Merchant family, Newport and Charlestown, R.I.
Size: 4 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 20
Processed by: Harold Kemble, Mark Keller, Eric Armour and Cindy Bendroth, December 1992
Slightly revised by Rick Stattler in January 1997
USE MICROFILM E445 .R4, part 2, reels 1-9, 27
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Christopher Champlin (173l-1805) was a merchant, ship owner and financier of Newport, Rhode Island. He was born in Charlestown, Rhode Island, the oldest son of Colonel Christopher Champlin (1707-1766) and Hannah (Hill) Champlin. Earlier generations of the Champlin Family had moved from Newport to the Narragansett Country. The Colonel became a fairly prosperous "Narragansett Planter"; however, all three brothers, Christopher, Robert and George, chose to move back to Newport in the 1750's and established themselves in the mercantile community.
Christopher's merchant career lead him to engage in various trades, so long as the profits were high. He and his brother George often worked together; George was often master of the ships, with Christopher the financier. Their first ventures included illegal trade with Spain and France. Depending on the financial climate, he dabbled in privateering, the slave trade and the West Indies trade.
In 1764, he won a contract to become a "victualizing agent," a job which provided food, drink and other items for the British naval ships docking at Newport. His wife, Margaret Grant, was an asset in obtaining this contract; it was Sir Alexander Grant, a London relative, that awarded the contract to Margaret's husband and her sister Jane's husband, John Powell of Boston. Victualizing was not necessarily profitable; however, it did provide well-needed sterling specie, a rare commodity in depressed Rhode Island.
During the War, Champlin fled Newport and supported the colonies, as did his brother George (1739-1809), who became Lieutenant-Colonel of the First Rhode Island Militia. George later was a member of the Continental Congress and the Rhode Island Legislature. He was a staunch supporter of the Constitution, as was Christopher.
Champlin did continue his trading activities during Newport's occupation. In 1780, he tried to secure a contract for supplying the French fleet, but received only a contract for flour. He expanded his trade with the West Indies, Northern Europe and Holland. After the Paris Peace Treaty, he continued to ship flaxseed to Ireland, in partnership with Samuel Fowler.
Christopher Grant Champlin (1768-1840), or "CGC", was the oldest child and only son of Christopher Champlin. By the 1790's he had graduated from Harvard, and was sent on a European tour to "refine" him and ready him for a merchant's life. He returned, settled to New York and lost a fortune in stock speculation, almost ruining his father. He returned to Newport, where he married Martha Redwood Ellery (1772- ) in 1793. He continued to assist his father in business, and in 1796, decided to run for Congress.
Like his father, CGC used opportunities for financial reward. For example, many of his friends he met while in Europe became contacts for trade, or financial partners. Also, to help his chances for winning a seat, CGC swore that he had not speculated in southern lands and would not use his office to help his investment. In reality, CGC had speculated heavily in the Tennessee Company with his Harvard College friend, Nathaniel Prince (Prime?). He was elected and served in Congress from 1797 to 180l. During his tenure, he participated in a duel with a South Carolina congressman, James A. Bayard. Champlin was later appointed to fill a Senate term from 1809 to 1811.
He returned to Rhode Island in 1811 and concentrated on local and state politics as well as his business ventures. Eventually he became president of the Bank of Rhode Island, an office his father had held. CGC's only male heir died young and in 1840, at the death of CGC, the Champlin family and wealth were dispersed.
Lough, George J. The Champlins of Newport, (Diss, U. Conn, 1977)
Massachusetts Historical Society, Commerce of Rhode Island, 1726-1800, published in series 7 of the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, volumes 9 and 10, 1915.
Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island, "Christopher Champlin," p. l07.
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Scope and content:
The Christopher Champlin Papers contain the records of Christopher, his brother George and Christopher's son, Christopher Grant. The family's continuous business operations made it impossible to separate each person's own material; however, the bulk of the material belonged to Christopher Champlin. The collection dates from 1729 to 1840; the bulk dates are 1765 to 1798. The records include correspondence, accounts, receipts, account books, ships papers, labor records, deeds and other items. Most concerns his business activities, but national and local political, as well as personal, materials are scattered throughout. Champlin's trade areas included Java, Denmark, England, Ireland, the West Indies, Cuba, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hispaniola, Batavia, Italy, Germany, St. Croix, and Surinam.
