Descendants of William Swift of New Bedford, MA

SWIFT (Acushnet – New Bedford family). For an hundred years and more the Swift family in and about New Bedford has been one of prominence, wealthy and influential not only in their several local communities 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. Reference is here made especially to some of the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of William Swift, of the town of Falmouth, this Commonwealth, among whose sons were Hon. Elijah, Thomas, William, John and Reuben E.; and among the sons of the latter Rodolphus Nye and William Cole Nye Swift, who with their sons together and in turn figured most prominently in and about New Bedford and abroad, as intimated; and some of their sons are yet active here and in the Massachusetts metropolis.

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 Bocking, England. He disposed of his estate in 1637, removed to Sandwich, and there died in January, 1643. His widow, Joan, made her will in October, 1662, mentioning therein her son William and his children. His daughter Hannah married Nov. 5, 1641, Daniel Wing. Esther married, in 1645, Ralph Allen.

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

  1. William
  2. Hannah (born March 11, 1651, Mrs. Tobey)
  3. Ruth

William Swift (3), born Aug. 28, 1654, died in 1700-01. His wife’s name was Elizabeth, and their children were:

  1. William, born Jan. 24, 1679
  2. Benjamin, 1684
  3. Joseph, November, 1687
  4. Thomas, December, 1690
  5. Samuel, December, 1690
  6. Joanna, March 9, 1692 (married Thomas Gibbs)
  7. Elizabeth and Thankful, twins, Jan. 11, 169-
  8. Josiah, and Ebenezer

William Swift (4), born Jan. 24, 1679, married Lydia Weeks Oct. 9, 1707. He lived in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

William Swift (5), born in April, 1719, married Nov. 29, 1744, Dorcas Hatch, and (second) Sept. 7, 1772, Mehitable Hallett. Children:

  1. Solomon, born Oct. 15, 1745
  2. William
  3. John and Thomas
  4. Mary; Job, born in 1759
  5. Jethro, born March 25, 1763 (to the first marriage)
  6. Hallett, born in 1774
  7. Lydia and John (2), born July 10, 1780 (to the second marriage)

William Swift (6), son of William (5), was born Feb. 17, 1747, and married March 6, 1773, Martha Eldred, born Sept. 12, 1752. His second wife was Patience Price. He resided in the town of Falmouth, Mass., where he was a farmer and also a tailor, a prosperous and influential member of society, useful in citizenship. His several sons were of the same character of men, men of force and enterprise who made a success in life. The father lived to advanced life; was a Mason and also Whig in his political views. The children of William and Martha Swift were:

  1. Elijah, born Aug. 16, 1774
  2. Phebe, born June 12, 1776
  3. John, born Aug. 5, 1778
  4. Reuben Eldred, born Sept. 12, 1780
  5. Thomas, born April 24, 1783
  6. Emma Ann, born Aug. 8, 1785
  7. Lucy Smith, born Oct. 2, 1787
  8. William, born Feb. 13, 1790
  9. Martha, born Sept. 17, 1792
  10. Ezekiel Eldred, born Aug. 10, 1796

Reuben Eldred Swift, son of William and Martha, born Sept. 12, 1780, in time became engaged in the pursuits of his brothers, Elijah and Thomas, and for years was associated in a manner in the live oak timber trade with Elijah; and perhaps was no less conspicuous as an active, enterprising and public-spirited citizen. He early in life settled at Acushnet, in Fairhaven, Bristol county, and up to about 1820 was occupied as a cabinetmaker. About the year named, 1820, he removed to New Bedford and engaged in the manufacture of furniture, establishing there a furniture warehouse. During the period of his association in the live oak timber business with his brother Elijah he was for much of the time in the States of South Carolina and Florida, and in other sections of the South, where that timber was found.

Mr. Swift built in 1821 a cabinet shop on Union street in New Bedford, which in time he turned over to his brother, William Swift. Reuben E. was a man of a hardy and vigorous constitution – just the kind that was suitable for his rural outdoor life in the timberlands of the South. He possessed warm and generous impulses, was social and popular. During the war of 1812 he was captain of a company of light infantry which was called into the United States service and for a period was stationed at Clark’s Point to keep watch of the British vessels cruising on Buzzard’s Bay and prevent their landing.

On March 24, 1803, in Fairhaven, Mr. Swift married Jane, born in 1783, daughter of Obed Nye, of Fairhaven, Mass., who died Nov. 9, 1839. Capt. Obed Nye was a native of Dartmouth,.Mass., soldier of the Revolution as a marine on the frigate “Boston,” and was also a soldier in a Bristol county company. He was a direct descendant of Benjamin Nye (who was born in 1620, in Biddenden, County of Kent, England, and came to Lynn, Mass., in 1635, in the ship “Abigail”), his lineage being through Benjamin, Jonathan and Thomas Nye. Mr. Swift married (second) May 5, 1841, Lucy Robinson, and soon removed to Falmouth, Mass., where he died Dec. 6, 1843. His children were:

  1. Obed Nye, born Oct. 12, 1804, died July 2, 1863, married Elizabeth Garvin
  2. Franklyn K. is mentioned below
  3. Betsey P., born Dec. 17, 1807, married Nathaniel Nye, July 11, 1838
  4. Rodolphus Nye is mentioned below
  5. William Cole Nye, born April 27, 1815, died May 11, 1892, married Eliza Nye Perry, June 15, 1847
  6. Reuben E., born Nov. 9, 1816, died June 14, 1835

Franklyn Kibby Swift was born in Acushnet, then North Fairhaven, May 3, 1806. Soon after his parents moved to New Bedford. In 1820 he entered as clerk the dry goods store of Thomas M. Churchill, where he remained till 1823. In that year, on May 11th, he married Emily B. Coggeshall, and soon after sailed in the ship “Young Phoenix,” Capt. Joseph Dunbar, on a voyage to Bremen, afterward making another voyage in the same ship. He then went as mate with Captain Ball, in the brig “Horatio,” in the Brazil flour trade, and soon commanded the same vessel in about the year 1827-28, when about twenty-one years of age. He then made a voyage as chief officer of the ship “Florida” to Cadiz, Spain, Capt. Lemuel C. Tripp, and returning went as master of the ship “Portia,” for many years in the trade from China to the west coast of South America. He sold the ship in China in 1839 and returned to this country. His second marriage, to Cornelia H. Wood, took place Feb. 17, 1840. He sailed for China in command of the ship “Oneida” in July, 1840, returning in June, 1843. In August, 1844, he went South with his brothers, remaining for several years. In 1850 he went to California and in 1851 South again. In September, 1852, he commanded the ship “Horatio” on a voyage to China and returned in 1853. He continued to go South till ill health confined him to his home, where he died Jan. 13, 1858.

Rodolphus Nye Swift, son of Reuben E., was born Nov. 29, 1810, at Acushnet, in the town of Fairhaven, Mass. As a boy he passed some two years in the South with his father, when the latter was there in the interests of his live oak timber business. Fond of the sea, when seventeen years of age he began a seafaring life, shipping on the whaler “Canton.” He continued his seafaring life for some sixteen years, eight of which were spent on the “Lancaster,” as its captain. During these years he made two voyages to the North Pacific and Japan coast, in pursuit of sperm whales. He finally quit the sea and joined his brothers in the live oak timber trade, carrying on extensive operations as had their father before them in the South. The brothers owned large tracts of live oak timber lands in the State of Florida. With the intermission perhaps of a few years during the Civil war they continued this business up until 1875. The firm name in the start was O. N. Swift & Co.; it afterward became Swift Brothers. Mr. Swift in company with his brother, William C. N. Swift, was for many years engaged in the business of whale fishing.

Rodolphus N. Swift was a man of positive character, ever outspoken and fearless in whatever he believed to be right; plain and unassuming, too. He was successful in his business and his ample fortune gave him an opportunity to give much time to travel and reading. He had no taste for political preferment, and though often solicited he as often declined to accept public office. He made Acushnet his place of residence, maintaining there a comfortable and beautiful home. He was one of the leading citizens of his community.

On June 18, 1838, Mr. Swift was married to Sylvia H. Nye, born July 21, 1811, daughter of Gideon and Sylvia (Hathaway) Nye, of Acushnet. Mr. Swift died April 4, 1901, his wife on April 23, 1902. Their children were:

  1. Rodolphus, born in 1839, died in 1839
  2. Rupert Gideon Nye, born in 1845, died in 1903
  3. Clement Nye, born Oct. 25, 1846, married Oct. 5, 1895, Annie Amelia Nye (he possessed great natural talent as an artist, and he passed some dozen and more years’ as an art student in Paris and Brittany, France)
  4. Annie D., born April 23, 1848, married Sept. 12, 1890, Thomas H. Knowles
  5. Clara G. N., born in 1852, died in 1854
  6. Edward Thomas, born Oct. 6, 1854, married Sept. 21, 1880, Antoinette E. Jennings, and died Feb. 2, 1903 children:
    1. Florence C, born Aug. 18, 1881, who was drowned in September, 1894
    2. Charles E., born March 9, 1884
    3. Reginald Edward, born Feb. 5, 1888, who died in January, 1910

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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