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Pennell Family papers

Identifier: M315

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Scope and Content

The Pennell Family papers date from 1790 to 2014 and measure 7 linear feet in 7 boxes. The papers are arranged in eight series: Jacob Pennell, James Pennell, Ship Accounts & Records, Correspondence, Genealogy, Family Documents, Woodside Family Documents, and Photographs.

The Jacob Pennell series (1799-1840) contains ship accounts and records from his shipping business along with correspondence, bank notes, and other financial records.

The James Pennell series (1830-1883) consists of ship accounts and records, correspondence, bank statements, and other personal material.

The Ship Accounts and Records series (1835-1891) is arranged chronologically and alphabetically by ship name. The records largely consist of handwritten ship logs, cash receipts, journals, and diaries that depict the shipping industry in Maine during the nineteenth century.

The Correspondence series (1795-1938) contains a large collection of letters to and from various family members across the generations, including from James Pennell to his mother and father in the 1850s and letters to Nellie Pennell at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Genealogy series (2014, n.d.) is made up of genealogical research of the family. The research includes nineteenth-century notes and family histories from the Chase, Pennell, and Reed families.

The Family Documents series (1738-1933) includes materials on Susan O. Chase, Julia C. Pennell, William W. Pennell, Nellie M. Pennell, Carroll, and Lida O. Pennell, the Dunning Family, and Abbie Reed Pennell, in addition to family recipes, postcards and holiday cards, and deeds.

The Woodside Family Documents series (1843-1918) contains ship deeds and accounts, correspondence and receipts, and other personal documents from multiple members of the Woodside family.

The Photographs series (circa 19th century) includes photographs of James Pennell and his family.


  • Creation: 1738 - 2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1790 - 1880


Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Biographical / Historical

The Pennell family settled in Brunswick, Maine in 1765. In the 1760s, the Pennell family was already in the ship building business constructing wooden cargo ships. Pennell ships carried cargo, including timber, wine, salt, and fruit, to various ports along the coast. The Pennells also captained many of their ships. In the 1790s, Thomas Pennell II (1739-1812) was a shipwright in the area.

By 1800, the family business had expanded to shipbuilding and merchant shipping. Thomas II’s son, Jacob Pennell (1778-1841), built the business into an empire, constructing twenty ships in Middle Bay between 1810 and 1841. The Pennell family became one of the wealthiest and most famous shipbuilding families in the United States. The business, the “Pennell Brothers,” allowed them to acquire massive success and wealth. From 1760 to 1874, the family would build over ninety “tall ships” that could weigh up to 1,400 tons. Pennell’s largest ship was called the “Benjamin Seawall” and sank in 1903 off the coast of Taiwan. Jacob Pennell bought most of the land that the Pennell family had historically settled south of Brunswick. The family built numerous mansions along “Pennellville Road” that remain historic homes today. The area was called Pennellville.

By the 1890s, metal steamships were replacing wooden ships in the commercial shipping industry. Railroads and other forms of transportation were also on the rise. Wooden sailing ships were becoming obsolete. By the 1900s, the Pennells shipyard had gone out of business.


7 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence, account books, journals and diaries, deeds, and genealogical material documenting the shipbuilding and shipping concerns, and family and household matters, of multiple generations of the Pennell family in Brunswick, Maine, and of their extended relations, including the Chase and Woodside families.

Guide to the Pennell Family Papers
Emma Barton-Norris
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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