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Thornton (left) and Luther Briggs, about 1850

probably taken about 1893 in Fanwood, New Jersey

There's no oral history about Luther other than that he served in the Civil War, had diabetes and liked reading Charles Dickens. Nevertheless, a more detailed idea of his life can be found. 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, New York. 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 Street in Brooklyn Heights. Celia Marsh's diary, which includes a visit to the Briggses 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. Luther went to school there, and Thornton, 2 years younger, may have followed him. The school had opened in 1855 to children 9 to 19 years old.
     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, New Jersey, 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 idea of the looks of the companies of his regiment at the time.

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

Starting in 1867, at 22, Luther can be found in city directories as a bookkeeper, suggesting he learned accounting. Later directories list him as a bookkeeper at a dry goods business in Manhattan, Bbut I haven't been able to pinpoint which one. He's called a salesman in one of the directories, and this was probably right. I've found newspaper notices that list him as a guest in hotels across the country.
     He was married to Mariana Bartlett at her father's house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The couple moved to East Orange, New Jersey, 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 on Livingston Avenue, 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, Jonas Bartlett. 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, although there's every indication that Harriet alone stayed with her Briggs grandparents until sometime after Jonas's death.
     Luther and Ada had a daughter Mariana and a son Russell. They (and maybe Harriet, since I don't know 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.
     Luther was the recording secretary of the Brooklyn YMCA in the early 1880s, with an affiliation with the Congregational Church. He was a representative 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 group, in the 1870s. 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 of department store fame. A search of The New York Times for the period shows that the Dickens Club was a group of subscribers who bought sets of books by the author from a publisher in England. Luther surely was a subscriber, given Gertrude "Gig" Wister's mention of his liking Dickens. Another pasttime I've found for him is whist. In 1892 he was president and a founding member the Fanwood Whist Club. According to the New York Times, "Jersey has the whist fever," reporting the formation of the first league in the state in 1894 composed of six clubs that competed with other leagues. Luther and his father both competed.
     The family moved from Brooklyn sometime after 1886, eventually settling in Fanwood. 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, but by the time Luther died in 1904 they were in Union Hill, New Jersey, now a part of Union City. He's buried in the Briggs family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

child of Luther Jenney Briggs, Jr., and Mariana Bartlett:

Harriet Scott, b. 12 April 1871

children of Luther Jenney Briggs, Jr., and Ada Purdue Bartlett:

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

sources for vital records: Luther's birth is in the published New Bedford vital records and in the records of the Massachusetts Health Dept., 16:81. His first marriage is in the Brooklyn marriage register for 1870, certificate #622. There's also a personal marriage certificate (apparently given by the minister) in the family 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 © 1998-2019 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted