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three of John's signatures are significantly different, but circumstantial evidence clearly points to the same John Briggs in each instance. The second one shares the capital B of the first, but the rest resembles the third. Signatures for his son Luther show a similar difference: one more formal, another quicker and business-like.

go to John's shipping record
go to a discussion about the "discovery" and naming of Laysan Island

     John was raised in Berkley, Massachusetts, and moved to nearby Fairhaven by the time he was 20. Many of his siblings also moved there, among whom were sisters who married Fairhaven men. What led to this connection and migration isn't known. John went to sea out of the port of New Bedford as a teenager, but when exactly isn't known. At the age of 20 he can be found on the whaling crew of the ship Sally, which sailed out of New Bedford in July of 1808.1. He had already moved to New Bedford, according to the crew list, undoubtedly in the part of the town that was incorporated as Fairhaven in 1812.

     John served as the ship's cooper under Capt. Obed Clark for a trip in the South Atlantic. The cooper's primary responsibility was getting the barrels built on the ship for storing whale oil. This wasn't a beginner's position. He would have gone whaling for at least one earlier voyage, probably as a "greenhand," learning what was a difficult and dangerous occupation. Crew lists for New Bedford ships apparently start mostly in 1808, evident from personal research, leaving little chance of finding proof of earlier trips. The time between trips for a career whaleman was often less than a year and usually much less. Given this, there were only about six possible ships that would have brought John Briggs into port before his 1808 Sally trip. The most likely was Triton, which left New Bedford around July 1806 (when John was 18) and returned in October 1807 with a full cargo of oil from the Cape of Good Hope. This was one of the whaling fleet of I. Howland, Jr. & Co., but what makes it more compelling than the other ships is that the captain was Obed Clark. Clark didn't continue with the Howlands but switched to the William Rotch fleet in 1808, and may have brought trusted crewmen with him. John may have been on an even earlier whaling voyage. At that time they were usually about two years duration. A ship leaving in 1804 could have had John on it, he being about 16 years old.

     Sally returned in August 1810 with a "full" cargo of oil, the profit of which would go mostly to the prinicipal owners William Rotch, Jr., and Thomas Hazard.1.1 Rotch and Hazard were among the most prominent of New Bedford's merchants and its community of Friends (Quakers). The crew had an exciting incident to tell their families. In the home stretch the ship encountered the British sloop-of-war Mary about 6 degrees above the equator.1.2 Escalating hostility between England and the United States before the War of 1812 was hard-felt in the Atlantic Ocean, with English harassment of American commercial vessels. The captain of Mary demanded that Capt. Clark "set her colors" for national identification. When he refused, the sloop began to fire on the whaler "with swivel and musket." Mary came up beside Sally and Clark was called a damned rascal, followed by more rounds of musket fire. The sloop's lieutenant boarded Sally and detained her for an hour.

     That Capt. Clark may have been impressed by John Briggs on an 1806-1807 trip of Triton is supported by his hiring John for the next trip of Sally and raised his responsibility to include, with his coopering, being a boasteerer. The New Bedford Whaling Museum describes the job of boatsteerer this way:

"A boatsteerer in any whaleship was one of the most responsible members of the ship’s company. He had to be a skilled harpooneer to fasten on to the whale, and an able boat-handler to guide the frail craft while the boatheader (officer) took up the lance to kill the whale. Incompetence could result in injury or death."1.3

The shipping paper for this trip passed through a historical document auction in 2007, allowing a public glimpse where other documentation apparently is lacking.1.4 His "lay" of the profits, and that of the other boatsteerer on board, was the third highest behind the captain's mate. Given that there were two boatsteerers and 10 "mariners," there were likely two whale boats manned by 5 seamen, a boatsteerer and the captain and the mate between them.

     This voyage took the crew into the Pacific Ocean. Coming home around Cape Horn from the coast of Peru, history repeated. The War of 1812 had been declared a month earlier, and privateering was commonplace in the Atlantic. Sally was intercepted on 16 July 1812 on the way back to New Bedford with 1230 barrels of oil.1.5 It wasn't far from home, being at a point about due south of Cape Cod and due east of Washington, DC. The privateer was the British sloop-of-war Recruit. A mate from the sloop was likely put on board Sally, and they sailed together to the east for about six days. Recruit caught the ship Canowa, from Lisbon and heading for New York and the ship Suwarrow, heading to New York from Liverpool. Probably the last of the prizes was the brig Newton, sailing from Lisbon to Baltimore, taken about the 22nd of July. The American crews were forced to give up the ships, cargo and their personal belongings, but the latter were returned to them, including cash. The former were taken to Bermuda. Newton, was converted to a cartel to transport the crews, being empty except ballast (weight). The various American captains were probably taken to Bermuda as well, where another cartel was created and they were sent to New York. Newton had departed for Philadelphia, but there wasn't enough food for the unexpected increase of men on board. On 1 August they met the brig Martha Pond bound for New London. The brig took the Sally crew and deposited them in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on 3 August.1.6 Those who lived in New Bedford were back there the next day, when mate James Bennett went to The New Bedford Mercury office to give the paper his news. From that news it's known that the ship, which had otherwise been reported at and off the coasts of Chile and Peru, were also at the Galapagos Islands.