Other Champlin items located at the Rhode Island Historical Society can be found in the following collections:
John Brown Papers
U.S. Custom House Papers
Benjamin Bourne Papers
Other papers of the Champlin Family are located in the following repositories:
Baker Library, Harvard University (Powell-Champlin Papers)
Massachusetts Historical Society (Wetmore Collection)
Newport Historical Society (Champlin Papers)
New York State Library (Champlin Papers)
Series included are:
Series I: Correspondence. 1729-1840. 1.5 feet.
Series II: Ships Papers. 1732-1827. 1 foot.
Series III: Accounts, receipts and orders. 1740-1822. 1 foot.
Series IV: Miscellaneous. 1700-1825. .5 linear feet.
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The Champlin family papers remained in the attic of the family's old house on Mary Street in Newport, passing through several owners. For many years, the house was in the possession of Duncan C. Pell; after his death in 1874, his widow remained until her death in 1899. After that point, the house was torn down to make way for a Y.M.C.A. building. The contractor, a Mr. Manuel, assumed possession of the papers, and dispersed them to the highest bidder. Efforts failed to keep the collection in one place. Large lots were sold to three parties: the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Newport Historical Society, and U.S. Senator George Peabody Wetmore, who got the largest portion. Some items also went to local historians Horatio Storer and George Champlin Mason. The date of all this is uncertain, but the Rhode Island Historical Society reported arranging the collection into scrapbooks in 1903 (Proceedings, 1903-1904, p. 31).
Mason's portion of the papers, or some other portion, seem to have been acquired by collector George Shepley, whose collection was purchased by the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1938 (Collections, 1938, p. 98). These two purchases, circa 1903 and 1938, constitute the bulk of the Champlin Papers here.
Wetmore's portion of the collection was transcribed and published by the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of its Collections, series 7, volumes 9 and 10, in 1915. Many items from the Newport Historical Society are also included, but only a handful from the R.I.H.S. Wetmore's collection was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in at the time of publication. The introduction to Volume 9 is the source for much of this story.
In addition to these large early purchases, one volume was donated in 1950, and ten items were donated by Paul C. Nicholson in 1956. A single letter dated 1794 by George Champlin was purchased from a dealer in 1976. 105 letters were found in the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1979, and kindly donated. 21 invitations and acceptances were donated by David W. Dreyfuss in 1980.
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The Champlin Papers were mounted into scrapbooks in 1903, soon after their arrival here. Shepley's portion was also mounted in separate scrapbooks circa 1940. Both portions were taken out of the volumes and integrated together, but citations still appear for the old page and volume numbers. Notes indicate that under the supervision of Harold Kemble, Mark Keller had begun grouping the records in subjects; in September of 1980, another volunteer began putting them in chronological order. Others may have worked on the collection after. The arrangement now is close to what had been done by 1988. In 1992, Cindy Bendroth filed accounts, receipts and orders as one category. Some oversize materials were unfolded and taken out. More items need to be put with oversize materials. All correspondence in Series I was indexed on a database. In 1997, about 200 additional items from the Shepley portion were discovered, that had never been properly indexed. These were integrated into the Champlin Papers, the correspondence database was updated, and this finding aid was revised slightly.
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Series I: Correspondence, 1729-1840 (1.5 lin. ft)
Correspondence, mostly business, news on trade and the supplying for British ships. Correspondence is calendared in the back of the finding aid chronologically and alphabetically by sender.
Box 1. Folders 1-14 (1729-1788)
Box 2. Folders 15-36 (1789-1796)
Box 3. Folders 37-61 (1797-1805)
Box 4. Folders 62-76, (1806 -1840, n.d.)
Folder 77 (Invitations and acceptances)
Series II: Ships' papers, 1732-1827 (1.0 lin. ft.)
The records include bills, receipts and accounts of ships, crew lists, wages, and custom house documents. Some accounts, bills and receipts might have ended up in series III if the ship's name was not clear, and ship correspondence is most often in Series I. The ships included are the British vessels Champlin was supplying, slave ships (i.e., the Adventure) and merchant ships. Merchant voyage records include customs documents from Gutenberg, Sweden, St. Petersburg, Russia, Haiti, Surinam, Africa, and Denmark. Some are identified by the final port. Victualizing records contain also include orders and vouchers, and the ships involved are identified as such below. Some flaxseed trade ships were: Enterprize, Don Galvez, Belle, Hope,Hannibal, and William. Some of the ships involved with Northern Europe and Russian trade were the Richmond, Enterprize, and the Elizabeth.
Box 4 (cont'd)
1 Schooner Adventure, 1763-1774
2 Brigantine Anstes, 1757
Ship Arethusa, 1773
3 Brigantine Bayonne, 1788-1794 (see Dickason, Thomas correspondence)
4 Brigantine Bowler, 1760 (Jamaica)
Sloop Bebrig? (deposition)
Brigantine Betsey, 1783
Brigantine Brandywine, 1806-1807
5 Ship Cygnet, 1765-1766 (victualizing)
6 Sloop Catherine, 1758-1759 (Monte Cristo)
Sloop Chaleur, 1764 (victualizing)
Ship Chance, 1759 (Jamaica)
Brigantine Charming Nancy, 1759 (Monte Cristo)
Sloop Charming Polly, 1752
Ship Cleopatra, 1768
Ship Courier, 1820 (list of dimensions)
Ship Charlotte, n.d.
Snow Cruzer, 1773 (victualizing)
7 Sloop Dolphin, 1739-1765
Sloop Delaware, 1764
8 Sloop Endeavor, 1761
Ship Enterprise, 1761-1764
Brigantine Elizabeth, 1790, 1796-1798 (St. Petersburg-Copenhagen)
(see Robinson, Robert correspondence)
Sloop Express, 1816
9 Sloop Fanny, 1760 (Tortola)
Ship Five Brothers, 1801
Brigantine Fame, 1809 (Charlestown)
Ship Friendship, 178l-1782
Ship Frederick Augustus, 1806
Brigantine Fame of Newport, 1810
10 Brigantine George, 1757-1782 (Privateer of war)
11 Brigantine Gaspee, 1773 (victualizing)
Ship Good Intent, 1796 (Fort Dolphin)
Sloop George Champlin, 1824-1827 (Rio de Janeiro) (Nov. 18, 1825-letter from John Randall, consulate in Copenhagen)
Ship Glascow, 1775 (victualizing)
12 Ship Hydra, 1785-1786
13 Schooner Halifax, 1773 (victualizing)
Ship Hinde, 1775 (victualizing)
Ship Hope, 1765 (England)
Ship Hope, 1800 (Amsterdam)
Ship Hope Thomas Wall, 1792
Ship Hope of Newport, 1800-1807
14 Sloop Industry, 1747-1781
Frigate Java, 1817 (Oliver Hazard Perry ship)
Ship Lizard, 1772-1773 (victualizing)
Brigantine John, 1788
Schooner Lark, 1795
Ship Laurel, 1781
Brigantine John Adams, 1806
15 Sloop Mary, 1745
Ship Maidstone, 1755-1766 (victualizing)
Sloop Molly Oliver, 1760 (Seward Islands?)
Schooner Magdalen, 1773 (victualizing)
Ship Mercury, 1773 (victualizing)
16 Sloop Nancy, 1758-1759 (Monte Cristo)
17 Ship New Concert, 1758-1760
Sloop Neptune, 1765-1773
Sloop Newport, 1784
Ship New Elizabeth, 1767 (sugar, Antigua)
Sloop New York, 1773 (Ireland)
18 Ship Ocean, 1809-182l (London-Sweden)
19 Sloop Patience, 1732-1738 (West Indies)
Ship Polly & Fanny, 1759
Sloop Peace of Plenty, 1773
Ship Peggy, 1773-1774, 1784-85 (Lisbon) (inc. wage book)
Brigantine Prifeilla, 1782
Sloop Peter, 1758 (potential prize)
19a Ship Peggy, 1773-1776 (victualizing)
20 Brigantine Rising Sun, 1800-1804 (Rotterdam-Havana)
21 Brigantine Rowena, 1801-1805 (Amsterdam-Liverpool)
22 Sloop Ranger, 1749-1767
Sloop Richmond, 1764 (North Carolina)
Ship Rose, 1774-1775 (victualizing)
Brigantine Richmond, 1782, 1786-87 (Hamburg)
Schooner Revenge, 1809-1811
23 Ship Senegal, 1768-1770 (victualizing)
24 Sloop Swan, 1773-1775 (victualizing)
25 Brigantine Sanderson, 1744-1747
Brigantine Seaflower, 1746
Ship Welcome, 1756
Ship Squirrel, 1764 (victualizing)
Schooner St. John, 1768 (victualizing)
Sloop Sally, 1789 (London)
Schooner Sultanan, 1769-1770
Sloop Three Sallys, 1763 (North Carolina)
Ship Tristam, 1773 (London)
Brigantine Wainscot, n.d.
26 Ship Union, 1803-1806, 1815 (Batavia)
27 Schooner Windmill, 1759-1763 (Monte Cristo)
28 Unidentified Ship Records, 1762-1802 (includes Champlin victualizing contract, "Outline of a contract respecting an expedition to China, August, 1788, & list of supplies for a frigate (Java?)
Series III: Accounts, Receipts & Orders, 1740-1822 (1.0 lin. ft.)
Accounts include those for servicing the British ships, both to and from Champlin to the British Navy. These often list amounts and costs of supplies. Also included are business and shipping accounts for trade, including those to and from Europe, the West Indies and Africa. Champlin's flaxseed business with Ireland is recorded, as well as slaving trips. The accounts are for the supplying of Champlin ships and the selling of cargo both in the United States (the colonies) and abroad. Personal accounts are normally for cloth, food and some items from Europe. Labor accounts are also part of the series, including slaves hired out to Champlin. There are receipts from Aaron and Moses Lopez, Peleg Thurston, Alexander Brymer and many others. Bills of exchange, current price lists at other ports, stock, notes, and miscellaneous financial records, including Revolutionary War payment memos, are also included.
Accounts, orders & receipts
Accounts, orders and receipts
1775 account book (victualizing)
1786-1787 accounts books
Accounts, orders & receipts
Bills of exchange, 1758-1807
Financial records-miscellaneous, 1743-1780
Price lists, 1760-18l0
Petty Ledger #2, 1768-1772
Invoice book, 1769-1804
Series IV: Miscellaneous, 1700-1825 (.5 lin. ft.)
These contain papers from Christopher Champlin (l684-1734) and (1707-1766) as well as Christopher Grant Champlin. Included are: Charlestown lands deeded from Narragansett Sachems and others to the Champlins; depositions concerning the parentage of Charles and George Ninegret (Champlin seemed to support Charles); Sachem deed to the Narragansett Church; accounts and receipts to Christopher Champlin, guardian of Thomas Ninegret, infant sachem (1752); appraisal of Nicholas Easton land; leases; deed of sale for a slave; power of attorney to Abraham Redwood Ellery; contract for flour (French); Newport town records; and power of attorney to C. Champlin for his father's estate in Westerly (1734). Arranged alphabetically.
Box 9 (cont'd)
Indian deeds and depositions, 1700-1745
Indian deeds and depositions, 1746
Indian deeds and depositions, 1753-61, n.d.
Indian deeds-Thomas Ninegret, 1756-57
Miscellaneous records-includes G. Champlin bequeath to the First Congregational Church in Newport, City of Newport subscription, French contract for flour, military schools in France, Newport town records (1800, 1825) power of attorney (1742-65), license (photocopy of original)
Pattern book (cloth)
Voting Records, 1807-1821
Wills, deeds, leases, 1731-1790
Wills, deeds, leases, 1790-1813
Wood family bible (one page) listing children born 1730-1747. Little Compton vital records indicate these are the children of John Wood by two different wives.
Signatures from Brig George, n.d. (vellum-half of it missing)
Deeds: Timothy Stanley of Farmington, CT to Christopher Champlin, Westerly, 1735
Stanton York of Charlestown to Jesse Champlin of Charlestown, 1776.
