Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Peabody Essex Museum - Not so Wordless Wednesday

The East India Marine Society was founded in 1799 in Salem, Massachusetts. Membership was limited to those captains who had sailed around Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. They shared information on voyages, started a library, and provided benefits to widows and children of members who died at sea. Part of their mission was to also collect “natural and artificial curiosities”. By 1824 there were more than 3,000 items In the collections, so a new museum was created in 1825. At the dedication ceremony there were dignitaries from near and far, including President John Quincy Adams, and Salem’s own justice on the US Supreme Court, Joseph Story. John White Treadwell (1785 – 1857), the secretary of the East India Marine Society, read a toast to the president at the dinner that followed. He was my second cousin six generations removed, great grandson of our common ancestor, Nathaniel Treadwell of Ipswich (1677-1723).

Marine Hall in March
(complete with a pile of dirty snow)

Over the years many of my Salem ancestors were part of the East India Marine Society, the Essex Institute and the Peabody Essex Museum. Dr. Andrew Nichols (1785 – 1853) was the president of the Essex Institute from 1836 – 1848). His grandson, another Dr. Andrew Nichols (1862-1897) married Mary Ann Bill (1861-1910) sister to my great grandmother Isabella Lyons Bill. My Great great grandfather, Peter Hoogerzeil (1841 – 1908) sailed around the world collecting curiosities which were donated to the museum. The most famous family member, George Jacobs (1612-1692) who was hung as a witch, was an exhibit himself. His finger bones and canes were exhibited in the museum as curiosities when I was a child, but I haven’t seen them on display in many years. I guess it's not politically correct anymore to display something like that.

In 1992 the Essex and Peabody Institutes merged into the Peabody Essex Museum. There are more than 840,000 works of art and culture, from maritime and American art to Asian, Oceanic and African art and export art. Today it is more of an art museum, and the mummies, stuffed animals and curiosities I remember seeing as a child are only a small portion of the exhibits.

We visited the PEM again last weekend, and I saw more things related to our family’s long history in Salem. Some I remember from years ago, and others were new to me. I guess that with nearly a million items in storage, they are constantly showing new things, and changing the displays. Here are a sampling…

Chest built by Symonds of Salem for
Benjamin Putnam (1664-1715)
brother to my ancestor Elizabeth Putnam,
who married George Flint in 1679

This is a logbook by Thorndike Proctor
(a descendant of my ancestor John Proctor (1631-1692) hung as a witch)
from the brig Ocean on a voyage to Hispanola in 1783-84
M856 1783o / Log 1783o

The salon of the yacht Cleopatra's Barge
built by Retire Becket (1754 - 1831) my 2nd cousin many generations removed
see the story from January 2011 for the Becket family of Salem.
The yacht was sold to King Kamehameha II, and it sunk off the coast of Hawaii

Chest by Symonds of Salem built for my 7 x great grandparents
Joseph Pope and Bathsheba Folger married in 1679
(see the inscription with their initial and date)
see this link for more on the Pope Valuable Chest-
it's a long, interesting story!

If you have ancestors who lived in Salem or nearby, the PEM's Phillips Library should be on your list of places for research. The website contains schedules, which is important because it is only open two days a week. You can also check out the card catalog online. Their collections are superb for early colonial, maritime and trade history (especially Aisian export trade), containing manuscripts, newspapers and other rare documents. The museum also has photographs and nautical navigation charts.

Peabody Essex Museum

East India Marine Hall

A list of the original 1800 members of the East India Marine Society can be found at this link:


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Peabody Essex Museum - Not so Wordless Wednesday", Nutfield Genealogy, posted March 9, 2011, ( accessed [access date]).


  1. Looking for two things: One, the mummy that was on display sans coffin in the early sixties, and a carved Ivory ball of rats. Odd combination of items and not related I know, but interested just the same.

  2. Should have noted the carved ivory ball of rats was donated by my Grandmother (The unofficial "Mayor" of Collins Cove) circa 1966. The mummy was I think actually royalty but not known at the time I saw it. Both have probably disappeared long since but still thought someone might have some information. Thanks.

    1. I wonder what happened to the objects no longer on display. Were they "disposed of" or are they still in storage?

  3. Hi Heather,
    I enjoyed re-discovering your blog this morning. I'm in the process of editing my cousin's book draft about Nichols family history in Salem and Danvers. It's been a l-o-n-g project, long delayed. I'm pushing now to complete my editing
    of her second part (1861-1880). As of this morning I'm in 1878... so the end is in sight.
    I'm glad to see that you are still actively adding to your blog. My Danvers blog is still going, though I don't add entries as often as I did in the first five years (2007-). I expect to become more active again; there is much fodder for blogging within Janet's book, and I've made many notes to myself about threads I'd like to pick up, someday.
    I understand that the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum has been relocated to the P.E.M.'s new climate-controlled Collection Center in Rowley, MA, which opened in July 2018. Hope to visit there someday, and perhaps donate some of the family's historic documents that cousin Janet assembled for her book and passed to me for safe-keeping.
    Sandy Nichols Ward