     Back on land in Fairhaven John made himself busy courting a young woman named Elizabeth Jenney. She was living with her mother and younger brother somewhere in that town. Before her father ran away with a mistress they lived on a farm neighboring one of John's sister's family. Where John stayed once he came to Fairhaven isn't known, but if he boarded with Lydia (Briggs) Stevens, he may have met the Jenney family as early as 1808. John and Elizabeth married in early January 1813.1.7 This may have been at the Fairhaven Congregational Church, into which Elizabeth and her siblings had been baptized.

     Going back to sea as a whaler wasn't an option in 1813 and 1814. As one source put it, "during the war our [United States] shipping and commerce per capita fell to the lowest point occupied since the Revolution. In the last year (1814) the British blockade was so complete that very little merchandise was imported or exported."1.8

     John was ready when the whaling business geared up again, joining the crew of Barclay in the Summer of 1815.1.9 The captain, Job Coffin, either brought him on as boatsteerer again or as third mate. They had a good trip, coming back in 1817 with 1,950 barrels of oil to William Rotch, Jr. The crewlist for this trip places his home in Fairhaven. The first mate had died during the trip, suggesting an advance in position among the officers. John very likely become a mate at sea. He joined the Barclay crew again under Capt. Coffin in 1818 as first mate.2 By then he had moved to New Bedford, according to the crew list, and fathered a son who would be named for him. They returned late in 1820, topping their previous oil production by 50 barrels.2.1

      Having risen steadily in the ranks and apparently not daunted by the rigors of the business, John was now ready to be his own master. A Berkley town history says that "Capt. John Briggs, son of John, the mason, was a bold hardy master of a whale ship, made profitable voyages of three years in the Pacific Ocean; would stand on the bow of a tossing boat to hurl the harpoon, courage supplied the want of knowledge."2.2 William Rotch may not have had a master's position for John, but for whatever reason he was hired by another whaling partnership. Wilmington & Liverpool Packet was owned primarily by John Avery Parker, Willam H. Allen and Gideon Allen.3.5 They were also local businessmen of considerable influence, but it may have been significant that they were Congregationalists, not Friends. In the case of the Allens, they were recent converts. John captained that ship for three trips between 1821 and 1830 spanning from Bremen to Japan.2.3 John took the ship out of New Bedford Harbor for the first time after having been cleared for sailing by the 13th of April. Following the usual route for whalers, he followed the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to the Cape de Verdes island of Bonavista, from which he left "for South Seas" on 31 May.3.6. The New Bedford Mercury reported that W & L Packet was seen in the Pacific Ocean previous to October 1822 with 1300 barrels of oil.4 The shipping reports would often be more specific, referring to the oil being "sperm" or "whale," meaning right whale. John was on the coast of California in December 1822, according to a report made by the ship Minerva when it returned to New Bedford.5 When ships encountered each other at sea or in a port, they would exchange information (shipping news columns referred to it as having "spoken"). This was an important way to get updates on the status of ships that spent most of their years at sea in remote areas. Owners of ships and families of the crews in this way hoped for good news. W & L Packet arrived in New Bedford with 2600 barrels specified as sperm oil on 27 December 1823, and reportedly broke a record.6 In his landmark History of the American Whale Fishery," Alexander Starbuck refers to this event but calls John Briggs "Capt. Richmond," which has since been repeated by other writers.

     John's rise to master mariner and his successful trip were a much mitigated joy. While previously at sea, two of his three sons died. At the end of December 1821, eight months after he had left New Bedford and on the other side of the world, the Mercury included this in their "deaths" column: "in this town, on Thursday night last week, John, aged 6 years; and on Saturday morning, James, aged 3 years, youngest sons of Capt. John Briggs. They were both interred on Sunday, in one grave." 7 Over that grave is a single marker, in a plot probably purchased by John's father-in-law to bury his own two sons who died as boys.

Elizabeth, her sons, her mother and two little brothers are buried next to each other in Nasketucket Cemetery, Fairhaven.

