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Birckhead collection of Redwood family papers

Scope & content

This collection consists mainly of letters, receipts, and accounts from 1730-1774 relating to Abraham Redwood (1709-1788), the founder of the Redwood Library, and his business dealings in Newport, Rhode Island. Also included are documents concerning the Redwood Library, Redwood’s contemporaries in Newport, and later letters from David King, a former president of the Redwood Library. The majority of these documents are addressed to Abraham Redwood, unless otherwise noted.

Papers relating to Abraham Redwood document his business activities, mainly in Newport, Rhode Island, but also in Antigua and other cities from 1730 through 1774, with various merchants and tradesmen. There are also correspondence and accounts with his family members including his step-mother, Patience (1687-1745), his half-brother, William (1726-1815), and son Jonas Langford Redwood (1730-1779).

Items of particular note include the following: the December 11, 1730, quitclaim deed from his step-mother, Patience Redwood (1687-1745), in which she signed over all of her rights to Cassada Garden and its black slaves. Cassada Garden was the plantation owned by her husband and Abraham’s father, Abraham Redwood (1665-1728) in Antigua. A February 1731/2 receipt with Edward Barker includes charges for an outsourced black worker to Redwood.

Documents concerning the Redwood Library include a letter Redwood received from John Thomlinson on November 23, 1748, in which Thomlinson acknowledged the receipt of 500 pounds sterling and a list of books that Redwood sent to him in order to start the collection at the Library. This particular letter is a copy of the original and also includes a copied letter from Thomlinson to Redwood dated February 11, 1748, which also concerns the selection of books for the Library. In addition, there are two promissory notes from 1756, which allowed patrons to borrow books from the Library for four weeks.

There are also papers relating to early members of the Library and Abraham Redwood’s contemporaries in Newport including George Gibbs (1755-1803), William Channing (1751-1793), and Aaron Lopez (1731-1782). These particular documents do not have a direct connection to Redwood, except for the fact that they were created during his lifetime. Of particular interest is a bond certificate from the Custom House in Rhode Island to Edward Wanton in which he insures one thousand pounds worth of cargo on his brig (whose name is indecipherable) bound for Africa. Peter Harrison, John Wanton, and John Nicoll signed this document as witnesses.

Papers in this collection from 1809-1866 were all addressed to David King (1812-1882), a former member of the Redwood Library, who served as president from 1849-1859. These particular letters concern the purchase of books for the Redwood Library, genealogical research, and the procedure for borrowing books from Harvard College Library. The receipt dated January 1, 1809, from J. Fraser to Christopher G. Champlin (1768-1840) was sent to King from George C. Mason and Son, Architects in Newport. The receipt and the envelope are all pasted onto one sheet of paper.

Lastly, the original index of the letters, “Birckhead Documents – The Redwood Library,” is also included and contains brief descriptions about each item.