Sayward family papers

Collection Type

  • Manuscripts



Location Note




Browse Collection


The collection includes family papers, papers relating the Sayward House, photographic material, and printed material. There is significant documentation of individuals from the earlier period of the family's history, the mid to late 1700s and early 1800s. Documentation is thinner in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, but the volume increases again in the middle 1900s. The family papers primarily document individuals who lived at the house or were associated closely with the house throughout their lives; individuals who left the house in childhood are not well documented. The one exception to this is George Guelphs Sayward Barrell, who was the American consul in Malaga, Spain. He died in Spain in 1838, and his papers appear to have been sent back to his family. The family papers also document the business relationship between Jonathan Sayward and the Barrell family.

The twentieth-century history of the Sayward House is thoroughly documented. The Sayward House papers include bills related to the house and property and the complete correspondence with Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) regarding Historic New England's acquisition of the house. The collection also includes photographs of family members, the Sayward House, and York, Maine. Paintings of family members and other subjects have been kept in the Sayward House or have been added to the Historic New England museum collections. Printed materials in this collection consist mostly of newspaper clippings about the history of York, Maine.

NOTE: Processing/updating the collection and making the finding aid accessible online were made possible through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC Grant Project: #RH-50051) and with a generous donation from the Bedford Family Foundation and additional funding from an anonymous donor.


Descriptive Terms

family papers
historic houses
historic preservation
legal documents
property records
family papers
property records
photographic materials

Physical Description

2.33 linear feet, 4 boxes (approx. 1031 items)

Finding Aid Info

An electronic finding aid is available through Historic New England's Collections Access Portal. A paper finding aid is available in the Library and Archives.

Custodial History

Materials in this collection were created by various Sayward family members, their friends, family members, and descendants, and others associated with the family or the house. The Sayward House was owned by multiple members of the Sayward family and Sayward family descendants, starting with Joseph Sayward in 1720 and ending with Elizabeth Cheever Wheeler and, subsequently, her heirs, Bancroft, Leonard, Eunice, and Nathaniel Wheeler, whose ownership ended in 1977. In the preceding thirty years, Nathaniel and Eunice Wheeler spent their summers in the Sayward House, and Nathaniel was responsible for care and upkeep of the house and grounds. Some of the material in this collection was arranged by family member with genealogical and historical notes added; this was most probably done by Nathaniel Wheeler. Historic New England staff members collected the papers from throughout the house, and the custodial history of the materials is not known in more detail.

Collection Code


Collection Name

Sayward family papers

Date of Acquisition


Reference Code



The Sayward family manuscripts collection spans two centuries and includes papers, photographs, and printed materials that document domestic and business life in Maine from the eighteenth century to the twentieth.

Acquisition Type


Credit Line

Gift of the heirs of Elizabeth Cheever Wheeler, 1977.


Worcester (Worcester county, Massachusetts)
York Harbor (York county, Maine)

Record Details


Sayward family

Material Type

family papers
property records
photographic materials

Other People

Barrell, Anna "Nancy" Plummer Sayward, 1767-1826
Barrell, Elizabeth Sayward, 1799-1883
Barrell, George Guelphs, 1780-1838
Barrell, Jonathan Sayward, 1776-1867
Barrell, Jonathan Sayward, II, 1797-1866
Barrell, Joseph Sayward, 1808-1862
Barrell, Mary Plummer, 1771-1814
Barrell, Mary Sayward, 1803-1889
Barrell, Nathaniel, 1732-1831
Barrell, Nathaniel Sayward, 1795-1853
Barrell, Sarah "Sally" Sayward, 1738-1805
Cheever, Charlotte Sayward Barrell, 1778-1853
Cheever, George Barrell, 1807-1890
Cheever, Henry T. (Henry Theodore), 1814-1897
Cheever, Nathaniel, 1778-1859
Hine, Thomas Avery
Murray, Judith Sargent, 1751-1820
Rockwood, Ellen Tyler Cheever, 1860-1933
Sayward, Elizabeth Plummer, 1764-1810
Sayward, Jonathan, 1713-1797
Sayward, Joseph, 1684-1741
Washburn, Elizabeth Bancroft Cheever, 1812-1893
Wheeler, Elizabeth Bancroft (Cheever), 1862-1947
Wheeler, Eunice, 1903-1981
Wheeler, Leonard, 1845-1935
Wheeler, Nathaniel, 1906-1979
Wood, Sally Sayward Barrell Keating, 1759-1855

Other Organizations

Historic New England (Organization)
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities


This collection is available for research.

