Item NA17 - B. D. Hathaway (New Bedford) Felling Axe.
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
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.
Price - $145.00
RETURN to forsale list.