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

 William Ellery Collection

 Newport lawyer, patriot and customs collector

 Colleted papers, 1753-1829

 Size: 0.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 407

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, April 1995

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            William Ellery (1727-1820) was a Newport lawyer, merchant, politician and civil servant best known as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As his father and son were both William Ellerys, he was known as both Junior and Senior during his long life.

            Ellery graduated at Harvard College in 1747, inherited his father's business interests, and began practicing law in 1769. An ardent patriot, Ellery was chosen to fill Samuel Ward's place in the Continental Congress in 1776, where he remained intermittently until 1786. The next four years were spent as Commissioner of the Continental Loan Office, and in 1790 he was appointed Customs Collector at Newport. He remained in this last position until his death thirty years later.

            Ellery was connected with many of the prominent Rhode Island families of his day. His daughter Lucy married William Channing, who became Attorney General of Rhode Island. Their son, William Ellery Channing, was a famed Unitarian minister, and Ellery's biographer. Another of Ellery's daughters, Elizabeth, married Francis Dana, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.


Fowler, William M. Jr., William Ellery (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1973)

Rogers, L.E., ed., Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island (National Biographical Publishing Company, 1881)

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Scope and content:

            There are roughly five or six hundred Ellery documents in the library's holdings, spread out over at least sixteen different collections. Most of these pertain to Ellery's career as Customs Collector, and can be found in the Rhode Island Manuscripts and the Providence Customs House collections. 

            The Ellery Collection includes 46 letters from Ellery and 31 addressed to him. This represents only a portion of his surviving correspondence; photocopies of letters found in other collections at the R.I.H.S.L. have also been placed in this collection. Ellery had apparently asked that his letters be destroyed after death, but he was a prolific correspondent, and his surviving work exists in a largely miscellaneous state scattered across the nation's archives. The enclosed calendar of correspondence provides a comprehensive listing of correspondents.

            Series 2 was recently added to the collection, and contains a large body of Ellery's notes and memorandum. It includes account books; transcriptions Ellery made from various sources on religion, history and medicine; probate records for estates Ellery had an interest in; and scattered correspondence collected by Ellery for various reasons. While little of this material was actually composed by Ellery, much of it is in his own hand, and almost all includes a few notes by him as to its significance. Possibly the most important is a memorandum book from 1796 and 1797, which contains some brief diary entries, including a meditation on George Washington on February 22.

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            The provenance of most of the correspondence is unclear; it does not seem to have arrived in a group. Eleven of the letters, and all of series 2, arrived in 1994 in a purchase from Charles Apfelbaum, a manuscript dealer, which was formally accessioned the following year. Some correspondence of Francis D. and William Channing was removed from this purchase to the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection; the purchase does not seem to have a common provenance, and was probably dismantled for autograph value long before its arrival here.

            The 1787 letters to and from Samuel Huntington were donated in 1916 by the Rhode Island State Library. Several letters were donated by Helen Ellery Mead in 1943, probably those addressed to the Stedman family. The 1804 letter from Benjamin Lincoln was donated by Alan Y. Roberts in 1997. The 1810 Asher Robbins letter, 1816 Asher Robbins receipt, and 1819 Arthur Flagg receipt were donated in 2001 by Richard Bowen.

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Processing note:

            In addition to the material in this collection, additional William Ellery material can be found in the following collections:

Providence Custom House Papers (Mss 28)

Extensive correspondence between Ellery and Jeremiah Olney and others, almost exclusively dealing with customs issues. A rough estimate is 100 letters signed from Ellery, and 300 letters addressed to him in draft form, all spanning the years 1790 to 1823. This can be found in the "General Correspondence" files, Series 1, Sub-Series A and B.

Channing-Ellery Papers (Mss 341)

This large collection consists almost entirely of the papers of William Ellery and his son-in-law William Channing. Included are letters received by Ellery, personal financial records, and legal case files. The Channing-Ellery Papers are presently being inventoried and indexed. Ultimately, the Ellery material should someday be integrated with the William Ellery Collection.

Rhode Island Manuscripts (Mss 9004)

There is a large series of Ellery correspondence in this collection, dealing almost exclusively with customs issues. It is well-contained in Volume 5. Pages 90-97, 99 and 101-129 are letters signed by William Ellery, page 98 is from his son William Ellery Jr., and page 100 is addressed to William Ellery.

