with members of their families, 1784-1847, mainly discussing family matters, activities at New Bedford, and trips to Newport and New York. A letter from John Eliot (London, 1794) concerns the establishment of a trusteeship for the children of Quaker preacher Job Scott. Other papers include deeds, leases, receipts, a will dated 4 June 1849, and papers relating to the settlement of Rotch's estate by James Arnold, 1850-1855.

Papers of Benjamin Rotch include letters regarding family activities in England and letters from his wife Elizabeth (Barker) Rotch to her sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Rotch) Rodman. Deeds, receipts, bonds, and accounts, 1842-1854, document the settlement of his estate. Also included are drafts of poems by his daughter Elizabeth "Eliza" Ware (Rotch) Farrar (1791-1870), 1803-1806, together with some pieces written for the magazine Budge at the Friends Academy, New Bedford; contributions by her cousin Eliza Rodman (1782-1864); and a copy of "Memorials of the Life of Elizabeth Barker Rotch..." by Eliza Farrar, 1861. Letters to another cousin Ann Sigourney (Hammatt) Bond, 1821-1828, share news of New Bedford family matters and confidences about her marriage to Prof. John Farrar in 1828.

Additional papers of Samuel Rodman include letters to his daughter Eliza, 1804; receipts and accounts related to the Liverpool firm of Cropper, Benson and Co., 1808; and correspondence with his wife Elizabeth (Rotch) Rodman, 1813-1819. Included are letters from his wife to their son-in-law Micah Ruggles on personal business, as well as an exchange between Ruggles and Charles W. Morgan about financial affairs and real estate transactions, 1840-1853. In addition to her literary pieces, 1806-1821, papers of Eliza Rodman contain letters from her sister Anna, 1810-1814; her brother William at Philadelphia, 1812-1847; and Jeremiah Winslow, 1820-1829. Among the family members represented are Mary Borden Rodman, 1793-1798, and Thomas Rodman, 1747-1807.

Papers of Thomas Rotch and his wife Charity (Rodman) Rotch, 1795-1837, include letters describing the early settlement of Kendal, Ohio, and Rotch's establishment of a wool industry there. Family letters outline experiments in sheep culture, the purchase of carding and other machines used to manufacture woolen goods, and concern over competition from foreign imports. A letter dated 14 Oct. 1821 discusses the Underground Railroad. Papers concerning the settlement of the Rotches' estates, 1824-1837, include letters about the establishment of the Charity School for underprivileged children in 1824.

William Rodman Rotch, the son of William Rotch, Jr., continued the family business, as documented in shipping accounts from 1819-1833. The bulk of his papers, however, deal with the settlement of his estate, 1860-1880, and include his 1860 will, receipts, investment accounts, financial reports, and correspondence. Among the correspondents is John Henry Clifford, president of the Boston and Providence Railroad.

Papers of Sarah (Rotch) Arnold and her husband James Arnold, 1836-1867, include family correspondence and papers related to the settlement of their estates. Of particular interest is an account by family friend Jeremiah Winslow of his recollections of New Bedford in 1795, written to their daughter Elizabeth on 26 Mar. 1838. Earlier Arnold papers include those of James's father Thomas, 1795-1828, consisting of receipts, notes, and deeds for land at New Bedford and Providence.

Papers of Joseph Rotch, 1819-1835, include letters to his mother on personal matters, a letter to John H. Clifford in 1835 about the silk industry, and letters to his wife Anne (Smith) Rotch, primarily from Smith family members in Philadelphia, 1822-1824. Also included is her correspondence with their son William James Rotch at Harvard, 1834-1838, and daughter Elizabeth (1815-1884), who married Joseph Angier in 1838, as well as correspondence between Anne (Lawrence) Rotch, wife of Benjamin S. Rotch, living in New Bedford, and Elizabeth (Rotch) Angier at Milton describing daily activities and the building of her house in 1851-1852. Further papers of William J. Rotch consist of letters from his son in 1881 describing his work as purchasing agent for the Mexican Central Railroad Co.; copies of his will from 1892, together with receipts and papers from the settlement of his estate, 1893-1901; and correspondence of his daughter Emily Morgan Rotch.

Bullard family papers consist of letters of John Lincoln Bullard in New York about his son John T. Bullard, 1879, and the firm of Bullard and Wheeler, 1880. Letters of John T. Bullard to his grandmother describe his residence in Europe, 1887-1889, while studying medicine at Heidelberg and Vienna. Papers of John Morgan Bullard, 1920-1947, consist mainly of notes, correspondence, and genealogical material pertaining to his book The Rotches in 1947.