     John now had the means and apparently the desire to buy a house. Manasseh Kempton, another Congregationalist, sold him 97 Elm Street in New Bedford for $2,150.00, and then held a mortgage for a third of it.6.1 This transaction was in February of 1824. A housewright, Kempton undoubtedly was the builder of the house. He was one of the major land owners when New Bedford began to be developed in the late 18th century. His tract was north of Elm Street and prominent Friend Joseph Russell's was to the south. The subsequent development of Kempton's land was by fellow Congregational/Unitarians and Russell sold to other Friends. Such was life in New Bedford. It isn't yet known if or where the Briggs attended church, but a likely place was the First Congregational (later Unitarian) Church in New Bedford (for reasons discussed later), and Kempton was a deacon there. There was probably a social relationship between the Briggs and Kemptons as well. Kempton's daughters Abby and Sophia were witnesses to the Briggs deed and Sophia and John would be married in the not too distant future. The Kempton's house at the corner of Eighth and Elm Streets was close to 97 Elm.

No images of this house have been found. It was built about the same time as the Elisha Thornton, Jr., house at 20 Seventh St., and that in turn was similar to the house once at 109 Elm, also likely Manasseh Kempton-built. The above map shows that 97 and 109 Elm ("L. D. Fleming") were the same shape and size. Here is a photo of the Thornton house.

John isn't on record as having previously bought property, suggesting he had rented a house or rooms in Fairhaven and then in New Bedford. The 1820 US census is alphabetical rather than by route of enumeration, eliminating the possibility of placing the family in that year. John, Elizabeth and their three boys are enumerated, as well as an unidentified woman over 45. This may have been Elizabeth's mother, Hannah (Landers) Jenney. There was a woman over 45 in Phebe (Jenney) Jenney's family as well, Phebe being John's sister-in-law.
     On 5 April 1824 John became a member of the Star in the East Masonic Lodge in New Bedford. It was created the previous November.6.2 Shortly after, on the 24th of April, started the second trip on W & L Packet was not for whales, but headed ultimately for Bremen.6.3 He was sighted in City Point, Newport News, Virginia, by 9 May and was there for about a month, sailing for Bremen on the 12th of June. As he was heading across the Atlantic, Elizabeth died back at home. By July 29 the ship had reached Bremen. It isn't noted in the Mercury what he brought back. He left on 6 August and was supposed to make a stop in Lisbon, but his arrival was "47 days from Bremen," suggesting he didn't.6.35 When he returned on 22 September he had only his son Luther left to greet him, and Luther, who was 10, had lived without any immediate family for three months. He may have been taken in by an aunt or uncle, given that he had several from his maternal and paternal sides living in Fairhaven or New Bedford. John's father was still alive at this time, although further away in Berkley. Another possibility is that the Kemptons took care of the boy. It was traumatic enough to be all but orphaned, but the following December his father left again. He was gone for 2 1/2 years and still the question: who took care of Luther?
     In the papers accounting for his crew after his return, John mentions that he had to discharge several men for mutinous behavior. The New Bedford Mercury printed this notice, which is the only information found to date of the event.

The ship Wilmington & Liverpool Packet, Briggs, of New-Bedford, (out 11 months with 1200 bbls. oil,) left Payta on the 4th, and put back on the 5th Nov. three of the crew having mutined and declared their intention of killing the Capt. - this they communited to the 2nd mate, and wanted him to join them. He immediatley informed Capt. Briggs, who thought proper to return to Pata, and having got the mutineers secured, with the assistance of the Capt. of the port, proceeded to the American Consul's at Guayaquil. The mutineers were the cook, the steward, and a seaman named Pease.6.4

Two of the men were African Americans: John Stevens of Philadelphia and William Jenkins of Albany, probably the cook and steward respectively, given their ages (see the crew list). The third was Joseph Pease of Taunton. He is described as "coloured" in complexion with black, straight hair. He may have been Native American. Why the men thought that 2nd mate Timothy Russell would be sympathetic is open to speculation, as is the cause of the mutiny. Racial issues come immediately to mind, and the men may have wanted to leave when they were in Payta and were denied. There was another African American on the crew who isn't mentioned in the drama.
     On 8 March 1827 W & L Packet arrived in New Bedford with 2700 barrels of whale oil.(7.1) The trip home took 100 days from the Society Islands in the South Pacific (presumably Tahiti, the primary island there and a favorite "refreshing" spot for whalers). Somehow Joseph Rotch, a son of William mentioned above and who had moved to Philadelphia, acquired a sperm whale head brought back by WLP and donated it to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.7.16 He had previously donated other animal heads, suggesting John Briggs saved the head specifically for Rotch.
     John married Sophia Kempton two weeks after he got home. News and letters to and from home ports were exchanged from great distances. A marriage with Sophia must have been discussed while John was away. John and Sophia very likey attended the same church: the First Congregational (later Unitarian) Church of New Bedford. John and Sophia later co-founded the Unitarian church in Rochester, New York. William Ware, a prominent minister at the Second Unitarian Church in New York City with previous New Bedford connections, must somehow have left a great impression on one or both of the betrothed. They traveled to New York and were married by him, an evening wedding presumably in the newly built church at Mercer and Prince Streets.7.2

