Isabel Babson and her two sons were the first Babsons to arrive in America, sailing from Weymouth, England and arriving in Salem in 1637. The sea continued to play a major part in the lives of generations of Babsons. Many sailed the world for trade in far lands, while others fished or participated in the fight for American independence. Some were crewmen, while other built and mastered their own ships. They sailed out of the ports of Gloucester, Rockport and Newburyport in Massachusetts and Wiscasset and Deer Isle in Maine. They have been variously described as “seaman, fisherman, coaster, purser, privateer, ship owner, merchant, sea captain and sailor”. While many of these Babsons survived, many did not. They have been described as being “lost at sea, captured by pirates, washed overboard, and drowned while fishing in a storm.”
The list below of the BABSONS LOST AT SEA is based on research by Jean Allen Babson for the 1997 Babson Family reunion and edited and expanded by Babson Historical Association trustee, Katherine Babson, working from the two volume 1606-1997 Babson Genealogy by Alicia Crane Williams. (The genealogy continues to be available for sale here.)
NOTE: The reference to generation and number are keyed to The Babson Genealogy 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson by Alicia Crane Williams, FASG.
ISABEL BABSON (first generation #1)) is the forebear of all those who listed here. Although Isabel had experience on the seas, having survived the trip from Weymouth, England to Salem, Massachusetts in 1637, the son of her daughter, Joan Collins, died at sea.
JAMES COLLINS (third generation #1iii.5) died in 1685 on a voyage to the Barbadoes. He was 42.
THOMAS BABSON (third generation #6), who had served in King Philip’s War, apparently died at sea between January 1677/78 and May 23, 1679 at age 21.
EBENEZER BABSON (third generation #9), famous for killing the bear in Rockport, was presumably lost at sea before 1696, approximately 30 years old. For the story of Ebenezer killing the bear, see here.
JOHN BABSON (third generation #7), whose boat carried cords of wood to Boston, lost three of his sons, presumably to the sea, over a three week period in 1720:
- ELIAS BABSON (fourth generation #7i) at age 32
- JOHN BABSON (fourth generation #11) at age 29, leaving a widow and two children
- JOSIAH BABSON (fourth generation #7x) at age 17
The Fisherman’s Memorial, known as “Man at the Wheel”, located on the waterfront in Gloucester is a memorial to Gloucester fishermen lost at sea.
The first Babson names engraved on the granite tablets beside the statue are brothers Elias, John and Josiah who died in 1720:
ISAAC BABSON (fifth generation #13), died at Point Petre, Gaudeloupe, West Indies, of small pox, while a mate on a vessel in 1760, at age 33, survived by his wife and five children.
CAPTAIN WILLIAM BABSON (fifth generation #15), washed overboard on a voyage to the Grand Banks after May 27, 1749, at approximately age 30, leaving behind a pregnant wife and four children.
SOLOMON BABSON (fifth generation #17 **), perhaps lost at sea as he was a mariner. He died shortly before 4/13/1763 at age 48. He left a widow and nine children. [Solomon and others with a double asterisk are descendants of Richard Babson (third generation #8) who was one of Isabel Babson’s grandsons. There are number of Babsons in this descendant’s line who were lost at sea.
JAMES BABSON (sixth generation #21) sailed from Salem, Massachusetts for Wilmington, North Carolina and he took on a load of naval stores for the West Indies. Six days out, he was taken by an English privateer and carried to Liverpool. From there he took passage for New York and died of smallpox en route on 7/13/1777 at age 29. He left a widow and three young children.
CAPTAIN JAMES BABSON (sixth generation #23), a privateer during the Revolutionary War, had a daughter, Mary Jackson Babson Babbitt, whose son died at sea:
- FITZ HENRY BABBITT (eighth generation #23ii.2) died aboard the frigate, the President, on 1/6/1815, during the War of 1812. He was buried in Bermuda. His mother received a letter of condolence from Stephen Decatur. Fitz Henry was 25.
