Swift Family of New Bedford, MA

SWIFT. For a hundred years and more the Swift family in and about New Bedford has been one of prominence, wealth. and influence, not only in the several local communities in which its members have resided but out through the Commonwealth and into the nation, where their extensive enterprises have extended. These Acushnet-New Bedford Swifts, a branch of the Cape Cod family, brought to their new field of effort that activity, industry, ability and honesty that had for generations characterized their forefathers and also the line of business that had enriched earlier generations in the old home section – the dealing in live oak timber and its manufacture into water craft, in shipbuilding for not only the United States government, but for those across the water.

William Swift, the progenitor of the Swifts under consideration in this article, was at Watertown in the year 1634, and it seems had then been there some time, coming thither from Booking, England. He disposed of his estate in 1637, removed to Sandwich, and there died in January, 1644. His widow Joan, perhaps a second wife, made her will in October, 1662, mentioning therein her son William and his children. His daughter Hannah married Nov. 5, 1642, Daniel Wing.

William Swift (2), son of William the settler, was born in England, came to New England and lived in Sandwich, Mass., dying in the year 1705-06. He married a woman whose Christian name was Ruth, and their children were:

  1. William, born Aug. 28, 1654, died in 1700-01; he married Elizabeth, and their children were William, Joseph, Benjamin, Thomas, Josiah and Ebenezer.
  2. Ephraim, born June 6, 1656, died in 1740. He married Sarah, and their children were Elizabeth, born Dec. 29, 1679; Johanna, born July 7, 1683 (?); Samuel, born April 9, 1684 (?); Ephraim, born Dec. 9, 1688; Sarah, born April 12, 1692; Hannah, born May 19, 1695; and Moses, born Sept. 15, 1699.
  3. Mary was born April 7, 1659.
  4. Samuel, born Aug. 10, 1662, died in 1732. He married Mary.
  5. Josiah married (first) April 16, 1706, Mary, born March 1, 1680, daughter of Joseph Bodfish, and (second) Experience, born Dec. 16, 1682, daughter of John Nye.
  6. Jireh is mentioned below.
  7. Temperance.
  8. Esther.
  9. Dinah.

Jireh Swift, born according to one account in 1665, married (first) Nov. 26, 1697, Abigail Gibbs, and (second) Mary Besse. From this Jireh Swift the name has been numerously perpetuated and widely dispersed, and among his posterity have been many who became noted men. His children were born as follows: Alice, July 23, 1698; Susannah, Oct. 6, 1699; Jabez,’ March 16, 1700-01; Zephaniah, March 6, 1702-03; William, 1703; Nathaniel, March 14, 1707-08; Jireh, Jr., Nov. 23, 1709; Job, Oct. 3, 1711; Silas, Aug. 2, 1713; Abigail, July 26, 1715: Isaac, May 3, 1720; Rowland, March 24, 1721-22.

Jireh Swift (2), born Nov. 23, 1709, died March 16, 1782. He moved with his family to Acushnet from Sandwich, Mass. He married Oct. 9, 1730, Deborah Hathaway, who died Jan. 7, 1794, aged eighty-two. Their children were:

  1. Jonathan, born Dec. 12, 1731, married Oct. 16, 1753, Elizabeth Falmouth.
  2. Susanna, born Feb. 2, 1734, died June 8, 1806. She married Nov. 14, 1754, Dr. Samuel Perry, who died April 15, 1805.
  3. Lois, born Sept. 14, 1737, died Oct. 11, 1813. She married (intentions published Feb. 24, 1764) Menassah Kempton, who died Dec. 14, 1804.
  4. Jireh, born May 31, 1741, is mentioned below.
  5. Silas, born May 2, 1745, died Feb. 5, 1837. He married (intentions published Dec. 17, 1765) Deborah Tobey. Issue: Lemuel, born April 28, 1767; Susanna, born Sept. 17, 1772 (married Nov. 20, 1794, Thomas Duncan).
  6. Paul, born in 1753, died Nov. 16, 1810. He married Feb. 9, 1775, Sarah Pope, who died Dec. 17, 1782, and (second) Jemina, who died Jan. 20, 1821, aged seventy-three. Issue: Deborah, born Nov. 21, 1775, married Jan. 31, 1799, Benjamin Dillingham, Jr.; Elizabeth Pope, born May 15, 1778; Paul, born Sept. 21, 1781, married March 27, 1803, Elizabeth Furbes.

