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The Howland heirs; being the story of a family and a fortune and the inheritance of a trust established for Mrs. Hetty H. R. Green online

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29, 1717, Hannah, daughter of Ebenezer and Abigail
Allen of Dartmouth, who was born Aug. 10, 1697
and died April 28, 1736. Three of their eight chil-
dren evidently died young, not being mentioned in
Isaac's will. The children were:

i. MERIBAH, b. Sept. 30, 1718 ; in. Feb. 18, 1742, Job

Briggs.

ii. BENJAMIN, b. Nov. 30, 1720; m. Elizabeth Brown,
iii. ANNE, b. July 9, 1723 ; m. April 2, 1744, Daniel, son

of Timothy and Hannah Gifford.

iv. ABRAHAM, b. Sept. 9, 1726; d. Sept. 10, 1781; m.

Dec. 20, 1750, Ruth, daughter of Captain Thomas

and Judith (Akin) Hicks, and sister of Sarah,

wife of Gideon Rowland.

v. ISAAC, b. Sept. 9, 1726 ; d. Aug. 2, 1811 ; m. Anna

Wilbur.

vi. HANNAH, b. Nov. 3, 1729 ; d. young,
vii. ABIGAIL, b. June 10, 1731 ; d. young,
viii. HUMPHREY, b. Sept. 11, 1734; d. young



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 41

Captain Isaac Rowland, second of the name, son
of Isaac and Hannah, is known in the history of

v

New Bedford as Isaac Howland, Sr. Born at Round
Hills eight years before his cousin Gideon, he be-
came a master mariner in the merchant service
settling at Newport, R. I., where he married and was
a distiller and shipping merchant before the Revolu-
tionary War. About 1770 or a little earlier he re-
turned to Dartmouth, making his home in Bedford
village, on the west bank of the Acushnet river. He
had owned slaves in Newport, and brought at least
one, named Primus, to Bedford with him. The
Friends society urged him to liberate the negro, and
after some persuasion Primus was manumitted.
The Dartmouth Friends meeting at this period had
four other members holding slaves, one being
Joseph Russell, sometimes called the founder of New
Bedford, with whom Captain Howland embarked in
the then infant industry, whaling.

"Another important accession of capital and busi-
ness qualities," said James B. Congdon, writing of
men and events in this era of New Bedford's his-
tory, "was made by the coming to this settlement
of Isaac Howland, who moving here from Newport,
brought with him the means and the enterprise so
much needed in every new undertaking. His house
on Union street was by far the most elegant and
costly which had been built in the town.' : It was
constructed of brick, three stories in height, and
stood where Pleasant Street now is, being taken
down at the opening of that thoroughfare (at first
known as Cheapside) after Captain Rowland's
death. Just west of him lived his son Humphrey.



42 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

There were two other sons, Isaac, Jr., and Peleg.
A daughter, Anna, married Barnabas, son of Joseph
Russell, Captain Rowland's partner.

Few details have been preserved regarding the
whaling industry at the time of the Eevolution.
There is a record of bonds filed with the state treas-
urer in 1775 or '76 for the whaling schooner Juno,
owned by Joseph Russell, Isaac Howland, Barnabas
Russell, and Caleb Greene, all of Dartmouth. Tradi-
tion tells us that Captain Howland had two sloops
out whaling at the commencement of the war. John
Chaffee was the first refiner of oil in New Bedford,
having stolen the art from an Englishman, it is
claimed. He was employed at an enormous salary
for those days by Joseph Russell and Isaac Howland,
and worked in their candle-house on Center Street.
Subsequently the two partners had some difficulty
and dissolved, Mr. Russell retaining the old location,
while Captain Howland erected a new plant on Com-
mercial wharf. This was a long wooden building,
a story and a half in height, occupied in the west
end as a distillery and in the east end as a spermaceti
candle works. It was the second candle-house in
town. On or near its site has stood for many years
a large granite block, occupied by firms of sail-
makers, the Harts, and Briggs & Beckman, and
remaining in possession of the Howland blood until
1918, when it was sold for the benefit of the heirs. It
was owned by the Howland, Green and Robinson
estates.

During the Revolution Captain Howland was re-
garded as having Tory tendencies, and at the time
of the British raid on New Bedford in September,



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 43

1778, when considerable shipping was destroyed and
many buildings burned, he invited the British com-
mander, Major General Charles Grey and staff to
share the hospitality of his splendid mansion. While
the company were enjoying supper a messenger
came running up Union Street from the water front
with the announcement that the distillery had been
set afire. This broke up what seemed destined to
be a very pleasant little evening's party. General
Grey had previously given orders that the distillery
should be spared, and in his anger at the disregard
of his wishes decreed punishment for several of the
soldiers. Across the way from the Howland resi-
dence stood the home of Captain Moses Grinnell,
master of a privateer that had inflicted some damage
on English shipping. Having partaken freely of
New England rum the British soldiers amused them-
selves by firing into the east end of the Grinnell
house, from which the family had previously fled.
Later the men broke into the rear of the dwelling,
plundered it, and set it afire. A faithful negro
woman, who had remained in the cellar, extinguished
the flames.

The British raid was a severe blow to Captain
Howland. His distill house and cooper shop were
burned, and also three warehouses, together with
considerable of his shipping, and he estimated his
loss at $6000. This, of course, meant vastly more
at that time than the same sum would represent in
this day.

The energy and determination which have dis-
tinguished the Howland strain, however, enabled
Captain Isaac, partially at least, to recoup his losses.



44 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

He subsequently became owner of vessels in the mer-
chant service, and engaged in the West Indies trade.
An experience at the time of the ravages of the
French cruisers in the last decade of the eighteenth
century has been preserved in the traditions of the
family of his nephew, Captain Weston Rowland.
The latter, in command of a vessel belonging to his
uncle, sailed for the West Indies in company with a
brig sent out by the same owner, loaded with mer-
chandise to exchange for products of the islands.
On the return passage both vessels were captured
by a French man-of-war. Prize crews were put
aboard both, and Captain Weston was requested to
pilot them to the nearest French port. But the
plucky New Bedfordite had other ideas. Learning
that the prize master was fond of old Holland, he
brought up a quantity from among the cargo. The
Frenchman imbibed too freely, and the Yankees,
overpowering the prize crew, headed for New Bed-
ford, where they arrived safely, the other prize fol-
lowing, unconscious of its destination. The prize
crews were delivered to the French consul at Boston.

It is a matter of record that about 1805, John
James Audubon, the famous naturalist, was a pas-
senger for France on the New Bedford brig Hope,
owned by Isaac Howland & Son. This craft was
forced by a leak to put into New Bedford for repairs,
subsequently resuming its voyage.

Captain Isaac Howland died in New Bedford Aug.
2, 1811, aged eighty-five years. His will, which he
made in 1808, named his three sons, Isaac, Jr.,
Humphrey, and Peleg, as executors and residuary
legatees, sharing equally. To his wife Anna he gave



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 45

the life use of his homestead in New Bedford, with
reversion to the sons; also a sufficiency of firewood
annually, "one good cow' : and its summer keep,
and a ton of good hay every year, together with an
annuity of one hundred dollars, all of these to be
supplied by the sons. To his daughter Anna Eussell
he bequeathed $1800, and to sons Humphrey and
Peleg a tract of land on Clark's Neck. To the four
children, "all my household goods, including my
silver plate and printed books therewith, to be
equally divided between them at the time their
mother ceases being my widow. ' ; No appraisal of
his holdings is to be found in the probate records.
He had probably retired from the shipping business
as early as 1807, for in that year he begins to
describe himself in deeds as "yeoman," whereas he
had previously used the designation of merchant.

Captain Howland married at Newport in 1750,
Anna Wilbur, whose parents, Peleg and Anna
(Anthony) Wilbur, came from Swansea, Mass. She
was born June 24, 1728, and died Oct. 15, 1816, aged
eighty-eight years. Her sister, Mary, widow of
William Sherman, died in New Bedford July 7, 1811,
aged ninety-one years.

Children of Isaac and Anna (Wilbur) Howland,
born in Newport :

i. MEHITABLE, b. 1751; d. before June 19, 1777; m.

Dec. 9, 1772, Joseph, son of Caleb and Susanna

(Gardner) Russell. No issue,
ii. ANNA, b. 1753 ; d. Nov. 19, 1836 : m. Feb. 20, 1772,

Barnabas, son of Joseph and Judith (Howland)

Russell, b. May 26, 1745 ; d. May 14, 1812.
iii. ISAAC, b. 1755; d. Jan. 12, 1834; m. (1) Abigail

Slocum; (2) Ruth Butts.



46 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

iv. HUMPHREY, b. 1757; d. Oct. 23, 1812; m. Elizabeth
Delano of Nantucket, b. 1759; d. Nov. 5, 1844.
Six children.

v. PELEG, b. about 1759 ; d. May 25, 1847 ; m. Oct. 27,
1787, Mary, daughter of Joseph and Mary Tucker,
b. July 16, 1769 ; d. July 8, 1846. Five children.

