Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers
Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers (MS020) reflect the planning and work of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), the Proprietors of Mount Vernon, and the Boston Mill Corporation in developing the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. The papers are largely comprised of professional correspondence; legal and real estate documents; and site plans. The collection focuses on the initial 1796 purchase of Copley Pasture in Boston, Massachusetts, from artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815); the ensuing dispute of the land sale; and the challenges of the Proprietors right of title. Also represented within the collection are architect Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844); artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815); the Overseers of the Poor; Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, III (1772-1864); and other individuals involved in the disputed sale of Copley Pasture in Boston, Massachusetts. A small collection of personal papers (i.e., correspondence, deed extracts, genealogical material, photographs, clippings, etc.) belonging to other Otis family members and a small collection of printed material (including newspapers) relating to the political career of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) are also included. The collection also contains a substantial amount of oversize and fragile material. The collection is arranged in three series.
In the 1960s, Historic New England acquired the business papers of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) as a donation from Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976), great-great-grandson of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848). The papers formed the bases of the collection: Business Papers of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) (now MS020). Initially, the collection was loosely arranged into fifteen folders and stored in a wooden trunk. In 1979, intern Susan Myerson processed the papers and created the original finding aid. The papers consisted of correspondence, financial records, and legal documents (primarily conveyances, indentures, and depositions).
Series I. Business Papers of Harrison Gray Otis, 1793-1845, [undated]
[Subseries A.] Correspondence, Incoming, 1812-1840, [undated]
[Subseries B.] Correspondence, Outgoing, 1831-1840, [undated]
[Subseries C.] Correspondence, John Singleton Copley, 1793-1796
[Subseries D.] Financial Papers, 1793-1844 [undated]
[Subseries E.] Legal Papers, ca.1795-1845 [undated]
[Subseries F.] Maps and Drawings, 1769-1835 [undated]
[Subseries G.] Printed Matter, ca.1826-1827 [undated]
[Subseries H.] Miscellaneous Papers (folders 31-33)
Series II. Papers of Harrison Gray (1711-1794), 1756-1783
[Subseries A.] Legal Papers, [1756-1783]
Series III. Papers of Samuel A. Otis (1740-1814), 1768-1791
[Subseries A.] Legal Papers, [1768-1791]
[Subseries B.] Financial Papers, [1771-1772]
Series IV. Papers of William Foster Otis (1801-1858), 1829-1852, [undated]
[Subseries A.] Correspondence, Incoming, [1835-1852, undated]
[Subseries B.] Legal Papers, [1829-1835]
[Subseries C.] Financial Papers, 
Series V. Papers of other persons, 1766-1820
[Subseries A.] Legal Papers, [1766-1820]
Series VI. Papers of Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation, 1821-1828, 1842
[Subseries A.] Correspondence, Incoming, [1828-1842]
[Subseries B.] Legal Papers, [1825-1828]
[Subseries C.] Other Legal Papers, [1821-1826]
[Series VII. Miscellaneous Papers, 1801-1807, undated]
When fully processed, the collection comprised two file boxes (approx. 0.83 linear ft.). Fragile and oversize materials were placed in the vertical/flat files with the exception of some oversize correspondence and related attachments, which remained in the file boxes. Additionally, one continuous numbering system was applied to all the folders and the additional materials, found during the course of processing, remained unprocessed.
Note: Prior to donating his great-great-grandfather's papers to Historic New England, Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976) used the papers to write his biographies on Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848):
·Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis Federalist 1765-1848, 1913
·Harrison Gray Otis 1765-1848: The Urbane Federalist, 1969.
In 2013-2014, through a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant (Award Number: NAR13-RH-50051-13: "Family Manuscript Collections: Expanding Online Access to New England Heritage Project"), twenty-six Historic New England manuscript collections of family papers were re-evaluated and processed/reprocessed to meet current archival standards and "best practices;" corresponding finding aids were created/updated to be DACS-compliant and converted into electronic Microsoft Word document form; and the finding aids were made accessible/searchable online through the use of the Minisis M2A archival database of the Minisis Collections Management System. The Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers (MS020) were part of the grant project.
Since 1979, following the initial processing of the collection and creation of the original finding aid, an index was prepared for the unprocessed portfolio material (site plans and oversize material); subsequent acquisitions/accessions were added to the collection; notations were added to the original finding aid; and an accumulation of unprocessed material remained.
