Read, Nathan
Letters, Account Ledgers, and Papers, of Nathan Read and his son William J. Read, of Danvers, Massachusetts and Belfast, Maine, Early Steam Engine Inventor, U.S. Congressman, and Jurist, 1797-1849

Archival collection consisting of: 12 letters, 15 manuscript pages, dated 5 December 1797 to 11 September 1828 Memorandum and Business Ledger, 179 manuscript pages, bound in quarter leather and marbled paper backed boards, measurting 7 ¾ x 8 ¼ inches, worn at corners and edges, entries written in ink, in a legible hand, and dated 14 April 1799 to 4 June 1816 Account Ledger, 15 manuscript pages, bound in paper wraps, measuring 6 ½ x 8 inches, edges and spine worn, dated Belfast (Maine) 18 January 1819 to 9 October 1819. Account Ledger, 83 manuscript pages, bound in quarter leather, marbled paper covered boards, binding worn at extremities, entries are written in ink and in a legible hand, and are dated 30 October 1799 to 19 September 1826

$ 950.00 | Contact Us >

Nathan Read (1759-1849)

          Nathan Read was an inventor, U.S. Congressman, and jurist. He was born in Warren, Massachusetts, the son of Major Reuben Read (1730-1803) and Tamsin Meacham. His father was a Revolutionary War veteran. He attended the common schools and was graduated from Harvard University in 1781. He was a teacher at Beverly and Salem and was elected a tutor at Harvard University where he continued until 1787. He then studied medicine for a year, and afterwards opened an apothecary store in Salem. While engaged in the latter pursuits, he devoted himself to the mechanic arts, which held a higher place in his estimation than his medical studies or mercantile career. It is claimed that about this time (1788-89) he invented the necessary machinery to adapt Watts’ steam-engine to boat and land carriages, with the avowed and special purpose of applying it to both of those objects. He constructed models of a steamboat and locomotive, substantially upon the principles which afterwards gave Fulton and Stephenson their success. In 1788 he began to work with the theories of steam engines and built the tubular boiler, a new kind of steam boiler. He then made efforts to improve the function of the steam cylinder placing it in a horizontal position so the engine could sustain much higher pressure, which led to the invention of the high pressure steam engine. His new engine was more convenient, portable, also much lighter and safer, which could be used in new fields, such as steamboats and locomotives. Read made several models of steam cars and steamboats in 1790, invented the chain-wheel that used paddle wheels to propel the steamboat and set up a shipbuilding factory in 1796. He also developed a new machine, which could cut and head nails in one operation, which was patented on January 8, 1798, and developed a style of rotary steam engine in 1817.

                The Salem Iron Factory Company, manufacturer of anchors and other iron products, began as a voluntary joint stock company as early as May, 1796, in Danvers, Massachusetts. The company was granted a charter in 1800 and incorporated in 1804. Of the twenty proprietors, nineteen were from Salem, Massachusetts: Ebenezer Beckford, William Gray, Jr., Joseph Sprague, Benjamin Hodges, William Stearns, Edward Augustus Holyoke, Joshua Ward, Jacob Ashton, Abel Lawrence, Jerathmel Pierce, Aaron Wait, Nathan Pierce, John Appleton, Joseph Peabody, Ichabod Nichols, George Dodge, John Osgood, Benjamin Carpenter, and Samuel Putnam, while Nathan Read was from Danvers. The mill site on Waters River and the land upon which the mill yard, wharves, and other company buildings were situated were purchased from Nathan Read. In 1843 the company was sold and the name changed to Danvers Iron Works.

                  Read was elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Samuel Sewell and was reelected to the Seventh Congress and served from November 25, 1800 to March 3, 1803. He was not a candidate for re-nomination and he served as judge for the court of common pleas of Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1803.             

                 Read remained engaged in the manufacture of iron products until he removed to Belfast, Maine, in 1807. On his farm there, Read spent the remainder of his days, devoting most of his time to agricultural pursuits, but often engaging in mechanical experiments and inventing. After moving to Belfast, in 1807, he became a judge of the county court of Hancock County. He was instrumental in establishing Belfast Academy, a preparatory school, and served as trustee until his death at age 89 in Belfast, Maine, on 20 January 1849. Read was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791 and was an honorary member of the Linnaean Society of New England from 1815.

                While the ledgers in this collection are not signed by Read, there is enough internal evidence that conclusively shows that these are the ledgers of Nathan Read. The largest ledger jumps from the year 1805 to 1809, perhaps a sign that this is when Read moved from his native Massachusetts to Belfast, Maine in 1807. Read’s name appears on three “copies” of letters in the ledger are signed “Nathan read” and dated Belfast 1811 and 1814.

                 Read married Elizabeth Jeffrey (1772-1855), the daughter of William Jeffrey of Salem, Massachusetts. She was the granddaughter of Joseph Bowditch, of Salem. They had a number of children: Nancy Read (1792-1868); Elizabeth H. Read (1793-1873); Mary Read Tilden (1798-1874); William Jeffrey Read (1800-1829); George Read (1803-1866); Edward read (1806-1845); Charles Read (1809-1901); Charlotte Read (1811-1834).

