1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Nicholas Peck Papers

 Merchant of Bristol, R.I.

 Papers, 1790-1847.

 Size: 1 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 16

 Processed by: Harold Kemble, August 1979.

Slightly revised by Rick Stattler, August 1996.

 USE MICROFILM    E445 .R4, part 2, reels 25-27

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Nicholas Peck (1762-1847) was a merchant of Bristol, R.I. He invested in maritime commerce, shipping goods in and out of Bristol and other ports. Typical cargoes carried out included lumber, vegetables, grain, nails, and most importantly rum. Usually the voyage was to the south, along the Atlantic coast, stopping at ports to sell such cargo as might turn a profit, and purchasing new cargo along the way. Peck, like many New England merchants, also dealt in slaves, which would be purchased in small lots along the "Guinea" coast of Africa and brought back across the ocean to the Caribbean where they were sold. If all went well, the ships would then return to Bristol with cash, letters of credit, and cargoes of molasses, tobacco, salt and other goods. Peck outfitted at least one fishing voyage to northern waters, and we also find here records of cargoes sold in the Netherlands.

            Co-investors usually were found among one's fellow merchants. Often the ship's master had a share in the voyage. Nicholas Peck and his sons were variously engaged in mercantile adventures with Henry Munro, Samuel Townsend, John Brown, John Wardwell, Thomas Church, Nathaniel Gladding, and the Providence firm of Brown & Wardwell. Charles Collins, a merchant and investor in slaving voyages, was also the Bristol Collector of Customs.

            Cargoes were purchased with cash and sight drafts. The vessels might be owned by the Pecks themselves or in combination with the master and other investors. They were willing to risk cargoes in vessels that were not entirely seaworthy, as is seen from anguished letters sent by the ships' masters. One captain (Nathaniel Gladding Jr., 1825) informed Peck that "it would have been a hundred or two dollars in your pocket if you could believe those who had experience of the sea knew as much about them as yourself but tis a distemper I dispare your ever being cured of."

            The profit to be made on a successful trading voyage was far greater than the cost of a vessel. The ships and cargoes were insured against a sobering list of perils by such companies as the Bristol Insurance Company, the Warren Insurance Company, the Mount Hope Insurance Company and the Newport Insurance Company.

            Peck was born n 1762, the son of Jonathan Peck (1724-1797) and Mary Throop (d.1803). In 1784, he married the first of his three wives, Elizabeth Smith (1766-1796), daughter of Stephen. Among his children were Mary (b.1787), wife of Dr. Samuel W. Briggs; Nicholas Jr. (b.1789); John 2nd (1791-1838); and Viets (b.1814). Peck later remarried to Jemima Gorham (1774-1798), daughter of Capt. Isaac Gorham, and then Jemima's sister Sally Gorham, who survived him.


Peck, Ira B. A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck, Alfred Mudge & Son,             Boston, 1868.

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Scope and content:

            This collection consists of papers dated 1790 to 1849. Included are correspondence, bills, receipts, ledgers, insurance certificates and ship's papers regarding U.S. coastal trade and the African slave trade. The loose papers are arranged chronologically by year. One particularly interesting unsigned document dated 1812 gives instructions to a ship captain to trade for slaves at the mouth of the Gallinus River, at Cape Mount and on the Gold Coast of Africa, and instructs the captain to land the slave cargo at Trinidad.

            An account book of Nicholas Peck can also be found in the holdings of the Bristol Historical Society. Account books belonging to Peck's father Jonathan Peck (1724-1797) and grandfather Jonathan Peck (1698-1757) can be found in the Jonathan Peck Papers (MSS 610) at the R.I.H.S. Papers of Nicholas Peck's son Viets Peck also comprise a separate small collection (MSS 611).

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            This collection has been assembled from several different accessions. "Ledger E" was donated by James Tyson in 1940, and he later sold a collection of 85 loose papers in 1966, through his Tyson's Book Shop. The three earliest account books were donated by Louis Peck in 1966, along with the papers of Peck's son, father and grandfather. A bond dated 1804 was purchased from Paul Hoag in 1974. 3 volumes were purchased from the Manuscript Company of Springfield in 1982. Other items are marked "From the Collection of Paul C. Nicholson", and probably arrived from his estate in 1956, though they are not specifically mentioned in the accession book. The same is true of the "Haffenreffer Collection", donated in 1960 by Rudolf F. Haffenreffer III. This collection was broken up and dispersed circa 1980, and some Peck material was apparently placed here.

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Processing note:

            This collection was processed by Harold Kemble in 1979. In 1996, the finding aid was slightly revised, and three changes were made to the actual collection. Two account books, previously attributed to Nicholas Peck's father Jonathan Peck, were determined to belong to him, and transferred to the Nicholas Peck Papers. Four items in the Nicholas Peck Papers, dated 1735 to 1786, were determined to belong with the Jonathan Peck Papers. Finally, 41 items were found filed under Nicholas Peck in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, and integrated with the Nicholas Peck Papers. For anyone interested in more details on these maneuvers, lengthy notes are available in the collection file at the repository.

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Box 1, folder 1. Loose papers, 1790-1799

Box 1, folder 2.                        1800-1809

Box 1, folder 3.                        1810-1819

Box 1, folder 4.                        1820-1829

Box 1, folder 5.                        1830-1839

Box 1, folder 6.                        1840-1847.

Box 1, folder 7. Ledger, 1790.

Box 1, folder 8. Waste book, 1794-1795.

Volume 1. Ledger "B", 1794-1795

Volume 2. Ledger "E", 1803-1812

Box 2, folder 1. Journal, 1801-1802

Box 2, folder 2. Day book, 1810-1812

Box 2, folder 3. Ledger, 1815-1817

Box 2, folder 4. Journal, 1824-1826

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Bristol, R.I. - History

Business records - Rhode Island - Bristol

Coastwise shipping

Merchant ships, American

Merchant marine - Rhode Island - Bristol

Merchants - Rhode Island - Bristol


See also analytic entries for the following items:

Bradford, William (1729-1808).      Receipt to Peck, 7/30/1802 for legal services.

Briggs, Lemuel W. (d.1840).Letter to Peck, 6/21/1810, re move to Bristol.

Brown, John. Of Charleston, S.C. Letter to Peck, 7/1/1805, re purchase of 6 slaves.

Bull, Henry.                                      Letter to Peck, 11/3/1811, desires space on vessel.

                                                            Letter to Peck, 9/9/1841, offering two slaves for sale.

DeBlois, Stephen.                             Letter to Peck, 1/26/1828, re accounts due.

French, Zachariah.                           Letter to Peck, 3/29/1810, recounting sales at Havana.

Gladding, Nathaniel, Jr.                  Letter to Peck, 9/10/1825. Ship captain upset at quality of                                                                         ship; damage to cargo.

                                                            Letter to Peck, 3/12/1827, re storms and damage to cargo.

Imlay, John.                                      Letter to Peck, 6/4/1829. Has left Olive Branch in mud                                                                         near New Orleans; may sink before steamer arrives.

Munro, Allen.                       Letter to Peck, 6/7/1829, re poor condition of Olive Branch.

Peck, John (1791-1838)                    Letter to Peck Jr., 10/1/1818, re boat-ramming incident.

Peck, Nicholas Jr. (b.1789)              Letter to Peck, 12/28/1812, re plunder by British ships.

Robbins, Asher (1757-1845)Letter to Peck, 6/9/1818, requesting delivery of flour.

Usher, George F.                              Letter to Peck, 1/31/1821. Has smuggled cargo (slaves?)                                                                         on shore at Martinique. Glut of American goods.

                                                            Letter to Peck, 6/7/1821. Ship seized, captain interrogated                                                                         under suspicion of smuggling at Port Royal.

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