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Babson, John J.

John James Babson and Fitz Henry Lane were distantly related. They shared a common ancestor in Robert Elwell and were therefore sixth cousins. Lane also did several paintings for members of Babson's extended family.

J.J. Babson (June 15, 1809–April 13, 1886) was the second son of the eight surviving children (five boys and three girls) of William Babson and his first wife Mary Griffin. His immediate younger brother was the esteemed Surinam captain Edward Babson with whom he co-owned the brig Cadet for several years.

John James’s father, William Babson, was a Gloucester maritime merchant with a store on Front Street who also owned, or part-owned, a sloop, eight schooners, a ship and two brigs, between 1808 and his death in 1848. He sent his ships trading to South America and across the Atlantic to Europe.

In 1817, John James's older brother William died at the age of fifteen, making John James the oldest son and the one to be groomed to run the family business. He began working in the Front Street store when he was fourteen and remained in the business until his death. This apparently gave him time to pursue his other interests, which tended toward history and education, and in these fields he led a long life of public service.

At the age of twenty-one, John James was a member of the newly formed Gloucester Lyceum, an organization dedicated to disseminating knowledge through a public lecture series. The guest speakers were a mix of local men along with professors and ministers from Boston and surrounding towns, and the occasional eminent guest speaker such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who spoke on The Spirit of the Age in 1850, and Wendell Phillips on Reminiscences of Foreign Travel in 1851. (1)

In 1830, the year the Lyceum began, John James’ father, William Babson, led a debate on Does the Merchant, Mariner, Mechanic or Farmer enjoy upon the whole the greatest share of happiness? (2) John James, supported by W.E.P. Rogers, argued for the mariner and Addison Gilbert for the farmer. (3)

A few years later, John James Babson gave a lecture on Early Maritime Discoveries.  By 1837, he was on the Lyceum Board of Directors, serving as President, and after it became the Sawyer Free Library, was one of its Trustees. He was also a cashier at the Gloucester Bank (which his grandfather had co-founded) for many years, and Bank Commissioner of Massachusetts in 1864-5. 

Babson served on the School Committee for more than three decades and was Superintendent of Schools in 1855–56, and again from 1862–70. His horticultural interests led to his being President of the Cape Ann Horticultural Society and a Trustee of the Essex Agricultural Society. He was a member of the House of Representatives for five years, and of the Senate in 1861–62.

John James Babson was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and authored the book History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, first published by Procter Brothers in 1860. This work remains the definitive history of pre-Civil War Cape Ann. He published an addendum titled Notes and Additions to the History of Gloucester, in 1876, and was working on a revised edition of the History at the time of his death. Interestingly, the project had not originally been his. Dr. William Ferson, urged on by Dr. Ebenezer Dale, who saw a need for a written history of the town for posterity, had amassed a large amount of material before he was defeated by the enormity of the task and passed it on to the young and enthusiastic John James Babson.

John James was twice married, first on June 17, 1832, to Mary Coffin Rogers (July 10, 1812–December 13, 1842), who was the daughter of Timothy Rogers and Clarissa Coffin. John James and Mary had five children: William 3rd (1833–1919), John James Jr. (1835–46), Robert E. (1837–1913), Charles M. (1840–41), Mary C. (1842–?).

His second wife, whom he married on June 14, 1851, was Lydia Ann Mason (2/9/1822 - 1/11/1907), the daughter of Alphonso Mason and Lucy Stratton, with whom he had one child: John James Jr. (1854–90).

(1) Sawyer Free Library, Records of the Gloucester Lyceum, Book 1, 1830–1853, 118, 130.

(2) Ibid., 22.

(3) Cape Ann Advertiser, December 2, 1881.

Related tables: Babson History of the Town of Gloucester »  //  Babson, Edward »

History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Including the Town of Rockport
John J. Babson
Procter Brothers of Gloucester, Massachusetts

John James Babson wrote History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann in 1860. This is the source of much information about Lane, including the history of the family and the source of Lane's partial paralysis as being the seeds of the apple-peru. (Nicandra physalodes, a member of the nightshade family of plants).

As Dunlap and Buck note (1) , Babson knew Lane, and thanked him for furnishing “with characteristic kindness, sketches for the engravings in this work.” (2). That sentence implies that Lane made sketches for all of the illustrations, but that they were engraved by someone else. “SMITH” seemed to have actually engraved several of these, as his name appears on the prints. Lane’s name is not evident. 

The illustrations most likely to have been Lane’s are Mr. White’s house near Meetinghouse Green (page 230), Second Parish Meeting House, West Gloucester, taken down in 1846 (page 266), the house of William Card on Front Street (page 452), and First Parish Meeting House, 1738-1826 (page 498). There were also black-and-white reproductions of several Lane paintings.

(1) Sarah Dunlap and Stephanie Buck, Fitz Henry Lane: Family and Friends. (Gloucester, MAChurch & Mason Publishing; in association with the Cape Ann Historical Museum2007),120-121.

(2) John James Babson, History of the Town of Gloucester Cape Ann, Including the Town of Rockport. (Gloucester, MA: Procter Brothers, 1860), 258. 

(3) Dunlap and Buck, 504n. 

Also filed under: Professional »

The Fisheries of Gloucester, from the first Catch by the English in 1623, to the Centennial Year 1876
John J. Babson
for Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia
Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed July 24, 2024).
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