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Record 1 of 1

1997 2014
  • Christopher Champlin Papers
  • Champlin, Christopher
Call Number:
  • MSS 20
Record Level:
  • Collection
Physical Description:
  • 4 ft.
  • 10 AB, OF, vol.
Inclusive Dates:
  • 1700-1840
Bulk Dates:
  • 1746-1820
Cataloged By:
  • Harold Kemble,
    • Rick Stattler,
      • Dana Signe K. Munroe, 1992
  • Correspondence, accounts, deeds, and ships records of Newport merchants Christopher Champlin, his brother George and son, Christopher Grant Champlin (U.S. Senator). Correspondents include trade partners John Coffin Jones (Boston), Abraham Redwood Ellery and local and national politicians. Ship records include accounts for supplying British ships, trade with Europe and the West Indies. Miscellaneous items include Narragansett deeds and depositions.
Cataloging Note:
  • Papers organized into four seriers: Correspondence, Accounts, Ship Records and Miscellaneous
  • The Champlin Papers were mounted into scrapbooks in 1903, soon after their arrival here. Shepley's portion was also mounted in separate scrapbooks circa 1940. Both portions were taken out of the volumes and integrated together, but citations still appear for the old page and volume numbers. Notes indicate that under the supervision of Harold Kemble, Mark Keller had begun grouping the records in subjects; in September of 1980, another volunteer began putting them in chronological order. Others may have worked on the collection after. The arrangement now is close to what had been done by 1988. In 1992, Cindy Bendroth filed accounts, receipts and orders as one category. Some oversize materials were unfolded and taken out. More items need to be put with oversize materials. All correspondence in Series I was indexed on a database. In 1997, about 200 additional items from the Shepley portion were discovered, that had never been properly indexed. These were integrated into the Champlin Papers, the correspondence database was updated, and this finding aid was revised slightly.
Historical Note:
  • Christopher Champlin (1731-1805) was a merchant, ship owner and financier of Newport, Rhode Island. He was born in Charlestown, Rhode Island, the oldest son of Colonel Christopher Champlin (1707-1766) and Hannah (Hill) Champlin. Earlier generations of the Champlin Family had moved from Newport to the Narragansett Country. The Colonel became a fairly prosperous "Narragansett Planter"; however, all three brothers, Christopher, Robert and George, chose to move back to Newport in the 1750's and established themselves in the mercantile community. Christopher's merchant career lead him to engage in various trades, so long as the profits were high. He and his brother George often worked together; George was often master of the ships, with Christopher the financier. Their first ventures included illegal trade with Spain and France. Depending on the financial climate, he dabbled in privateering, the slave trade and the West Indies trade. In 1764, he won a contract to become a "victualizing agent," a job which provided food, drink and other items for the British naval ships docking at Newport. His wife, Margaret Grant, was an asset in obtaining this contract; it was Sir Alexander Grant, a London relative, that awarded the contract to Margaret's husband and her sister Jane's husband, John Powell of Boston. Victualizing was not necessarily profitable; however, it did provide well-needed sterling specie, a rare commodity in depressed Rhode Island. During the War, Champlin fled Newport and supported the colonies, as did his brother George (1739-1809), who became Lieutenant-Colonel of the First Rhode Island Militia. George later was a member of the Continental Congress and the Rhode Island Legislature. He was a staunch supporter of the Constitution, as was Christopher. Champlin did continue his trading activities during Newport's occupation. In 1780, he tried to secure a contract for supplying the French fleet, but received only a contract for flour. He expanded his trade with the West Indies, Northern Europe and Holland. After the Paris Peace Treaty, he continued to ship flaxseed to Ireland, in partnership with Samuel Fowler. Christopher Grant Champlin (1768-1840), or "CGC", was the oldest child and only son of Christopher Champlin. By the 1790's he had graduated from Harvard, and was sent on a European tour to "refine" him and ready him for a merchant's life. He returned, settled to New York and lost a fortune in stock speculation, almost ruining his father. He returned to Newport, where he married Martha Redwood Ellery (1772- ) in 1793. He continued to assist his father in business, and in 1796, decided to run for Congress. Like his father, CGC used opportunities for financial reward. For example, many of his friends he met while in Europe became contacts for trade, or financial partners. Also, to help his chances for winning a seat, CGC swore that he had not speculated in southern lands and would not use his office to help his investment. In reality, CGC had speculated heavily in the Tennessee Company with his Harvard College friend, Nathaniel Prince (Prime?). He was elected and served in Congress from 1797 to 1801. During his tenure, he participated in a duel with a South Carolina congressman, James A. Bayard. Champlin was later appointed to fill a Senate term from 1809 to 1811. He returned to Rhode Island in 1811 and concentrated on local and state politics as well as his business ventures. Eventually he became president of the Bank of Rhode Island, an office his father had held. CGC's only male heir died young and in 1840, at the death of CGC, the Champlin family and wealth were dispersed.
