James Bunker Congdon

 

Posted here is a photograph of a portrait of James Bunker Congdon (1802-1880), a leading nineteenth century citizen of New Bedford, Massachusetts in its heyday.

Also posted here is a photograph of Mr. Congdon from the archives of the New Bedford Free Public Library.

The Congdon portrait currently hangs in the New Bedford city council chambers. It belongs to the New Bedford Free Public Library, where it was originally hung (and where I saw it some 15 years ago).

The painting was commissioned by the library in 1868 by several prominent members of the community and presented to the library. Joseph Eaton, a noted New York painter whose students included William Merritt Chase, was the portraitist.

 

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James Bunker Congdon is of interest to me because – while not a direct ancestor – he was an illustrious member of a New Bedford, Massachusetts family from which my mother, Elinor Smith (nee Elinor Congdon Handy), was descended.

My maternal grandmother, Annie Congdon Handy (nee Hart; 1894-1972), was the great grandniece of James B. Congdon.

Here’s how the descent works.

James Bunker Congdon was the son of Caleb Congdon (1767-1832), a hatter and whaler.

Caleb Congdon’s daughter Lydia Congdon (1793-1830) married Gamaliel Hart (circa 1791-1834), who was the great-grandfather of my maternal grandmother, Annie Congdon (Hart) Handy.

Caleb Congdon and his wife, Susanna (Taber) Congdon, had ten children. Besides a daughter, Lydia – mentioned in the above paragraph – their children included their third son, James B. Congdon.

James B. Congdon (my maternal grandmother’s great-granduncle) held numerous important positions in adulthood:

— He was the first cashier of the Merchants Bank.

— He served as city treasurer and collector for many years.

— He was named registrar of the Acushnet Water Board upon its establishment.

— He was the first president of the New Bedford Gas Light Company and afterwards its clerk and treasurer for a quarter of a century.

— He served as sectary and treasurer of the New Bedford Railway and Wharf Company.

— He was treasurer and one of the directors of the Acushnet Iron Foundry.

Mr. Congdon held government posts as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, City Treasurer and Collector of Taxes, and member of the school committee for eleven years.

He was dedicated to civic causes:

— He was recording secretary of the New Bedford Anti-Slavery Society.

— He was president of the New Bedford Society for Aiding Discharged Convicts.

— He was a vice president of the New Bedford Society of Natural History.

Mr. Congdon was instrumental in the founding of the New Bedford Free Public Library and was chosen as one of its trustees.

Mr. Congdon also attained distinction as a writer. In an obituary, it was stated that he “was a writer of good ability, well versed in local history, and prepared reports, historical sketches and other publications of the many institutions of which he was an officer. The appendix of historical details in the `Centennial of New Bedford,’ published in 1876, was edited by him.”

His obituary states that James B. Congdon “was at his death probably the best known citizen of New Bedford, and enjoyed the general respect of the community.”

 

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Thank yous are due to Janice Hodson, Curator of Art, Special Collections Department, New Bedford Free Public Library, who sent me a photograph of James B. Congdon’s portrait and the photograph of him; and to Marsha Parham, who responded to an initial inquiry by me and also sent me a photograph of the Congdon portrait. Ms. Perham’s husband, James Perham, a former City Auditor of New Bedford, is a Congdon descendant.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     April 2016

 

 

James Bunker Congdon.jpg

 

 

 

 

James Bunker Congdon photograph.jpg

 

 

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. He hosts separate websites devoted to the authors Theodore Dreiser and Pitirim A. Sorokin and to classical music as well as family history/genealogy.
This entry was posted in family history (includes content that is broader in scope than just genealogy), general interest, my recent ancestors (granparents, great-grandparents, etc.) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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