At New Bedford, this Commonwealth, a point so long famous the world round for its whaling industry, a business carried on to an extent and success that made it the wealthiest place in proportion to its population of any point in New England, and a city that has since been hardly less conspicuous as a cotton manufacturing point, there still reside representatives of the Rotch family; here where, since the middle of the eighteenth century, have lived seven or eight generations of Rotches, than whom as a family perhaps no other has had greater influence in developing New Bedford’s character and prosperity and shaping its history.
There follows in chronological order from the first American ancestor of the New Bedford Rotch family the lineage of the late Hon. William J. Rotch, who was so conspicuous in the life of the city, with some of the earlier and later family history.
William Rotch, a native of Salisbury, England, born in 1670, came to America not far from the year 1700, and settled in Provincetown. The records evidence that early in the eighteenth century he was a prominent citizen and took an active part in town affairs, his name often appearing in subscriptions for valuable publications; among the archives of Massachusetts is a petition presented in 1741 to the Legislature by citizens of Provincetown in which William Rotch signs first. The Christian name of his wife was Hannah and they had sons Joseph and Benjamin.
Joseph Rotch, son of William, born in 1704, married in Nantucket Feb. 21, 1733, Love, born Feb. 9, 1713, daughter of Thomas and Deborah (Coffin) Macy, granddaughter of John and Deborah (Gardner) Macy and great-granddaughter of Thomas Macy, the first immigrant to Nantucket in 1659. Joseph Rotch lived for a time in Braintree and Falmouth. Later he went to Nantucket. He became an enterprising merchant there and was held in high estimation by his fellow citizens. He removed in 1765 to New Bedford, whose beautiful harbor he selected as being especially eligible and advantageous for the prosecution of the whale fishery. “This event,” as stated by one of the historians of New Bedford, “was of the utmost importance, and this acquisition of capital, accompanied with the ripe experience, clear-headed sagacity and skilled methods of this accomplished merchant, gave an impetus to the infant industry of New Bedford which insured its permanence and success.” It was Mr. Rotch that gave the name Bedford to the village, which was then only a part of Dartmouth. Mr. Rotch purchased, besides several smaller lots, ten acres of land in one tract in the center of what is now the business portion of the city of New Bedford, and was identified in many ways with the early history of the town. His house, situated on what was formerly known as Rotch’s Hill, was burned by the British troops during the Revolutionary war. He died in 1784. He had sons:
William Rotch (2), son of Joseph, born in 1734, in Nantucket, Mass., there lived until the close of the war of the Revolution. His comparative wealth, his integrity, and his heroic devotion to what he believed was right, rendered him a conspicuous man in the community, and enabled him to render important services to his fellow citizens, whether he pleaded the cause of the helpless and destitute upon the quarter-deck of a British man-of-war, or before the Provincial council at Boston. His business – that of whaling – was ruined by the war, and the heavy “alien duty” imposed upon American oil for the protection of British subjects, and he sustained a great loss thereby, so sought to introduce the whale fishery in England, but failing there, succeeded in France. He established the business at Dunkirk. In 1793, when war was imminent between England and France, it became necessary to leave Dunkirk to prevent the capture of his ships by the English. Mr. Rotch writes as follows:
“Two of our ships were captured full of oil and condemned, but we recovered both by my being in England, where I arrived two weeks before the war took place. Louis XVI. was guillotined two days after I left France, an event solemnly anticipated and deeply deplored by many who dared not manifest what they felt.”
Mr. Rotch finally left Europe July 24, 1794, with his family, in the ship “Barclay,” and after a long passage of sixty-one days once more reached America. After a year’s residence in Nantucket he removed to New Bedford, in 1795, where he remained until his death, in 1828, in his ninety-fifth year. His residence was the “Mansion House,” corner Union and North Second streets.
“His venerable and patriarchal appearance during the latter part of his life is well remembered by the writer. Tall and dignified in his person, his face expressive of benevolence, with his long silvery locks and the drab colored suit of the style of the Society of Friends, combined with his noble and philanthropic character, rendered him an object of profound respect among his fellow citizens, as well as to his numerous friends, among them the distinguished merchants and men in public life at home and abroad. He was a fine specimen of a merchant, a man of the strictest integrity, frank, generous, high-minded in the truest sense, of broad and liberal views, a friend of the oppressed and downtrodden, in fine, a more perfect character it has never fallen to our lot to know, and is probably rarely to be met with in any community.”
William Rotch was the owner of the famous ship “Bedford,” which first displayed the American flag in British waters; this was in Downs Feb. 3, 1783.