(coll. New York Public Library)

Second Unitarian Church, corner Mercer and Prince Sts., Manhattan

     Wilmington & Liverpool Packet left New Bedford again in late August 1827 with John Briggs at the helm for the last time. Not surprisingly, Luther couldn't take any more of this. An obituary (very likely written by his son Luther, Jr.) has it that he ran away from school and went to sea.7.3 As it turns out, his father had a hand in this, at least the latter part. John Briggs had a similar experience, losing his own mother and gaining a new when he was a boy, so may have understood Luther more than other fathers would. John took him over to the Customs House, lied about his age and had protection papers drawn up for him. He then brought him on board W & L Packet, perhaps for the position of "boy," and began an experience other boys couldn't imagine. It may have been appealing to have Luther under his wing after having his family disapppear one by one while he was away.

(coll. of National Archives & Records Adm., Waltham, MA)

a Proof of Citizenship, customary for whaling seamen, was arranged for Luther just before W & L P S left New Bedford in 1827

Luther's correct age, 13, was changed to 14

     W. & L. Packet was hauled off its wharf in New Bedford by 24 August 1827 and was out of port by the 31st.7.5 It arrived in the waters around Oahu in March 1828.(7.6) It was reported there again in April 1829, according to a logbook for the ship Plough Boy.7.4 This appearance at ports was fairly predictable. Whalers tended to "refresh" and get new supplies in spring and fall. Within the space of about a year-and-a-half John and his crew produced 1200 barrels of oil.7.7 They had undoubtedly gone from Hawaii over to the Sea of Japan, which had become a very popular whaling ground.
     The ship certainly later sailed for the Sea of Japan with Plough Boy. Another 1000 barrels were produced in the summer and perhaps early fall of 1829.7.75 Plough Boy sailed back to Oahu, then to the Society Islands - perhaps John did as well, since this was a well-traveled route for whalers. He set sail for New Bedford on 28 March 1830 from Talcahuano, Chile (another popular whaling port) and was back home on 24 June with 2800 barrels of oil.(7.8) Luther was now 16 and fully exposed to a whaler's life and some exotic locales.

Library of Congress "American Memory" website

"View of the Island of Woahoo
[Oahu] in the Pacific as Viewed by C. E. Bensell in 1821"

     John Briggs is credited with possibly "discovering" on one of these W & L Packet trips the tiny island of Laysan, also known as Kauo, in the Hawaiian archipelago. More about this can be found on this page .

from "Jane's Oceana" site (, taken from a report made in 1923.