Barnabas Eussell, the husband of Anna Rowland,
was a nephew of Gideon Rowland, and was long a
merchant in New Bedford. This couple removed to
Easton, N. Y., where they died. Mrs. Russell was
the mother of sixteen children, and lived to be eighty-
three years of age. Three of her daughters, the
Misses Judith, Sally, and Lydia Russell, lived on
Hawthorn Street, New Bedford, dying in 1881 and
1883, aged eighty-six, ninety-two, and eighty-six
years, respectively.

Isaac Rowland, Jr., (1755-1834), eminent whaling
merchant and founder of a celebrated house, was a
man of slight physique, weighing it is said, not more
than ninety or one hundred pounds, but the fire of
a strong determination burned within him. In his
years of successful enterprise he was wont to tell
that he found it the greatest hardship and toil to
accumulate his first thousand dollars. After the
Revolution a brisk trade sprang up with the West
Indies, and the sailors coming into port wore silk
stockings. Mr. Rowland bought these stockings
from the men at a moderate figure, washed and
ironed them, and resold them at a good profit. Later
he shared in the shipping interests of his father,
and subsequently established the firm of Isaac
Rowland, Jr., & Co., one of the most prosperous ever
engaged in the whaling industry in New Bedford,



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 47

and in fact, said to have been for a considerable
time the most extensively engaged in the whale fish-
ery of any concern in the world. The "company"
at first was his son-in-law, Gideon Rowland, Jr., son
of Gideon of Round Hills, who married Isaac How-
land's daughter Mehitable, and other members were
subsequently admitted.

The history of this remarkable house, extending
over a period of more than half a century, covers the
most interesting era in the whale fisheries. Many
splendid vessels, under notable captains, were sent
out over all the oceans of the globe. Wealth was
"drawn up from the broad fields of the ocean with
much toil and manifold dangers, with perils from
the ice and fogs, and storms of frozen regions, and
exposure and diseases under the hot burning sun of
the equator.' 1 The skill of the merchant matched
the hardy daring of the sailor not alone in the crea-
tion of individual fortunes, but in promoting a
general prosperity for New Bedford that has never
been effaced.

Mr. Rowland and those associated with him con-
stantly practiced the doctrine of preparedness. It
has been said that the whaling industry was a
gamble, sometimes seeming almost on a par with
the margin system of speculation in the stock
market, but the history of the Howland firm shows
that in their case at least, this was far from the
truth. The Rowlands made certain, on sending
forth their ships, that the vessels were staunch and
sea-worthy, thoroughly fitted and equipped in all
respects, commanded by captains of wisdom and
experience who mingled daring and caution in pro-



48 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

portioiiate degrees, and manned by trusty and com-
petent crews. In this way reverses, which are bound
to befall all industries, were largely minimized, and
success was attained through good judgment as
much as through good luck. Indicative of the care
given to every detail is a comprehensive letter of in-
structions to one of the masters sailing for the firm
in the merchant service in the early days of the nine-
teenth century, when the depredations of the English
and French, as an outgrowth of the Napoleonic wars,
menaced neutral shipping until the end was reached
only with the War of 1812. This letter, addressed
to Captain Charles Hathaway, a nephew of Gideon
Howland, Jr., is now in the possession of Miss Clara
M. Perry, of Syracuse, N. Y., a grand-niece of Cap-
tain Hathaway, and reads as follows :

"NEW BEDFORD, 5 mo. 26, 1810.
' ' CHARLES HATHAWAY,

"Esteemed Friend: As agents and part owners of the
ship Triton and cargo, we have given thee the following
orders and instructions which thou will attend to during
the present voyage. The owners having given thee the
command of the ship and the consignment of the cargo,
which being loaded thou will proceed with the first fair
wind and make the best of thy way for Gottenburg. On
thy arrival there thou will call on Low & Smith, mer-
chants of that place, and deliver them one of the letters
which we have handed thee (that is the letter first
written), and after getting the best advice of them (as
well as any other person on whom thou may think thou
can rely) as to the state of the market at Gottenburg as
well as at any other place, thou will then be able to
determine whether it will be more for our interest to
proceed for some other port.

