Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Bingham mss., 1752-1891, are the papers of William Bingham, 1752-1804, of Philadelphia. From 1770-1776 Bingham was the British consul in St. Pierre, Martinique. He remained in the West Indies for four more years serving as an agent of the Continental Congress, overseeing commercial privateering and espionage. By the time he returned to Philadelphia Bingham had amassed a considerable fortune. He owned a fleet of ships and broad tracts of land in Maine, New York and Pennsylvania and over time became the wealthiest man in America. Bingham was one of the founders of the Bank of Pennsylvania, chartered on Dec. 31, 1781 as the Bank of North America, the first bank in the United States. In 1791 he was elected one of twenty-five directors of the first national bank, the Bank of the United States. Bingham was also a statesman with considerable political power. Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, and Lord Shelburne, England's prime minister were counted among his friends both politically and socially. They, along with business acquaintances, foreign visitors, relatives and friends, were frequent guests at the Bingham mansion in Philadelphia, where he and his much admired wife, the former Anne Willing, were the social leaders of the nation's first capital. Their daughter, Anne Louisa Bingham, married Alexander Baring, later first Baron Ashburton, 1774-1848, who with Daniel Webster resolved the boundary line of northeast Maine between the United States and Canada. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 also provided for the suppression of slave trade off the African coast. Bingham's life and career are described in The Golden Voyage by Robert C. Alberts (1969). His land interests are detailed in William Bingham's Maine Lands, by Frederick S. Allis, in two volumes (1954).

The collection is organized into the following series: I. General correspondence; II. Business; III. Estate; IV. Family; V. Personal papers and writings; VI. Prizes; VII. Property; VIII. Webster-Ashburton Treaty; IX. Miscellaneous. An inventory is available.

Letters may be found throughout the collection in addition to the General Correspondence section. Among the correspondents, other than the Baring, Bingham, and Willing families, are: George Hamilton, Earl Aberdeen; George Keppel, Earl Albemarle; John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp; Fisher Ames; Charles Bagot; Marquis Francois de Barbe-Marbois; Henry Peter Brougham, Baron Brougham and Vaux; Henry Clay; David Cobb; John Craig; Edward Everett; George William Featherstonhaugh; Albert Gallatin; Alexander Hamilton; Thomas Hodgkin; Henry Richard Vassal Fox, Baron Holland; Henry Hope; Thomas Jefferson; Edward Kent; Francis Scott Key; Rufus King; Henry Knox; Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette; Abbott Lawrence; Charles Lee; John Lowell; Louis McLane; James Madison, John Marshall, Charles Fenton Mercer, John Merrick, William Hamilton Merritt, Louis Marie, Vicomte de Noailles, John Rushout, Baron Northwick; John Otis; Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston; Richard Penn; Timothy Pickering; Josiah Quincy; Jacob Read; William Petty; Earl Shelburne (Marquis Lansdowne); Fulwar Skipwith; Prince Charles de Talleyrand-Perigord; John Tyler; Joseph Rogers Underwood; George Washington; Daniel Webster; Elisha Whittlesey; Arthur Wellesley, Duke Wellington; Oliver Wolcott. Correspondence of interest includes a letter by Thomas Jefferson to Anne (Willing) Bingham while he was still in Paris, Feb. 7, 1787; the letter by George Washington to William Bingham enclosing the plan for his barn, Dec. 8, 1792; and, the letter by Lord Lansdowne (Earl Shelburne) to Mrs. Bingham concerning the Gilbert Stuart full-length painting of George Washington, Nov. 1796.

Business papers include those on the Bank of the United States, 1791-1801, and Bingham's shipping interests, chiefly pertaining to the "Canton" and the "America." Materials relating to ships taken by privateers may be found in the Prizes section. Of particular interest is the controversy surrounding the ship "Hope" and whether it was legally taken as a prize. Bingham's substantial ownership of land in Maine, New York and Pennsylvania is represented by accounts, deeds, maps, and settlement instructions. Noteworthy in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty section are the correspondence and dispatches of Daniel Webster and materials discussing the slave trade.

A finding aid for this collection is available.

Purchase. 1997

Collection size: 1,703 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.