Henry Taber portrait used courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

February 2022

Dear Grandpa Henry,

Please excuse the informality—I write from the 21st century where life is much less formal. For some years I have had a small photograph of the wonderful oil portrait of you near me and wished so often we could speak. As I explore more about our extended family, I’ve been given an exercise that suggests I write to someone with whom I cannot speak. So, I took up the challenge. Let me introduce myself: I am your 3rd great granddaughter (you to Abby, to Sarah, to Constance, to my mother Sally). After retiring from full-time employment (higher education administrator and archaeologist in prehistoric Italy) I have taken up studying our rich family history—both archaeology and genealogy offer ways to reconstruct parts of the past. Your story has always fascinated me, and you, born in 1795 and living until 1892, are right in the middle of those ancestors who arrived in North America in the 17th century and those of us in the 21st century. From the 17th century I know of eight male ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower  (in addition to two daughters and three wives) as well as another approximately 30 men—and their wives and children—I am still sorting this out. This last group includes our common direct ancestor Philip Taber (1604-1692) who arrived in 1633.

Your approach to religion has fascinated me—the family overall moved from Congregational and Quakers to primarily (but not exclusively) Unitarian and that was the church I went to as a child. Your granddaughter, Sarah Hunt Snow, left notes of stories about how you approached the demand that Abby give up the gold watch as well as the demand—not followed—that you disavow marrying out of Meeting two Methodist sisters, the second a year after your first wife died. You refused to disavow your marriages to the wives and were subsequently read out of Meeting, yet you and your wife continued to attend services in the Methodist church and the Quaker Meeting. And you continued to financially support both places of worship. These last pieces of our history were saved and  shared by your granddaughter Sarah Hunt Snow, an important family historian.

Your daughter Abby, as you recall, compiled a carte de visite album of kin and neighbors around the mid-1860s with the backdrop of the Civil War and the fascinating business developments of that time—many of which involved you. These included earlier development of the packet boats of which you owned and commanded a number; the railroad that Grinnell urged for the area so better movement of goods could happen—furthering the development of industry in the area including the banking and insurance industries in New Bedford. Additionally, you had a hand, critically, in  the development of steel, under the efforts of Zoheth Durfee, who while not a relative was frequently in discussions with you, Grinnell, and probably James Arnold. Zoheth’s carte de visite, you remember, is in the album—Abby gave him the sobriquet The Learned Blacksmith. You, Grinnell, and Arnold are also in the Abby’s album. With all these efforts and more, New Bedford contributed both financial and  intellectual capital to the development of the United States. And you were one of a number of major players.

Your daughter, Abby, read the 1860s photo album to her granddaughter, my great aunt Agatha Snow, in the late 1880s/early 1890s. Decades later, probably in 1942, Agatha penciled in the stories Abby told her about the people and neighbors whose cartes de visite are in the album. When the album was entrusted to me for study my cousin said she had thought to erase these pencil comments—they make the richness of this album today (now in the New Bedford Whaling Museum) and I indicated how pleased I was that they were not erased. Agatha, penciling in Abby’s comments, included the fortuitous mention of her niece Deborah Snow Simonds who, as Deborah Snow, married Simonds in September 1941, and so we now know that Agatha made these notes after the marriage date and more than likely after the deaths of her mother, Sarah Hunt Snow, and  Agatha’s sister, Edith Snow, in the spring of 1942—the marriage date provides what archaeologists call a terminus post quem, or point after which. I studied the carte de visite album and the people portrayed, their neighbors, and the roles they played in 19th century New Bedford. Although you know all of this history, my studies present  local history and may be considered one example of petite histoire—the account of specific households and neighborhoods, reminding us of the continuing importance of both family and neighborhoods, real or virtual [1].

