Rags make paper
Paper makes money
Money makes banks
Banks make loans
Loans make beggars
Beggars make rags

In our increasingly paperless society, this traditional verse may lack some of its original resonance.  But while most paper is no longer made from rags and many financial transactions are conducted electronically, recent history suggests that the lines about banks and loans may still carry meaning.  And the statement that “paper makes money” has multiple layers of significance for the collections featured in this exhibition.

Among its resources for the study of early American history, the John Carter Brown Library holds archival records for companies founded by three prominent Providence families—the Browns, the Arnolds, and the Tillinghasts. Spanning the 18th to the early 20th centuries, the documents and account books in these collections shed light on nearly every aspect of the developing American economy. In addition, the unusual completeness of these business archives provides the opportunity to examine how early American firms managed their progressively more complex activities. The Brown and Arnold family collections arrived at the Library with their sets of account books and bundles of records largely intact, making it possible to trace the practices that enabled these companies to profitably operate locally and across great distances. 

This exhibition explores what it took to “mind” one’s business in the 18th and early 19th centuries. During that period, literacy and numeracy became critical skills for merchants and traders, and sophisticated methods of recording and analyzing transactions and investments enabled companies to more efficiently strategize their use of capital. Beyond being a boon to historical research, these accumulations of paper generated by clerks, bookkeepers and accountants did, indeed, make money. 

Keeping Books
Business archives that extend into the 20th century may seem somewhat out of place in a library known primarily for its holdings of rare books, maps, and prints relating to the early history of the Western hemisphere. But the presence of these records reflects the origin of the John Carter Brown Library as part of the Brown family’s investments in book collecting. 
George Parker Winship, the first JCB Librarian, brought the Browns’ early business records from their counting house on 50 South Main Street to his office, intending to use the papers in his research for a book about the family. He never completed this project, but the deposit of the family business archive planted the seed of a vision of the Library as a center for research in the history of commerce and entrepreneurialism.  With the support of the Committee for Research in Economic History in the 1940s, eminent economic historian and Brown professor James B. Hedges spent several years calendaring the papers and preparing his authoritative work, The Browns of Providence Plantations—a masterful study of the workings of the Brown family’s companies and the impact of their activities on the early American economy.

Recognition of the importance of the Brown family’s business records led to the deposit of business archives from two other Providence families—the Tillinghasts and the Arnolds. Since transactions and activities of all of these families intersect in myriad and important ways, the collective body of information presented by the records offers a treasure-trove for researchers in economic, political, and social history.

The Brown Family Business Records
One of the largest and most complete archives of an American mercantile family, the JCB’s collection of Brown family business records traces the Browns’ economic activities through seven generations.

Captain James Brown died in 1739, leaving five young sons and a daughter. His eldest son, James, died off the coast of Virginia in 1750. The four surviving brothers—Nicholas, Joseph, John, and Moses—were trained in business by their uncle Obadiah Brown, and by 1762 had formed Nicholas Brown & Company. 

Each brother brought unique talents to the partnership—Nicholas as a steady administrator, Joseph as a mechanical advisor, John as a confident adventurer, and Moses as the protégé of their uncle Obadiah and ultimately a social and political force in the community. The first company did not last beyond the Revolution, but other successful ventures by the four brothers in maritime trade, manufacturing, and investments catapulted the family into economic and social prominence.

The bulk of the JCB’s collection concerns Nicholas Brown’s activities as he reformulated his company with other partners—George Benson and later Thomas Poynton Ives. The records show that the firms of Brown & Benson, Brown, Benson & Ives, and Brown & Ives continued a tradition of operating primarily as family-run businesses, with the descendants of the Ives and related Goddard and Gilman families filling the ranks of clerks, agents, and partners.

The Arnold Family Business Records
Welcome Arnold started his business career as an agent for the lime producers of Smithfield, Rhode Island.  In 1776 he opened a dry goods store on the Providence wharf and eventually entered the maritime trade.  Success in these adventures allowed Arnold to expand his activities into distilling (at one point in partnership with the Browns [Case 5], and land investment.

Samuel G. Arnold assumed the control of the company upon his father’s death in 1798.  As the Surviving Heirs of Welcome Arnold & Co. and the New Firm of S. G. Arnold & Co., Samuel pursued broader shipping activities and expanded the company’s manufacturing interests and real estate investments.  He also served as the chief business agent of the Plainfield Union Manufacturing Company, a cotton mill on the Moosup River. Because of his position with PUMC, the company’s financial records, including bills, receipts, account books, and agent books are included with the Arnold family business records. 

The majority of the Arnold papers were received in 1944 as a gift from Rhode Island Governor and United States Senator Theodore Francis Green, a descendant of the Arnold family. Additional deposits were made by Senator Green’s sister in law, Edith Green, and Mr. and Mrs. Burgess Green. The records remained largely inaccessible to researchers until 2006, when a gift from JCB Associate Ira L. Unschuld ’86 enabled the Library to hire a manuscript librarian to organize the papers and to address the critical conservation work needed for parts of the collection.

The Tillinghast Family Business Records
Captain Joseph Tillinghast, the great-grandson of Pardon Tillinghast (one of the original proprietors of Providence), was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Based in Providence for his entire career, Joseph followed his half-brother Allin Brown into the maritime trade. Eventually he became engaged in the West Indian trade, primarily with St. Croix. Many of his early voyages were managed by Nicholas Brown & Company.

 In 1795, after his active sailing days, Joseph formed a partnership with his eldest son, William Earle Tillinghast, and Benjamin Gorton, his wife’s first cousin. William E. Tillinghast and Benjamin Gorton continued in business until William’s death in 1817.

A smaller collection in comparison to the Brown and Arnold papers, the Tillinghast family business records were given to the Library by William Davis Miller in 1938. The nine archival boxes and 29 account books contain correspondence from 1772 through 1880 and account records from 1747 through 1849.  After the settlement of William Tillinghast’s estate in 1817, the records consist primarily of his relatives’ accounts.



George Bickham. The united pen-men for forming the man of business: or, The young- man's copy-book; containing various examples necessary in trade and merchandize . . . London, 1743. 

An abridgement of The Universal Penman-- George Bickham’s classic writing manual, The United Pen-men consists of 40 copper plate engravings extracted expressly for the task of “Forming the Man of Business.”  Bickham explicitly connected the skill of writing with keeping accounts, and thus to the economic success of the nation:

To the Merchants, and Tradesmen of Great-Britain. . . Writing and Accounts, no Less than Trade & Commerce, are become the Glory of Great Britain.—And as, by Your extensive Trading, and frequent Use of the Pen, You have increas’d the Wealth of each particular City, and made this Island distinguish’d and honour’d in all the known Parts of the World . . .

In addition to presenting examples of the forms most frequently used in commerce, this manual promised to transform the young man entering the trade into the ideal Representative depicted on the frontispiece.

This Height of Excellence whilst you pursue,
Accept, each Penman, Your just Merits Due!
To This as You advance, the Picture is of You!


“Agreement between all the co.[mpany] of Nicholas Brown & Co.”  January 15th, 1768.  Brown family business records.

This agreement reflects the complex accounting arrangements necessary to manage the various activities engaged in by the brothers as Nicholas Brown & Company. 


Invitation from John Brown, printed on the back of a playing card. 1788.

The king of hearts playing card used by John Brown as an invitation to a dance reflects something of his sense of status as an eminent man of business.


Receipt for a disbursement of $250 on John Carter Brown’s account for the purchase of books.  December 14, 1859.  Brown & Ives receipt book, June 4, 1859–September 10, 1860.  Brown family business records.

In the 19th century, the family business had evolved into the company of Brown & Ives, with a myriad array of investments. The partners in the firm included Nicholas Brown’s grandson, John Carter Brown, whose interest in book collecting formed the basis of this Library. This receipt is signed by John Russell Bartlett—bookseller, diplomat, and Rhode Island Secretary of State—who mentored John Carter Brown and his sons in developing the family’s book collection, and who issued the Library’s first catalogue, the Bibliotheca Americana, from 1875 to 1882.


Welcome Arnold to Randall Holden, March 12, 1789.   Copy of orders for the voyage of the Sloop Polly to Surinam, March to July 1789.   Arnold family business records.

This copy of the orders given by Welcome Arnold to Randall Holden, master of the sloop Polly, articulates the major concerns of Rhode Island merchants engaged in the West Indian trade. Arnold admonishes Holden to pay particular care to the valuable cargo—especially as the mules and cod sent for sale in the islands are “much better than common.” Also characteristic is Arnold’s exhortation to remember that “dispatch is the life of business,” a sentiment repeated in many of his letters, and echoed in correspondence between the Browns and their employees.

Sir you being Master of my Sloop the Polly now ready for Sailing, my orders are that you proceed directly for Surrinam, and when you arrive there Sell off all your cargo to the Most advantage and take in a full load of Molasses with a few casks of Rum, very good Sugar & Cocoa but git as much Molasses as you can bring, with half a doz Hh.d Rum & as many of Sugar, & the Surplus of your cargo lay out in Cocoa & Coffee as you Judge Most for my Interest—Call on Cap.t Hopkins & git the amo.t of Nine Hh.ds Tobacco that he shipped of mine to Holland some time ago—and desire him to Send the Accounts by you—you.l be exceedingly Carefull that your mules are taken good care of they are Two years old this Spring, therefore I expect you.l git more then any has been sold at—be as Industrious as possible remembering that dispatch is the life of business—

After wishing you a Successful voyage I am your Friend and owner
Signed Welcome Arnold

Remember your cod Fish are much better than common.


Waste book, Samuel G. Arnold & Co. October 20, 1798–December 10, 1800. Arnold family business records.

After his death in 1798, Welcome Arnold’s eldest son, Samuel G. Arnold, succeeded him as head of the family business. This waste book, started when Samuel took over the company, shows the convention of covering leather-bound account books with canvas, and includes a label revealing the name of the stationer who supplied many of the books used by Samuel G. Arnold & Company.


Sloop Polly & Betsey, day book at St. Croix, March 29–May 26, 1796. Tillinghast family business records.

“Sloop Polly & Betsey  in Acct. Current with Gorton & Tillinghast.” Sloop Polly & Betsey, account book, 1795–1796. Tillinghast family business records.


The sloop Polly & Betsey was one of the most important vessels in the Tillinghasts’ trade with St. Croix, as the cover of this day book indicates. The account book reflects transactions made by William E. Tillinghast in partnership with Benjamin Gorton.  

Exhibition may be seen in Reading Room from September 12 through
december 2012.

Exhibition prepared by Kim Nusco, Reference and Manuscript Librarian, John Carter Brown Library