Ricketson Family Papers - Mss 13

Included in this collection is Ricketson's personal copy of History of New Bedford.  The inscription at the top appears on the book's inside cover, while Ricketson's signature appears on the opposite page. 

Every piece in the Library has its own unique story to tell, and we invite you to look at a few of the thousands of materials and hear their tales through the Museum's From the Vault, a rotating digital exhibit featuring a different treasure from the Library.

The Research Library houses over 110 distinct manuscript collections, and one contains the papers of one of New Bedford’s greatest intellectual minds of the nineteenth century.  Author of two local histories, History of New Bedford (1858) and New Bedford of the Past (published posthumously, 1903), in addition to two volumes of poetry, Daniel Ricketson (1813 - 1898), celebrates his 200th birthday in July 2013.  Donated to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society through a series of accessions by Walton Ricketson from 1903 – 1923 and Eva Hughes in 1968, the Ricketson Family Papers (Mss 13) contain a wide range of documents from correspondence and journals to financial and estate records of multiple generations of the Ricketson family, one of the oldest families in the Old Dartmouth region.

Undated portrait of Daniel Ricketson
Accession #2000.100.90.100

Papers pertaining to Daniel Ricketson comprise a substantial portion of this collection.  Born in 1813, Ricketson passed the bar and began practicing law in New Bedford, opening an office on Union Street.  However, Ricketson practiced for only a brief time, as he found literary life far more appealing.  A friend and early admirer of Henry David Thoreau, Ricketson possessed a similar love of nature and often sought the solitude of his “shanty,” a small wooden shack not unlike the one Thoreau occupied at Walden Pond.  Ricketson eventually built his country estate at Brooklawn, three miles north of the city’s bustling center, and hosted some of the greatest literary minds of his time, including Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  As a testament to Ricketson's legacy, Brooklawn has become one of New Bedford’s most popular parks.

Daniel Ricketson’s papers in the collection span the years 1840 – 1918 with the bulk of the material consisting of correspondence addressed to him by Thoreau, Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and John Greenleaf Whittier.

Daniel Ricketson's sketch of Thoreau
Accession #00.210.11

In addition to his correspondence, this collection also contains several of his writings, including an 1844 journal documenting his trip through New England to Montreal and Quebec as well as his personal copy of History of New Bedford.  This book, published in 1858, remains the earliest published history of Old Dartmouth.  However, Ricketson’s personal copy of this book bears special significance for the Research Library, as this was the very first item donated to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1903.

Rounding out Ricketson’s papers is a 24-page bound manuscript titled “Extracts,” comprised of various words of wisdom from a variety of different sources, including Thoreau, Emerson, and even William Shakespeare.  This unpublished booklet, compiled sometime around 1845, contains phrases like “life is too short for the cultivation of animosities” and “be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”  However, this manuscript contains more than short proverbs, as evidenced by a lengthy passage titled “Wisdom” and an essay attributed to Thoreau describing the quality of life that concludes with “life is what you make it.”  Ricketson documented the sayings in this book because they deeply resonated with him, but these words, much like Ricketson’s legacy, endure to this very day.

Ricketson attributes the above passage from his unpublished manuscript "Extracts" to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  This expression is one of many that fill the pages of the booklet.

The Research Library is home to over 1,700 linear feet of manuscript materials documenting a wide range of local and regional subjects from textile manufacturing and banking, to local history, whaling, and merchant shipping.  If you would like to take a more detailed glance at this or any other of the Library's manuscript collections, please contact Mark Procknik, (508) 997-0046 ext. 134, to schedule a research appointment