Bibliographic References:
  • Lough, George J. The Champlins of Newport, (Diss, U. Conn, 1977)
  • Massachusetts Historical Society, Commerce of Rhode Island, 1726-1800, published in series 7 of the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, volumes 9 and 10, 1915.
  • Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island. "Christopher Champlin" p. 107.
Scope and Content:
  • The Christopher Champlin Papers contain the records of Christopher, his brother George and Christopher's son, Christopher Grant. The family's continuous business operations made it impossible to separate each person's own material; however, the bulk of the material belonged to Christopher Champlin. The collection dates from 1729 to 1840; the bulk dates are 1765 to 1798. The records include correspondence, accounts, receipts, account books, ships papers, labor records, deeds and other items. Most concerns his business activities, but national and local political, as well as personal, materials are scattered throughout. Champlin's trade areas included Java, Denmark, England, Ireland, the West Indies, Cuba, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hispaniola, Batavia, Italy, Germany, St. Croix, and Surinam. Series I: Correspondence. 1729-1840. 1.5 feet. Series II: Ships Papers. 1732-1827. 1 foot. Series III: Accounts, receipts and orders. 1740-1822. 1 foot. Series IV: Miscellaneous. 1700-1825. .5 linear feet.
Accession Number:
  • 1938.27.4.1-
  • 1980.10.2
  • 1979.46.2-106
  • 1938.27.4.1-
  • 1903.32.1.1-
  • 1944.62.7
  • 1950.19
  • 1956.23.103.1-2
  • 1956.23.96
  • 1976.133.1
  • The Champlin family papers remained in the attic of the family's old house on Mary Street in Newport, passing through several owners. For many years, the house was in the possession of Duncan C. Pell; after his death in 1874, his widow remained until her death in 1899. After that point, the house was torn down to make way for a Y.M.C.A. building. The contractor, a Mr. Manuel, assumed possession of the papers, and dispersed them to the highest bidder. Efforts failed to keep the collection in one place. Large lots were sold to three parties: the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Newport Historical Society, and U.S. Senator George Peabody Wetmore, who got the largest portion. Some items also went to local historians Horatio Storer and George Champlin Mason. The date of all this is uncertain, but the Rhode Island Historical Society reported arranging the collection into scrapbooks in 1903 (Proceedings, 1903-1904, p. 31). Mason's portion of the papers, or some other portion, seem to have been acquired by collector George Shepley, whose collection was purchased by the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1938 (Collections, 1938, p. 98). These two purchases, circa 1903 and 1938, constitute the bulk of the Champlin Papers here. Wetmore's portion of the collection was transcribed and published by the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of its Collections, series 7, volumes 9 and 10, in 1915. Many items from the Newport Historical Society are also included, but only a handful from the R.I.H.S. Wetmore's collection was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in at the time of publication. The introduction to Volume 9 is the source for much of this story. In addition to these large early purchases, one volume was donated in 1950, and ten items were donated by Paul C. Nicholson in 1956. A single letter dated 1794 by George Champlin was purchased from a dealer in 1976. 105 letters were found in the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1979, and kindly donated. 21 invitations and acceptances were donated by David W. Dreyfuss in 1980.
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