     Several years after John passed the helm to another captain, Richard Henry Dana described an encounter with W&LP in his book Two Years Before the Mast," which may also approximate the impression John and his crew had on someone seeing them at sea:
As soon as her anchor was down we went aboard, and found her to be the whale-ship Wilmington and Liverpool Packet, of New Bedford, last from the "off-shore ground," with nineteen hundred barrels of oil. A "spouter" we knew her to be, as soon as we saw her, by her cranes and boats, and by her stump top-gallant-masts, and a certain slovenly look to the sails, rigging, spars, and hull; and when we got on board, we found everything to correspond,-- spouter fashion. She had a false deck, which was rough and oily, and cut up in every direction by the chines of oil casks; her rigging was slack, and turning white, paint worn off the spars and blocks, clumsy seizings, straps without covers, and "homeward-bound splices" in every direction. Her crew, too, were not in much better order. Her captain was a slab-sided Quaker, in a suit of brown, with a broad-brimmed hat, bending his long legs as he moved about decks, with his head down, like a sheep, and the men looked more like fishermen and farmers than they did like sailors. Though it was by no means cold weather (we having on only our red shirts and duck trousers), they all had on woollen trousers,-- not blue and ship-shape, but of all colors,-- brown, drab, gray, aye, and green,-- with suspenders over their shoulders, and pockets to put their hands in. This, added to Guernsey frocks, striped comforters about the neck, thick cowhide boots, woollen caps, and a strong, oily smell, and a decidedly green look, will complete the description. Eight or ten were on the fore topsail yard, and as many more in the main, furling the topsails, while eight or ten were hanging about the forecastle, doing nothing. This was a strange sight for a vessel coming to anchor; so we went up to them, to see what was the matter. One of them, a stout, hearty-looking fellow, held out his leg and said he had the scurvy; another had cut his hand; and others had got nearly well, but said that there were plenty aloft to furl the sails, so they were sogering on the forecastle. There was only one ``splicer'' on board, a fine-looking old tar, who was in the bunt of the fore topsail. He was probably the only thorough marline-spike seaman in the ship, before the mast. The mates, of course, and the boat-steerers, and also two or three of the crew, had been to sea before, but only on whaling voyages; and the greater part of the crew were raw hands, just from the bush, and had not yet got the hay-seed out of their hair. The mizzen topsail hung in the buntlines until everything was furled forward. Thus a crew of thirty men were half an hour in doing what would have been done in the Alert, with eighteen hands to go aloft, in fifteen or twenty minutes. We found they had been at sea six or eight months, and had no news to tell us, so we left them, and promised to get liberty to come on board in the evening for some curiosities. Accordingly, as soon as we were knocked off in the evening and were through supper, we obtained leave, took a boat, and went aboard and spent an hour or two. They gave us pieces of whalebone, and the teeth and other parts of curious sea animals, and we exchanged books with them,-- a practice very common among ships in foreign ports, by which you get rid of the books you have read and re-read, and a supply of new ones in their stead, and Jack is not very nice as to their comparative value.

[Dana makes further interesting comments about his description of whalemen]

I have been told that this description of a whaleman has given offence to the whale-trading people of Nantucket, New Bedford, and the Vineyard. It is not exaggerated; and the appearance of such a ship and crew might well impress a young man trained in the ways of a ship of the style of the Alert. Long observation has satisfied me that there are no better seamen, so far as handling a ship is concerned, and none so venturous and skilful navigators, as the masters and officers of our whalemen. But never, either on this voyage, or in a subsequent visit to the Pacific and its islands, was it my fortune to fall in with a whaleship whose appearance, and the appearance of whose crew, gave signs of strictness of discipline and seaman-like neatness. Probably these things are impossibilities, from the nature of the business, and I may have made too much of them.

     John moved another step higher in the whaling hierarchy in 1831. He mastered the ship Frances in that year, but he was also one of the primary owners of the vessel with members of the same Allen family who co-owned W & L Packet.9 Also among the owners were Timothy I. Dyre and Anthony D. Richmond, Joshua Richmond, John H. Coggeshall and Samuel J. L. Vose. Timothy Dyre, Anthony Richmond and possibly others among them were fellow members of the Star of the East Lodge. Joshua Richmond and John Coggeshall were partners briefly in a mercantile firm with the Allen brothers in 1828 and 1829. Coggeshall, Richmond and Samuel Vose formed a partnership in 1829 to succeed the one with the Allens. Clearly this consortium was based on both fraternal and business ties.
     Frances was one of two New Bedford ships registered with that name. It was 368 tons, 105 feet long, 20 feet wide and featured a female figurehead. The first two trips were short, between 1831 and 1833, apparently extending only to the South Atlantic. The first featured his now adult son Luther as first mate. He must have had a notable talent for the work. At only 5 feet 1 3/4 inches, he couldn't have had the control over the crew necessary for that position by physical imposition, and John Briggs was evidently smart enough to know the risks in whaling were too great to indulge in unqualified nepotism. The next two trips were 3 and 4 years, the last ending in 1840. There is a log book for the first trip that indicates a visit to Madagascar. This has yet to be seen in detail. On 17 and 18 April 1839 Frances crossed paths with the United States Exploring Expedition, better known as the Wilkes Expedition, the mission of which was to document natural resources and ethnology across the world in places unfamiliar to American scholars. The expedition was the result, in part, of the efforts Jeremiah Reynolds made in 1828 to have the South Pacific better documented, with John Briggs apparently contributing his bit about Laysan Island. The concept, which was to be a government effort, met with ten years of bureaucratic red tape. The ship Peacock was one of the vessels involved, and Titian Peale, one of the documenting artists, says in his journal that John Briggs approached them and came aboard their ship, then officers of Peacock went to Frances and brought back "island lances and shells." Although not mentioning Briggs by name, he refers to the number of months the ship had been at sea, the number of barrels the ship currently had and the amount sent home and the intent to go to Valparaiso. This leaves no doubt which ship Frances was referred to, aside from the fact that it could not have been the other Frances of New Bedford. The journal of Peacock captain William Hudson may reveal more. In expedition leader Charles Wilkes narrative, he summarizes Hudson's journal entry by saying only that they encountered Frances and offered medical assistance, but the exchange of visits and the relics would seem to warrant more of an entry.

