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

 Henry Mathewson Papers

 Ship's master and supercargo, Providence.

 Papers, 1820-1831. Bulk 1821-1826.

 Size: 1.5 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 558

 Processed by: Robin P. Flynn, September 1997

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Henry Mathewson was employed jointly, in 1820, by the Providence firm of Edward Carrington & Co. and Providence merchant Cyrus Butler, to sail the ship Mercury for trading purposes along the west coast of South America. Little is known about Mathewson's life or career prior to this venture; however, he is described by author Earl C. Tanner, in his article "The Voyage of the Mercury", as "an experienced Providence mariner." Mathewson's voyage began with an order to fulfill an arms shipment, which was to be purchased in Europe and shipped to Chile. The weapons were to be used in the efforts of General San Martin, who liberated Chile from Spain, to invade Peru. The political risk inherent in the venture, which shed doubts on the certainty of Mathewson being able to collect payment for the order, was the motivation behind Carrington & Co.'s solicitation of partnership with Cyrus Butler.

            During the six years that Mathewson sailed on the ship, he conducted trade in Gibraltar

and Canton as well as South America. It seems that, in addition to the official business he did for the Mercury's owners, Mathewson engaged in personal speculation and commercial activity using the vessel while at certain ports.

            By 1825, due to age and rough passage from Canton to South America during a hurricane, the Mercury was officially deemed unseaworthy and was put to auction. Instead of returning to his family in Providence, however, Mathewson chartered another ship, the Superior, using funds settled from the Mercury's affairs. This action did not sit well with Carrington & Co. and Butler, especially as it turned out the Superior was one of their ships. Upon reaching his destination in the Superior, Mathews realized, from correspondence awaiting him, that he would have to return to Rhode Island to reconcile his affairs with his employers. Difficulty untangling the accounts of the Mercury, and Mathewson's personal business dealings while captain of both ships, was cause for litigation against Mathewson by the ships' owners in the United States Supreme Court. After an eighteen-year court case, judgment was found against Mathewson, and profits from his personal speculations were forfeited.

            A manuscripts collection which may provide further information for the researcher on both the Mercury and her owners is the Carrington Papers. Additionally, logbooks for the Mercury are in the Manuscript Division's logbook collection.


Tanner, E. C. The Voyage of the Mercury (Providence, Rhode Island History, vol. 10, nos. 2 and             3), no date.

Return to top

Scope and content:

            The collection contains a good deal of correspondence and a variety of shipping documents, such as ship's accounts, bills, receipts, disbursements, crew lists, bills of lading, and cargo invoices and manifests, from the years 1820 through 1831. Most of the documents relate to trade conducted on the ship Mercury. There is a very small amount of material for the ship Superior and the frigate United States.

            In addition to the original papers, there is one box containing photocopies of most of the loose originals. The photocopies were kept in the arrangement in which they were found, which differs from the arrangement of the original materials. The copies are grouped by recipient/sender; the originals have been rearranged in chronological order so that the journeys of the Mercury, and the other vessels on which Mathewson sailed, may be followed in logical order.

Return to top


            Most of the papers were donated to the Society by Blanche Mysing in 1983. It is likely that Mathewson's letter copybook and invoice book "G", in addition to a small portion of the correspondence, were obtained in the early 20th century from the Providence Customs House.

Return to top

Processing note:

            The papers had to be removed from acidic folders and re-housed in archival acid-free folders. Additionally, the correspondence was separated from the rest of the papers and placed in chronological order. The remaining ships' documents were arranged by name of vessel and type of document, and put into chronological order.

            Some documents are in extremely fragile condition due to mold and age and must be handled with care. They have been wrapped in archival paper for preservation purposes.

Return to top


Box 1.


Folder 1. 1820.

Folder 2. 1821.

Folder 3. 1822.

Folder 4. 1823.

Folder 5. 1824.

Folder 6. 1825.

Folder 7. 1826.

Folder 8. 1827.

Folder 9. Letter copybook, H. Mathewson, 1826-1827.

Folder 10. 1828-1831.

Folder 11. Undated.

Box 2.

Shipping documents.

Ship Mercury.

Folder 1. Shipping contract between Henry Mathewson, Cyrus Butler, and Carrington & Co.,

            Oct. 12, 1820.

Folder 2. Bill of sale for Mercury, Peter Snow to Cyrus Butler, Samuel Wetmore, and Carrington & Co., October 30, 1820.

Folder 3. Certificate of registry, Nov. 14, 1820.

Folder 4. Crew lists, 1820.

Folder 5. Drawback certificates, Nov., 1820.

Folder 6. Cargo manifests and invoices, 1820-1825.

Folder 7. Receipts and bills, circa 1820-1825.

Folder 8. Bills of lading, 1821 and 1823.

Folder 9. Sales of cargo, 1821-1825.

Folder 10. Accounts, 1821-1826.

Folder 11. Disbursements, 1821-1826.

Folder 12. Oath, Henry Mathewson and Benjamin James, Jan., 1822.

Folder 13. Account of wages paid to crew, Dec. 2, 1822 - June 16, 1825.

Folder 14. Account of transit duties, Dec. 23, 1823.

Folder 15. Protest concerning condition of Mercury, August, 1825.

Folder 16. Transcript of conversation with Crommelin & Son, Henry Mathewson?, regarding             shipment of military stores, undated.

Frigate United States.

Folder 17. Bill and invoice, November 28, 1825.

Ship Superior.

Folder 18. Cargo manifests and invoices, June, 1826.

Folder 19. Transhipment expense list, Dec. 30, 1826.

Folder 20. Sales of cargo, 1826.

*Loose volume. Invoice book "G", kept by Henry Mathewson, 1826.


Folder 21. Statements concerning property on board steamboat Tellica, Oct. 31, 1825 and


Folder 22. Statement regarding destruction of steamboat Tellica, Henry Mathewson,

            Nov. 17, 1825.

Folder 23. Spanish shipping documents (untranslated), circa 1825.

Return to top


Butler, Cyrus (1767-1849)

Carrington, Edward (1775-1843)

Carrington & Co.

Commerce - Mediterranean

Commerce - South America

Commerce - Asia

James, Benjamin (c. 1799-1852?) (master, Mercury)

Mathewson, Henry (dates?) (master, Mercury and Superior)

Merchant marine

Merchants - Providence

Mercury (ship)

Providence - commerce

Superior (ship)

United States (frigate)

Wetmore, Samuel (1775-1851)

End of finding aid - return to top