During the 2013-2014 collection reprocessing/updating, the 1979 arrangement scheme was updated; most of the original folder titles were maintained (appropriate headings and folder titles were supplied, as applicable); related folders were combined or rearranged, as applicable; the accumulated unprocessed material (except for the portfolio of site plans and oversize material) was incorporated into the collection; scope and content notes were updated to reflect the changes; and additional research was added to the biographical/historical sketch and genealogy. Preservation issues were identified and basic preservation methods were applied, as applicable; and papers throughout the collection were removed from envelopes (if applicable), unfolded, flattened, and related pages were noted with corresponding information in brackets ([x-1/3], [x-2/3], [x-3/3]. Oversize material was rehoused appropriately (or materials were interleafed within file boxes), as applicable. The collection was rehoused (in acid-free folders and boxes), numbered, labeled, barcoded, and stored accordingly; subsequent accessions were tracked and noted with their corresponding items; missing items were noted; and related collections held by Historic New England and other repositories were researched and noted. The original 1979 paper document finding aid was updated to be DACS-compliant, as applicable; converted into an electronic 2010-2013 Microsoft Word document finding aid (with corresponding paper finding aid); and entered into the collection record in the Minisis M2A online database.
2013 extent of collection (prior to updating):
·3 file boxes (legal-size)= 1.25 linear feet
*Yale linear footage calculator: approximately 1.25 linear feet (3 file boxes) plus vertical/flat files.
NOTE: Processing/updating the collection and making the finding aid accessible online were made possible through grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (Award Number: NAR13-RH-50051-13), the Bedford Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.
- Collection Name
- Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers
- Collection Code
- 1658-1966, undated, predominant 1746-1893
- Agreements and contracts; conveyances; correspondence; court case documents; deeds; depositions; financial records; genealogical material; indentures; legal documents; newspapers, clippings, and other printed material; real estate papers; petitions; photographs; site plans; wills; writs and warrants; etc.; reflecting the work of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), the Proprietors of Mount Vernon, and the Boston Mill Corporation regarding the real estate development of Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts; and the life and work of other members of the Otis family members.\n
- Acquisition Type
- Date of Acquisition
- Physical Description
Professional papers: 2.5 linear ft. (6 file boxes) plus 15 oversize folders and 1 oversize volume
- Finding Aid Info
An electric finding aid is available through Historic new England's Collections Access Portal. A paper finding aid is available in the Library and Archives.
- Collection Type
- Description Level
- Custodial History
·1916: Purchase of Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston, Massachusetts
·1915 (April 20): Gift of Mrs. David [? Noyd] [letter: 1771] (#4.20)
·1916 (October 15): Gift of Herbert F. Otis [letter: June 17, 1834] (#1.15)
·1917 (February 3): Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison [letter: 1797] (#1.15)
·1920 (September 25): Gift of Agnes A. Davis [letter: Elizabeth Henderson Otis, undated] (#4.19)
·1921 (February 7): Gift of J.W.K. Watkins [receipt: July 26, 1802] (#1.17)
·1921 (May 2): Gift of Murray P. Corse [letter: Mrs. Denham, undated] (#4.19)
·1921: Gift of Mary Wheelwright [calling/visiting card: Harrison Gray Otis] (#5.14)
·1921: Gift of unknown donor [conveyance: April 15, 1801] (#6.3)
·1923 (July 27): Gift of Mrs. Charles E. Goodsped [poem] (#4.19)
·1924 (April 28): Gift of Charles Taylor [newspaper: Daily Evening Transcript, 1834] (#OB.2.2)
·1924 (May 13): Gift of Mrs. William B. De Las Casas [letter: 1847] (#4.19)
·1926 (May 4): Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison [letter: April 8, 1818] (#1.15)
·1926 (May 4): Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison [photograph] (#5.10)
·1927 (January 4): Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison [letter: September 15, 1836] (#1.15)
·1927 (March 14): Gift of Mrs. William B. Clarke [poem] (#4.14)
·1927 (August 5): Gift of Mrs. Howard Van [? Sunderin] [letter: November 18, 1818] (#1.15)
·1928 (January 23): Gift of Jeffery Baker [certificate: Mrs. Mudge] (#4.13)
