The lawyer and antiquarian Benjamin Ropes Nichols was born on 18 May 1786 to Capt. Ichabod (1749-1839) and Lydia Ropes (1754-1835) Nichols, members of two of Salem's most prominent families. In 1800, he entered Harvard College, where a brother, Ichabod (class of 1802), and cousin, Benjamin Peirce (1778-1831, class of 1801), had already distinguished themselves as scholars. Benjamin, too, graduated with distinction in 1804.
After graduation, Nichols returned to Salem to practice law. During a brief tenure there as county clerk, he organized and 'renovated' the town's records and was later employed by the State to organize the records of Plymouth Colony. In 1813, he married Mary Pickering (1793-1863) of Salem, with whom he had several children, including at least one set of twins.
In 1824, the Nichols moved to Boston to further his career. There he earned a reputation as a skillful financier and as clerk of the Boston and Providence and Boston and Lowell Railroad Corporations. His deep interest in historical (antiquarian) matters flourished in Boston and earned his election to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1829. Nichols died on 30 April 1848.