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Benjamin Spooner Briggs (1835-1872) Papers

Benjamin Spooner Briggs (1835-1872) Papers

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BENJAMIN SPOONER BRIGGS (1835-1872) PAPERS, 1860-1896, 1930, 1950

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Briggs, Benjamin S. (Benjamin Spooner), 1835-1872
Title:Benjamin Spooner Briggs (1835-1872) Papers
Dates:1860/1896, 1930, 1950
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box)
Abstract:The Benjamin Spooner Briggs papers contains family papers, some business related papers belonging to Briggs, and materials relating to the Mary Celeste after the Briggs' disappearance.
Collection Number:MH 48

Series List

SERIES I. Family Papers
SERIES II. Captain Benjamin S. Briggs' Papers
SERIES III. Material Related to the Mary Celeste

Scope and Content Note

The Benjamin Spooner Briggs papers contains family papers, some business related papers belonging to Briggs, and materials relating to the Mary Celeste after the Briggs' disappearance. This collection has been divided into three series.

Series I. Family Papers contains materials related to the Briggs family. This includes a collection of letters, primarily written by Sarah Elizabeth Cobb Briggs to members of the Briggs and Cobb families. She wrote most frequently to her mother-in-law, Mrs. Sophia Briggs, and to her brother, William Cobb. Most of Sarah's letters were written aboard the ship, giving the impression that she frequently accompanied her husband to sea. There is also correspondence from Briggs himself to his son, mother, and brother-in-law. The content of these letters is largely of personal news and family matters. This series also contains a photograph of Briggs, his father Captain Nathan Briggs, and his son Arthur S. Briggs. There is also a tintype of Briggs' daughter Sophia Matilda Briggs. Also within the miscellaneous family papers is a wedding card from Benjamin and Sarah's wedding, a receipt from the sale of their estate, and receipts from Arthur S. Briggs.

Series II. Captain Benjamin S. Briggs' Papers contains a certificate form the American Ship Masters' Association, granted to Benjamin S. Briggs in 1862 for passing an examination. This series also contains an account book from the bark Arthur and the bark Prima Donna. The account book contains ships' expenses, including crew costs.

Series III. Material Related to the Mary Celeste contains the letter of Edward Thornton to Hamilton Fish, with attachments, dated March 11, 1873 which includes the testimony of the diver and marine surveyor who examined the Mary Celeste in Gibraltar. Also included in this series is a typescript of the evidence and testimony heard in the Vice Admiralty Court of Gibraltar from 1872 until 1873, regarding the circumstances surrounding the abandonment and subsequent finding of the Mary Celeste.

Biographical Sketch

Benjamin Spooner Briggs was born on April 24, 1835, in Wareham, Massachusetts, to Captain Nathan and Sophia (Cobb) Briggs. He was the third child and second of five sons to be born to the Briggs. He began a seafaring career as a young boy, first serving aboard vessels commanded by his father Nathan Briggs. Briggs eventually became a ship captain.

On September 9, 1862 Briggs married Sarah Elizabeth Cobb, the daughter of Reverend Leander Cobb, pastor of the Congregational Church of Marion. They had two children, Arthur S. and Sophia Matilda.

Briggs' last command was on the 206-ton brigantine Mary Celeste, which left New York on November 7, 1872 bound for Gibraltar carrying a cargo of sixteen hundred barrels of alcohol. The Mary Celeste was discovered abandoned on December 4, 1872 by the brigantine Dei Gratia approximately 600 miles west-northwest of Gibraltar. The circumstances of the abandonment and the ultimate end of the officers and crew, including Briggs, his wife, and their infant daughter, Sophia, has remained a mystery. The last entry of the ship's log was dated November 25, 1872. There have been numerous theories concerning the abandonment, some plausible, others far-reaching, but all without documentary evidence.

Briggs' son, Arthur S., survived the Mary Celeste incident, as he was at home on Cape Cod attending school.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Briggs family
Briggs family--Photograph collections
Briggs, Arthur S.
Briggs, Sarah E. Cobb, d. 1872
Cobb family
Arthur (Bark)
Dei Gratia (Brig)
Mary Celeste (Brig)
Prima Donna (Bark)
Abandonment (Maritime law)
Account books
Ship captains
Ship's papers


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Benjamin Spooner Briggs (1835-1872) Papers, MH 48, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated by Mary B. Cobb on November 30, 1949 (accession #12,198). A typescript of evidence and testimony was donated by Charles Edey Fay in 1950.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert F. Craig, June 1999. Updated by Hilary Streifer, March 2015.

Related Material

Bradford, Gershom. "Mary Celeste. No, Not Again!" American Neptune 10 (1950): 191-202.

Fay, Charles Edey. Mary Celeste: The Odyssey of an Abandoned Ship. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum of Salem, 1942.

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