Edward Babson (February 18, 1811–November 27, 1879) was one of Gloucester’s most successful Surinam trading captains. He was the owner of the brig "Cadet," the subject of Lane's portrait, Brig "Cadet" in Gloucester Harbor.
Edward was the third son of the eight surviving children (five boys and three girls) of William Babson and his first wife Mary Griffin. Annette Babson was Edward's sister. One of Edward’s older brothers was John James Babson, the author of History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, first published by Procter Brothers in 1860. It remains the definitive history of pre-Civil War Cape Ann.
Edward’s father, William Babson, was a Gloucester maritime merchant with a store on Front Street who also, between 1808 and his death in 1848, owned, or part-owned, a sloop, eight schooners, a ship, and two brigs, one of which was the "Cadet."
Edward first went to sea at the age of thirteen on his father’s three-masted ship "Shylock." By the time of his marriage to Amanda Stanwood on November 12, 1833, Edward had already earned the title of captain and was a seasoned mariner, having voyaged to the East Indies, South America and the Mediterranean.
By 1836, Edward and his brother John James had become co-owners of the brig "Cadet," and for the next decade, Edward sailed her back and forth to South America. Surinam was to Gloucester what China was to Salem, and for the first half of the nineteenth century, Gloucester merchant ships monopolized the trade of exchanging salt fish for molasses. The fish was often of poor quality, destined for the mouths of plantation slaves, but the molasses was rich and dark and a necessary ingredient of the very lucrative New England rum business. The wealth of many of Gloucester’s merchant families was based on this trade.
Each trip took an average of four months, with twenty-three days at sea each way and a stop-over in Surinam that could last up to ten weeks. Time ashore was spent selling and unloading the incoming cargo, making necessary repairs to the ship, and purchasing the outgoing cargo. Edward was a very competitive sailor and took great pride in making his time at sea as short as possible, even entering the number of days each one took in his log. He also commented on other vessels and captains both faster and slower than his—once ruefully noting that his brother-in-law beat him home by six days.
Paramaribo, the capital of Surinam, was a cosmopolitan city with trading ships from all over the world sailing in and out, and Edward’s cargo reflected this. His account book for January 27, 1838 shows that on this trip, twenty-five percent of his revenue came from salt fish, with flour coming in a close second. The rest, amounting to just over half his sales, was in boxes of candles (spermaceti and beeswax) and Havana cigars, barrels of beef, salmon, pork, tobacco (some of which, he noted, was unfortunately damaged), and wine. There were also small kegs, bottles and boxes of oil, lard, cheese, raisins, and navy bread; over a thousand feet of lumber, ten dozen chairs, and a wherry that he sold for fifteen guilders.
Edward Babson's wife, Amanda, was the daughter of another well-placed captain, Richard Goss Stanwood and his second wife Hannah Harraden. Richard Stanwood also owned several vessels, one of which was the ship "Mount Wollaston," which he and six others purchased, refitted, and sent to the South Atlantic on a whaling voyage. Just before her marriage, Amanda wrote to her brother—who was away at sea himself—“We only see [father] at meal times and then he scarcely gives himself time to eat, he is so wholly devoted to the Mount Wollaston. We shall be rejoiced when the ship is gone for if it stays here much longer I should not wonder if father turned into a whale.” (1)
During the years of Edward's trips to South America, he and Amanda reared five children, living first on Front Street (now Main Street), and before purchasing the Charles H. Hovey estate on Summer Street, shared Amanda's brother Solomon Stanwood’s house. The Hovey estate was in what was a comparatively secluded rural area of town at the time. Edward later developed this area—known colloquially as “Babson Hill”—building tenement houses and selling off house lots.
In 1846, at the age of thirty-five, Edward retired from the sea, a wealthy merchant and the owner of more than eight ships. Although he continued to live in Gloucester, he had offices in Boston where he engaged in trade with, among other places, Valparaiso, Chile and San Francisco, California. In Gloucester, he was a member of the Board of Trustees of Oak Grove Cemetery, a director of the Gloucester Bank (which his grandfather had co-founded), and a staunch Universalist.
Edward and Amanda's children were: Hannah (December 7, 1834–September 2, 1909), who never married; Amanda (April 6, 1836–August 4, 1889), who married Edwin Hervey Davis; Edward (September 20, 1839–July 26, 1880), who married Harriet Chapin Rice; Francis H. (November 19, 1843–January 16, 1904), who never married; and Isabella (September 14, 1848–February 16, 1917), who married Gustavus A. Lane.
Amanda died on May 6, 1857 at the age of forty-six. Two years later, on June 8, 1859, Edward married twenty-five year old Julia Friend, daughter of George and Mary (Sayward) Friend. George Friend was another vessel-owning merchant in town and a deacon of the Universalist Church. Edward and Julia had two children: Fanny Gilmore (March 9, 1860–April 28, 1892), after whom Edward named one of his schooners, and George (January 19, 1862–March 4, 1890). Neither of them ever married.
– Stephanie Buck (February, 2014)