JOHN BABSON III (sixth generation #27**) had been a gunner’s mate in the Revolutionary War. He probably died at sea about 1791, as his name disappears from the records, including from the ship registers at that time. He was approximately 45 years old. He left a wife and possibly one child.
CAPTAIN SOLOMON BABSON (sixth generation #30**) was a privateer during the Revolutionary War and owned and commanded several vessels in his lifetime. He was lost at sea as his ship was said “to have floundered on his passage from the West Indies.” His brothers, Captains John (sixth generation #31**) and Zebulon (sixth generation #32**) co-owned several vessels with him. Captain Solomon died before 4/6/1796 at age 56 with a wife and perhaps as many as nine children surviving him.
CAPTAIN JOHN BABSON (sixth generation #31) was a ship’s captain and active in privateering during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He and his brothers, Captains Solomon (sixth generation #30**) and Zebulon (sixth generation 32**), co-owned several vessels with him. Although Captain John was not lost at sea, two of his sons were:
- GEORGE BABSON (seventh generation #31vii**) lost at sea, age unknown.
- SOLOMON BABSON (seventh generation #31x**) lost at sea, age unknown.
CAPTAIN ZEBULON BABSON (sixth generation #32**) was captured during the Revolutionary War and was exchanged for a British prisoner of war. He commanded a privateer and co-owned vessels with his brothers, Captains Solomon (sixth generation #30**) and John (sixth generation #31**). He had sailed from Newburyport in 1784 in command of the privateer Diamond owned by his brother, Captain John. He was “washed overboard on the third day out”. He was 34. He left a widow and four children.
WILLIAM BABSON (sixth generation #33**), left from Gloucester about 7/1/1777 on a new vessel, the privateer, Gloucester. She had captured the brig Two Friends off the banks of Newfoundland which had a cargo or wine and salt. She also took a fishing brig Spark which also was carrying a fare of fish and salt. No further communications were ever received, so it is assumed that William, along with a crew of 130 other men, was lost at sea sometime in 1777. William was age 28 and left a wife and five young children.
CAPTAIN NATHANIEL BABSON (seventh generation #46) was a sea captain who made voyages to places such as Scotland, Gibraltar and Russia. He also owned various vessels. His oldest daughter, Ann Rogers Babson, was married to Stephen Low Davis. Their oldest child was lost at sea:
- CHARLES E. DAVIS (ninth generation #46iii.1.) was lost at sea in 1856. He was 18.
CAPTAIN CHARLES BABSON JR. (seventh generation #47) died suddenly at Guadeloupe, West Indies, while skipper of the 101 ton schooner Equity on 8/24/1816 at age 28. He left a pregnant wife and infant child.
CAPTAIN CHARLES BABSON (seventh generation #50**) possibly was shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina where he remained. He remarried and had 7 more children. The first of his 12 children died at sea:
- CHARLES BABSON (eighth generation #50.i** )died aboard the brig New Packet in Miragoane on the coast of Haiti sometime before 1823. He was a twin and 20 years old.
WILLIAM BABSON (seventh generation #54**), like his father, William Babson (sixth generation #33**), before him, was lost at sea. He died as a mate aboard the Franklin on a voyage to India sometime before July 1800. He had not yet turned age 30.
JAMES BABSON (seventh generation #59**) drowned on the homeward passage from St. Michaels, Newfoundland on 4/6/1815. He was a seaman on the 45 ton schooner Marion which was skippered by his first cousin, Captain Charles Babson, Jr. (seventh generation #47). He was 31 years old and left a pregnant wife and three year old son.
HENRY BABSON (seventh generation #61**) died in Calcutta, India in 1820, age 41, leaving his wife, Lucy Bray Babson, and two young children. Henry was the earliest Babson to be mentioned in a Boston City Directory. Lucy died in 1864, age 74, in the Boston Insane Asylum, “the stress of worrying about her missing seaman husband as well as making her own living may have been too much for her”.
