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Papers of James Bowdoin Bradlee (1813-1872)


James Bowdoin Bradlee's correspondence includes personal letters James wrote in 1835 from Europe and Russia while he was traveling there on his father's business. A letter from his brother Henry in Calcutta, also traveling for Josiah Bradlee & Company, shows that the sons had to work hard in their father's employ. There are several letters dealing with requests for his daughter's hand in marriage from Ogden Codman Sr., who writes in an amusing, if bombastic style. James Bowdoin Bradlee's financial papers provide insight into the man and his business enterprises. His account book is a personal daily memorandum of money spent while he was single and in his first year of marriage. His accounts settled on ships contain valuable information concerning products imported and exported during the 1860s. They also include other noteworthy records on expenses of the merchant trade during this period. The ship Agra was damaged severely causing a large financial loss to its owners. Her account sheet includes cost for major repairs and figures of insurance claims. James Bowdoin Bradlee never owned any of these ships outright, but he always held partnerships in several vessels, thereby spreading his risk over a greater area. Bradlee's most revealing and extensive records are in his paid bills. He spent large sums of money modernizing and decorating his home on 34 Beacon Street. These are particularly reflected in the household bills for 1848. Large quantities were spent on plantings for the house, gardening being a particular delight of James Bradlee. In one year he spent over $5,000 on central heating and extensive indoor plumbing, but bills of later years show the lead pipes had to be replaced constantly. He paid Francis Alexander a handsome $245 for a portrait of his wife in 1840. Some of Bradlee's personal bills contain invoices for his real estate property since they encompass both personal and business figures on the same sheet of paper. What would seem to be an unusual bill was a statement for a federal income tax. Between 1862 and 1872, personal income of over $600 was taxed by the federal government to support the war effort. By 1872, this tax had been abandoned. A list of his assets for 1869 can be found in his estate papers. His net worth for that year was $522,000, of which $318,000 was invested in real estate and $66,000 in mill stocks. A purchase order for a child's tea set in 1846 shows the great length to which James Bradlee went to make his daughters happy. He expressly requested that it be of several different colors and monogrammed M.M.B. for Mary May Bradlee. The total, including serving tray and case, amounted to $15. Among his passports is one in Russian acquired by James in 1835 while he was traveling abroad. The architectural drawings of Nathaniel J. Bradlee are of special interest in their detail and execution, although the Boston house they purportedly represent has not been located. See also Mary Bradlee Gaillard papers.

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Collection Name
Codman family papers
Collection Code
1811-1871, undated
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

James Bowdoin Bradlee, second son of Josiah Bradlee and Lucy Hall, was born 18 October 1813. He was named after James Bowdoin, Governor of Massachusetts for the years 1785-1787. Five of his ancestors participated in the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Evening Traveller of 17 December 1873, describing family history exactly a century earlier said "Sarah Bradlee assisted her four brothers, Nathaniel, Josiah, David, and Thomas Bradlee, and John Fulton, to disguise themselves as Indians, and saw them take part in throwing the tea overboard." Josiah was James' great-grandfather. James was a student of Deacon Greele and later attended the Latin and English high schools in Boston. He married Mary Perrin May, daughter of Perrin May and Abigail Fellowes. She bore him five daughters and two sons. James Bowdoin Bradlee, Jr., was born in 1850 and died in 1855, and George Minot Bradlee also died in 1855 at six months of age. James’ daughters, all of whom lived until adulthood, were Mary May, born 6 December 1840, Sarah Fletcher, born 19 July 1842, Katherine May, born 3 January 1844, Alice Bowdoin, born 8 August 1846, and Frances Bowdoin, born in August, 1849. James and his brother Frederick were partners in their father's firm, Josiah Bradlee & Company, involved in the China trade. He was apprenticed in his father's counting house at an early age, but it would seem that James did not take a very active role in this business since so much of his energies were spent with his family, gardening and other social pastimes, including whist, billiards and bowling. James Bowdoin Bradlee lived in Colonnade Row on the corner of Mason Street from 1844- 1848 until he bought 34 Beacon Street in 1848. He spent large sums of money that year modernizing and redecorating including the installation of indoor plumbing and central heating. This home remained in the Bradlee family until his wife died in 1877. Everyone in the family referred to this home as "34." It was a great meeting place for the family. After Sarah Bradlee Codman and Ogden Codman, Sr., purchased the Grange in Lincoln, they spent many winters at "34" with the Bradlees.

The Bradlee family ties were very close. James' paternal interests were never more evident than in 1870. His oldest daughter, Mary, had married Louis Dieudonne Gaillard, a Lieutenant Colonel in the French Army. When the Franco Prussian War broke out, James wrote to her, "if you want me I will come to you at once. If Louis is taken from you forever remember my dear child that as long as I have a home I shall want to share it with you, your child and his children and I will do my best to take the place of their father." James speculated in gold and railroad stocks and invested money in partial ownership of a number of ships. He was quite successful in all of these ventures. James Bradlee felt that the only suitable address in Boston was Beacon Street. The "new lands" of Back Bay were particularly offensive to him. He stated that his son-in-law Benjamin W. Crowninshield was a spendthrift to build a house on Marlborough Street since he considered it such a poor investment. James died apparently of a heart attack at his beloved home on 26 January 1872.


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