Theodore Lyman (1753-1839)

Theodore Lyman, Shipping Merchant, of Kennebunk & Boston

Associated Houses

Lyman House

Kennebunk

Lyman Estate

Waltham

He was born at York, Maine, and went to Kennebunk where he worked in the store of Waldo Emerson. Emerson died in 1774 and his widow survived only a few months more, leaving their 13-year old daughter, Sarah, all alone, and very wealthy. In 1776, Lyman married Sarah and for the next three years served as Adjutant of the 3rd York County Militia during the Revolutionary War. From 1779, he used Sarah's fortune to build a fleet of ships with which to involve himself in the West India Trade, which meant the slave trade. A contemporary account read: "He rapidly accumulated property (but) not having the liberal and generous spirit for which Emerson was distinguished". After the slave trade was abolished in New England in 1783 and the death of his wife and two of his children by 1786, he entered the China Trade in Boston.

He was among the first to send ships to the Pacific Northwest exporting furs to China and importing silk, tea, opium, ginseng, porcelain, nankeen and cassia bark to the States. He also bought gold bullion from the Spanish and Mexican silver dollars, selling it to the Chinese at a vast profit. Yet, despite his rich cargoes having to avoid seas teeming with pirates, he refused to allow cannons on his ships. In 1788, he married Lydia Pickering Williams of Salem (the niece of Colonel Timothy Pickering, twice the U.S. Secretary of State) and brought her back to Kennebunk where he had recently completed building the Lyman House. In 1790, he left Maine and settled permanently in Boston at a house on Bowdoin Square/Tremont Street at Southack's Court (later Howard Street), before building a summer home on 400-acres at Waltham, known today as the Lyman Estate. He was a keen horticulturalist and developed the beautiful gardens which can still be enjoyed there. One daughter from his first marriage (Olive, Mrs Henry Paine) survived to adulthood and he had four further children by his second marriage: George, continued his business and inherited the Lyman Estate, and Theodore II was Mayor of Boston.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 17/11/2020 and last updated on 19/11/2020.
The History of Wells and Kennebunk from the Earliest Settlement to the Year 1820 (1875), by Edward Emerson Bourne