Conservation Note

No conservation or preservation activities have been completed on this collection.


There are no physical restrictions on this collection. There are no technical restrictions on this collection.

Description Level


Location Note


Accruals Note

Accruals are not expected.

Appraisal, Destruction, and Scheduling Note

The following materials have been removed from the collection: daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. These have been added to the Historic New England daguerreotype collection (PC005).

Language Note

Materials are entirely in English.

Preferred Citation

Item identification. Box #, folder #. Sayward family papers (MS031). Historic New England, Library & Archives.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Helen C. Wüstefeld in April, 1979. The finding aid was updated and made DACS-compliant by Abigail Cramer in April, 2014 and Donna E. Russo in February 2023; these updates and online access to the collection were made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (project #RH-50051).

Rules and Conventions

This finding aid is DACS-compliant.

Related Items

Daguerreotypes collection
General photographic collection - Maine - York
Ephemera collecition - Pamphlets - Geographic locations
Permanent files - Sayward-Wheeler House, York, Maine
Property binders - Sayward-Wheeler House, York, Maine

Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

The Sayward House in York Harbor, Maine, was a new house when it was purchased by Joseph Sayward (1684-1741) in 1720. He sold it to his son Johnathan (1713-1797) in 1735, possibly because of financial difficulties. Jonathan Sayward was a local merchant and was actively involved in town politics and church affairs. He was commissioned by Governor Shirley of Massachusetts to transport troops to Louisburg in 1744, which resulted in a share of the spoils of the expedition, much of which is still on view in the house. Johnathan was elected to the General Court in 1766, but because of his loyalty to England during the Revolution, his reputation and business suffered. (Note: Jonathan Sayward's diaries, held by the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass., record his business transactions, political and religious thoughts, and daily household activities, as well as the remodeling of the Sayward House.)

Jonathan and his first wife Sarah Mitchell (d. 1775) had only one child, Sarah ("Sally") (1738-1805), who married the merchant Nathaniel Barrell (1732-1831). Jonathan's second wife was Elizabeth Plummer (d. 1810). After marrying, Sally lived at Sayward House with her father and stepmother while her husband was in London. It was during this time that her father, Jonathan, had Joseph Blackburn paint her portrait in the house. The original bill for this portrait is located in box 1, folder 4 of this collection.

Sally and Nathaniel lived on a farm not too far from the Sayward house. They had nine children of whom Jonathan Sayward Barrell (1772-1857) and Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (1759-1855), the first Maine woman novelist, were the most prominent. Ownership of the Sayward House eventually passed to Jonathan Sayward Barrell, who also suffered business misfortunes. These misfortunes kept him from altering the Sayward House, although he did take a mortgage on it and sell most of the furnishings to his own daughter, Elizabeth (1799-1883). Jonathan Sayward Barrell had two children with his first wife, Mary Plummer (d. 1814), who was a niece of Jonathan Sayward's second wife Elizabeth Plummer. The daughters, Elizabeth and Mary (1803-1889), became responsible for the household from early ages, as their mother and stepmother Anna ("Nancy") Plummer (Mary's sister) died in 1814 and 1826 respectively.

The title to the house passed to Elizabeth and Mary through the generosity of their brother Joseph (1808-1862) in 1841, and with the proceeds acquired by selling the Sayward sawmill in 1859, they were able to make repairs to the house (the transfer of title, sale of the sawmill, and repairs are documented in the family papers). After the death of both sisters, the house was left to their nephew George Octavius Barrell (1848-1901). The house was purchased by Dr. Leonard Wheeler whose wife, Elizabeth Cheever Wheeler, was the granddaughter of Sarah Sayward and Nathaniel Barrell's daughter, Charlotte (1778-1853), and she had visited the house frequently when it was occupied by the Barrell sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. She and the Wheelers used the house during the summer months until 1977, when the property came to Historic New England. Apart from a few additions and updates, the house maintained its original integrity.