               Read’s son, Charles Read, married Rosina Blancahrd (1717-1894). Charles’s brother William Jeffrey Read (1800-1829) died young. He is mentioned in several of the letters and ephemeral items in this collection. William attended Bowdoin College (1820-1823). In 1826 he was appointed as a Maine justice of the peace. William’s brother Charles Read, is also mentioned in the material in this collection.

 Inventory of Collection:

Twelve letters as follows:

1. Retained copy of letter by Nathan Read to Nathaniel A. Haven, of Portsmouth, concerning iron shipment. (1798).

2. Copy of letter of Nathan Read to Bailey & Bogert of New York concerning shipment to them by Read, from the Salem Iron Factory (1797).

3. Letter of S. Goodridge to Nathan Read concerning property Read inherited as an heir to “Esqr. Bowdrick’s estate” (1798).

4. Letter of complaint by one Hatch Dent, who had purchased one of Read’s nail machines (1802).

5. Letter of Introduction to Nathan Read by Israel Thorndike, for Benjamin Poland, was sebt to Maine to promote the election of Federalists (1811).

6. Letter of election of William J. Read to the Pencinian Society (1820).

7. Letter of election of William J. Read to the Caluvian Society (1822).

8. Letter to William J. Read regarding his role in the commencement exercises of Bowdoin College (1826).         

9.  Letter to William J. Read letting him know that he would be giving the Latin Valedictory Address at commencement exercises of Bowdoin College (1826).    

10. Letter of William J. Read, asking for payment due him for his service as Adjutant General of the 3rd Regiment, 1st Brigade of the Maine Militia (1827).

11. Letter from the Selectmen of Belfast concerning the school district’s plans (1828).

12. Acceptance letter to the Candmean Society of Bowdoin College for William Read (not dated).

Account Ledgers:

Business ledger, 179 pages, dated 14 April 1799 to 4 June 1816. Some of the earlier accounts (pre-1807) appear to be for individuals from Salem, Massachusetts, the accounts thereafter for Belfast, Maine; a number of entries mention the Academy of Belfast, Highway and Road work, labor accounts, sale of farm products, etc. There are also three copies of letters, one concerning rents on Read’s property in Salem, the other two concern a troubling situation fopr Nathan Read, in which he was accused of seeking information from local Baptists to dig up accusations against a man. Read denied the charges in most vociferous terms to his accuser. There are also several entries concerning criminal matters, perhaps cases which Read adjudicated, people stealing apples, men suspected of arson, and the like.

Account ledger, 15 manuscript pages, dated Belfast, Maine, 18 January 1819 to 9 October 1819. Mostly accounts pertaining to Read’s farm, hay purchased (Ladd & Morrill), hay hauled by Kellem & Ryan, for lumber of S. Gallison, work performed, or not performed (David Durrill absent from work), shoes made by Capt. J. Lord, etc.

Account Ledger, 83 manuscript pages, dated 30 May 1844 to 2 January 1849. Charles Read, son of Nathan Read, appears to have stayed at the family farm in Belfast and taken it over when his father died in 1849. This ledger here has a number of entries for Charles, but appears to have been kept by Nathan Read and ends the year (1849) he died. The accounts are mainly cash accounts, or interests on notes loaned out or borrowed.

Paper and Manuscript Ephemeral Materials


          1. Engraving entitled: View of a Machine upon an intire new Construction, whereby Mills of every kind and for any purpose whatever, can be set to work in any place or Situation, without having recourse either to Men, Horses, Wind, or even a Stream of water. Invented by Thos. Hunt of London. Published According to Act of Parliament May 1783.

           2. Receipt for purchase of wine (1799).

           3. Promissory note of list of subscribers to pay trustees at Belfast Academy, 2 pages (1806).

           4. Political resolution, anti-Embargo  Act, 3 pages (1809).

           5. Four pages of accounts, dealing with Belfast Academy Trustees, Nathan read, Treasurer, (1808-1810).

           6. Printed sheet in Latin, and, English on verso, order of exercises for commencement Bowdoin College, at which William J. Read was to read the Latin Salutatory Oration (1823).

         7. Electioneering communication, Anti-Crawford, Anti-Gallatin, 4 pages, (1824).

        8. True copy, announcing William J. Read has taken oath of Attorney (1826).

        9. Printed advertisement, “Caleb G. Loring & Co., importers of Hard Ware Goods, Boston” (not dated, circa 1810s-1820s).

       10. “Joseph Bowetitch” manuscript acrostic poem, (no date c. 1807-1820s).

       11. Proposal for Streets to be laid out in Belfast, Maine (not dated, circa 1807-1820s).

       12. “Plan of Graveyard containing 5 acres drawn on a scale of 40 feet to an inch,” shows 326 numbered lots and paths, (not dated c. 1807-1820s).

        13. Copy of Protest by Trustees of Belfast Academy, remonstrating the Selectmen of Belfast, Maine, for proposing to layout road through property owned by Academy (undated, c. 1807-1820s).