Item NA17 - B. D. Hathaway (New Bedford) Felling Axe. 

 New Bedford’s most famous black smith and edge tool maker, Hathaway worked through much of the first three quarters of the 19th Century when New Bedford was the largest whaling port in the world.  Oddly, he is not known to have produced “whalecraft” (harpoons, blubber spades, blubber pikes, etc), confining his production to chisels and slicks, axes, adzes, draw knives, wedges, etc.  The trade sign of his smithy, a large wooden axe, is currently in the collection of the New Bedford Whaling museum.  Recent research by that museum’s senior curator, Dr. Stuart Frank,  uncovered details about B.D. Hathaway’s family that deserves some note.  Hathaway (1806 – 1897) married Harriet Richmond (1805-1886) and the pair had at least three sons.  The older two joined their father in the blacksmithing business (one died in 1863 at Gettysburg), but the youngest, Henry Clay Hathaway (1842-1931) went whaling.  From the time he was 14 years old, he made several trips on whalers, advancing from a green hand at age 14 and to ordinary seaman, then “boatsteerer” (harpooner), and by the late 1860s he was 4th Mate on a very famous voyage of the whale ship Gazelle, from New Bedford to Australia.  This cruise was ostensibly a whaling one, but in fact it was designed to rescue an Irish Fenian patriot John Boyle O’Reilly, from an Australian penal colony to which he had been banished for a 20 term by English zealots.

 O’Reilly was successfully rescued and on the way back to New Bedford in the Gazelle he shared a cabin with Henry Hathaway and struck up an enduring friendship with the blacksmith’s son.  Hathaway made one further whaling trip, as 3rd Mate on the Gazelle, saw his Captain (David R. Gifford) die, and subsequently he gave up whaling.  He was then appointed New Bedford City Marshall, and next as the captain of the night watch for the New Bedford City Police. In 1876 he was appointed as the city’s first Chief of Police.  In 1878 he entered a new career—that as a captain of a merchant vessel, the bark Veronica, carrying cargo, passengers and immigrants between the Azores and Cape Verde Islands and New Bedford.  After this he served in several businesses (coach making, real estate, auctioneer) and was involved in a number of civic enterprises (United States Shipping Commissioner, New Bedford Board of Aldermen, Chairman of the City Council on Public Instruction, trustee of the New Bedford Free Public Library, etc.  He was honored by Irish Societies in many U.S. cities, and became a living symbol of the Fenian rescues and American enthusiasm for John Boyle O’Reilly’s Irish republican spirit.  Hathaway died in 1931 at the age of 89.

 This slick, produced by Henry’s father, is a mid-size example, having an edge length of 6 ½ inches, and a length of blade about 7 inches back to the eye for the handle.  This is probably nearly its original length.  The edge is beveled on both sides, indicating that this was not a hewing axe, and therefore requires a straight, rather than a canted handle.  It weighs an even 5 pounds.  The mark, “B.D. Hathaway / New Bedford,” is clear.  The blade suffers only the typical pitting of these tools, and just a bit of peening on poll.  It is interesting that a hardware store ledger that I own records Hathaway, in 1851, purchasing the axes of competitors, ostensibly to study them.  This axe head is a nice example of the work of one of New Bedford’s best known blacksmiths.  Easily Good.

  Price -  $145.00

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