"In this determination thou be very careful, for al-
though the whole of the ship and cargo are bona fide the
property of citizens of the United States of America, and



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 49

no foreigner having any interest, directly nor indirectly
therein, and it being the produce of the United States and
its fisheries, as thou will be able to substantiate by the
invoice bills of lading and other documents, say consular,
which we think will give thee an admittance into any port
or place where neutral nations or people are allowed to
trade, yet thou will observe that it is our wish thou would
not run any great risk, and positive orders not to violate
any law or order of any nation whatsoever. Therefore
thou will get advice in this as well as the market and
unless the prospect should appear better at some other
place, thou sell the cargo at Gottenburg, in which case
thou will call upon Low & Smith for assistance in doing
the business, or rather it is our opinion that it will be best
to consign the property over to them and allow them their
customary commission, for we are of the opinion that
eventually there will be no advantage (if practicable) by
getting a merchant to do business for less than their
regular custom, and give them the other letter.

"After the outward cargo shall be disposed of our next
object is for thee to proceed with ship up the Baltic either
to St. Petersburg or Riga and take a return cargo of
hemp and iron on the owners' account. With these
articles thou will load the ship, and should thou have any
surplus funds, thou will lay it in duck, which will be the
case should the cargo come to a good market. Thou must
arrange the business before thou goes up the Baltic so
that thou may have the funds at thy disposal and so
placed that thou can draw for them. We shall not name
any house to thee either at St. Petersburg or Riga, there-
fore thou will take the necessary precaution to get a good
recommendation of one. Probably Low & Smith may do
it, but no doubt thou will find some person at either those
places that will give thee the necessary information. For
cargo thou will take about sixty tons iron, one half old
and the other new sables, and as much hemp as the ship
will stow, which we wish to be of the best kind, well
cleaned out shot. What money may then be remaining
thou will lay out in duck, one half of the first quality, one
quarter of the second quality, and the other quarter in
heavy ravens duck.

"Should the proceeds of the outward cargo not be
sufficient to load the ship with hemp and iron, should thou



50 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

be too late in the season, or cannot proceed with safety up
the Baltic, then thou will take a return cargo from Gotten-
burg on the owners' account, which will be principally
iron, but should thou meet with any price, or other goods
that thou with the advice of Low & Smith think would
answer in this country thou art at liberty to take them.
We have annexed hereto a memorandum of such iron as
will be suitable for this market, the proportions of which
thou will attend to as near as thou conveniently can, and
for the remainder thou may get such sorts as thou shall
think will suit best, and after the ship shall be loaded and
all expenses paid at Gottenburg, it is our direction and
wish the remainder of the proceeds of the outward cargo
should be remitted to Emngham Lawrence & Son of Lon-
don, to be placed with them to our credit. At every place
thou may go to we wish thee to leave nothing unsettled,
if possible to close everything, unless thou should find it
would detain the ship too long, for thou art sensible that
dispatch is essentially necessary. Therefore we doubt not
thou will use thy best endeavours to make the voyage as
short as possible and at whatever place thou may take in
thy return cargo thou will return directly for New
Bedford.

"Notwithstanding what we have written, after thou
hast gotten the best advice in thy power and duly weighed
every circumstance, thou will exercise thy own judgment
and act as thou shall think most for the interest of the
concern, with which we doubt not we shall be satisfied.

"Remember to write us at all times by every oppor-
tunity, and be very particular in thy communications that
we may know what thou art likely to do for us.

"With respect we are thy assured friends,

ISAAC ROWLAND, JUNR, & Co. "

Russian iron, wliich Captain Hathaway was
directed to purchase, was much esteemed in New
Bedford at that time as of particular value in the
manufacture of the harpoons and lances employed
in whaling. It is fair to assume that the Triton had
a prosperous voyage and returned safely. Two
years later, under another master, she was among



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 51

the vessels destroyed by the British at the outbreak
of the War of 1812. Subsequently the Rowlands
had a second Triton, built in Fairhaven.

For a number of years the firm carried on a store
where it sold at wholesale and retail the various
commodities which it imported from Europe and the
West Indies, as well as domestic products. In the
files of the New Bedford Weekly Mercury the firm
was found to be a frequent advertiser during 1811,
its announcements to the trading public being of the
following nature :

"Isaac Howland, Jr., & Co. have for sale at their store,
head of Rowland's wharf, fresh Alexandria flour, corn,
rye, and meal; beef, pork, cheese; tea, coffee, sugar, &c.,
&c. A quantity of clear boards. Also about 60 tons
Swedes iron, assorted."