Left: Parker's Block, Middle St., New Bedford, built 1833. The area marked in red was the "counting house" (business office) of the Allen family in the later 1830s. They and John Briggs would have conducted business here for the last two trips of "Frances." Whale-oil barrels are lined up in the foreground. Right: New Bedford wharves in 1876. Parker's Block is at the top of the image. There are some things in this view that post date John Briggs' whaling days, such as the railroad track acros the wharves. It hasn't been found yet where "Frances" was docked, since the Allens didn't have their own wharf. "Wilmington & Liverpool Packet" was docked at Parker's Wharf. John A. Parker's counting house before he had his Block built was probably on the same site in a smaller building. John Briggs would have gone there for business through the 1820s.

     The first known child of John and Sophia was John K. (probably Kempton) Briggs, born about 1833. He returned and fathered another child in the Fall of 1836. A daughter Abby Ann was born the following July, 8 months after John had sailed out of New Bedford on his last whaling voyage. Abby died in 1838 while John was still at sea. He returned with 1310 barrels of oil, 950 of it sperm oil. He kept an interest in Frances but retired and moved from New Bedford in 1840 or 1841.10
     In notes on the family by Luther, Jr., there is no mention of his grandfather's second wife and two more children, leaving to question what relationship Luther, Sr., had with his stepmother. He also didn't mention his father's two full brothers who died young, but he could have met his step grandmother and half uncle. Luther, Jr., also said that John moved to "Rochester" and had a hardware store called "Watts and Briggs." Rochester, Massachusetts, which is close to New Bedford, seemed the obvious choice, but the move was to the far less expected Rochester, New York. On 17 August 1841 John was among the trustees who signed articles of incorporation for the First Unitarian Church in Rochester. Sophia's sister Deborah married her second husband Ebenezer Watts, a Rochester hardware merchant, and she settled there before the Briggs. This was likely the impetus for the Briggs to choose Rochester. The Watts were also members of the Unitarian church.
     Where the Briggs lived during the first three years they were in Rochester isn't yet known, but it may have been at 40 South Sophia Street. The 1844 Rochester city directory places them there and says John was a hardware merchant at the corner of Buffalo and Exchange Streets. They likely bought the property in 1840, but perhaps not until 1844 (deeds need to be re-consulted). The house at 40 South Sophia (by then Plymouth Street) on an 1875 map shows a large house set back from the street with the suggestion of an ornamental landscape in front of it. Sophia Briggs bought lots 126 and 127 South Sophia on 7 June 1852 from Joel B. Bennett, who had bought it from George Byington earlier that year. Byington had owned it since 1827. 40 South Sophia is later referred to as #126, so it's possible that the Briggs rented the house from Byington, but why did Sophia by it in her own name before John died? Ebenezer Watts had a store on Exchange Street, but not described as being at the corner of Exchange. However, a later map says "J. Watts" was the owner of the corner building. He was Ebenezer's son, and it is reasonable to assume that Briggs and the Watts were commercially associated. If they were ever known as "Watts & Briggs" it hasn't been found, and there are no Rochester directories for 1842 and 1843. The directory for 1845 says John was "Capt." John, farmer on Genesee Street. His farm was called "Elm Wood Grove."11 He bought it in 1844, which corresponds to the change in residence in city directories. It would seem he left the hardware business at that point.

A portion of the Dripps map of Rochester published in 1851. The dotted line to the left is the boundary between Rochester and the town of Gates.

     The 1850 Federal agricultural census shows that the farm produced enough to support the family.12 There were 42 "improved" acres. The whole of the farm was valued at $9,300. There were 3 horses, 2 milk cows, 4 sheep and 4 pigs. In the previous year the farm had produced 160 bushels of wheat, 100 bushels of Indian corn, 100 bushels of Irish potatoes and 15 tons of hay. $40 worth of animals had been slaughtered. He and Sophia has several real estate investments in downtown Rochester including one on Sophia Street, but apparently not #40, which they likely rented. Sophia boughtFurther research is needed in this area. The 1845 Rochester directory lists John Henry as a farmer at J. Briggs' farm. The year after John Briggs moved to the farm he served as alderman for the 8th Ward. Politics may not have suited him since he only served one term.12.1 He also served the eight ward on a "vigilance committee."12.2
     John died in 1853, probably at the Watts house at what was 58 South Fitzhugh Street. Perhaps the farm was too much for him to manage. Both he and his son John K., as well as his male Kempton and Watts in-laws, are listed at 58 So. Fitzhugh in the 1853 directory. He didn't leave a will, but other probate records and newspapers have yet to be researched.(12.5) His death date is known only from his gravestone. He, Sophia and their son John were all transported back to New Bedford when they died and were buried in a lot with Abby at Oak Grove Cemetery.13 The lot is next to one purchased by Sophia's immediate family. Luther Jenney, John's brother-in-law, also owned a lot nearby. The Briggs lot is unusual in that the graves are marked by table stones, which was a more common practice in 17th and 18th century New England for wealthy families and ministers. Abby has her own little table. John and Sophia's graves are marked by a single stone and the third is for their son John K. Sophia was responsible for this memorial, as is evident in the emotional inscription:

