1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Eliab Wilkinson Family Papers

 Merchant, educator and surveyor of Smithfield, R.I.

 Family papers, 1773-1884. Bulk, 1773-1807.

 Size: 0.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 1011

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, November 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            David Wilkinson (1748-1780) was the son of Israel Wilkinson and Mary Aldrich of Smithfield, R.I. He was not a close relative of his contemporary, the famous mechanic Oziel Wilkinson. He inherited part of the land that had initially been granted to his great-great-grandfather in the seventeenth century. David married Lydia Spear in 1773, and had five sons, only two of whom survived to adulthood. He died at the age of 31.

            David's eldest son Eliab Wilkinson (1773-1810) studied under Quaker educator Elisha Thornton, and became a school teacher in Smithfield himself. For several years, he published an almanac in conjunction with Thornton. He married Nabby Capron, daughter of Joseph Capron of Cumberland, and was briefly in partnership with his father-in-law in the mercantile firm of Wilkinson & Capron from September 1797 to March 1798 before buying him out. He was also as a skilled surveyor. He died at the age of 37, and left no children.

            Eliab served as cashier of the Smithfield Union Bank from its founding in 1805 until his untimely death in 1810. As cashier, he also engraved their bank notes; according to the family genealogy, "the bills upon this bank were never counterfeited during his term of office, his penmanship could not be imitated". Despite this claim, the notes were counterfeited, as was common during this period. In fact, the leading authority on Rhode Island bank notes includes a photograph of a counterfeit $7 note bearing an imitation of Eliab's signature...

            David Wilkinson's younger son, and Eliab's only heir, was Isaac Wilkinson (1776-1863), who served in many local and state offices. There are none of Isaac's personal records in this collection, but he is mentioned frequently in all of the account books. He married Hannah Streeter in 1819, and had three surviving children: David S. (1820-1907), Hannah M. (1823-1904) and Isaac R. (1826-a.1907).  

            David S. Wilkinson, a Smithfield farmer all of his life, married and had one daughter, Sarafina S. (Wilkinson) Smith, b. 1845. She had only one son herself, David W. Smith (1885-1909), who died young in a streetcar accident.


Durand, Roger H. Obsolete Notes and Scrip of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations (Society of Paper Money Collectors, 1981), p. 250.

Rhode Island Cemetery Database

Wilkinson, Israel. Memoirs of the Wilkinson Family in America (Jacksonville, Ill.: 1869), p. 142-148, 207-209, 265.

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Scope and content:

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            The provenance of the 1792 cyphering book is unknown; the tag affixed to its cover, and the appearance of its original catalog card, suggest that it arrived in the 1920s or 1930s. The other records were part of a gift of Mrs. Dot Merchant in 1997, along with the Reuel P. Smith Family Papers (filed separately). No connection has yet been determined between the Wilkinson family and the Merchant's Smith and Cook relatives. The Wilkinson papers were still in the hands of David S. Wilkinson as late as 1884, and his only grandson died in 1909.

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Processing note:

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Volume 1.

Ledger of David Wilkinson, succeeded by his widow Lydia, 4/14/1773 - 7/11/1796 (see p. 27). Partially indexed. After page 32, the volume was used as a disorganized memorandum book by grandson David S. Wilkinson from about 1866 to 1884. As these later entries are in pencil, they are very easy to distinguish; some of them also appear in blank spaces of the earlier ledger.

Volume 2.

Eliab Wilkinson cyphering book, with copies of school exercises, 1792. Including training in navigation and surveying. According to the last page, Wilkinson's tutor was Elisha Thornton.

Volume 3.

Ledger of Wilkinson & Capron (9/1797 - 3/1798), followed by ledger of Eliab Wilkinson, 3/1798 - 1807. Indexed; index page for L, M, N and O is missing. On the second page, Wilkinson lists the codes used in his personal accounting system. Particularly interesting entries include: "services performed for others" on page 13, including schooling, planting corn, "calculating an almanac for J. Richardson", surveying and making rakes; "library books" on page 17 listing books purchased for 1799; $18.33 to the "Smithfield Association for Detecting Thieves" on p. 75; and "cost of West India goods including Tea" on p. 2. Pages after page 90 are missing.

Volume 4.

Cash journal of Eliab Wilkinson, 1/5/1799 - 12/30/1807. Also accounts for keeping school, 12/1798 - 3/1799, listing weekly attendance from each family. The unusual accounting symbols used in the early part of the journal are explained on page two of Eliab's ledger.

Folder 1.

Loose papers found in Eliab Wilkinson's ledger and cash journal. Included are a diary-like page from 9/3/1807 discussing weather, the recent outbreak of influenza and a method of destroying canker worms. There is also a fragment of a ledger page dating 1805 to 1810.

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Account books - 1773-1807

Cyphering books - 1792

Schools - Rhode Island - Smithfield

Smithfield, R.I. - Business records

Thornton, Elisha

Wilkinson, David (1748-1780)

Wilkinson, David M. (b. 1820)

Wilkinson, Eliab (1773-1810)

Wilkinson, Isaac (1776-1863)

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