William Rotch (3), son of William (2), was born in 1759, in Nantucket, Mass. He moved to New Bedford soon after the Revolutionary war, and there spent the remainder of his life. He was one of the prominent merchants of the place through the first half of the nineteenth century. He was one of the incorporators and the first president of the New Bedford Institution for Savings in 1825. He subscribed nearly half of the money raised for the erection of the Friends’ Academy, which was built in 1811, upon land given for the purpose by his father, and was the first treasurer of the board of trustees, his father being the first president. His residence for many years was the building now occupied as the Mariners’ Home, then situated at the corner of William and Water streets, nearly opposite the Merchants’ National bank. He lived afterward on County street, his home being purchased after his death by the late Edward C. Jones. One of his especial characteristics was his hospitality towards strangers coming to New Bedford, whether rich or poor, whom he entertained with simplicity and courtliness. He, as well as his father, was an earnest advocate of the Antislavery cause, and assisted many a bondman to obtain his freedom.
Mr. Rotch married Elizabeth Rodman, of Newport, R. L, and had five children:
- Sarah married James Arnold of New Bedford
- William B. married Caroline Stockton, of Princeton, N. J.
- Joseph is mentioned below
- Thomas married Susan Bidgway, of Philadelphia
- Mary married Charles Fleming and (second) Geo. B. Emerson. The father died in 1850.
Joseph Rotch (2), son of William (3), born in 1790, died in 1839. He married Ann Smith, of Philadelphia, and they had five children:
- Elizabeth, who married Joseph Angier
- Benjamin S.
- William J.
William J. Rotch, son of Joseph (2) and Ann (Smith) Rotch, was born in May, 1819, in Philadelphia. He was graduated from Harvard in the class with his brother Benjamin S., in 1838, with the honors of his class, and was chosen a member of the Phi Beta Kappa. He was associated with his brother in many business enterprises. In company with Joseph Ricketson, of New Bedford, they founded the New Bedford Cordage Company, which developed into one of the most successful manufacturing companies in New Bedford. The two brothers in later years were among the first to recognize the value and aid in the development of the McKay sewing machine, which, under the able management of Gordon McKay, won a worldwide reputation. Mr. Botch was prominently connected with most of the important business enterprises of his time in New Bedford.
Mr. Rotch held many offices of public and private honor and trust. He was elected mayor of New Bedford in 1852, being the second person to hold that office after the incorporation of the city. He was also one of the military staff of Governor Clifford. He had previously served two terms as representative at the General Court – 1847-48 and 1849-50. But the allurements of public life had no charms for him, and he turned a deaf ear to all propositions for political preferment. He was for thirty-four years president of the New Bedford Cordage Company, and for forty-two years president and treasurer of the Friends’ Academy, which offices were held by his grandfather William Rotch, Jr., for thirty-nine years. He was president of the Howland Mills Corporation and of the Rotch Wharf Company, and vice president of the New Bedford Institution for Savings, and a director of most of the manufacturing enterprises of New Bedford, and also of the Old Colony Railroad Company, of the Cleveland & Canton Railroad Company, and of the National Bank of Commerce.
Mr. Rotch in his long life in New Bedford established and maintained a character exemplifying all the best phases of manhood, and few men in their mature years were so fully vouchsafed the respect and esteem of their fellow citizens.
In 1842 Mr. Rotch married Emily, eldest daughter of Charles W. and Sarah (Bodman) Morgan, of New Bedford. She died in 1861, leaving seven children. They had a family of eight, namely:
- Charles M. (died in infancy)
- Helen (married Dr. T. M. Rotch)
- Isabel M. (married Pierre Severance)
- Sarah B. (married Frederick Swift)
- Emily M. (married Dr. J. T. Bullard)
- Anna S. (married Francis H. Stone)
Mr. Rotch married (second) in 1866 Clara, youngest daughter of Charles W. and Sarah (Bodman) Morgan, and to them was born a daughter, Mary B.
Mr. Rotch from 1876 to 1881 passed his winters in the city of Boston, and in 1881 he with his wife and four daughters went abroad, returning in the fall of 1882. He died Aug. 17, 1893, at Beverly Farms, Mass., and was buried in Oak Grove cemetery.
Morgan Rotch, son of William J. and Emily (Morgan) Rotch, was born April 8, 1848, in New Bedford, Mass., and died in January, 1910. He was graduated from Harvard in 1871. For some years he was associated with the late Frederick S. Potter in the fire insurance business in New Bedford, the style of firm being Rotch & Potter.
On Dec. 4, 1879, Mr. Rotch was married to Josephine Grinnell, of New Bedford, and two children were born to them, Arthur Grinnell and Emily Morgan.