1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 James Burrill Family Papers

 Lawyer and U.S. Senator, Providence, R.I.

 Family papers, 1794-1833

 Size: 0.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 323

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, June 1996

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            James Burrill Jr. (1772-1820) was a Providence lawyer who served as United States Senator for the last three years of his life. He was born in Providence, the son of James Burrill (1739-1825) and Elizabeth Rawson (1748-1811). He married Sally Arnold (d. 1814), daughter of Jonathan Arnold and Sally Burr, in 1797. They had 6 children: Mary E. Curtis (1798-1826); Susan A. Greene (1801-1831); Eleanor F. Burges (1803-1865); Sarah P. (1805-1807); James A. Burrill (1808-1831) and Sarah P. Fearing (1812- ).

            Burrill received a bachelor's degree from "Providence College" in 1788, and a law degree in 1791. He was elected as Attorney General in 1797, and became the state's Chief justice of the supreme Court in 1816, serving only one year before his election to the U.S. Senate. His three-year term there was distinguished mainly by his forceful but conciliatory oration against the extension of slavery into the state of Missouri in 1819..


Cyclopedia of Rhode Island Biography, p. 191

Burrill Family Bible records, R.I.H.S. genealogical manuscripts collection.

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Scope and content:

            This small but substantial collection includes correspondence with some of the leading political figures of early nineteenth century Rhode Island, as well as national figures like John C. Calhoun and Josiah Quincy. Other letters include one from John Howland regarding his Revolutionary service; a series of letters from the textile firm of Brown & Ives on cotton tariffs; one from R.I. Gov. William Jones on the Missouri question; a series of political letters from his brother-in-law Lemuel H. Arnold. One venomous letter from Henry Smith regarding the 1804 state elections calls Burrill a "damnd lyar" and a "dirty Tory puppy", and offers to "chastise Insolence with my cane". On the more endearing side are several letters written by Burrill's 10-year old son James Arnold Burrill discussing his education and amusements.

            The collection also includes copies of two of Burrill's most important orations, on the 1798 hostilities with France, and the 1819 admission of Missouri as a free state. There is also a three-page journal kept by Burrill from 1790 to 1798, with events recorded back to his birth. In 1790, Burrill had "the ineffable Pleasure of seeing George Washington the greatest Hero & firmest Patriot that the Earth ever produced."

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            The bulk of this collection arrived in three gifts from family members: from Francis George Curtis in honor of his father George William Curtis (1824- ) in 1927; from Ms. Elliot Green Chesebrough and Theodore Francis Green II in 1996; and from Mrs. Pierre Jay (apparently a descendant of the Curtis family) in 1949. In addition, two letters were purchased from manuscript dealers in 1970, one was purchased as part of a large collection in 1938, and a single receipt was donated by the Nantucket Historical Association in 1987. Two items have no accession information: an 1812 receipt, and an 1815 Brown University diploma made out to "Jacobus Burrill". The diploma was apparently in the scrapbook with the Curtis gift, but may have been in the collection prior to 1927.

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Processing note:

            The 1927 was initially known as the Curtis Papers, and was mounted in a scrapbook. It was dismounted some time during the 1970s. A single letter from Edward Fitzgerald to Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry dated June 21, 1817 (accession number 1996.43.4.1) was removed to the Oliver Hazard Perry Papers; it had no obvious bearing on Burrill or his career.

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James Burrill Jr. - Official and personal papers

1. Correspondence, 1795-1808

            1795/04/20 Burrill to Dwight Foster (purchase)

            1799/04/14 E. Burrill to James Burrill Jr.

            1804/03/30 Burrill to Edward Willcox (purchase) 

            1804/04/16, Henry Smith to Burrill

            1807/02/08 Josiah Quincy to Burrill

            1808/12/30 William Sheldon to Burrill

2. Correspondence, 1811-1815

            1811/12/31 William Hunter to Burrill

            1812/05/22 A.D. Barber to Burrill

            1813/09/03 Asa Messer to Burrill

            1814/04/12 Draft, Burrill to Judge Daniel Lyman

            1814/08/26 Draft, Burrill to ??

            1814/08/30 Draft, Burrill to Hunter

            1815/10/11 copy of letter sent by Mr. Ives to J.R. Livingston

3. Correspondence, 1817-1818

            1817/11/30, H[enry] Wheaton to Burrill

            1817/12/25, John Howland to Burrill

            1818/11/30, Olney Winsor to Burrill

            1818/12/10, Brown & Ives to Burrill

            1818/12/11, Lemuel H. Arnold to Burrill

            1818/12/25, Daniel Lyman to Burrill

            1818/12/26, Mary Vinton to Burrill

            1818/12/30, Brown & Ives to Burrill

4. Correspondence, 1819-1820 and undated

            1819/01/07, Brown & Ives to Burrill

            1819/01/12, Lemuel H. Arnold to Burrill

            1819/01/12, Brown & Ives to Burrill

            1819/01/13, Brown & Ives to Burrill

            1819/01/18, Lemuel H. Arnold to Burrill

            1819/01/19, Lemuel H. Arnold to Burrill

            1819/01/23, Thomas Coles to Burrill

            1819/06/01, Burrill to William Hunter (purchase)

            1819/12/20, Gov. William Jones to Burrill

            1820/03/12, Draft, Burrill to John C. Calhoun

            Undated draft

            Undated note

5. Correspondence and notes on Roger Williams, 1819.

            Includes drafts of 2 letters to Robert Walsh Jr.

6. Journal, 1790-1798. 3 p. Includes events back to birth in 1772.

            Also includes accounts, 1797.

7. Draft of address to Providence town meeting on war with France, 1798.

   (an alternate draft was published in Staples' Annals of Providence in 1843)

    Also petition to call meeting, and resolutions presented.

8. Speech on admission of Missouri to the Union, 1819.

   With resolution of R.I. citizens against extension of slavery, and copy of original Senate act.

9. Miscellaneous manuscripts

            1788 A Forensic Dispute with J. Leonard at the Public Commencement

            1810 Letter to the Newport Mercury, signed "A Freeholder"

            1816 Charge to the Grand Jury Fall Circuit

            Undated. In defense of the appointment of a U.S. Senator by the R.I. Assembly

10. Miscellaneous

            1797 tax receipt

            1812 receipt

            1813 Brown University diploma to "Jacobus Burrill"

            1816 commission as Chief Justice

            Undated abstract of deed

            Volume of trial notes, Providence County Court of Common Pleas, 1800-1801.

Burrill family papers:

11. Correspondence with Arnold - Marsh family of Vermont

            1794/04/08 Burrill to Josias Lyndon Arnold

            1794/06/18 Burrill to Arnold?

            1796/02/03 Burrill to Arnold

            1799/01/10 Burrill to Charles Marsh

            1803/06/12 Burrill to Susan Marsh

            1814/07/28 Burrill to Susan Marsh

            1814/07/?? Burrill to Susan Marsh

12. Family correspondence, 1816-1819

            1816/04/21, James A. Burrill to sister Eleanor

            1817/02/16, JAB to Eleanor

            1817/03/30, JAB to Eleanor

            1817/04/07, JAB to Eleanor

            1818/12/02, JAB to father James Burrill Jr.

            1818/12/07, JAB to father

            1818/12/17, Amelia Burrill to brother-in-law James Burrill Jr.

            1818/12/20, Mary Elizabeth Burrill to father James Burrill Jr.

            1819/01/08, JAB to father

            1819/01/18, JAB to father

            1819/01/28, JAB to grandfather James Burrill Sr.

            1819/02/07, JAB to father

13. Curtis family papers, 1821-1833

            1833/06/19 Edwin C. Larned to James Burrill Curtis

            1833/06/24 Julia Bridgham to James Burrill Curtis

            1827/08/13 Letter of guardianship for James B. and George W. Curtis

            1821/03/10 Columbian Centinel (Boston newspaper) with marriage notice of George                         Curtis and Mary Burrill

14. Mary Elizabeth Burrill (later Curtis), 4 cyphering books, ca. 1810

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Arnold, Lemuel H. (1792-1852)

Brown & Ives

Calhoun, John C. (1782-1850)

Children's writings - United States - Rhode Island

Ciphering books

Coles, Thomas (1752-1844)

Cotton trade - Law and legislation

Curtis, Mary Elizabeth (Burrill)

Curtis Papers

Howland, John (1757-1854)

Hunter, William (1774-1849)

Jones, William (1753-1822)

Lyman, Daniel (1756-1830)

Missouri Compromise

Quincy, Josiah (1772-1864)

Rhode Island - Politics and government - 1775-1865

United States - History - 1797-1801

United States - History - 1817-1825

Wheaton, Henry (1785-1848)

Winsor, Olney (1753-1837)

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