Table of Contents
Thomas Luce was born January 6, 1827 at Island of Flores, in the Azores Islands. His birth name has been lost over time but he came to New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a boy on a whaling ship commanded by Capt. Edward Luce, who gave him the name Thomas Luce. His application papers for citizenship state that he arrived in 1838 or 1840. He was first married on May 2, 1852, to Hannah B. Luce, the Captain’s daughter. According to the 1870 United States Census, they had four children (Edward, Eliza, Annie and Charles). After Hannah died in 1879, Luce was re-married in Sennett, New York on November 17, 1880 to Lydia Elizabeth Payne. They had no children together.
In 1849 he went to California, seeking gold, and was fairly successful. Upon returning from California in 1851 he started his cooperage business, primarily manufacturing oil casks, in New Bedford. In the early eighteen-eighties he became interested in whaling ventures and by 1890 he had closed his cooperage business, eventually owning eleven whaling ships. He retired from business at eighty years of age, leaving it to his youngest son Charles. For the last few years he travelled with his wife extensively in Europe, spending winters in Florida and California. He died on December 24, 1911, twenty days after the death of his second wife.
The Thomas Luce Papers collection contains business correspondence and primarily business receipts with some personal receipts, with dates ranging from 1850 to 1886. The collection is arranged in four series: Incoming correspondence; Receipts and bills; Ship’s papers; and Associated materials.
The incoming correspondence is further arranged into four sub-series, correlating with the bulk of correspondence from four business associates: H. C. French (1881-1885), J. H. Robertson (1879-1883), S. W. Thompson (1881-1885), and E. C. Van Derlip (1881-1883). Through the correspondence, waybills and shipping receipts, it is possible to track how Luce operated his business, ordering materials from across the country and having them shipped by canal boat, rail, and ship. Receipts and correspondence show that he purchased primarily lumber and some staves and hoops through S. W. Thompson of Detroit, Michigan. Thompson would send the cargo across Lake Erie, where it would be tallied and transferred to a canal boat by H. C. French. The cargo would then travel to New York City, where E. C. Van Derlip would again tally the cargo before loading it onto a vessel bound for New Bedford, or in later years, by rail. Each associate included copies of receipts of shipment with their correspondence so that Luce would have a complete record of the shipment’s progression by the time the material reached him in New Bedford. J. H. Robertson acted as a man of business for Luce, traveling to each state where materials were sourced from to negotiate deals and secure shipping agreements. Luce then sold completed casks of various sizes and parts of barrels in bulk around the country and shipped them by sea and rail.
The bills and receipts pertain primarily to the running of the cooperage business, mostly being shipping receipts and statements of payment received by local vendors, as well as Tax receipts and Insurance certificates. Some personal receipts of payment are for items like groceries, carriage repairs, dental work, magazine subscriptions, and in one case, an auction for a pew at the County Methodist Church.
The ship’s papers primarily relate to Luce’s investment in whaling voyages, including a crew list for the Bark Endeavour, settlements for the officers and crew of the Schooner Irving, and agent/owner accounts for the Bark Roscius.
Associated materials include an undated hand-drawing of a plot plan for the corner of Water Street and Hillman Street of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Arrangement of Collection
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New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 151, [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Materials in this collection were purchased by the New Bedford Whaling Museum on 17 August 2015, as part of Accession #2015.53
Processed by: Gina Cullen, 2016
Encoded by: Gina Cullen, 30 November 2016
Business records--Mass.--New Bedford
Coopers and cooperage
Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railway Company
Flores Island (Azores)
French, Henry C.
Luce, Thomas, 1827-1911
Merchant ships--Mass.--New Bedford
Merchants--N.Y.--New York City
New Bedford Railroad Company
New Bedford, Mass--History
New Bedford, Mass.--Commerce
New Bedford, Mass.--History--19th century
Robertson, J. H.
Staves and stave trade
Taunton Railroad Company
Thompson, Samuel W.
Van Derlip, E. C.
Wabash and Erie Canal (Indiana and Ohio)
Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railway Company
Whaling--Massachusetts--New Bedford--19th century
Jirah Perry (Ship)
- Exhibit Enhancements
- Discovery Center
- Herman Melville
- Captain Paul Cuffe
- Joshua Slocum
- Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the SouthCoast