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Salem in the World, the World in Salem: Salem in the Early Republic and the East Indies
Primary Sources

Theme: Salem as Place
Topic: Salem in the World, the World in Salem:
Salem in the Early Republic and the East Indies
Date: Summer

Primary Sources from Partner Collections
| Architecture | Objects | Maps | Documents

Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Selected and annotated by SALEM in History staff

Primary Sources from Partner Collections


U.S. Custom House, 1818
Salem, MA
Salem Martime National Historic Site

This Federal era structure shares many decorative features with the Gardner-Pingree Home. During the early 19th century, between 8 and 12 percent of the nation's revenues were collected in this building.

See also: the Hawthorne in Salem Website, and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.


Crowninshield-Bentley House, ca. 1727-30
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

The Crowninshield-Bentley house was built for Captain John Crowninshield, and four generations of that family lived in the home until the 1830s.  It is also named for Reverend William Bentley, who boarded there from 1791 to 1819, and who wrote a remarkably detailed diary that commented on people and daily events in Salem. 

The style of the home is known as “Georgian” for the 4 British kings in power with that name.  Common structural features include symmetry and classical ornament.  In this case, there are Greek “key” decorations above the windows, and flattened columns on either side of the doorways, called “pilasters.”  Pilasters do not bear weight; rather, they are added to enhance the façade (main side of the building) and to suggest classical style and values. 



Gardner-Pingree House, ca. 1804-5
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

This Federal-period home was designed by Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) for John Gardner (1771-1847), who made his fortune in maritime trade (particularly the pepper trade) with the opening of new markets after the close of the Revolutionary War.

Born in Salem, MA, Samuel McIntire began his career as a woodcarver and eventually turned to building homes for the wealthy elite of Salem.  It was during the Federal era in the U.S. that builders first consistently created domestic architecture that was fully conceived and executed when erected.  Previously, it was typical to build a room or set of rooms with the expectation that the house would grow with the family’s needs and means.  McIntire designed both the exterior and interior of homes, and adorned rooms with carved swags, rosettes, garlands, and sheaves of wheat.  The exterior ornament on the façade is largely focused on the portico, or entry porch, which features columns, pilasters (flat columns), and a decorative fanlight over the door. 

  Wharf and Warehouse.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.



Portrait of Elias Hasket Derby, 1800-1825
James Frothingham (1786-1864)
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Derby Family
Peabody Essex Museum, M353

"James Frothingham's posthumous portrait celebrates the life of a man who never went to sea, yet made his fame and fortune during Salem's maritime heyday. Elias Haskett Derby (1739 - 1799) owned seven vessels at the outbreak of the American Revolution, four of which were quickly captured by the enemy. He converted his remaining ships to privateers to attack British merchantmen, purchasing more privateers with proceeds from the vessels they captured. From 1776 - 1782, Derby owned, in part or whole, eighty-five privateers that employed eight thousand men. These ships captured 144 enemy vessels, while only 19 of Derby's were lost. Following the war, he returned to maritime commerce, sending the first New England ship, Grand Turk, to China to trade American ginseng for silk and tea. At his death, Derby left what was probably the largest sing-owned business in America. The Reverend William Bentley said that wealth flowed 'with full tide in upon that successful man.'"

Quoted from Maritime Art - The Sea: Art and Experience. Peabody Essex Museum Gallery Guide, n.d.

Thomas Russell and Mr. Odell
Model of the 1797 Ship Friendship
Wood, cordage, bronze
ca. 1804
Peabody Essex Museum

"It is common for sailors to commemorate a voyage by building a model of the vessel they served on. This early model was actually built on board the Friendship by the vessel's second mate and carpenter during a voyage from Salem to Canton and Sumatra in 1802-1804. Captain Story, the master of the Friendship, donated the model to the East India Marine Society prior to 1806." Quoted from ARTscape, online at the Peabody Essex Museum website:

The Friendship was built in 1796-97 in Salem by shipbuilding Enos Briggs for Jerathmiel Peirce and Aaron Waite as a merchant ship in trade with the Far East. The ship voyaged to such destinations as China, Sumatra, Russia, India, and Italy. On its fifteenth voyage, the Friendship traveled to Archangel, Russia, and was captured by the British on the return. The captain and crew were taken as prisoners of war, and the ship was sold at public auction in London.

This model was one of the sources used to recreate the full-scale vessel located at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service. The site offers educational visits to the Friendship and their website provides additional information.


Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1647
Blaeu, Willem Janzoon (1571-1638)
Paper, leather, ink, watercolor
Peabody Essex Museum, 1032.3 12632 1647

"For much of the 17th century, Amsterdam was the center of European cartography with Blaeu's firm as its dominant enterprise. When he first published Theatrum in 1635, it was recognized as the finest atlas of its time. The decorative images ornamenting his maps provide fascinating insights into European perceptions of cultures encountered throughout the world."

Quoted from Peabody Essex Musuem's ARTscape.

Crowninshield's Wharf, 1806
George Ropes (1788-1819)
Salem, Mass.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Nathaniel Silsbee
Peabody Essex Museum, M3459

In the years following the Revolutionary War, many of Salem’s merchants grew wealthy through the China and East Indies trade. Tax revenues collected in Salem’s ports substantially supported the federal government at a time when it had many debts from the Revolutionary War. The wharf seen here in a painting by George Ropes was built by George Crowninshield and Sons. Several ships that they owned are also included: the America, Fame, Prudent and Belisarius


Certificate: Salem Marine Society Certificate for John B. Knight, 31 Jan 1839
Salem, MA
Ink on paper
Gift of Wayne Patt Inc.

This certificate was designed by Abijiah Northey, Jr. in 1797 and is one of the earliest depictions of Salem Harbor. Three industries represented here – shipbuilding, fishing, and trading – were primary sources of income driving Salem’s economy.

Though fairly shallow, the natural geographic features of Salem’s Harbor proved an ideal location for wharves where fishing and merchant vessels moored.  This image depicts the Derby Wharf area during Salem’s “Golden Age.” In the years following the American Revolution, Salem maritime entrepreneurs commenced trade with the Far East, selling spices, silk, tea, and other luxury goods for high prices.

Social and charitable associations such as the Salem Marine Society (founded in 1766, and one of the oldest in the country) formed to aid the families of members in case of their illness or death.

Derby Wharf, 1910
Philip Little (1857-1942)
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

Philip Little (1857-1942) was born in Swampscott, MA, and entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expecting to work for his father’s cotton and wool business.  Instead, he found himself drawn to design and studied at both the Lowell School of Design and later Boston’s Museum School (now the School of the Museum of Fine Arts). Much of Little's work is inspired by the land, sea, and history of Salem and New England. 


A Relic of History, Old Derby Wharf, Salem, ca. 1915
Philip Little (1857-1942)
Salem, MA
Oil on canvas
Gift of Phillip Little
Peabody Essex Museum, 107515

In this work, Little portrays Derby Wharf, named for Elias Hasket Derby, who was one of America’s first millionaires during Salem's "Great Age of Sail."  This work was executed about 100 years after Derby's death and the decline of maritime trade in Salem. Yet, Little includes a wind-powered vessel, juxtaposing past and present.  His choice of the word “relic” in the title is telling; Little understands the power of Salem’s past, but he also acknowledges that like any important token of history, the wharf (and perhaps, Salem) does not hold the power, prestige and importance that it once commanded when Elias Hasket Derby lived.  

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“Derby Wharf Area & Surroundings,” taken from G.M. Hopkins, Atlas, City of Salem, Plates 10 and 11. Additions by C.W. Snell, based on photographs. Traced by H.R.G. 15 November 1937. Salem Martime National Historic Site, National Park Service.



A Plan of the Estate, Late Elias H. Derby-Esquire – On the South Side of Derby Street, Gideon Foster surveyor, additions by C.S. Snell, Map No. 2; 25 February 1805. Salem Maritime National Historical Site, National Park Service.



  Carnes, Jonathan. Invoice of cargo on first voyage of the ship Rajah. Peele Family Papers, 1753-1810. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Elizabeth Casler.*

The Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service was the first Salem pepper-trade specific boat. Its name refers to the term used for men who presided over the harbors and who negotiated trade in the Sumatra. Invoice discusses captain’s decisions in carrying and negotiating pepper cargo and deceptions to thwart possible pirate attacks.

Jonathan Peele, Ebenzer Beckford, Willard Peele, Salem, to Jonathan Carnes, 3 November, 1795. Peele Family Papers, 1753-1810. Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Elizabeth Casler.*

Letter to captain of Rajah from owners, with instructions on trade and voyage.

When in October of 1799 a ship called the Rajah, owned by a small group of Salem merchants and captained by Jonathan Carnes, sailed into the port, she certainly did not introduce pepper to Salem.  As residents of the second largest seaport in the United States, wealthy Salemites were already well accustomed to the taste of pepper.  Of course, it was only the wealthy who could afford such a luxury, since pepper always arrived in small batches from the Sumatran coast.  The Rajah made a stir in town, not because of the novelty of the pepper, but for its quantity.  She was the first ship to return to the United States from Sumatra with a full cargo of pepper.  Despite predictions of heavy losses to her owners due to a glutted market, the Rajah’s pepper sold for a seven hundred percent profit.



Lincoln, Levi R. and Samuel Eveleth. Tariff: On Rates of Duties, Payable from and After the 3d of March, 1833…. Boston: Samuel Condon, 1832. Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.



Snell, Charles W. Historic Structure Report Derby Wharf and Warehouses Together with Data on the Physical History of the Ezekiel Hersey Derby and John Prince Wharf Lots, Lots A and B, Historical Data. [Selections] Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.



“Trade Goods in Public Stores Exhibit” Salem Maritime, National Park Service, 1 July 2004. Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.

The Salem Maritime National Park Service researched representative cargo and relative amounts of types of cargo that would have been stored at the Custom House warehouse. This list represents those goods.

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Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

(none suggested)


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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions


Chinese Coin and Prosperity Symbol in Chinese Porcelains: Chinese Dining Scene from Tingqua: Paintings from his Studio, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1976: 25.



Lui Hai with his string of coins from Eberhard, Wolfram, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought, Routledge, London, 1986: 166.

The Chinese coin symbol, a lozenge shape within a square, appears in both of these images. It can be broadly interpreted as a symbol of good fortune, or more specifically, a wish for prosperity. This symbol was also used in many homes in Salem (see the Andrew Safford house lights, on this page).


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*Thank you to Elizabeth Casler, 2005 SIH summer intern for her research and contributions to this topic.