·1928 (April 12): Gift of Mrs. Howard Van [? Sunderin] [4 photographs] (#5.8)
·1934 (March 20): Gift of Mrs. Walter K. Watkins [3 deeds: August 11, 1796] (#2.12)
·1934 (March 20): Gift of Mrs. Walter K. Watkins [2 excerpts of deeds, 1797-1799] (#2.13)
·1934 (March 20): Gift of Mrs. Walter K. Watkins [letter: 1796] (#1.15)
·1934 (June 7): Gift of Caroline M. Smith [certificate: Mrs. Mary ?] (#4.13)
·1935 (May 3): Gift of A.L. Stearns [certificate: Mrs. Stearns] (#4.13)
·1936 (December 22): Gift of Anne M. Buggell [certificate: Fanny A. Maynard] (#4.13)
·1937 (May 21): Gift of Mr. Russell H. Kittell [publication] (#5.16)
·1940: Gift of Mrs. Eugene M. Holden [deed: February 29, 1816] (#2.12)
·1944 (September 8): Gift of William Sumner Appleton [deed: November 12, 1799] (#2.12)
·1944 (September 8): Gift of William Sumner Appleton [deed: June 25, 1803] (#2.12)
·1947 (November 26): Gift of Mrs. Herman Williams, Jr. [2 certificates: blank] (#4.13)
·1956 (November 20): Gift of Mrs. Henry D. Tudor [extracts from deeds] (#5.11)
·c.1960: Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison [professional papers: Harrison Gray Otis]
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [certificate, 1808] (#4.10)
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [correspondence] (#4.15-4.18, 5.1-5.4)
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [letter: April 12, 1818] (#1.15)
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [letter: January 4, 1829] (#1.15)
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [newspaper: Grape-Shot, 1848] (#OB.2.2)
·1964 (June 8): Gift of William P. Hacker [photograph] (#5.9)
·1966 (June 27): Gift of Benjamin Tighe [correspondence] (#5.1-5.3)
·1969 (April 17): Gift of Mrs. Bertram K. Little [publication] (#5.15)
·1978 (November 27): Gift of H. Ross Warren [letter: April 1819] (#1.13)
·1978 (November 27): Gift of H. Ross Warren [letter: June 15, 1819] (#1.13)
·1987 (April 14): Subsequent material added by Richard Nylander from the Harrison Gray Otis House [sheet music] (#5.12)
·Undated (September 25): Gift of Agnes A. Davis [photograph] (#5.7)
·Undated: Gift of Mrs. Stuart F. Brown and Clara F. Trowbridge of Linwood, Massachusetts [newspaper: Connecticut Courant newspaper, 1815] (#OB.2.2)
·Undated: Gift of Mrs. Farnham [newspaper: Columbian Centinel, 1807] (#OB.2.1)
·Undated: Gift of Eleanor Lodge Gillespie [Mrs. John A. Gillespie] [invitation] (#4.14)
·Undated: Gift of Clara Endicott Sears [letter: October 20, 1786] (#1.15)
- Credit Line
- Gift of Sameuel Eliot Morison, ca.1960
- Reference Code
Samuel Allyne Otis, father of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), was born on November 24, 1740, in Barnstable, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1759 and worked as a merchant in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1776, he served as a member of the state house of representatives and from 1784 to 1787 (speaker, 1784). He was a member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, the Continental Congress, and served as Secretary of the United States Senate from 1789 until his death in 1814. Samuel's wife, Elizabeth (Gray) Otis (1747-1779), was the daughter of Harrison Gray (1711-1794). Gray served as treasurer and receiver-general of the province of Massachusetts Bay. During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Gray supported the Loyalists and was later forced to settle in England and to suffer the loss of most of his property in the United States.
On October 8, 1765, Harrison Gray Otis was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard College, graduating in 1783. He read law with Judge John Lowell and was admitted to the bar in 1786. In 1790, he married Sally Foster (1770-1836), with whom he had eleven children. Otis and his family lived in three different Charles Bulfinch-designed Boston, Massachusetts houses: the first, at what is now 141 Cambridge Street (Harrison Gray Otis House), was built during 1795 to 1796 and sold in 1800; the second, larger house, located at 85 Mt. Vernon Street, was built in 1800 and sold in 1805; the third house, at 45 Beacon Street, was built in 1806. Otis lived at the last address until his death on October 28, 1848.
Otis was an active member of the Federalist Party. In 1796, George Washington (1732-1799) appointed him U.S. district attorney for Massachusetts. Otis resigned the office in the same year to enter Congress, in which he served from 1797 to 1801. After leaving Congress, Otis returned to Boston and served in the Massachusetts legislature between 1802 and 1817. He returned to federal government as a United States Senator between 1818 and 1822 and later served as Mayor of Boston between 1829 and 1831.
