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Swift and Wesselhoeft family papers

Identifier: MC-040

Scope and Contents

Edith Steel Swift, the donor of the collection, interviewed friends and family members between the years 1986-1999. The collection is a series of oral histories with a select family members and friends documenting their reflections and memories of the Mishaum Point and Swift, Steel and Wesselhoef families. The following individuals were interviewed: Charles Gulick (1900- ), son-in-law of Humphrey Hathaway Swift; Deborah Bradley Latta a resident of New Bedford and friend of Edith Steel Swift; Huldah Moss, niece of Edith Steel Swift; Dodre Powell friend of donor, Edith Steel Swift; Humphrey Hathaway III and Steven H. Swift, sons of Robert Wesselhoeft Swift and Conrad Wesselhoeft (1922 - ), son of Conrad Wesselhoeft and 3 Frances Gordon Kittrich Wesselhoeft. The remaining collection is a series of photocopies of 19th and 20th century manuscript materials pertaining to the Swift, Wesselhoeft and Steel family genealogy and business histories. The collection is divided into four series, which are arranged by content and format. Series I is a collection of oral histories comprised of three actual recorded interviews and seven transcripts. Series II is collection of genealogical charts, histories, correspondence, biographical essays, obituaries related to the Swift, Wesselhoeft and Steel family. A large portion of the manuscript material relates to the donor’s father, Humphrey Hathaway Swift III. These materials include magazine articles on Swift Instruments the family business, reminiscences of Mishaum Point, ship logs of his sailboat, Sea Horse and materials presented at his memorial service in the year 2000. Series III is photographs of Swift family members. Series IV is genealogy of Richard Sturgis Perkins, III of Mishaum Point Massachusetts, a friend of the family.


  • 1840-2002

Biographical / Historical

The donor and complier of the Swift and Wesselhoeft family collection is Edith Steel Swift (1944-). For the past several decades Ms. Swift has research and collected genealogical materials related to the Swift, Wesselhoeft, and Steel families whom resided in the communities of New Bedford, Acushnet, Mishaum Point and Boston. Edith Steel Swift is the daughter of Humphrey (Hop) Hathaway Swift III (1915 – 2002) and his first wife Dorothea Banks (1922-1951). Her sister is Alexandra Dorothy S. (1946-). Edith Steel Swift resides in Thirroul, Australia during the winter and Mishaum Point in the summer. Edith’s father, Humphrey Hathaway Swift III (HHS III) is the son of Edith Steel and Robert Wesselhoeft Swift (1872-1950) of New Bedford. In 1926, Robert Wesselhoeft Swift brought a small import company and called it Swift and Anderson Inc. This family owned company was the first to import roof prism binocular from Hensolt Germany. Throughout the twentieth-century the company expanded to become one of the leading trade company of fine optical products in the United States, now known as Swift Instruments. Its international headquarters is in Boston and today remains a family owned business. Although the business was managed by Robert Wesselhoeft Swift during the early part of the twentieth-century, (HHS III) joined the family business immediately following World War II and eventually became president. In an article that appeared in OPTICS magazine he credits his three brothers, Robert Wesselhoeft Swift, Jr. (1911 – 1968); Henry Miller Steel Swift (1912-1970), and Vice President, Stephen Hathaway Swift (1917-1997) for their contributions to the history and growth of the company. (HHS III) is a graduate of sociology, economics and psychology from the University of North Carolina and served as midshipman in the U.S. Naval reserves. He also owned a small sugar company in Recife, Brazil. During his retirement years, (HHS III) was able to pursue his passion, which was to sail his boat “Sea Horse” along the coast of New England. He summered at Misham Point in Dartmouth Massachusetts. 2 (HHS III)’s father Robert Wesselhoeft Swift (1872-1950) was born to New Bedford. His parents were Bertha Wesselhoeft (1841-1910), and Humphrey Hathaway Swift (1819 – 1911) who was born at Lunds Corner of New Bedford. Humphrey Hathaway Swift (HHS) was a son of shipbuilder and timber Jireh Swift, who was born in Acushnet in April 23, 1773.

(HHS) began his career as a teacher at the village school. By the end of 1840, he embarked from Salem on his first trip of many voyages to Brazil, and later China, Europe, and Africa importing tea and goods back and forth to the United States. He started his sailing career with Henry Forster & Co. and became a business entrepreneur, both in the United States and Brazil. One of his particular interests was the development of cotton in Brazil during the Civil War. He imported cottonseed and introduced the cotton gin to the Brazilian planters. President Grant appointed Mr. Swift consul to Pernambuco, Brazil, but he declined due to business conflicts. He also served as United States Representative. In 1879, he retired from a Henry Forster & Co. and ten years later was the senior partner of Swift, Billings, & Co. He retired in 1896 and left New York to return to his childhood home in New Bedford. A year before his death, 1911, he moved to Cambridge to live with his daughter and son in law, Professor of Charles Burton Gulick, In addition to contributions of the Swift family, Bertha Wesselhoeft, (HHS)’s second wife, came from a prominent Boston family who had a long tradition in the field of medicine. Bertha’s father, Robert Wesselhoeft and his immediate family sailed to the United States in 1840 to meet his brother, Wilhelm Wesselhoeft. His brother was a physician who practice and taught the principles of homeopathy. He also founded one of the first homeopathic societies in the country, Northampton County Society of Laymen and Physicians in Pennsylvania. Robert studied under his brother and at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his medical degree from the University of Basel. His particular medical interest was hydrotherapeutics. After school he began practicing with his brother in Cambridgeport and Boston. In 1841, Mr. Lovell Farr of Brattleboro, Vermont contacted Robert Wesselhoeft for his assistance in his wife’s illness, which was believed to be hopeless. Upon visiting Brattleboro he discovered that air and water was free and clear of all mineral substances unlike Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1843, he established one of the largest hydropath, “water cure” experiment in the country and served more than three-hundred-ninety-two patients. Among some of his clients were Harriet Beecher Stowe and Julia Ward Howe.


1.25 Linear Feet (3 mss boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Edith Steel Swift. September 4, 1997

Processing Information

April 26, 2004 by Allison Cywin as part of her internship through Simmons College.

MC 40, Swift and Wesselhoeft family papers
Allison Cywin
April 26, 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Repository

285 Old Westport Rd.
N. Dartmouth MA 02747 USA