Thanks to the assistance of the Duxbury Cornerstone Masonic Lodge, the Society now exhibits a copy of the only known photograph of merchant Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. in the building that once was his home.
In 1807, Winsor built the majestic house that is now the headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Born in 1775, he began his career as a carver of figureheads in his father’s shipyard. The Society is in possession of at least one of his works, a carved cornucopia that is on display in the house. It is also believed that some of the moulding in the house was done by Nathaniel himself.
During Nathaniel’s early career, shortly after the Revolution, the Winsors were the most industrious merchant family in Duxbury. They bravely ventured into the Grand Banks Fishery, launching more vessels in the 1780s and 90s than any other builders in town. The family, at this time led by brothers and partners Nathaniel Sr. and Joshua Winsor, would eventually be eclipsed by King Caesar and the Drew family.
There were at least two attributes that set the family apart from Duxbury’s other merchant dynasties. First, the Winsors were more numerous than the Weston or Drews, and capital was soon splintered among the many children and grandchildren of Nathaniel Sr. and Joshua. By the 1810s and 20s, Ezra Weston, Jr. was soon buying up a good deal of real estate from Winsors who could not meet their debts.
A second attribute that truly sets the Winsors apart was Nathaniel Jr.’s decision, probably orchestrated largely by his son Nathaniel III, to take the family business to Boston and to begin investing in clipper ships. Established in the 1840’s, Winsor’s Regular Line originally serviced Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans. According to the Boston Daily Atlas, he was the first Boston merchant to establish a regular line of clipper ships to San Francisco, quite a distinction, eventually dispatching a ship every 20 days in 1852.
So, while Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. may not have been a shipbuilding giant like King Caesar, he has the honor, perhaps, of being Duxbury’s most farseeing merchant. Taking advantage of the changing times, he invested in Boston-built clipperships and established a business that, guided by his descendants, would survive until 1907—half a century after the Westons closed their books.
(Photos: Left: A snapshot of a painting of Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. currently in the possession of a Winsor descendant. It shows Nathaniel about age 40 around 1815. Right: A copy of the only known photograph of Nathaniel Winsor, Jr., courtesy of the Duxbury Masonic Lodge, shows a stately retired merchant, roughly age 80).