In 1795, he was a member of a committee to acquire a site for building a new Massachusetts state house. The site chosen, purchased from Governor John Hancock's heirs, was located near the middle summit of Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts. Otis saw the potential for residential development on Beacon Hill; together with Jonathan Mason, Benjamin Joy, William Sullivan, William Scollay, Joseph Woodward, Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), and others, Otis formed the Mount Vernon Proprietors (one of the first organized real estate syndicates) in order to purchase land on Beacon Hill. The major portion of the land, which the Proprietors sought to purchase, was owned by artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), who had been living in England since 1774. Copley designated Samuel Cabot as his agent to sell the property, and in February 1796, Cabot finalized the sale of the property to the Proprietors. The Proprietors paid the equivalent of $14,000 for Copley's 18 ½ acres, for which he had originally paid $3,000. Upon hearing of the plans for the new state house, Copley repented of the sale, disavowed the deal made by Cabot, and leased the land to William Hull. Copley sent his son, John Singleton Copley, Jr. (1772-1863), to Boston, Massachusetts, to break the contract with the Proprietors. However, the contract with the Proprietors was declared binding and Copley had to abide by the sale. Copley's title to the property could not be found in the Suffolk Registry of Deeds, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so other claimants to the property came forward during the next 40 years.
Material within MS020
Otis House Historic Structure Report
Samuel Eliot Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, 1765-1848: The Urbane Federalist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1969)
Otis, William A (1924). Genealogical and Historical Memoir of the Otis Family in America. Chicago: Schulkins
Material in other collections
·Harrison Gray Otis Papers, 1660-1870: Guide to the Microfilm Edition (P-228). Massachusetts Historical Society Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
Mercy Otis Warren Papers, 1709-1841: Guide to the Microfilm Edition (P-20; p-355). Massachusetts Historical Society Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
Warren-Adams Papers, 1767-1822: Guide to the Microfilm Edition (P-164). Massachusetts Historical Society Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
Bigelow, John P. (John Prescott), 1797-1872. John P. Bigelow papers, 1805-1896: Guide. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Related material is held by the Historical, Natural History and Library Society of South Natick, South Natick, Massachusetts.
Gay-Otis family papers, ca.1740-1900 (MS#0476). Archival Collections, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries, Columbia University, New York City, New York.
Otis family papers, 1687-1861 (MS#0957). Archival Collections, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries, Columbia University, New York City, New York.
William Bingham (1752-1804) Correspondence, 1791-1803 (#53). Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Joshua Francis Fisher (1807-1873) Papers, 1681-1865 (bulk 1760-1830) (#1858). Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Harrison family papers, ca.18571961, undated (bulk 1869-1870) (#3103). Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
John Rutledge Papers, 1782-1872 (#00948). Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The collection is arranged in four series: Series I. Professional papers of Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848). Series II. Records of the Boston Mill Corporation. Series III. Other papers of the Otis family.
*Collection housing/storage code: #x.x=file box (i.e., #1.2= file box 1, folder 2); C=carton; FB=folio box; FF=fragile files; MB=multi-purpose box; OB=oversize box; OV=oversize volume; VF=vertical files/flat files
Gray, Harrison, 1712-1795
Mason, Jonathan, 1756-1831
Otis, Harrison Gray, 1765-1848
Otis, Samuel Allyne, Mr., 1740-1814
Otis, William Foster, 1801-1858
Sears, David, 1787-1871
- Other People
Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848
Andrews, William T.
Appleton, William Sumner, 1874-1947
Bowditch, N. I. (Nathaniel Ingersoll), 1805-1861
Bulfinch, Charles, 1763-1844
Cabot, Samuel, 1758-1819
Copley, John Singleton, 1738-1815
Erving, George W.
Fisher, Luther H.
Gayette, Anne R.
Gray, Harrison, 1712-1794
Gray, Mary (Otis), 1730-
Hancock, John, 1737-1793
Johnson, Joshua, 1742-1802
Jones, John Coffin
Joy, Benjamin, 1772-1829
Lillie, Mehitable, 1756-1825
Lillie, Samuel Phillips, 1756-1836
Loring, C. J.
Lowell, John, 1743-1802
Lyman, Elizabeth Gray (Otis), 1791-1824
Lyman, George Williams, 1786-1880
Lyndhurst, John Singleton Copley, Baron, 1772-1863
Mason, Jonathan, 1756-1831
Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1887-1976
Nichols, B. R.