of Rochester N.Y.
only son of
Capt. John & Sophia F.
Died Jan. 29, 1863
Aged 29 years

He was a member of Co. H 2nd
Cal. Vols. and fell in a con-
flict with the Indians near
Salt Lake City, giving all he
had and his life to his Coun-
try's service. His widowed mo
ther mourns the loss of a brave
affectionate son who died belov-
ed and lamented by a large cir-
cle of relatives and friends

Dulce et decorum, est pro
patria mori
[It is sweet and glorius to die for one's country]

H.G.W. [a person's initials? not identified]

The "conflict with the Indians" occurred at Bear Rver, Utah, and evidence has shown that this was the worst massacre of Native Americans in United States history. More about this can be found here.

The Briggs plot in Oak Grove Cemetery, New Bedford. Abby's stone is the little one now standing upright between the table supports. John and Sophia's stone is in the middle and John K.'s is to the right.

children of John and Elizabeth (Jenney) Briggs:

i. Luther Jenney Briggs b. 7 October 1813
ii. James b. June 1815, d. 20 December 1821
iii. John b. September 1818, d. 22 December 1821

child of John and Sophia (Kempton) Briggs:

iv. John K(empton?) b. abt 1833, d. 29 January 1863
v.. Abby Ann K(empton?) b. abt. July 1837, d. 6 September 1838, probably named for her deceased aunt Abby Ann West Kempton.

sources for vital records: John's birth is probably recorded in the Berkley vital records, which have not been seen for this period. His first marriage date comes from the New Bedford Mercury (hereafter NBM), which reported it on 8 January 1813 without referring to a day. His second marriage is recorded in the Columbian Centinel, in the New York Post, 24 March 1827, but most informatively in the NBM, 30 March 1827. His death date comes from his gravestone in Oak Grove Cemetery, New Bedford. The signatures shown at the top of the page are significantly different, but circumstantial evidence clearly points to the same John Briggs in each instance. Signatures for his son Luther show a similar difference: one more formal, another quicker and business-like.