HENRY S. BABSON (eighth generation #67(iv)**), a twin, grew up on the sea at Eggemoggin Reach in Brooklin, Maine. He was lost at sea in October 1886, age 43.
WILLIAM ROGERS BABSON (eighth generation #80) was a merchant in Boston and Brooklyn, New York. Two of his three sons were lost at sea:
- WILLIAM EDWIN BABSON (ninth generation #80ii) of San Francisco, was a purser on the Pacific Mail line on the mail steamer, Constitution. He died at sea in 1870 at age 32. He was buried near Acapulco, Mexico. His nephew, Stanley Mason Babson, came upon the grave marker in 1970.
- MASON GREENWOOD BABSON (ninth generation #142) enlisted on a merchant vessel bound for the Orient, despite parental objections. He wrote his parents saying he was “completely disillusioned about the sea” and was returning home via Liverpool. Mason was among the passengers of the packet ship, Ocean Queen, all on board lost at sea on passage from London to New York sometime after 2/15/1856. He was 19.
EDWIN BABSON (eighth generation #87) was captain of a full-rigged barque, the Lizzie H, which made voyages to the Orient and around the Cape of Good Hope. On a voyage to Calcutta, he took his wife and two of their children. He died on the voyage in 1879 at age 47 and was buried in Cardiff, Wales. The ship was brought back by the mate and the family returned to Newburyport, their home port, by passenger ship. Their son, Edwin Merrill Babson (eighth generation #87iii), had predeceased his parents as result of a drowning in a river in Newburyport in 1873, age 6.
REBECCA INGERSOLL FOSTER NELSON (ninth generation #57(ii i)(2)), the granddaughter of Captain Joseph Babson (seventh generation #57**), was lost at sea somewhere between Hong Kong and San Francisco, with her husband, Captain Charles Nelson, and their son sometime after 11/30/1862. They were wrecked 11/30/1862 in the bark, Lucky Star, and taken prisoner by the Chinese. They were ransomed and were taken to Hong Kong where they took passage on the ship, Romance of the Seas, and never heard from again. Rebecca was 33.
WILLIAM EDWIN BABSON (ninth generation #80(ii)) was a purser for the old Pacific Mail Line. He died at sea on board the Pacific mail steamer, the Constitution, on 1/19/1870, age 32. He was buried near Acapulco, Mexico.
JOSEPH W. BABSON (ninth generation #106(iii)**) was mackerel fishing and lost with the schooner, Levi Woodbury, near Boon Island off the coast of Maine with 9 others on 10/6/1849. He was 18.
ALPHONSO M. BABSON (ninth generation #169) was a dory fisherman. He was coming in with a load of fish when his dory was swamped by heavy seas off Folly Cove in Gloucester. He was drowned on 3/13/1877, age 37, leaving a wife and a young child.
JAMES BABSON Jr. (ninth generation #183**) was drowned, along with 7 other crewmen, on the schooner, Rolla, while fishing on 5/23/1861. He was 33 and left a wife and six children, one of whom, James (tenth generation #269**), apparently died at sea.
JAMES BABSON (tenth generation #269**), a son of James Jr. (ninth generation #183**) who also died at sea, was a mariner and died “perhaps at sea, apparently before 20 March 1875”, leaving a wife and infant child.
Life for the male Babson on the sea and for his wife left at home to raise children, run the household and worry about the return of her husband have been memorialized in an extraordinary permanent exhibit, Strong Breezes & Passing Clouds, at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester. The exhibit is based on excerpts from the 1838 ship’s log of Captain Edward Babson (eighth generation #78) on the brig Cadet and the 1838 diary of his wife, Amanda Babson. See more here.
The poignant lives of the many women who were left widows by the ravages of the sea have been depicted in this hauntingly beautiful statue also located on the Gloucester waterfront: