Processing the Pingree Family Papers

Gardner-Pringree House (Photo by Walter Silver)

This past fall, I started a new project at the Phillips Library, processing the Pingree Family Papers.  I had vaguely heard of the Pingree family before, and I needed to begin working with the collection, which included over 420 linear feet of volumes, document boxes, and cartons, dating from 1794 to the second half of the 20th century (I’ve yet to get to the more modern papers).  To start I had to familiarize myself with the family.

I entered “Pingree” into the Google search bar (yes, librarians use Google too), and the top results returned included the Pingree School in South Hamilton, MA; Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, of Maine’s 1st congressional district; and the Gardner-Pingree house (now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum) in Salem.  After digging a little further I found a professor of Mathematics, other politicians, and Pingree Park in Colorado.  David Pingree (1795-1863) was mentioned in a few articles and in books about Salem shipping, landholders and forestry in Maine, and in regard to the Gardner-Pingree house.  He was also mentioned in a Wikipedia article as the sixth Mayor of Salem. Below is a letter from the collection informing David Pingree (1795-1863) that he had been elected Mayor for the municipal year of 1851-1852.

Letter to David Pingree, undated

As I delved further into the family papers, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish family members with the same name.  General practice in 18th and 19thcentury America was to name your children after certain relatives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and deceased siblings. This means that as well as having the same name in successive generations, there can also be cousins in the same generation with the same name (see the four Asas and three Davids in the chart below).

Family Tree of Select Pingrees

Pingree Family Tree showing select Pingrees

Therefore a family tree that delineated life dates was a necessary resource to help me place documents with their owners.  As I built the family tree (more comprehensive than the one above) and continued to process papers, it was amazing to me the overlap the Pingree papers had with many of the other collections at the Phillips Library including William Graves Jr, Michael Shepard, Richard P. Waters, and the many logbooks of the ships owned by the Pingree family. Business transactions, marriages, and friendships existed between the Pingrees and other Salem families.

Postcard to David Pingree from William M. Pingry and "A Genealogical Record of The Descendants of Moses Pengry..."

Top: Postcard to David Pingree (1841-1932) requesting family information, October 1874 Bottom: Title page of "A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Moses Pengry...," 1881

One of the important resources in researching the family history has been A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Moses Pengry, of Ipswich, Mass, as well as genealogical notes by family members within the collection.

Pingree Family Records kept by two separate Pingrees

Left: Family record as written by Asa Pingree (1770-1834), undated
Right: Family record as written by unknown Pingree, undated

Moses and Aaron Pengry were documented on an Ipswich deed as early as April 1641.  As with many early families, the orthography of the last name has changed over the years due to varying education levels and the fact that it was often a clergy member recording the names in birth, marriage, and death registers.  Descendants of Moses Pengry spell their name Pingree, Pingry and Pengrye.  A third generation descendant of Moses, buried in the Union Cemetery in Rowley (now Georgetown), gravestone reads “Job Pingry.”  Job (1688-1785), was the father of Asa Pingry (1732-1811) and the grandfather of Asa Pingree (1770-1834).  A signed agreement between the two Asas, John Platts and Aaron [illegible] shows that the father and son spelled their names differently.

Land Agreement, Rowley, Massachusetts, 1798-04-02

Rowley Land Document showing the signatures of Asa Pingry and Asa Pingree Jr, 1798

When I mention what I do at work, many people say “Oh, like the Pingree School?” and my answer is “well, sort of.”  The school was envisioned by Mary Weld and Sumner Albert Pingree in the 1950s and opened to students in the fall of 1961 at the Pingree’s 500-acre “Flying Horse Farm” in South Hamilton, MA.  Albert Pingree is a direct descendant of Job Pingry (1688-1785), as are the Pingrees whose papers are housed at the Phillips Library.  The next generation (the 4th generation here in the United States) consisted of Moses Pingry (1720-1801) whose brother was Asa Pingry (1732-1811).  At the Phillips Library we have papers of Asa Pingree (1770-1834) and his direct descendants.  While it will be some time before the entire collection is processed, the finding aid for Asa Pingree (1770-1834) Papers, 1794-1853, MSS 900 is currently accessible via our online catalog, Philcat and on the Phillips Library Digital Collections page.

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