Table of Contents
Leonard Sanford Gifford was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1821. Gifford began his whaling career as a young man and by 1851, he had advanced to become a captain. His first command was the Ship Hope of New Bedford which lasted until 1857. When he returned from this voyage, he married Lucy Ann Roberts. Lucy was born in New Bedford in 1832 and lived with her widowed aunt, Sarah Crapo Roberts (1800-1860). Gifford again took command of the Hope in 1857 and was accompanied by his wife. On this voyage, Lucy gave birth to four children while the vessel was in various ports but the first two children died within the first two months of birth. The Hope was wrecked on Bampton's Shoal off Australia in late 1863. The remains of the two children were on board and only one was salvaged. The family finally arrived back in New Bedford at the end of 1864. Two more children born to the couple in 1865 and 1866. Leonard returned to the sea in 1867 but not in the whaling industry, rather in the merchant trade. He became the captain of the Schooner J. S. Wainwright and also had one-eighth ownership. He sailed for South Africa with a cargo of petroleum. After disposing of this cargo, Gifford entered the coastwise trade in South Africa with cargo of sugar and fruits. Gifford died and was buried at Cape Town, South Africa, in February 1868. Lucy was left with four children to raise and she died a few years later in 1873.
David Blair Littlefield was the great-grandson of Leonard and Lucy Gifford who inherited the manuscripts in this collection. He attempted to create a story out of this material so that it could be published, but his own death prevented it.
Materials in this collection reflect the activities of members of the Gifford family of New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1851-1980. The material concentrates on Leonard Sanford Gifford and his wife, Lucy Ann Roberts Gifford. Leonard's papers consist of correspondence, ship's papers, and certificates, 1851-1868. His correspondence, 1851-1868, primarily consists of letters written by him to his wife while on voyages on the Ship Hope, 1851-1856 and on the Schooner J. S. Wainwright, 1867-1868. The letters from the Ship Hope describe his whaling activities, plans for Lucy to join him at Hawaii as many other captains had their ladies aboard, activities at ports where the vessel anchored including Honolulu, Lahaina, Macaulay's Island and Lima, Peru. There are also letters written to his mother and from ship's agents, Wilcox & Richmond. The letters from the Schooner J.S. Wainwright, were written by him to his wife while he was in South Africa. These describe his merchant activities with the cargo of petroleum, his coast-wise shipping from Cape Town, Table Bay, Port Elizabeth and Port Natal, the need for dentists, and the over abundance of photographers in South Africa.
The ship's papers contain records of the Ship Hope and the Schooner J.S. Wainwright, 1857-1867. Papers for the Hope include a Sea Letter, 1857, and a typescript of the logbook, 1863. Papers for the Wainwright include agent/owner accounts and bills and receipts. The certificates consist of a marriage certificate, 1857, Masonic Lodge membership, 1857, and life insurance policies, 1865-1867.
Papers for Lucy Ann Roberts Gifford consist of correspondence. legal documents, bills and receipts, and poems, 1851-1873. Her correspondence. 1857-1873, are primarily letters written by her while abroad the Ship Hope to her aunt, Sarah Crapo Roberts, 1857-1858, letters to her regarding her husband's death, 1868-1869, and other family letters, 1869-1873. The letters aboard the Hope describe shipboard life and experiences at various ports especially Fayal and Talcahuano, including the births and deaths of her two children.
The legal documents include deeds, consular records, and insurance policies, 1865-1871. The deeds are for property in New Bedford purchased by Lucy in 1865. The consular records concern the death of her husband in South Africa and his estate, 1868-1869. The insurance policies are life insurance policies and settlements on her husband and fire insurance of a cottage on Martha's Vineyard, 1868-1871. The final two series are bills and receipts, 1871-1872, and poems, 1851-ca. 1859.
Papers for Sarah C. Roberts consist of letters written by her to Lucy and Leonard Gifford, 1857-1859. These letters relate family news, events in New Bedford, her financial situation, and her declining health.
Papers of David Blair Littlefield contain correspondence, research materials, genealogy notes, and two versions of the typescript "Memories of a Whaling Wife," 1938-1980. Littlefield inherited the manuscript letters and thought them to be of such importance and interest that he worked on a volume using their transcriptions as a basis for a publication. The correspondence, research materials, and genealogy notes are all background materials either used for research or as part of the proposed publication.
Arrangement of Collection
Access to the Collection
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New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 98 [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Mss 43: Gifford Family Papers
Removed to Photographs Collection
- Charles W. Morgan at Mystic, b & w, 11 items.
- 79 Bay Street, New Bedford, b & w, 4 items.
- Gifford Family Plot, Rural Cemetery, b & w, 9 items.
- Ship model, b & w, 2 items.
- Sea chest, b & w, 2 items.
- Baptist Church, William St., New Bedford, b & w, 1 item.
Material in this collection was donated to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society by Mrs. David Blair Littlefield on 22 July 1985.
Processed by: Judith M. Downey, 20 April 1990
Encoded by: Mark Procknik, 18 August 2011
Children on ships
Coastwise shipping--South Africa
Deaths at sea
Gifford, Leonard Sanford, 1821-1868
Gifford, Lucy Ann Roberts, 1832-1873
Littlefield, David Blair, ca. 1915-ca. 1983
Merchant ships--Mass.--New Bedford
Roberts, Sarah Crapo, 1800-1860
Whalemen--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Women and the sea
Women on ships
J. S. Wainwright (Schooner)
- Sailors’ Series Lectures
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- Symposium: Inner Light – The World of William Bradford
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- 8th Annual Nautical Antiques Show
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- 2017 Members’ Trip
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- Exhibit Enhancements
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