A Closer Look into a Lesser Known Collection: the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers

Box 56, folder 1


The Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers, or collection MH 156, is one of the Phillips Library’s recently processed manuscript collections.  A rather large collection consisting of 78 boxes, 2 flat files, and over 60 volumes, the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers arrived at the Peabody Museum in the 1950s, and documents the merchant and shipping business of this Salem based merchant, in addition to containing some personal papers.  One of only a handful of manuscript collections at the Phillips Library about trade with West Africa, this collection holds a number of very interesting items.

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Mapping the Diffusion of Imported Cloth into East Africa, c. 1830-1900

Kate Frederick

Cloth imports into East Africa, 1836-1900. Aggregated shipping records from MH 23, MH 235, MSS 901, and MSS 24 series (Peabody Essex Museum, Phillips Library), “Arrival and Departure of American Vessels,” RG 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, Zanzibar, vol. 84 (National Archives and Records Administration), and government-published trade reports of Bombay and the United Kingdom. British and Indian sources include exports to both Zanzibar and Mozambique. American merchants in East Africa focused almost exclusively on Zanzibar-based trade.

The development of cotton textile production has formed the backbone of numerous industrial takeoffs, including Britain’s industrial revolution and, more recently, the catch-up of several East Asian countries. A seemingly perpetual disappointment of textile industries in East Africa, however, has prompted frequently renewed debates about the role that foreign competition may have played in impeding growth of existing domestic production in the region, particularly as East Africa increasingly opened up to global trade during the nineteenth century. However, insufficient empirical evidence has precluded substantive conclusions. My current project bridges the gap between theory and historical empirical reality to shed light on this piece of the African textile puzzle. Specifically, mapping the diffusion of foreign-produced cloth into nineteenth-century East Africa provides crucial insights into the nature of regional demand and consumption, along with related implications for domestic production Read more

What speaks to me – Dean Lahikainen

Susan Flynn

137863, Classical revival card table made for Crowninshieldʹs Cleopatraʹs Barge 1816.

This piece first appeared in Connections, PEM’s member magazine, and is part of a series where our curators are asked to tell about a piece in the collection that intrigues them.

George Crowninshield Jr., the son of one of Salem’s wealthiest shipping merchants, was something of a showboat. With his father’s fortunes he not only commissioned America’s first private yacht, Cleopatra’s Barge, but he hired the finest craftsmen to make the furnishings. Read more