Skip to content

Search Collections

Other papers of the Otis family


Series III, Other papers of the Otis family, 1685-1966, undated (bulk, 1756-1861) (#4.13-4.21, 5.1-5.21, 6.9-6.20, 6.22, OB.1.7, OB.2.1-OB.2.2, OB.5.9-OB.5.10, OV.x.x), contains affidavits; a bequest; certificates from the Committee on Military Donations; real estate clippings; conveyances; correspondence; deeds and deed extracts; genealogical material; indentures; invitations; a lottery ticket; newspapers and other printed material; petitions; photographs; promissory notes; receipts; architectural sketches; sheet music for the "Otis Quick Step;" site plans; statements; tax papers; warrants; wills; etc.; belonging to other members of the Otis family. The series is arranged in six subseries.

You can find this within:


Collection Name
Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848) professional papers
Collection Code
1685-1966, undated, predominant 1756-1861
Date of Acquisition
Physical Description
Family papers (3 file boxes, 5 oversize folders, 1 oversize volume)
Collection Type
Description Level
Credit Line
Gift of Samuel Eliot Morison, ca.1960
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

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 1818-1822 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.

Record details

Material Type
family papers
Location Note
HGO-02-105-A-E-206; HGO-02-105-A-E-106; HGO-02-105-A-E-105; HGO-02-105-X-X-xxx