1. crewlist of ship Sally, New Bedford Crew Lists 1820-1915, Record Group 36 (RG 36), National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region (Boston); The New Bedford Mercury (NBM), 5 August 1808, p. 3.
1.1 NBM, 17 August 1810, p. 3.
1.2 The Old Colony Gazette, 17 August 1810, p. 3, also reported in NBM, but abridged.
1.4 website of Heritage Auction Galleries,, last accessed 8 March 2008.
1.5 several newspaper reports are pertinent: NBM, 7 August 1812, p. 3; Poulson's American Daily Adviser, 10 August 1812, p. 3; The New York Gazette, 14 September 1812, p. 2.
1.6 The New York Gazette, 8 August 1812, p. 3; Poulson's American Daily Adviser, 11 August 1812, p. 3.
1.7 NBM, 8 January 1813, p. 3.
1.8 William W. Bates, American Marine; the Shipping in Question in History and Politics (Boston & New York:1893), p. 102.
1.9 crewlist of ship Barclay, 4 July 1815, New Bedford Crew Lists 1820-1915, Record Group 36 (RG 36), National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region (Boston); NBM, 21 July 1815, p. 3.
2. crewlist of ship Barclay, 10 January 1818, New Bedford Crew Lists 1820-1915, Record Group 36 (RG 36), National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region (Boston); NBM, 16 January 1818, p. 3.
2.1 NBM, 20 October 1820, p. 3.
2.2 Enoch Sanford, History of Berkley, Massachusetts, etc. (New York:1872), p. 36
2.3 NBM, 13 April 1821, p. 3.
3.5. Port of New Bedford Ship Registers. John A. Parker was involved with the Briggs in granting and buying a property at 194-195 Frankfurt St., Rochester, in 1847 and 1851.
3.6. Baltimore Patriot, 10 August 1821, p. 3.
4. NBM, 4 April 1823.
5. Ibid, 22 August 1823.
6. reported in The Baltimore Patriot (10 Jan 1824, p. 2 and 3, clip above from p. 2) and The Newport Mercury (3 Jan 1824, p. 3). The New Bedford Mercury did not report the record being broken. Alexander Starbuck's History of the American Whale Fishery, etc., makes several major errors in his reference: "The Wilmington and Liverpool packet, Captain Richmond, sailed from New Bedford in June, 1820, for the Pacific Ocean, returning on the 27th of December, 1823, with 2,600 barrels of sperm-oil-the largest amount procured by any one New Bedford ship to that date, and worth, at the average price of oil in 1823, about $65,000." He limits the record to a New Bedford ship, inferring it wasn't the largest ever brought into the US (or it was an unintentional omission).
6.1. Bristol Co. (Southern District) deed, 17 February 1824, Manasseh Kempton, New Bedford housewright, to John Briggs, New Bedford mariner. He arranged a mortgage with Kempton for $7---.--, the amount to be paid by 17 February 1827.
6.2. History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, etc., part 1, p. 109.
6.3.NBM, 23 April 1824, WLP, Briggs, sailed for City Point (VA) on the 18th.
6.35. Ibid, issues 17 September (to leave abt. 5 August for Lisbon) and 24 September 1824, p. 3.
6.4. issue of 19 May 1826, p. 3, referring to November 1825. The Providence Patriot carried the same story verbatim the following day on p. 3. A notice immediately preceeding says that an agent for Lloyd's at Lima sent news of ships touching at Payta for the season, and he may have sent the dispatch about the mutiny.
7. Mercury, 28 December 1821.
7.1. Ibid, 9 March 1827. The customs records for the Port of New Bedford say that John brought one passenger with him from "the Port of the Society Islands" named Leanard Sistare, a mariner and US (citizen?). The ship is referred to as having a 384 ton berth.
7.15. By 1840 he was next door or very near to prominent whaler William C. Swain, who was captain to his son's first mate on the ship William Hamilton.
7.16. Swann Auction Gallery catalogue, excerpted in the Google Books online database.
7.2. A notice of the marriage appears in The New York Post? and The Columbian Centinel, and both are abbreviated versions of the one in the Mercury of 30 March 1827: "In New York, by the Rev. Mr. Ware, Capt. John Briggs to Miss Sophia F. Kempton, daughter of deacon Manasseh Kempton, all of this town."
7.3. The New York Daily Tribune obituary, 6 January 1894, p. 7.
7.35. News from home probably reached people abroad by way of other ships and at foreign ports, especially when they were at sea for such long periods, but this assumption hasn't been confirmed by any actual references in primary sources.
7.4. Logbook written by Lewis Monto, crew-member of Plough Boy out of Nantucket.
7.5. Mercury, 24 and 31 August 1827.
7.6. Monto.
7.7. Mercury, 15 May 1829.
7.75. Ibid, 19 March 1830.
.8. Ibid, 23 June 1830.
9. Port of New Bedford Ship Registers.
10. an incidental note: John, Sophia and son John K. are in the 1840 census of New Bedford. The official enumeration date was 1 June.
12.1. William Farley Peck, History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York, etc., vol. 1, p. 347.
12.2. The Rochester Daily Democrat, 28 Feb 1846, p. 2, col. 7 (this info. taken from an index).
12.5. Sophia's transcribed will is in vol. 20, p. 365. Original needs to be seen to clarify who her heirs were. They were John B. Briggs (with an unreadable notation afterward) and John C. Briggs. Who were they??

all text and photographs © 1998-2012 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted

Copy of the William L. Hudson journal is available at the American Museum of Natural History. Titian Peale's is at the NY Botanical Garden library. deed Bennett/Briggs 107:342, Byington/Bennett 103:189 194/195 Frankfort, Parker property Genesee farm, mtge 3 June 1850 to A. S. Beckwith ($1200), Roch Savings Bank 1 Nov 1847 ($1000) and 9 April 1849 ($1200), sold with assumable mortgages by John and Sophia to Bennett 7 June 1852, 103:483, $8000, witness Hope S. Davis John and Sophia to Peter B. Warner, 24 Mar 1853, 110:440, deed from Bennet to Briggs mentioned, $3025 same, 150 Buffalo St., north side, $700, to Joel B. Bennett, 16 Mar 1853 - no grantee deed found Sophia to Elizabeth Reid, 1863, 178: Sophia sued Warner and others in Supreme Court in 1863