Agatha with her artistic brilliance left us a small sketch book created during her trip to Europe (with two Hathaway cousins, Margaret and Sylvia, and Elizabeth Hussey) in the spring of 1912, leaving the New York harbor two days after the sinking of the Titanic, before the surviving passengers, rescued onto the Carpathia, were even back in the New York harbor. The sketchbook and my study of it [2] show us what these travelers saw in that very interesting time and allow us a peek on Europe shortly before the outbreak of WWI. Agatha’s caricatures and cryptic  comments also provided some interesting puzzles to solve.

Henry, my working title of the final major work on which  I am embarking is From Pilgrims to Abolitionists and Beyond. We know who the ‘pilgrims’ were and the 19th century Abolitionists, a group to which you, Loum Snow, Humphrey Hathaway Swift, and many others belonged. The ‘Beyond’ in this instance starts with Horatio Hathaway (1831-1898), directly descended from Arthur Hathaway (my 8th great grandfather), who with his son arrived from England around 1630. Horatio, as you recall, was a China trader and whaler in the Pacific and founded the Hathaway Manufacturing Company in 1888. One of his initial investors was Hetty Green who contributed an initial investment of $25,000.

Horatio’s group of mills was the not the first in our extended family, for those we must turn to  Loammi or Loum Snow (1779-1823), known well as the Captain of the ship the Ann Alexander  when he met with the English fleet who were repairing damages a few days after the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805.  Snow sold lumber for repairs to the battered ship; the lumber on the Ann Alexander was personally owned by Snow and the ship supplied as well flour and apples they had on board.  Captain Snow and the Ann Alexander soon moved on to the straits of Gibraltar where they came upon the new 74-gun frigate United States and gave them the news of the death of Lord Nelson. [3]

After that encounter with the English fleet after the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1813, Capt. Snow, along with Jireh Swift (1773-1857, brother of Nancy Swift, Loum’s wife) and Joseph Whelden, half-brother of Snow, built in Acushnet one of the first cotton mills in Massachusetts. A photograph of the walls can be found is available [4, p.62]. And we note that Horatio Hathaway and his mills, developed under the name of the Hathaway Manufacturing Company, follows the extended family traditions of China trading, whaling, shipping, and manufacturing.

Hathaway Manufacturing Company survived decades beyond Horatio’s death and merged in 1955 with the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates (Adams, MA) and became known as Berkshire Hathaway Mfg. By the 1960s, Berkshire Hathaway had declined to seven plants and 6,000 employees, but still annually produced one quarter of a billion yards of material that sold for more than $60 million. The assets, and a sizable amount of cash on the balance sheet, caught the eye of Warren Buffett, an up-and-coming but little-known investor from Omaha, Nebraska.

Through his investment firm, Buffett Partnership Limited, Buffett started buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway at $7.60 a share. He eventually paid an average of $14.86 a share, or a total of $14 million, and took control of the company on May 10, 1965 [5] And soon Berkshire Hathaway Investments was born and continues to flourish in the 21st century.

Henry, we are part of an extended family whose impact stretches from the early 17th century to the 21st century. I only wish you and I could meet to discuss the family and their adventures as well as the centuries of their contributions to the United States and the world. In closing, I want you to know that almost every day I wear the lovely gold bracelet you gave Sally on the occasion of your 50th  wedding anniversary [6].

[1]        Lukesh, Susan Snow, Frozen in Time, an early carte de visite album from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Second Edition, 2021; https://agathasnowabroad.com

[2]        Lukesh, Susan Snow, Agatha! Agatha Snow Abroad: A Sketch Book from her 1912 European Tour, 2020; https://susanslukeshllcentury.com/frozen-in-time/

[3]        Representative men and old families of southeastern Massachusetts …, J.H. Beers & Co. Volume 3: pp 1437-1440

[4]       A history of the town of Acushnet, Bristol county, state of Massachusetts, Franklyn Howland, Nabu Press (2010).

[5]        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Buffett.

[6]        “Starting with a Bracelet and a Family Tree: How Family Artifacts Inspired and Informed My Genealogical Search,” American Ancestors, Summer 2013: 44-46. 

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