United State Government Records Collection (Mss 232)

This collection contains three folders of records Ellery kept in 1785 and 1786 while employed as the commissioner of the Continental Loan Office, dating back to transactions of 1777. These records are in Ellery's hand, though unsigned. There are also 18 volumes of certificates of liquidation of debt. These were generated by Ellery in the same capacity. The certificates are printed "Received of William Ellery", and are signed by the recipient.


            It is also possible that a few other scattered Ellery letters exist in other large, unindexed collections of this era.

            Four letters mentioned elsewhere could not be found in 1994; they may have been moved to another collection or de-accessioned during the earlier part of the century:


W.E. to Nicholas Cooke, 3/29/1779, not in Cooke Papers (not in card catalog, but mentioned in the old Cooke Papers index).

W.E. to William Vernon, 3/1780, not on "microfilm AH-1".

W.E. to William Vernon, 4/24/1781, not on "microfilm AH-1".

Jeremiah Olney to W.E., 1/25/1809, not in Olney papers.

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Series 1: Correspondence

1. 1770-1774

2. 1775-1779

3. 1785-1789

4. 1790-1794

5. 1795-1799

6. 1800-1804

7. 1805-1809

8. 1810-1815

9. 1815-1819

10. 1820-1829

11. Photocopies made from other R.I.S.H.L. collections

1766-1814. Does not include the large bulk of Ellery correspondence in the Customs House Papers, or in Rhode Island Manuscripts.

12. Accounts photocopied from other R.I.H.S.L. collections

            1753-1786. Not at all complete.

Series 2: Miscellaneous

1. Account book - William, Benjamin and Christopher Ellery

                        - Concerning rents in Hopkinton and Colchester, 1779-1785

2. Account books - 1796-1797, including diary notes and extracts.

                                      - 1805, accounts with laborers and Francis Dana

                                      - 1806-1807, accounts with laborers

2a. Accounts (loose), 1816, 1819

3. Extract books, 2 vol., n.d.

4. Extract books, 3 vol., n.d.

5. Miscellaneous essays, possibly composed by Ellery.

            Philosophical essay on variety and novelty, 9 p.

            "Some remarks on Gov. Gerry's speechification delivered June 7, 1810"

            Humorous advertisement for mythical university, signed "Gamut Vigybor".

            Theological notes, in an unsent letter to the Rev. William Patten, n.d.

6. Theological extracts, 4 items, including one from Wm. Patten.

7. Extracts from history and literature, 9 items.

8. Scientific extracts, mostly medicinal recipes, 15 items.

9. Probate papers - Ann (Ellery) Burt, 1806-1815. 6 items.

10. Probate papers - Nathaniel Cary, 1782 and 1784, 2 items.

                                        - Matthew Cozzens inventory, 1779

                                        - William Almy will, 1759

                                        - Elizabeth Almy will, 1770

                                        - Peleg Almy will, 1764

11. Probate papers, unidentified, 7 items.

12. Other Ellery family members.

            William Ellery Sr. - bond from John Burt, 1752

                                                    - bond from George Hazard, 1752

            Christopher Ellery - Justice of Peace papers, 1786 (2 items)

                                                    - Letter to Mr. Griffin of N.Y., 1765

            Benjamin Ellery - Letter from William Redwood & Son, 1788

Copy of letter discussing Ellery family, possibly in William Ellery's hand, from Francis Brinley and John Bours to Thomas Oliver of London.

13. Items of no obvious significance to the Ellerys (found in the 1995 purchase):

            Legal brief v. Stephen Gardiner, et al, 1785.

            Receipt, John Jones to George Wanton, 1739

            Receipt, settling Stephen Dexter's account, 1786

            Letter, John Jones of Boston to George Wanton, 1744

            Note from Asa Mason?, 1807, mentioning W. Ellery.

            Warrant to arrest Christopher Townsend of Newport, 1790.

            Ten items relating to the Channings were removed to MSS9001-C.

Calendar of correspondence:

Originals in MSS 407, the William Ellery Collection, unless noted, in which case a photocopy can be found in MSS 407.

This calendar does not include official Custom House correspondence in MSS 28 or MSS 9004.


Nathanael Greene to W.E., 1p ALS, n.d., in Peck 11-21. (funds to be delivered to Greene)

W.E. "Treas'r" to Capt. Carr, 1p ALS, 5/24/1766, in Peck 3-2. (repeal of Stamp Act)

W.E. to Samuel Ward?, 2p ALS, 2/14/1769, in Ward Papers. (local politics; spirited slander against "the Late High Sheriff [Walter Chaloner?])

Ray Sands to W.E., 1p ALS, 1/24/1770, in C-E 1-65.

Abel Franklin to W.E., 1p ALS, 2/25/1770, in C-E 1-67.

William Rodman to W.E., 2p ALS, 3/20/1770, in C-E 1-67.

William Rodman to W.E., 2p ALS, 12/6/1770, in C-E 1-91.

William Rodman to W.E., 2p ALS, 3/20/1770, in C-E 1-109.

W.E. and Henry Marchant, 2p ADS, 5/1/1771, in Marchant Papers. (agreement for W.E. to assume charge of legal affairs)

W.E. "for the Committee" to Ezra Stiles, 1p ALS, 6/8/1771, in Ezra Stiles Papers. (new church steeple)

William Martin to W.E. and Benjamin Ellery, 1p ALS, 7/8/1771.

W.E. and Benjamin Ellery to William Martin, 2p ALS, 7/16/1771, (tirade against taxes)

William Martin to W.E., 1p ALS, 4/9/1772. (bonds left in house)

Samuel Ward to W.E., 5p ALS, 5/6/1772, in Ward Papers. (requesting assistance in legal case)

Samuel Ward to W.E., 4p ALS, 5/10/1772, in Ward Papers.

W.E. to Samuel Ward, 2p ALS, 5/14/1772, in Ward Papers. (legal advice regarding a land case)

W.E. to Samuel Ward, 1p ADS [ca. 5/1772], in Ward Papers. (note returning questions to Ward; verso is questions in unknown hand.)

William Rodman to W.E., 2p ALS, 12/17/1772.

William Martin to W.E., 1p ALS, 7/4/1773. (social)

W.E. et al to the Johnston Town Council, 1/15/1774, in Johnston Town Papers.

Nicholas Cooke to W.E., 1p ADS, 5/10/1775. (appointment as naval officer)

W.E. to Henry Marchant, 3p ALS, 11/6/1775, in Henry Marchant file (not Marchant Papers). (removal of troops from Newport)

Rhode Island General Assembly to W.E. and Stephen Hopkins, 1p Mss, 5/4/1776, R.I.H.S.M. 15-191.

Nicholas Cooke to W.E. and Stephen Hopkins, 1p ALS, 7/16/1776, R.I.H.S.M. 16-141.

Nicholas Cooke to W.E. and Stephen Hopkins, 1p ALS, 8/13/1776, in Cooke Papers.

Nicholas Cooke to W.E. and Stephen Hopkins, 1p ALS, 8/27/1776, in Cooke Papers.

W.E. to unknown, 2p ALS reproduction, 10/11/1776, in Ellery Papers (originally in R.I.H.S.M. 15-207). (extensive war news and speculation)

W.E. to unknown, 3p ALS, 4/16/1777 a.m.. (speculation on British movements, necessity for recruitment)

W.E. to unknown, 1p ALS, 4/16/1777 p.m.. (Congressional approval of Rhode Island expedition)

W.E. to unknown, 2p ALS, 4/24/1777. (speculation on British strategy)

W.E. to R.I. General Assembly, 4p ALS, 5/8/1777, in Cooke Papers. (R.I. Congressional appointments, British troop disposition and propaganda)

W.E. and Jonathan Trumbull, 1p Mss, [ca. 11/1/1777], in R.I.H.S.M. 16-135. (Letter of introduction, returned)

W.E. to unknown, 4p ALS, 5/3/1778. (arrival of the Treaties of Alliance from France; world diplomacy. In need of preservation)

W.E. to unknown, 2p ALS, 5/14/1778. (British-French relations, etc.)

