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Bowdoin family collection

Identifier: M015

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Scope and Content

The collection consists primarily of correspondence, both personal and professional, as well as business, financial, and political documents, including wills and other materials concerning the Bowdoin estate. Also included are a holograph poem by Phillis Wheatley on the capture of Gen. Charles Lee, dedicated to James Bowdoin II, and a diary of Sarah Bowdoin, which documents her and her husband's stay in Paris from 1806 to 1808, and a number of realia, including two waistcoats of James Bowdoin III and scientific instruments used by James Bowdoin II. Additions include a letterbook of diplomatic correspondence "Correspondence relative to the negotiations at Madrid, 1804-1805" (from the library of James Bowdoin III) probably compiled for Bowdoin for his use as Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain and as co-commmissioner, with John Armstrong, US Minister to France, in Paris negotiations with their Spanish counterparts. The collection is supplemented by genealogical materials concerning the Bowdoin family collected by Bowdoin College and William Bowden, as well as the manuscript for the unpublished biography of James Bowdoin II by Francis Walett and images of family members


  • Creation: 1687 - 1996
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1687 - 1848


Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Use of Digital Collections

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Biographical/Historical Note

Agency History / Biographical Note: This collection concerns four generations of the Bowdoin family of Massachusetts. The principal members are Pierre Baudouin (1650?-1706), progenitor of the family in America; James Bowdoin (1676-1747), Boston merchant; James Bowdoin II (1726-1790), Governor of Massachusetts; and James Bowdoin III (1752-1811), benefactor of the College.

Pierre Baudouin, a Huguenot emigrant possibly from La Rochelle, France, left the Continent for Dublin, Ireland, by 1683. There, and in Wexford, he functioned as a merchant before immigrating to America in 1686. After a short stay in what is now South Portland, Maine, he arrived in Boston by 1690. There he became a successful merchant and ships' captain. After his death, his eldest son James anglicized "Baudouin" as "Bowdoin," the spelling that the American branch of the family, including his mother, Elizabeth (1643?-1720), also adopted.

Pierre's son James Bowdoin I became one of the wealthiest merchants in Massachusetts and added extensive lands and real estate to the family's holdings. (The three James Bowdoins did not use roman numerals in referring to themselves; they are used as a convenience by the College and historians).

James [I]'s son James Bowdoin II extended the family's businesses, wealth and holdings. As a member of the Massachusetts Council he was appointed to lead the Massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress, but he failed to attend because of ill health. He also served as president of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention and was the second governor of the Commonwealth (1785-1787), serving during Shay's Rebellion. He was an avid amateur scientist, a founding member and first president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the author of several tracts, including A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston....

James [II]'s son James Bowdoin III continued the family's businesses, though his personal interests ran more toward land management and agriculture. He was involved in Massachusetts politics from 1786 to 1796 and was Jefferson's Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Spain and Co-commissioner to France from 1805 to 1808, living in Paris. Bowdoin College, named for his father, was greatly enriched by his gifts and bequests, which included funds, lands in Maine, and his book, scientific and art collections. He and his wife, Sarah Bowdoin (1761-1826), who accompanied him to Paris, had no children.


8 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection consists primarily of correspondence, both personal and professional, as well as business, financial, and political documents, including wills and other materials concerning the Bowdoin estate.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Letterbook "Correspondence Relative to the Negotiations at Madrid, 1804-1805" gift of a descendant of James Bowdoin III and Bowdoin College alumna, 2019

Genre / Form

Guide to the Bowdoin Family Collection M015
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine 04011 Repository

3000 College Station
Brunswick Maine 04011 USA
(207) 725-3288