Skip to main content

John Ayers papers

Identifier: MS-0221

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of a diary (1766-1793), four commonplace books (1761-1802), and four notebooks of poems (1769- 1788). The commonplace books (1761-1802) contain stories and information copied from English newspapers of the time. There is one book of prologues and epilogues from contemporary plays (1781-1794) with references to two popular actors David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy. Another book contains numerous speeches about doctors. Ayers himself was the victim of an unskilled physician following a fall at the age of one, and he appears to have suffered from the lack of proper treatment for the rest of his life. This may account for his interest in quack doctors. The four notebooks of poems (1769-1788) appear to be a combination of original works by Ayers and the works of other, sometimes well-known, poets. The poems that have been attributed to John Ayers are written in three different hands. Though Ayers does not mention his poetry writing in his diary, he does quote the poetry of others in it. Also, some of the themes of the poems attributed to him, such as death, love and inconstancy, and the misery of life, are themes that recur in his diary. The diary (1766-1793) is numbered with 98 pages, the first eight of which are missing. John Ayers recounts events of both his public and personal life, along with his own thoughts on these events. Ayers gives a detailed picture of the work of British customs officials in the last half of the eighteenth century. He mentions the capture of French ships during the Seven Years' War. He also mentions the prevalence of smuggling along the Yorkshire coast throughout the late eighteenth century. Ayers describes the customs service as poorly run and administered. The money was often stolen by the officers themselves, who were over-worked and under-paid. In the course of his career Ayers encountered many unscrupulous officials. He resigned his post in 1792 with no regrets. Though Ayers lived during the time of the American Revolutionary War, it is never mentioned in his diary. He does give accounts of travel during this time for someone of his station, whether by coach or horse, and often on foot. Ayers traveled in the counties of Durham, where he lived, Middlesex where his mother lived, Northumberland, where his friend George Craster lived, and Yorkshire. Through his friendship with George Craster ([1734]-1772) a man of some wealth, Ayers enjoyed and recounts a little about the country estate parties and shooting parties of this period.


  • Creation: 1761-1802


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

John Ayers was born in 1738 at Uxbridge, Middlesex, England. The family moved to Taplon Common in 1749 where Ayers lived until he left for school in London. After school and various jobs in London, he went into government service. In 1758 Ayers was a coal-meter and also worked for the Navy Office as prize master, guarding captured ships. He was hopeful of the post of comptroller of Sunderland on the North Sea, but was disappointed. In 1760 Ayers was offered the post of Comptroller of Coals, Culm, and Cinders at Stockton (now Stockton-on-Tees) near Durham. In this post Ayers oversaw the coal coastal trade and travelled frequently to Yorkshire and Harblepool. He remained Coal Comptroller of Stockton until 1792.

Little is known of Ayers's personal life. In 1770 he married Jane Fawcett, and there were no children. Ayers was a free mason and wrote poetry.


0.41 Cubic Feet (1 legal half-size document box, 1 flat box (11 x 9 x 3 inches))

Language of Materials



John Ayers was born in 1738 at Uxbridge, Middlesex, England. The collection consists of a diary (1766-1793), four commonplace books (1761-1802), and four notebooks of poems (1769- 1788).


The provenance of this collection is uncertain. It is possible that it was purchased in England for the University's Tudor and Stuart Collection by Dr. Don Cameron Allen. It was transferred from Rare Books to the Manuscripts Department in June 1989.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Margaret Lambooy in June 1989.

John Ayers papers
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA