William F. Sturgis

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William F. Sturgis (February 25, 1782 – October 21, 1863) was a Boston merchant in the China trade, the California hide trade and the Maritime fur trade.

Early life[edit]

Sturgis was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, to Hannah Mills and William E. Sturgis, a ship master and lineal descendant from Edward Sturgis of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, the first Sturgis in America (arrived 1630).

In 1796, he joined the counting house of his uncle Russell Sturgis (1750–1826), and less than two years later became connected with James and Thomas Handasyd Perkins's maritime fur trade between the Pacific Northwest coast and China.

Upon his father's death in 1797, he went to sea to support the family as assistant trader on the Eliza, then as chief mate of the Ulysses. He then served under Captain Charles Derby on the Caroline until Derby died and Sturgis took command. In 1804 the Caroline sailed from the Columbia River to Kaigahnee, just south of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, acquiring some 2,500 sea otter skins that netted $73,034.

In 1809, his ship the Atahualpa, owned by Theodore Lyman, was attacked by Chinese pirates while moored at Macau Roads. Sturgis managed to get the ship underway and fought off the pirates using four small cannon he had brought on board against the wishes of the ship's owner. Using these, they managed to fight long enough to sail within range of the protective guns of the harbor, and the pirates were captured, their commander Apootsae later being tortured to death by the Mandarin authorities. Sturgis had been prepared to blow up the ship if the pirates caught them in order to save the crew and passengers from being tortured. Lyman reportedly chastised Sturgis for having violated his instructions by bringing the cannon on the voyage.

Bryant & Sturgis[edit]

In 1810, he returned to Boston formed a trading partnership with John Bryant as Bryant & Sturgis.[1]

From 1810 to 1850 more than half of the trade carried on between the Pacific Northwest coast and China was under their direction, including substantial parts of the California hide trade.

Personal life[edit]

On his return to Boston in 1810 he married Elizabeth M. Davis, with whom he had one son and five daughters. One daughter, Ellen Sturgis Hooper, was a Transcendentalist poet and was the mother of Marian Hooper Adams.

Sturgis was a longtime member of the Massachusetts House and Senate, a member and sometime president of the Boston Marine Society, and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Sturgis donated his childhood home to be the Barnstable public library, now called the Sturgis Library,[2] and his papers are collected there.[3] Bryant & Sturgis business records are preserved at the Bryant Library of the Harvard Business School.

A Sturgis descendant donated the Tanglewood estate to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There is a Sturgis Charter Public School, an IB For all 9-12 school in Hyannis, MA.

The ship William Sturgis[edit]

The William Sturgis of Boston was an 1849 ship of 649½ tons, built by James O. Curtis in Medford, MA for William F. Weld & Co. She sailed from Cardiff to Iloilo with a cargo of coal. On Sept. 19, 1863, she was off the coast of Guimaras. She struck the Magicienne Bank, then sank on Ottorg Bank.[4]


  1. ^ Bryant & Sturgis (Boston, Mass.) records, 1801-1872 (inclusive): A Finding Aid; Bryant Library, Harvard Business School
  2. ^ Sturgis Library
  3. ^ Sturgis Library Archives
  4. ^ Gleason, Hall (1937). Old Ships and Ship-Building Days of Medford. Medford, MA: J.C. Miller. p. 71. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]