Jireh Swift (3), born May 31, 1741, died July 26, 1817. He served as a minute-man from Acushnet in the Revolutionary war. He married (intentions published Oct. 8, 1762) Elizabeth Haskell, of Rochester, who died Aug. 20, 1794. Children:

  1. Capt. Jonathan, born Oct. 5, 1763, died Sept. 19, 1834 (married-intentions published July 4, 1792 – at Falmouth Love Bassett, who died June 19, 1809, and – second – intentions published March 11, 1815 – Susanna Marshall);
  2. Ruth, born July 7, 1766, married Aug. 15, 1790, William Ross; Betsey, born July 4, 1770, married June 24, 1787, Rev. John Briggs, of Tiverton, R. I.;
  3. Jireh, born Sept. 26, 1773, is mentioned below;
  4. Lydia, born April 29, 1780, married April 7, 1808, Elisha Tobey;
  5. Nancy, born March 30, 1785, married Sept. 21, 1806, Capt. Loum Snow, who died in January, 1878.

Jireh Swift (4), born Sept. 26, 1773, married Nov. 10, 1805, Elizabeth Hathaway, daughter of Stephen and Abigail (Hathaway) Swift.

Humphrey Hathaway Swift, born at Luna’s Corner, in the village of Acushnet, Nov. 30, 1819, received the greater part of his education at Paul Wing’s school, in Sandwich, and later prepared for a college course, but before entering upon it decided to follow a business career. Meantime he had a brief experience as a teacher, at the village school at Acushnet, then Fairhaven, on the Long Plain road, in 1839. He took the school to satisfy the people and prove that the pupils were no worse than other boys; the contrary had been strenuously proclaimed. He was paid $30 a month for three months, when the term expired. The school committee offered him $60 a month if he would take the school the next year, but he refused, saying he had kept school to carry out successfully a theory of his beloved teacher, Paul Wing, of treating boys according to disposition. In October, 1840, Mr. Swift embarked from Salem on his first voyage to Pernambuco, Brazil, in the brig “America,” Captain Hill. Arriving early in 1841 he en-gaged as clerk in, the American exporting house of Henry Forster & Co., at Pernambuco, Brazil, thus entering upon a connection with the Brazilian trade which lasted for nearly sixty years, during which he became one of the most prominent merchants in that trade. The business of the firm was importing flour and other merchandise, and exporting cotton, sugar, hides, etc., and shipping. Mr. Swift came home in 1841, and soon after went to China as captain’s clerk on the ship “Horatio,” Capt. Williams Howland, there visiting his cousins, Gideon and Clement Nye. His first venture as a merchant occurred on that trip. He purchased $10,000 worth of tea with bank credit, and shipped it to Brazil, making a handsome profit. Later he went up to Canton with Russel Sturgis on the latter’s yacht, living there for several months with Gideon and Clement Nye, and Warren and Edward Delano. In January, 1843, Mr. Swift started on his second voyage to Brazil. Until 1846 he was a clerk for Henry Forster & Co. That year he went home and was in Pernambuco again in January, 1847, having already become a partner on Jan. 1st, and a very few years later a senior partner of the firm.

Mr. Swift’s life was one of great activity. He made frequent voyages between the United States and Brazil, and the home business conducted from Long Wharf, Boston, was in 1860 transferred to New York, under the name of H. H. Swift & Co., it being conducted until 1886. He came to know the Brazilians as few foreigners knew them, and made many lasting friends – from Emperor Dom Pedro II. ‘ to humbler citizens. Besides carrying on his business successfully and actively, he was interested in starting many improvements and reforms in the country. He inaugurated and financed the first horse car line in the country, always known as “Bonds.” The bonds of the company were printed in America. There was great interest felt in the venture, and when they arrived by steamer the populace gathered to see them discharged – evidently just what a bond was the people failed to grasp. The first consignment of cars was also on the steamer. One of them was hoisted from the hold. What is that strange looking object? A sudden inspiration, “Oh! the Bonds!” and hereafter the street cars were “Bonds.” Small change be-ing scarce, the tram car or “bond” tickets were freely circulated as currency at their par value during Mr. Swift’s connection with the company, all bearing his signature. At one time there were nearly $70,000 of these tickets outstanding.

Brazil had always been a slave-holding country, the slaves being brought from Africa. About 1862 Dom Pedro began urging that laws be passed granting them freedom. Mr. Swift threw himself into this work and actively formed the “Sociason Emancipadora” society for emancipation, incorporated under the patronage of the provincial government, to create sentiment in favor of the cause. Much good work was done, many slaves being given their freedom. Mr. Swift bought all his servants with the understanding that they were to have their freedom subject to good behavior. In every instance his slaves were freed, a great many owing their freedom to him besides the ones freed through the society.

After a short absence Mr. Swift returned to Brazil in 1860. For some time he had been stimulating the Brazilian planters to increase their cotton acreage. By every vessel sent out by him he dispatched several barrels of American cotton seed to be distributed gratuitously to the planters, writing them letters in which he told them that in case of war in the United States, which seemed to him inevitable, the price of cotton would be very much advanced. The first result of this policy was an order for thirty tons of seed from the Brazilian government. Mr. Swift worked hard to introduce the cotton gin. His enthusiasm made it successful. Without it the Brazilian planters would have been quite unable to handle the greatly increased crops. Mr. Swift was a director of various important companies and banks, both at home and in Brazil, among them the Steam Coasting Company, and was instrumental in organizing a better service, a much needed improvement. He also established the first tugboat service in Brazil.