Otis, Abigail, 1738-1766
Otis, Abigail, 1774-
Otis, Allyne, 1796-1806
Otis, Allyne, 1807-1873
Otis, Elizabeth (Coffin)
Otis, Elizabeth (Gray), 1747-1779
Otis, Elizabeth Coffin (Marquand)
Otis, Elizabeth Henderson (Boardman), 1796-1873
Otis, Elizabeth, 1739-
Otis, Elizabeth, 1767-
Otis, Emily (Marshall), 1807-1836
Otis, George Harrison, 1810-1833
Otis, George, 1797-1798
Otis, Hannah, 1732-
Otis, Harriet, 1787-
Otis, Harrison Gray, 1765-1848
Otis, Harrison Gray, 1792-1827
Otis, Horatio Nelson, 1816-1881
Otis, James F.
Otis, James William, 1800-1869
Otis, James, 1702-1778
Otis, James, 1725-1783
Otis, Joseph, 1725-1810
Otis, Maria (Walter), 1743-1826
Otis, Martha (Church)
Otis, Martha, 1736-1736
Otis, Mary Allyne, 1702--
Otis, Mary Foster, 1795-1796
Otis, Mary Smith (Gray)
Otis, Mary, 1794-
Otis, Nathaniel, 1734-1735
Otis, Nathaniel, 1743-1763
Otis, Rebecca (Sturgis)
Otis, Ruth (Cunningham)
Otis, Sally (Foster), 1770-1836
Otis, Samuel Allyne, 1740-1814
Otis, Samuel Allyne, 1768-1814
Otis, Sarah, 1742-1742
Otis, W. A.
Otis, William F. (William Foster), 1801-1858
Paine, Robert Treat, 1731-1814
Quincy, Josiah, 1772-1864
Richie, Andrew, 1786-1862
Richie, Sophia Harrison (Otis), 1798-1874
Sears, David, 1787-1871
Stearns, W. G.
Thorndike, Sally (Otis), 1793-1819
Ticknor, George, 1791-1871
Vinall, John, 1736-1823
Warren, James, 1726-1808
Warren, Mercy Otis, 1728-1814
Wilkins, J. H.
- Other Organizations
Boston Latin School (Mass.)
Boston Mill Corporation
Church in Brattle Square (Boston, Mass.)
Harvard College (1636-1780)
Harvard College (1780- )
Mill Pond Corporation
Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Mass.)
New Cornhill Corporation
Proprietors of Mount Vernon
Trinity Church (Boston, Mass.)
- Descriptive Terms
artists (visual artists)
business (commercial function)
card photographs (photographs)
civil court records
powers of attorney
real estate development
- Material Type
Boston (Mass.). History
United States. History. Civil War, 1861-1865
United States. History. Revolution, 1775-1783
Back Bay (Boston, Suffolk county, Massachusetts) [neighborhood]
Barnstable (Barnstable county, Massachusetts)
Beacon Hill (Boston, Suffolk county, Massachusetts) [neighborhood]
Boston (Suffolk county, Massachusetts)
Cambridge (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)
Charles (Massachusetts) [river]
- Places (Buildings)
Harrison Gray Otis House, First House (Boston, Mass.)
Harrison Gray Otis House, Second House (Boston, Mass.)
Harrison Gray Otis House, Third House (Boston, Mass.)
·This collection is available for research.
·Unrestricted except for #1.11, 1.15, 2.21-2.22, 3.3, 3.9-3.10, 3.14, 4.13-4.14, 4.19-4.21, 5.2-5.3, 5.11, and OB.2.1, which contain fragile material and require handling by Library and Archives staff only.
·Note: due to aging materials and condition of the materials, the whole of the collection requires handling with care.
- Location Note
HGO-02-105-A-E-206; HGO-02-105-A-E-106; HGO-02-105-A-E-105; ·Shelf HGO-02-105-A-J-202
- Accruals Note
Accruals are not expected.
- Conservation Note
See Scope and Content note.
- Language Note
Materials in English
- Preferred Citation
[Item identification.] Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers (MS020). Historic New England, Library and Archives.
- Processing Information
·1979 December: Originally processed by Susan Myerson, intern
·2013 June: Updated by Bridgette A. Woodall, project archivist; with assistance from Jennifer Pustz, museum historian
- Rules and Conventions
Finding aid is DACS-compliant.
Use the links below to browse up and down the collection hierarchy from the current record.
- Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers (current record)