Papers of the Thornton family include letters, receipts, and legal documents of John R. Thornton of New Bedford, 1860-1889. Papers of Thomas Morgan Rotch (1849-1914) and his wife Helen, 1909-1914, consist of wills, inventories, and other papers relating to the settlement of their estates. Further papers of the Rotch family include news clippings about the publication of the Samuel Rodman diaries, volumes of newspapers on the whaling industry, genealogies of the Rotch and Starbuck families, and vital statistics compiled by Clara (Morgan) Rotch.

Morgan family papers, 1830-1870, contain letters from Annie Morgan Drinker to her mother Eliza Morgan Drinker, sister of Charles W. Morgan, about family activities, 1839-1850. Papers of Charles W. Morgan include correspondence with Micah Ruggles from Fall River, Mass. regarding real estate, business transactions, and financial concerns of family members, 1840-1853; letters from his wife Sarah, 1841; correspondence of his daughter Isabel with her parents about school at Lenox, Mass. with the Sedgwick family, 1845-1847; and a letter from Francis Rotch at London, 12 Feb. 1845, describing the American image in England.

Other notable items from this collection include a Massachusetts lottery bond, 1 June 1779; extracts from Benjamin Seymour's diary, 1797-1799; a biography of James Smith of Philadelphia by his daughter Anne (Smith) Rotch, 1759-1826; extracts of meeting minutes of the New England Society of Friends in Rhode Island, 1801; a pass for the Elizabeth authorized by Andrew Jackson, 1832; and a pass for the Adeline authorized by John Tyler and Daniel Webster, 1841.

Box 1
Box 2
1809-1819, [1810s]

Included are undated items probably dated 1810-1819.

Box 3
1820-1839, [1830s]

Included are undated items probably dated 1830-1839.

Box 4
1840-1849, [1840s]

Included are undated items probably dated 1840-1849.

Box 5
Box 6
Box 7
Box 8
Box 9
1933-1968, undated
Box 10
Poetry and extracts, [1800-1840]
Box 11
Genealogy and family history (manuscripts), undated
Box 12
Genealogy and family history (manuscripts), undated
Box 13
Genealogy and family history (printed), A-L
Box 14
Genealogy and family history (printed), M-R
Box 15
Genealogy and family history (printed), R-Y
Box 16
Genealogy and family history: "Young Lady's Friend" by E. R. Farrar, undated
Box 17
Budget Club submissions, [1813]
Box 22
Letter transcripts, 1790-1825
Box 23
Miscellaneous printed matter

II. Volumes, 1813-1897

A. Diaries, 1825-1897

Arranged chronologically.

Box 18Folder 1-10
James Arnold travel diary, [1825], 1836-1837

This diary was kept by James Arnold of New Bedford, Mass. while on tour in Europe with his wife Sarah (Rotch) Arnold and daughter Elizabeth Rotch Arnold. Entries include detailed descriptions and observations of churches, botanical gardens, libraries, museums, and other sites visited; social engagements; new friends and acquaintances; and historical and cultural notes on towns and cities visited in England, Ireland, and Italy, among others. Entries are interspersed with manuscript copies of letters written by Arnold and notes (in diary format) pertaining to the 1827 publication Letters from Europe by Nathaniel Hazeltine Carter.

Box 18Folder 11
Isabel Morgan diary, 6 June-2 Oct. 1845

This diary was kept by teenager Isabel Morgan of New Bedford, Mass. while attending Mrs. Elizabeth B. D. Sedgwick's School for ladies and living with the Sedgwick family in Lenox, Mass. Entries include descriptions of letters received, homesickness, visits from family, social engagements, and church and school attendance. Also included are notes taken from school lectures.

Box 18Folder 12
[Clara (Morgan) Rotch] diary, 15 Sep.-31 Oct. 1851

This diary was kept by Clara (Morgan) Rotch when she was a teenager in New Bedford, Mass. Entries describe school attendance, lessons, time spent with family and friends, and social engagements.

Box 18Folder 13
Emily Morgan Rotch travel diary, 26 Oct. 1881-3 Apr. 1882

This diary was kept by Emily Morgan Rotch on a trip to Europe.

[Clara (Morgan) Rotch] diaries, 1887-1891

Diaries kept by Clara (Morgan) Rotch, 1887-1891, describe her life in New Bedford, Mass., time spent with her husband William J. Rotch (who was widowed by her sister Emily), her niece Emily (who she was raising), and other family and friends; a vacation in Lakeville, Mass. in 1888; lessons on the Christian Science religion; domestic activities; social engagements; and the weather. The 1891 diary includes a large gap between 27 Apr. and 26 Aug.

Box 18Folder 14
Box 19Folder 1
Box 19Folder 2
1 Jan.-22 Nov. 1891
Box 19Folder 3
[Sarah Spooner Bullard] travel diary, 11 June-2 Nov. 1892

This diary, mostly likely kept by Sarah Spooner Bullard of New Bedford, Mass., describes a trip to Europe. Included are detailed entries about the ocean voyage; travels by coach and train in England, France, and Italy; the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other sights seen; time spent with her travel companions; shopping and other independent activities; concerts, dances, and other social engagements; friends made in Italy; a donkey ride in Bagni de Lucca, Italy; outings to take photographs; and church attendance.

Box 19Folder 4
[Clara (Morgan) Rotch] diary, 1 Jan.-22 May 1897

This diary, kept by Clara (Morgan) Rotch on a trip to Europe, describes the ocean voyage; her daily activities in Paris, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, including sights seen, shows attended, language lessons, and social engagements; and the weather.

B. Miscellaneous volumes, 1813-1897

Arranged chronologically.

Box 20Folder 1
Woman's commonplace book, [1813]
XT Vol. 1
Ledger, 1819-1828

This ledger contains shipping accounts related to the whaling industry.

XT Vol. 2
Ledger, 1822-1827

This ledger contains shipping accounts related to the whaling industry.

XT Vol. 3
Journal, 1828-1833

This journal contains shipping accounts related to the whaling industry.

Box 20Folder 2
Store accounts, 1841
Box 20Folder 3-4
Isabel Morgan Friends Academy, New Bedford, reports, 1844
Vol. [A]
Horatio S. Rotch journal, 1845-1849

This journal consists of three separate logs kept by Horatio Stockton Rotch. The first log documents a trading voyage on the bark Hannah Sprague, 5 Jan.-25 Dec. 1845, from Boston, Mass. to Madras and Calcutta, India. Entries record longitude and latitude, course, winds, and distance traveled. Included are narrative entries kept at Madras and Calcutta.

The second log records a voyage from Boston, Mass. to Batavia, Indonesia, on the bark Sylphide, including brief stops at Anjier in the Sunda Strait. Entries record longitude and latitude, weather, winds, and course. Rotch served as supercargo, and the bark was commanded by Eben Choate.

The third log was kept by Rotch as a passenger on the brig Emily Bourne, 8 Feb.-8 Aug. 1849, on a voyage from New Bedford, Mass. to San Francisco, Calif., with brief stops at Florianopolis, Brazil, through the Strait of Magellan, and the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile. Entries record latitude and longitude, weather, distance traveled, and winds. No arrival at San Francisco is recorded. The brig was commanded by William R. Potter.

Digital facsimiles of this item are available on Life at Sea, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.

Box 20Folder 5
Expenses, 1846
Box 20Folder 6
Riding and washing records, June-Aug. [1846]
Vol. [B]
Log of the bark Rodman, 1859-1863

On microfilm, P-70, 1 reel.

This log of the bark Rodman was kept by first mate Henry P. Taber while on a whaling voyage from New Bedford, Mass. to the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Brief stops included the Rosemary Islands, Timor Island, Bali, Indonesia, and the northwest coast of Australia. The log ends in Mauritius where the ship was sold. Included are ink stamps and drawings of whales and whale tails.

Digital facsimiles of the log of the bark Rodman are available on Life at Sea, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.

Box 20Folder 7
Estate of William R. Rotch, schedule of property, 1 Oct. 1860
Box 20Folder 8
Estate of William R. Rotch, account of property received, 1 Oct. 1860
Box 20Folder 9
Financial journal, 1871-1878
Box 21Folder 1
Emily Morgan Rotch trousseau, 1889-1890

Included are detailed accounts of the assembling of Emily Morgan Rotch's trousseau upon the event of her marriage to Dr. John Thornton Bullard in 1889.

Box 21Folder 2
J. T. Bullard treatment record, 1896-1897

This ledger shows accounts of mill injuries at the Pierce Mill, Wamsutta Mill, and Potomska Mill.

Box 21Folder 3
Emily Morgan Rotch sketchbook, undated

III. Oversize material, 1733-1947

OS Box 1
Manuscripts and graphics, 1733-1931
OS Box 2
Manuscripts and newspapers, 1812-1947

Preferred Citation

Rotch 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.


Arnold family.
Bullard, John M. (John Morgan), 1890-
Bullard family.
Farrar, John, Mrs., 1791-1870
Monroe, James, 1758-1831.
Morgan family.
Rodman family.
Rotch, Francis, 1750-1822.
Rotch, Thomas, 1767-1823.
Rotch, William, 1734-1828.
Thornton, William, 1759-1828.
Thornton family.


Dartmouth (Ship).


Massillon (Ohio)--History.
Merchants--Massachusetts--New Bedford.
Nantucket (Mass.)--Description and travel.
New Bedford (Mass.)--Description and travel.
Real property--Massachusetts--Nantucket.
Real property--Massachusetts--New Bedford.
Whaling--Massachusetts--New Bedford.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the Rotch family photographs (Photo. Coll. 273).