Emperor Dom Pedro fully recognized the services Mr. Swift rendered Brazil, and this was attested by the fact that in 1868 he received from the emperor an order of knighthood, the news of which he learned first in Hamburg after an absence from Brazil of two or three years. A translation of the imperial decree is as follows:

“Humphrey Hathaway Swift, citizen of the United States of North America:

“I, the Constitutional Emperor and Perpetual Defender of Brazil, send you greetings.

“Recognizing the many services which you have rendered this empire, and wishing to make public testimonial of my imperial consideration, for the same, for your benefit, name you as a Knight of the Order of the Eose, and may our Lord have you in His Holy Keeping.

“Written in the palace of Eio de Janeiro, on the twenty-third day of November, one thous-and eight hundred and sixty-seven, and the forty-sixth year of the independence and empire.

( Signed ) “Imperador “Jose Joaqm Fernandes Torres.”

As the sympathies of practically all the English residents and a majority of the Brazilians were with the South Mr. Swift almost alone and with this strong feeling against him did what he could for the cause of. the North. He secured absolute option on 20,000 tons of coal for the use of the United States cruisers, and so informed the government at home. For this he was thanked but told that in all probability the coal would not be used. However, it proved otherwise; many times warships of the North were glad to avail themselves of this supply. Mr. Swift’s position as a director of the Brazilian Steam Coasting line facilitated the collection of the coal. He was instrumental in helping the United States consul, Thomas Adamson, in providing accommodations for over two hundred American sailors of American ships, whalers as well as merchantmen, captured and burned at Fernando de Noronha by the Confederates before the arrival of the American man-of-war. For the services outlined above, and others that he rendered the government, Mr. Swift received a letter from Secretary of State Seward extending the thanks of the government for patriotic services rendered.

Mr. Swift joined the Union League Club of New York, and took an active part in organizing colored regiments. He was appointed with Mr. Low to draw up an answer to a letter of protest addressed to the club, from the English members of the Bahia chamber of commerce, on the capture of a Confederate cruiser in the harbor of that city. As he was familiar with that city and knew the signers personally, Mr. Low left him to write the letter for the secretary of the club to sign.

Mr. Swift also interested himself in securing better consular service. President Grant appointed him consul in Pernambuco. He refused the appointment, owing to his large business interests, as consuls were not supposed to be engaged in business not connected with the consulate. In spite of this his appointment was confirmed. Mr. Swift filled the office for several years and in finally accepting his resignation the secretary of state wrote that while regretting his resignation, the government now felt that he was entitled to release, thanked him for the able and efficient manner in which he had filled the post and complimented him highly.

Mr. Swift made in all nearly thirty sea voyages to Brazil, China, Africa, Europe, etc. The first ten were in sailing vessels. He was a lover of horses, particularly saddle horses, and was never happier than when riding to hounds, his favorite outdoor pastime.

In 1879 he retired from Henry Forster & Co. Ten years later, when senior partner of Swift, Billings & Co., he made his last voyage to Brazil. In 1896 he retired from active business, giving up his New York residence, moving to his home in New Bedford, where he remained until 1910. From that time until his death he lived with his son-in-law and daughter, Prof, and Mrs. Charles Burton Gulick, in Cambridge, Mass., where he died April 28, 1911, in his ninety-second year.

In New York Mr. Swift was a member of the Down Town Club and the Union League Club, life member of the New England Society, member of the Chamber of Commerce, trustee of the Sun Insurance Society, director of the St. Nicholas Bank, etc.

In 1846 Mr. Swift married (first) Jane Elizabeth Gibbs, daughter of Alfred Gibbs, of New Bedford. She died in 1852 leaving three children:

  1. Alfred Gibbs and
  2. Thomas Nye, both’ of whom are now deceased, and
  3. Jennie Gibbs, who is the widow of Edmund Grinnell, of New Bedford.

In 1865 Mr. Swift married (second) Bertha Wesselhoeft, born in Cambridge, Mass., the daughter of Dr. Robert and Ferdinanda Amelia (Hecker) Wesselhoeft, who came to America from Germany about 1841. She died Sept. 18, 1910. To this union were born five children, namely:

  1. Bertha Wesselhoeft,
  2. Anne Hathaway (who married Prof. Charles Burton Gulick),
  3. Humphrey Hathaway, Jr.,
  4. Robert Wesselhoeft (married Edith Steel) and
  5. Kuth.

Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts: containing historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the old families. 3 Volumes. Beers & Chicago. 1912.

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