W.E. to a Boston merchant, 3p ALS, 8/12/1778, in Peck 4-50. (Naval engagement off Newport, purchase of saddle)

Rhode Island General Assembly to W.E. and Henry Marchant, 1p Mss, 5/1780, in Marchant Papers. (Resolution of thanks)

W.E. and John Collins to William Greene, 2p ALS (in Ellery's hand), 5/2/1780, in R.I.H.S.M. 3-90. (troop and naval movements)

Sylvester Gardner to W.E., 1p ADS, 2/19/1781. (receipt)

W.E. to George Champlin, 2p ALS, 4/14/1781, in Mason's Newport 3- 196. (state of currency, political appointments)

W. Greene to W.E. and David Howell, 1p typed transcript, 3/14/1785, in R.I.H.S.M. 14-55.

W.E. to Samuel Huntington, 3p ALS (mss copy by W.E.), 6/25/1787. (Huntington's health)

Samuel Huntington to W.E., 4p ALS, 6/29/1787. (Huntington's health)

Nathaniel Helme Jr. to W.E., 1p ALS, 2/20/1788, (formerly in R.I.H.S.M., 14-119). (claiming money due from government)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 4p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 4/25/1789. (Constitution; appointments)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 5/14/1789. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 4p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 6/15/1789. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 7/13/1789. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 12/12/1789. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 4p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 2/2/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 4p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 3/8/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 3/8/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 5p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 4/5/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 4/17/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 2p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 5/3/1790. (Constitution)

Benjamin Huntington to W.E., 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 5/8/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 3p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 5/11/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to Benjamin Huntington, 2p ALS reproduction from State Archives, 6/12/1790. (Constitution)

W.E. to William Stedman, 2p ALS, 9/1/1792. (social)

W.E. to Ray Greene, 2p ALS, 1/8/1794, in Ray Greene Papers. (customs matters)

W.E. to Stephen Heffernan, 1p ALS, 1/19/1798, in Heffernan Papers. (customs matters)

Jabez Bowen to W.E., 1p ALS, 10/24/1799.

Jeremiah Olney to W.E., 1p ALS, 2/11/1802, in Olney Papers. (regarding President's pledge to avoid arbitrary dismissals)

Daniel E. Updike to W.E., 3p ALS, 7/19/1802.

("a remarkable account of his sons ejecting by his mouth a watermelon seed he had swallowed four years before.")

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 11/9/1803. (social)

Benjamin Lincoln to W.E., 1p ALS, 5/3/1804. No position available for Thomas Hornsby.

W.E. to William Stedman, 2p ALS, 9/6/1805. (social)

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 3/17/1806. (social)

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 6/10/1806. (social)

Daniel E. Updike to W.E., 2p ALS, 9/28/1807.

            (condolences on death of Francis Dana)

Daniel E. Updike to W.E., 3p ALS, 10/16/1807.

(Judge Phillips' sickness, etc.)

W.E. to William Stedman, 2p ALS, 2/8/1808. (social)

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 4/15/1809. (social)

William Stedman to W.E., 3p ALS, 6/4/1809. (death of Sen. Malbone)

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 10/12/1809. (social)

Asher Robbins to W.E., 1p ALS, 9/28/1810 (requesting support for judicial nomination)

William Stedman to W.E., 2p ALS, 6/28/1812.

(offering refuge in Worcester from impeding conflict)

William Patten to W.E., 1p ALS, 7/22/1814. (sermons)

William Stedman to W.E., 3p ALS, 10/21/1814.

            ("an account of...the stage from Providence to Worcester.")

W.E. to Francis D. Stedman, 3p ALS, 4/14/1815. (advice to Stedman, an Exeter student)

W.E. to William Stedman, 3p ALS, 6/17/1815. (social)

W.E. to George G. Channing, 2p ALS, 11/19/1813, in Shepley 9-9. (family, hardships of war, customs business)

W.E. to Philadelphia Ellery, 1p ALS, 12/27/1814, in Peck 12-43. (family, her new residence at Charles Dyer's)

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Most of the correspondence was item-cataloged long ago. The following entries were made for the 1995 and 2001 accessions:

African-Americans - Newport, R.I.

Almy Family

Brinley, Francis

Burt, Anne (Ellery)

Cary, Col. Nathaniel

Cozzens, Matthew

Customs Administration - Newport

Ellery, Benjamin

Ellery, Christopher

Ellery, William Sr.

Gardiner, Stephen

Gerry, Elbridge (1744-1814)

Hornsby, Thomas (1766-1857)

Jones, John

Lincoln, Benjamin (1733-1810)

Malbone, Francis ( -1809)

Martin, William

Newport, R.I. - Politics

Patten, William

Redwood, William & Son

Robbins, Asher, 1757-1845

Stagecoaches - Providence

Stedman, William

Townsend, Christopher

United States - History - War of 1812

Updike, Daniel E.

Wanton, George

Washington, George (1732-1799)

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