Search this catalogue

Historical Materials

Historical Materials  »    »  Babson, Edward

Babson, Edward

View related Fitz Henry Lane catalog entries (1) »

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)

(1) Amanda Stanwood Letters, Cape Ann Museum, Box P30A FF03.

Related tables: "Cadet" (Brig) »  //  Babson, Amanda Stanwood »  //  Babson, Annette »  //  Babson, John J. »  //  Babson, Nathaniel »  //  Surinam Trade »

1849 Journal Entry 11.29.1849
Hannah Babson
Journal II (1848-1850)
Cape Ann Library & Museum

"The Post Office looked very pretty indeed; it was done under the direction of Mr. Lane. The words at the top were made so as to appear transparent, and at the top of all was an eagle, with a wreath of flowers hanging down from its mouth, and encircling the letters. The hall was hung with colors
in festoons..."

Amanda Stanwood Babson Diary
Amanda Babson
December, 1839
Cape Ann Museum Library and Archive

Accounts about the Blizzard of 1839:

 15. Storm commenced last night—extremely pleasant all day till evening it increased and so continued thro’ this day with violence. never did I pass a more gloomy Sabbath. Fuller came in after tea wet through. he had been down to the wharfs and other places three four hours. he says it is dreadful storm and what makes it the worse people are drowning and no assistance can be rendered them the storm is raging so violent -

16. storm has abated some, and men are flocking by to assist the sufferers. many vessels ashore at the cove, steep rock and many of the men drowned. one woman found—and two women they dragged on shore alive and not much hurt—oh heavens what a storm this has been and how much distress it has brought. I hope Capt. Nickerson is safe if he came out of the Vineyard Saturday I fear he may not have reached the city before the storm came on. Father has been down to cove all day. he says it is a most dreadful sight.

17. pleasanter. had a meeting of the inhabitants last night and subscribed 4 or 5 hundred dollars for the poor shipwrecked mariners. poor souls how much they have suffered. many bodies have been found .

20. Mr Whaite is to preach the funeral sermon Sunday as the men will be buried from his church and Mr Smith delivers the prayers. there are 11 bodies.

27. oh what a night I past. the wind blew a hurricane worse than before—was up some time before light for it was impossible to sleep or feel easy

28. Miss Wharf came to help me try out my larder. a brig went all to pieces this morning about 4 o’clock in about the same place the others did. all on board was saved except the Captains Wife—three other vessels ashore at half moon beach—it has been a gloomy month . . .

view ]
Amanda Stanwood Babson Diary 1838-1840
Amanda Babson
1838-April 3, 1840.
Transcription by Stephanie Buck.
Cape Ann Museum Library and Archive
Amanda Stanwood Babson Diary July, 1838
Amanda Stanwood Babson
July 4-10, 1838
Cape Ann Museum Library and Archive

Accounts of parties, etc.:

4. Passed one of the gloomiest days possible entirely alone with my little girls all day - Mother and the children - David and his family having gone to Essex to pass the day and Richard, Hannah at a party on the water, thought much of my dear E - had several crying spells hoped that E passed it more pleasantly in Surinam if he had arrived and I hope sincerely he had. 

5. Invited at Emmeline’s to tea went at 1⁄2 past 5 found quite a party assembled - Capt. Elwell arrived home just as I got there - quite a joyful meeting he seemed very well and happy at returning once again to his family - seemed to feel a good deal at the loss of his mate Mr. Allen who was washed overboard. He had not been married long to Miss Leach, D & L sister - she has not had her senses since she heard of it till the last week. Very many shower thunder and lightning. I left the party and came home for I shld not be content away from my children in such a shower.

9. Expected Aunt Stacy to pass the day with me did not come till afternoon accompanied by Mary and babe - Capt. Elwell left - Solomon to sail in a few days - walked round town with Aunt S and left her at Mother B’s gave her 5 dollars thinking that Edward would do so if at home - she seemed very grateful for it - shed tears.

7. Delightful morn and my birthday - expect dear E will think of me today - look back with gratitude and thankfulness to the past year, for the health of my children and husband and the great happiness I have enjoyed I cannot be too thankful and trust the ensuing year will be attended with as much happiness - Cousin David Harraden came to pass a few days in town was happy to see him and invited him to spend his time here.

8. Attended meeting all day heard Mr Faye - found him quite tedious - went to walk in evening - several called in as they returned.

9. Invited to a party at Bass Rocks - declined going as the heat was excessive thermometer at 96 in the shade. Richard and Cousin D went around the Cape - stopped at Ann Norwood- tuned her piano. R was delighted with her. Went up to mother B’s in evening heard some fine singing and playing from David, Mrs Shipley, Clem Low - returned found people singing in Mrs Lows yard- joined them - was delighted at the performance W Dale, C Presson, Cousin D and Mrs Shipley sang many beautiful pieces.

10. Richard, Brother D and Cousin D went fishing - invitation to visit Aunt Haraden and C. Dolliver went down to Aunts to tea and Clem in the eve - had pleasant visit


Also filed under: Babson, Amanda Stanwood »

view ]
Brig Cadet Journal
Cape Ann Museum Library and Archive
photo (historical)
Daguerreotype of Amanda Stanwood Babson
c. 1840
Daguerreotype of Amanda Stanwood Babson (1811–1857)
Collection of the Cape Ann Museum.


Also filed under: Babson, Amanda Stanwood »

view ]
Edward Babson Ledger for Brig "Cadet"
Edward Babson
Cape Ann Museum Library and Archive
Portrait of Captain Edward Babson
late 1840s
Oil on canvas
27 x 34 in.
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass.

Edward Babson was master of the brig "Cadet" at the time when Lane painted the vessel’s portrait.

Also filed under: "Cadet" (Brig) »

Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Babson%2C+Edward (accessed June 16, 2024).
Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
Please share your knowledge with us: click here to leave feedback.