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Thornton (left) and Luther Briggs, about 1850



probably taken about 1893 in Fanwood, New Jersey
excerpted from a glass plate image in the collection of Douglas C. Wendell, Jr.



     There is no oral history about Luther other than that he served in the Civil War, had diabetes and liked the writing of Charles Dickens. Nevertheless, a more detailed idea of his life can be found in other records. He was probably born at his Thornton grandparents' house at 20 Seventh Street in New Bedford. About 1853, when he was 8, the family moved to Brooklyn, NY. While he was a boy, he and various other family members joined Luther, Sr., occasionally on his trips between New York City and Liverpool, undoubtedly a very exciting experience.
     Before they were married, Luther and his brother Thornton lived with their parents at 46 (now 67) Joralemon St. in Brooklyn Heights. Celia Marsh's diary, which includes a visit to the Briggs in Brooklyn in 1857, mentions that the brothers had been to a school exhibition on the evening of 2 July. The Brookly Daily Eagle has an article in the 3 July issue about an exhibition the night before at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute at 99 Livingstone Avenue. The school had opened in 1855 and was open to children 9 to 19 years old. It is very reasonable to think Thornton and Luther went there, but their records haven't been researched. The school is now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, but the original school building still stands.
     When he was 18, Luther enlisted in Co. E of the 23rd regiment of the New York National Guard, headquartered in Brooklyn. The regiment was organized to respond to the alert that Lee's troops were closing in on the Gettysburg area. Men enlisted for three months between 18 June to 22 July 1863. An extensive account of this regiment exists, written by a man who served in the same regiment but a different company than Luther. At 8:00 in the morning, the regiment marched to Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn with 2 days cooked rations, the streets lined with cheering crowds.



The 23rd Regiment armory during the Civil War

They crossed the harbor to Manhattan and boarded a ferry to (Perth) Amboy, NJ, from Battery Park. They took a train to Philadelphia, where they had dinner at the Union Volunteers Refreshment Saloon.







They spent most of their time moving on foot through the mountains and farmland, sometimes in very wet and very hot weather. They were mostly on scouting and picketing duty north of Gettysburg, and spent some time building the simple earthworks at Camp Couch near Harrisburg.



Luther was in Co. E, but this photo of Co. F at Harrisburg during the 1863 campaign is a good indication of the looks of the companies of the 23rd Regiment at the time.

Apparently only a small group of scouts from the regiment had any engagement with Confederate troops. The regiment returned to New York by train and steamboat by way of Maryland and New Jersey.



     Luther first appears in the Brooklyn city directories as a bookkeeper in 1867 at the age of 22, suggesting he learned accounting. Later directories list him as a bookkeeper at a dry goods establishment in Manhattan, located successively at 59 Leonard St. (1879-1882) and 34 Thomas St. (1883-1884?) James M. Dunbar was a commission merchant at 59 Leonard St. in 1880, and he may have been Luther's employer. He is called a salesman in one of the directories, but this may be an error. He was married to Mariana Bartlett at her father's house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The couple moved to East Orange, New Jersy, where their daughter Harriet was born, and then they moved back to Brooklyn probably by early 1872, since Luther, Sr., is listed in the directory for that year and Mariana died there in February.



part of Luther and Mariana's marriage certificate


     Luther and baby Harriet lived with Luther's parents and his great-aunt Rebecca Thornton at 168 Livingston Ave., Brooklyn, for about a year. He married Mariana's sister Ada in 1873 at the Unitarian Church of Our Saviour, which seems to have been where the Briggs family worshipped. Ada's mother had died five years earlier, and she undoubtedly, as the youngest and unmarried daughter, had been helping to look after her father. He had a failing heart in the last year of his life (1876-77). This may explain why Luther and Ada were living with him in that year, although there is every indication that Harriet remained with her Briggs grandparents until sometime after Jonas Bartlett's death.
     Luther and Ada had a daughter Mariana and a son Russell. They (and perhaps Harriet, although it's unknown when she returned to them) lived at various addresses in Brooklyn in the later 1870s and 1880's, mostly in what is now the Clinton Hill neighborhood (413 Adelphi St., 161 Cumberland St., 8 Cambridge Pl. and 341 Lafayette St.).
     Luther was the recording secretary of the Brooklyn YMCA in the early 1880s, with an affiliation with the Congregational church. He was among the representatives of the Young Men's Republican Club sent to a convention in Chicago. He was at some point second vice president, when he and other officers resigned over a dispute within the party. Luther was also vice president of the Excelsior Club, a Brooklyn baseball organization, in the 1870s. He joined on 9 June 1873 and became a life member in 1884. His cousins William Gerrish and William and Thomas Thornton were also members. A notice found in one of Harriet's scrapbooks refers to the "Dickens Club" closing, signed by John Wanamaker. A search of The New York Times for the period reveals that the Dickens Club was composed of subscribers who bought sets of books by the author from a publisher in England. Luther undoubtedly was a subscriber, given Gertrude "Gig" Wister's mention of his liking Dickens.
     The family moved from Brooklyn sometime after 1886, eventually settling in Fanwood, New Jersey. Luther's father had been living with them shortly before he died in 1894, and Harriet was engaged in Fanwood about a year earlier. By 1897 the Briggs were in Manhattan. In that year and the next, they lived at 254 W. 133rd St. In 1899 and 1900 they lived at 475 Central Park West. Luther died in Union Hill, New Jersey, now a part of Union City, in 1904. His death certificate hasn't been located. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Briggs plot at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. The stones that mark other plots there are of identical stone and lettering style, indicating that they were made at the same time, and it may have been Luther, Jr., who arranged for them.

child of Luther and Mariana (Bartlett) Briggs:

Harriet Scott b. 12 April 1871

children of Luther and Ada (Bartlett) Briggs:

Mariana Holbrook b. 26 April 1879
Russell Thornton b. 18 June 1881



sources for vital records: Luther's birth is recorded in the published New Bedford vital records and in the records of the Massachusetts Health Dept., vol. 16, p. 81. His first marriage is recorded in the Brooklyn marriage register for 1870, certificate #622. There is also a personal marriage certificate (apparently given by the minister) in family posession and a notice in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (4/21, p. 13). The second marriage date is from a notice in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. His death information comes from notes made by his son-in-law Stanton M. Smith.

all text and photographs © 1998-2005 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted