James and Thomas
In the fruitful and picturesque period that, preceded the War of 1812, Boston merchants sent their ships to the, North West Coast for loads of valuable sea otter skins which they procured from the Indians who brought the pelts in canoes to the ships, and there for a few beads or a handful of trinkets bartered their valuable freight. Across the western seas the cargoes were borne to China, where they were usually disposed of to good advantage, a single cargo often bringing fifty thousand dollars. Once again, in China ports, the ships were loaded, this time with teas, nankeens, and silks, and thence the long voyage, that sometimes lasted for two and three years, was resumed, and the ships returned home to New England. Many American fortunes were made in the North West trade, and among those who shared in these successes was the well-known Boston house of James & Thomas Lamb. These two brothers formed a partnership in 1781, immediately after the death of James Lamb, Sr., who had been head of the house of James Lamb & Son for some years previous. Thomas Lamb, who was born in Boston in 1753, became agent for
this latter firm in the year 1776, but when the Revolutionary War broke out he received a commission signed by John Hancock as First Lieutenant in Colonel Henry Jackson's regiment. The following June, in response to a call made by General Washington to ride
from Valley Forge to Boston for supplies, Lieutenant Lamb volunteered to make the journey. Seeing that he had no spurs, General Washington, took off his own pair, which were made of silver, and presented them to the young officer, who started on his long ride. These spurs were always kept sacredly in his dressing-case until his death, and are now a most treasured possession of his grandson, Horatio A. Lamb, Esq. Unfortunately his journey terminated in a considerable disaster, for when he arrived at Boston Neck his horse stumbled at night over, a rope that had been stretched across the road, and Lamb was thrown from his mount, suffering a broken arm.. His message was, however, promptly delivered, but Lamb was prevented from again entering the army, from which he was discharged in 1779. After the war he turned his attention to his firm, which owned a number of sailing-ships which were sent to the West Indies, among them being the brig "Endeavor," brig "Active," brig " Intrepid," sloop "Little Betsey," brig "Industry," ship "Live Oak," ship "
Argo," brig." Sally." The house also acted as commission-merchants and fitted out vessels for others. Some of the later ships in which the firm of James & Thomas Lamb had an interest were the
"Caroline," the "Pearl, ship "Derby," Vancouver," and "
Atahualpa." It was in the "Margaret" that James Lamb was wrecked in a storm in 1796 ; on the Gooseberry Rocks, two miles out from Marblehead. The ship was then commanded by Captain MacKay, and among those drowned
during the eight hours that the "Margaret " was on the rocks were a boy, a Dutch passenger, and one seaman. The following morning the people of Marblehead came to the assistance of the ship. The Lambs and Perkinses in 1806 were interested in the "Derby," which was sent to the North West Coast. It is said there was a large dog on board that was very useful on occasions, because it had been trained to bite an Indian, but would never touch a white man.
Closely associated with them were James & Thomas H. Perkins, and one of the first accounts that shows the connection between these two well-known houses is contained in a letter written in 1791, sent by James and Thomas Lamb to a Philadelphia merchant introducing their "particular friend, Mr. Thomas H. Perkins, with whom we are concerned in some business of consequence. He is going to your city to purchase some copper and firearms," etc. And the first notice
contained in the Lamb papers of the North West Coast adventures is under. date of September, 1791, and gives an account of the ship "Margaret," Captain James Magee, built in Boston, and owned by James Magee, Thomas H. Perkins, and James & Thomas Lamb. In 1792 the Lambs write to Captain Magee that Thomas H. Perkins has heard through Captain Ingraham of his success in reaching China in fourteen months, and of his cargo of fourteen hundred skins. The " Sea Otter," owned by Russell Sturgis, James & Thomas Lamb, and Captain Magee, was at this time carrying on an extensive trade in furs on the North West Coast. The brig "Hazard" was another successful ship, and under the command of Captain Swift she made in 1798 the largest collection of skins ever made on the coast.
The son and namesake of Thomas Lamb was long prominent in the shipping and financial affairs of Boston. He entered the
counting-room of his father's firm, James & Thomas Lamb, at the death of the latter in 1813 when he was seventeen years old. Among the ships which he partly or entirely owned were " Rosanna,". " Cabot," " Clematis," "
Moselle," " Coriolanus," " Korea," " Louvre," " Versailles," " Marmora," " Narragansett," " Switzerland," " Napoleon,' and brigs " Lincoln," " Eight Sons," " Harmony," " Sultana," and bark " Concordia."
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He was president of the Boston Pier or Long Wharf Corporation for thirty-four years and was much interested in improving Boston
Harbour, writing many pamphlets on the subject. He served as president of the Suffolk Savings Bank for Seamen and Others for forty years, and for twenty-five years was president of the Washington Marine and Fire Insurance Co. Among other positions of trust and responsibility which he occupied were the following: treasurer of the Boston Marine Society for fifty-four years, during which he increased the capital from $22,000 to $150,000, and gave away over $200,000 to beneficiaries. He was long a director of the New England National Bank and its president from 1846 to 1884. At the time of his resignation from the New England National Bank in 1884 the officers of the Bank in a letter expressed to Mr. Lamb their keen appreciation of the kindly consideration and interest which he had always shown towards them. In 1828 Mr. Lamb was a member of the Common Council under Mayor Quincy. He died October 25, 1887, at the ripe old age of ninety-one years.
Other Merchants and Sea Captains of Old Boston, State Street Trust
Company, Boston, Mass., 1919