Capt. John Bertram was born in the Channel Island of Jersey (off the coast of France) in 1796 and died in Salem on March 22, 1882. His family moved to Salem in 1807. He is buried in Harmony Grove cemetery.
Starting as a cabin boy at age 16, he ably filled every job on ship and eventually became "Captain" Bertram. His career as merchant and ship-owner was long and he principally engaged in South American trade for rubber and hides, Zanzibar for gum copal, ivory, coffee, spices and he benefited from the California Gold Rush. He had a long-standing interest in the building of railroads across America, owning stocks in Easter Railroad Company and founding the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad.
His legacy remains strong due to his extensive philanthropy for assorted charities in Salem. In 1860, he founded Old Ladies' Home (now the Brookhouse Home). He provided a house on Charter St. and $25,000 to create the first Salem Hospital. In 1877, he founded the Bertram Home for Aged Men (now called John Bertram House). In 1882 he presented a home for working women to the Woman's Friend Society.
His family also provided the building to house the Salem Public Library. Originally built in 1855 as a home for Captain John Bertram and his family, this mansion at 370 Essex Street was built in the Italianate brick and brownstone style. After John Bertram's death, in a letter dated December 1, 1887, his widow and daughters offered the Mansion on Essex Street to the City of Salem for use as a Public Library. The offer was accepted and the Salem Public Library opened its doors on July 8, 1889.
For all his monetary successes, John Bertram had many personal tragedies. He supported his mother after his father's early death at 51 years old, his two wives died in childbirth, and his two sons died in infancy. Even his adopted son died at 41, childless, leaving him with no male heir. In 1887, after Bertram's death, his widow and daughters donated their mansion at 370 Essex St. the city of Salem for use as a Public Library. The new library building opened on July 8, 1889.
Bertram Field, the public sports field behind the Collins Middle School was named for Capt. John Bertram.
- Vertical File in Salem Collection - Bertram, John
- John Bertram Salem Public Library website info.
- John Bertram Salem Tales, Salem Web.com
- "J. Bertram obituary, Salem Evening News, Mar.22, 1882, story March 27, 1882.
- The legacies of Captain John Bertram [videocassette produced by Salem Access Television by Eric K. Smith
- John Bertram of Salem, Massachusetts by J. Bertram,1964
- Essex Institute Historical Collection Vol. 16, p.37-54; Vol. 21, p.81-96; Vol.66, p. 59-60, Vol. 70, p.179-180.
- Historical Sketch of Salem by Osgood, p. 35-36.
- Ships and Sailors of Old Salem by Ralph D. Paine, p. 442-450