It is not definitely known when the firm first
engaged in whaling. Starbuck's "History of the
American Whale Fishery' in its marvelous com-
pendium of statistics records no vessel sailing under
the Howlands' flag earlier than 1815. In that year
the ship Richmond went out under their manage-
ment. On April 1, 1819, was started a set of books
for the "new concern," of which the daybook is still
in existence. This gives a list of the shares in
vessels owned by Isaac and Gideon Rowland as fol-
lows: Three-fourths of ship Triton, one-fourth of
sloop Union, one-half of sloop Traveller, and three-
eighths of brig Commodore Decatur. The sloops
were evidently in the merchant service. Mention is
also made that the Triton sailed on the first whaling
voyage for her owners in November, 1818. There



52 THE ROWLAND HEIRS

was a third partner who entered this "new con-
cern" in 1819, Thomas Mandell, of New Bedford,
young and active, sound and conservative, who was
destined to make his influence strongly felt. About
1833 Edward Mott Robinson came to New Bedford
from Rhode Island, entered the firm, and married
Mr. Howland's daughter Abby. He was the father
of Mrs. Hetty H. R. Green. Of him it has been said
that he "brought to the firm an eagerness and bold-
ness in enterprise which greatly extended its opera-
tions.' In subsequent years Sylvia Ann Howland,
daughter of Gideon, Jr., was a partner. The count-
ing-room of the firm was on Commercial Street.

More than thirty whaling craft went out from New
Bedford under the Rowlands' management down to
3862, in which year the firm began to wind up its
affairs. These vessels, so far as known (and there
probably were others), were as follows:

Adeline Gypsy Isaac Howland

America Hibernia, 2d Gideon Howland

Balaena Logan Bartholomew Gosnold

California Mary Charles W. Morgan

Catalpa Mercury Commodore Decatur

Citizen Rapid Eliza F. Mason

Contest Richmond George Washington

Dartmouth Timoleon Joseph Butler

Equator Triton Minerva Smyth

Gladiator Waverly New Bedford

William Hamilton

The vessels of the Howland fleet usually brought
in immense quantities of oil and whalebone. In
1837 the ship William Hamilton, Captain William
Swain, arrived at New Bedford with 4060 barrels
of sperm oil, having sent home from the Western







EDWARD MOTT ROBINSON



FOUNDING A FORTUNE 53

Islands on her passage out one hundred twenty-one
barrels more, a total of 4181 barrels. The value of
her catch was $109,269. The story is told that when
the ship sailed on this cruise, as she left the wharf,
Gideon Howland, Jr., who in his younger years had
followed the sea, placed his shoulder against the
vessel and gave her a push, saying "I've sent her
off." Her voyage proved a remarkable one. In
1842 the ship America, Captain Fisher, came in
after a voyage of twenty-six months with four
hundred barrels of sperm oil, 4484 of whale oil, and
45,000 pounds of bone, the entire cargo being worth
$66,478. In 1851 the firm bought in New York the
ship George Washington, six hundred nine tons,
originally built for a Liverpool packet, and much
larger than the average whaler. She sailed under
Captain Pardon C. Edwards, and returned in 1855,
having sent home 50,420 pounds of whalebone, and
taken in all 7000 barrels of whale and seventy-five
of sperm oil an extraordinary voyage. Going out
again in the fall of 1855 she was burned by her
crew at Talcahuano the following spring. Ship
Gladiator, another former trans-Atlantic packet,
purchased in New York, on her only voyage for the
Rowlands, 1850-1854, took 6200 barrels of whale oil
and 95,000 pounds of bone.

Of course there is another side to the picture.
Even the greatest skill and prudence could not
always avert the loss of vessels. In June, 1851,
ship New Bedford was wrecked on the Fox Islands,
in the Pacific, and four of her crew were lost. Two
years later the Citizen, on her maiden voyage for
the Rowlands, met with similar disaster, three



54 THE HOWLAND HEIRS

hundred miles north of East Cape. Six of the crew
perished at the time and one died subsequently.
On the Logan's voyage to the Pacific in 1846, John
Francis, the third mate, was killed by a whale, and
in 1855 this ship was lost, with four men. The
casualty happened on Sandy Island reef, in the
North Pacific, the survivors landing on the Fiji
Islands after suffering much hardship. In January,
1856, that splendid money-maker, the William
Hamilton was lost off the coast of Chili. The fol-
lowing fall, ship Rapid, a fine vessel of five hundred
tons, built at Fairhaven that year, sailed for the
North Pacific. Four years later she met with a
series of reverses, being fired by her crew, struck
on a sunken rock, ran into whaler Jeannette, and
was finally condemned, all in 1860. Most of the
foregoing vessels had demonstrated their earning
capacity before disaster overtook them.

One of the most famous of the Rowland fleet was
the ship (subsequently bark) Triton. Built in 1818
she continued for more than three quarters of a
century in the whaling service. In all she made
nearly thirty voyages before being finally lost in the



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