"A list of vessels convoyed by the United States Frigate George Washington..." February 4-October 1, 1799 (lists ships, masters, owners, cargo where from and where bound)
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Africa - Commerce
Batavia - Commerce
Business records - Rhode Island - Newport
Champlin, Christopher Grant
Charlestown, R.I. - Business records
Cuba - Commerce
Deeds - Rhode Island - Charlestown
Ellery, Abraham Redwood
Europe - Commerce - United States
Hispaniola - Commerce
Indians of North America - Narragansetts
Indians of North America - Land Titles
Java - Commerce
Jones, John Coffin
Merchant ships, American
Merchants - Rhode Island - Newport
Newport, R.I. - Business records
Slavery - United States
St. Croix - Commerce
Surinam - Commerce
U.S. - Politics and government, 1789 - 1815
West Indies - Commerce
The following names have been culled from the correspondent index, as the most prominent or frequently occurring names. It is far from a complete listing of persons mentioned in the collection.
Ayrault, Daniel. Of Newport. 10 letters received, 1729-1760.
Babcock, Rowse (1745-1801). Merchant of Westerly, R.I. Letter, 8/27/1786.
Bowler, Metcalf (1726-1789). Was partner with Champlin circa 1760.
Brown, John (1736-1803). 9 letters to Champlin, 1786-1799.
Brown, Moses (1738-1836). Letter to George Champlin, 9/24/1793.
Brown, Nicholas (1729-1791). Letter, 5/11/1756.
Brown & Francis. 27 letters to Champlin, 1788-1793.
Brymer, Alexander. Merchant of Boston. Dozens of letters to Champlin, 1773-1775.
Clark, John Innes. Merchant of Providence. Draft of letter to Clark, 1801; letter from, 1806.
Dennie, Joseph (1768-1812). New Hampshire essayist and editor. Seeks help in gaining Newport readership for his The Museum newspaper, 3/17/1791.
Dudley, Charles Edward (1780-1841). U.S. Senator from N.Y. Two letters, 1830.
Fenner, Arthur (1745-1805). R.I. Governor. 7 letters, 1790-1801.
Francis, John Brown (1791-1864). R.I. Governor. Letter on politics, 1837.
Gallatin, Abraham Alfonse Albert (1761-1849). Secretary of Treasury. Letter, 1811.
Halsey, Thomas Lloyd. Letter, 1792.
Hazard & Robinson. Mercantile firm of Charleston, S.C. 7 letters to Champlin, 1793-1794.
Ives, Thomas Poynton. Two letters on politics, 1821.
Jones, William (1753-1822). R.I. Governor. Political letter, 1821.
Livingston, John. Of New York. Several letters, 1767-1772.
Madison, James (1751-1836). U.S. President. Letter to Champlin, 4/9/1810.
Malbone, Godfrey Jr. (1724-1785). Letter, 2/23/1760.
Melville, David. Of Newport. Letter on politics, 1824.
Minturn & Champlin. Mercantile firm of N.Y. 19 letters to Champlin, 1794-1798.
Mumford, Gideon. Of East Greenwich. Dozens of trade letters, 1775-1791.
Nightingale, Samuel. Letter, 1788.
Perkins, Thomas H. (1764-1854) Prominent Boston merchant. Letter, 1793.
Pickering, Timothy (1745-1829). U.S. Secretary of State. Draft of letter from Champlin, 1799.
Potter, Elisha R. Of South Kingstown, R.I. Letters, 1798 and 1821.
Rotch, William (1734-1828). Of New Bedford. Letter, 1803.
Russell, Nathaniel. Of Savannah. Trade letter, 1788.
Tillinghast, N. Of Taunton. Letter, 1812.
Tillinghast, Stephen. Of Providence. Two letters, 1792.
Updike, Daniel E. Of Wickford. Letters re Washington Academy, 1802 and 1805.
Waterhouse, Benjamin (1754-1846). Physician. Letter, 2/11/1784.
West, Benjamin (1730-1813). Letters re almanacs, 1782, 1786.
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