Papers of Richard Codman (1762-1806)

Collection Type

  • Manuscripts


1789-1827, undated



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Richard's papers reflect his business activities during his years in France. They consist largely of correspondence and accounts dealing with shipping from Guernsey, Havre, Calais, and Dunkirk. Accounts of sales identify wheat, wine, and hemp as the major goods. There are numerous notices and requests regarding payments. Information is also given on the current rates of exchange. In 1800, two years before Richard declared bankruptcy, J. Houghton wisely decided that a partnership was "not advisable." In the same year, however, partnership appears a serious consideration for Robert Fulton, who was interested in patenting machinery for making cordage and cable. At the time, Napoleon had appointed a commission to study Fulton's experiments with submarines, seven years before the maiden voyage on the Hudson River of his famous "Clermont." Other business associates include Stephen DeBlois, Joseph Whittemore, Thomas Amory, and John Leach. The latter gives an indication of the unreliability of Richard's associates. When Richard was "hard put to it" in 1801, Leach was "most sincerely grieved... not that I am able to pay a single sous I owe you." Another frequent business correspondent was Francis Coffin, an in-law of Richard's through his brother, William (1765- 1816). Political situations are hinted at, particularly involving the Dey of Algiers. Because of the partnership with his brother John Codman III, many of Richard's financial records, bills paid, and foreign letters received in particular, will be found among the latter's papers. There is little material revealing Richard Codman's personal life, however there are descriptions of books he purchased and accounts of wallpapering and furnishings for a Paris house. The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University has two boxes of uncatalogued material which also deals with interior decorating and furnishings from the 1790s. Ogden Codman, Jr. undertook a great deal of research on Richard's French chateaux which he compiled in a notebook. It includes typescript copies of some letters between Richard and John Codman III, individual house inventories, and photographs. This notebook is found in Ogden Codman, Jr.'s papers.


Collection Code


Collection Name

Codman family papers

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Record Details

Description Level


Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Richard Codman was a younger brother of John Codman III (1755-1803) and Stephen Codman (1758-1844). A member of the Harvard College class of 1782, he spent much of his life in Europe, living in France from 1793 to 1802. During that time he was a business partner with his brother John. Hardly the model businessman, Richard indulged in many extravagances. One of his overriding interests was collecting art. In 1794, John Singleton Copley painted his portrait. His art collection formed the nucleus of the Codman picture collection. These have been described by Cora Codman Wolcott in her A History of the Codman Collection of Pictures (Brookline, 1935). In her Codman genealogy, Wolcott gave a pithy though genteel description of Richard as being "fond of society, careless in money matters, but with a nice taste in pictures and statuary" (page 15). Richard's business affairs affected his family long after his death. He speculated in French stocks and real estate. In 1799, he was involved in a hotel transaction involving William Vans. This developed into a lengthy lawsuit which lasted until 1837. At that time, William H. Gardiner, counsel for the Codman family, published two volumes of evidence. Apparently no more was heard from Vans after that. The Codmans may have won the case by attrition, however, as Vans was then seventy-four years old. Originally from Salem, Massachusetts, Vans served as Consul in Paris from 1794 to 1799. He was determined to prove that the partnership between John and Richard Codman entitled him to a substantial amount of the Codman estate. To this end, he published prolifically and persuaded many to sign his petitions. The suit began in French courts in 1801. Codman declared bankruptcy in 1802 and returned to Boston "where his charm and wit made him a great favorite until he died" (The Codmans of Charlestown and Boston, 1637-1929, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1930). It seems likely that this controversy made Richard much less of a favorite with his own family. As John Codman III said, Richard's affairs were "too confusing and mortifying... even to explain" in letters.



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