Banks, C. E. (1931). A history of York, Maine. Boston, Mass.: 381-401.
Carlisle, N. (2006). Cherished Possessions: A New England Legacy. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
Cary, J. (unpublished). "The judicious are entirely neglected: the fate of a Tory." New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
Ellis, M. (1936). Sarah Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (Oct. 1, 1759-Jun. 6, 1855). Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. XX, 472-473.
Hosmer, C. B. (1965). The Presence of the Past: The History of the Movement in the United States Before Williamsburg. New York.\n
Karston, D. (unpublished). University of New Hampshire.
Moody, E. C. (1914). Handbook History of the Town of York from Early Times to the Present. Augusta, ME.
Nylander, R. C. (1979) The Jonathan Sayward House. Antiques.
Sayward, C. A. (1890). The Sayward Family. Ipswich, MA.

Material in Other Collections

Material in Other Collections

Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Boston, Mass. (For information about the Barrell family.)
Blaisdell family private collection. York, Maine. (For information about the Barrell family.)
Cheever-Wheeler Family, Papers, 1773-1979. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.
Columbia University Libraries, New York, New York. (For information about the Barrell family.)
Maine Historical Society, Portland, Maine. (For more information about the Sayward family.)
Maine Women Writers Collection. University of New England, Portland, Maine. (For information about Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood.)
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass. (For more information about the Sayward family.)
New-York Historical Society, New York, New York. (For information about the Barrell family.)
New York Public Library, New York, New York. (For information about the Barrell family.)
Old Gaol Museum, York, Maine. (For more information about the Sayward family.)
Registry of Probate, York County. Alfred, Maine. (For more information about the Sayward family.)
Sayward, Jonathan, Diaries, 1760-1799. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.
Town records. York, Maine. (For more information about the Sayward family.)



When acquired, much of the material in this collection was arranged by family member, probably by Nathaniel Wheeler; this arrangement has been preserved as much as possible. The original creator of this arrangement also added genealogical and historical notes to the materials. The collection is arranged in four series, which are arranged into subseries as follows: Series I. Family papers, Subseries 01: Joseph Sayward (1684-1741), Subseries 02: Jonathan Sayward (1713-1797), Subseries 03: Elizabeth Plummer Sayward (1764-1810), Subseries 04: Sarah Sayward Barrell (1738-1805) and Nathaniel Barrell (1732-1831), Subseries 05: Sarah Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (1759-1855), Subseries 06: Jonathan Sayward Barrell (1772-1857), Subseries 07: Mary Plummer Barrell (1771-1814), Subseries 08: Anna "Nancy" Plummer Barrell (1767-1826), Subseries 09: John Barrell (1776-1867), Subseries 10: Charlotte Barrell Cheever (1778-1853), Subseries 11: Nathaniel Cheever (d. 1859), Subseries 12: George Guelphs Barrell (1780-1838), Subseries 13: Nathaniel Sayward Barrell (1795-1853), Subseries 14: Jonathan Sayward Barrell II (1797-1866), Subseries 15: Elizabeth Sayward Barrell (1799-1883), Subseries 16: Mary Sayward Barrell (1803-1889), Subseries 17: Joseph Sayward Barrell (1808-1862), Subseries 18: George Barrell Cheever (1807-1890), Subseries 19: Henry T. Cheever (1814-1897), Subseries 20: Elizabeth Cheever Washburn (1812-1893), Subseries 21: Elizabeth Bancroft Cheever Wheeler (1862-1947), Subseries 22: Leonard Wheeler (1845-1935), Subseries 23: Ellen Cheever Rockwood (1860-1933), Subseries 24: Eunice Wheeler (1903-1981), Subseries 25: Nathaniel Wheeler (1906-1979), Subseries 26: Miscellaneous, 1855; Series II. Sayward House papers, Subseries 01. Financial records, Subseries 02. Historic New England acquisition, Subseries 03. Inventories, Subseries 04. Legal records; Series III. Photographic materials, Subseries 01. Negatives, Subseries 02. Photograph albums, Subseries 03. Prints; Series IV. Printed materials, Subseries 01. Books, Subseries 02. Graphical material, Subseries 03. Newspapers, clippings, and flyers, Subseries 04. Pamphlets.

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