Abbie G. Rogers

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Abbie G. Rogers
Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers circa 1880.jpg
Abigail Palmer Gifford

(1841-01-20)January 20, 1841
DiedMay 21, 1894(1894-05-21) (aged 53)
Resting place Riverside Cemetery
Spouse(s) Henry Huttleston Rogers
  • Anne Engle Benjamin
  • Cara Leland Broughton
  • Millicent Gifford Rogers
  • Mary Huttleston Coe
  • Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr.

Abigail Gifford Rogers (January 20, 1841 May 21, 1894) was the first wife of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840–1909), an American business magnate.


As children, Abbie and Henry, each of Mayflower lineage, grew up and went to school together in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, a small coastal fishing town with a whaling heritage. They were married in 1862, and started their family life together in a one-room shack in the newly discovered western Pennsylvania oil fields. Although he and Abbie lived frugally for many years, by 1875, Henry Rogers had risen in the petroleum industry to become one of the key men in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust. He invested heavily in various industries, including copper, steel, mining, and railways. The Virginian Railway is widely considered his final life's achievement. Rogers amassed a great fortune, estimated at over $100 million, and became one of the wealthiest men in the United States.

Abbie and Henry Rogers were generous, providing many public works for their hometown of Fairhaven, including the Town Hall which Abbie donated in 1894 shortly before her death. Rogers also financially assisted such notables as Mark Twain, Helen Keller, and Booker T. Washington.

Abbie and Henry Rogers had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood. She died suddenly on May 21, 1894, following an operation in New York City. After her death, Henry Rogers is said to have immersed himself even more in his work during the 15 years he outlived her. When he died in 1909, he was interred with her at Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven.

Childhood in Fairhaven, Massachusetts

Abigail Palmer Gifford was the younger daughter of Captain Peleg W. Gifford and his wife, Amelia L. Hammond. [1] Abbie's father had been a whaling ship captain and participated in the "Great Stone Fleet" of scuttled ships that blockaded Charleston Harbor during the American Civil War. It is said that Captain Gifford loved to discuss his career as a very successful ship-master. The Giffords' home, built in 1835, was located at 36 Green Street in Fairhaven, (now numbered 115 Green Street).

As Abbie grew up, one of her schoolmates and neighbors in the small coastal town was young Henry Huttleston Rogers, nicknamed "Hen", her future husband. Both Abbie and Henry were descendants of colonists who had arrived at the Plymouth Colony on the Mayflower in 1620.

Whaling, oil, opportunity, roughing it in Pennsylvania

Prior to the second half of the 19th century, whale oil was the primary source of fuel for lighting in the United States. The whaling industry was the mainstay for many New England coastal communities for over 200 years. Among these was Fairhaven, Massachusetts, founded on land purchased by English settlers of the Plymouth Colony from a friendly Native American tribal chief, Massasoit, and his son, who was named Wamsutta.

In 1854, natural oil (petroleum) was discovered in western Pennsylvania. In 1859, George Bissell and Edwin L. Drake made the first successful use of a drilling rig at Titusville, Pennsylvania. Production from this single well soon exceeded the entire cumulative oil output which had taken place in Europe since the 1650s. The principal product of the oil was kerosene. Another related product was natural gas. Kerosene and natural gas soon replaced whale oil in North America for illuminating purposes. In New England, whaling reached its peak in 1857, then gradually began a period of decline, partially due to Scandinavian competition. The situation was aggravated considerably by the American Civil War, as whaling vessels and crews were diverted to assist in blockading the Confederate coastal areas and ports. By 1900, the whaling industry had collapsed, due in part to the discovery and refining of petroleum from the western Pennsylvania oil fields.

Perhaps realizing both the trend and opportunity, in 1861, 21-year-old Henry H. Rogers pooled his savings of approximately $600 with a friend, Charles Ellis. They set out to western Pennsylvania and its newly discovered oil fields. The young partners began their small Wamsutta Oil Refinery at McClintocksville near Oil City, Pennsylvania.

The old Indian name "Wamsutta" was apparently selected in honor of their hometown area of New England. In nearby New Bedford, the Wamsutta Company had opened in 1846, the first of many textile mills that gradually came to supplant whaling as the principal employment activity in the area.

Rogers and Ellis, and their tiny Wamsutta Oil Refinery, made $30,000 their first year. This amount was more than 3 entire whaling ship trips from back home could hope to earn during an average voyage of more than a years' duration. As a result, Rogers was regarded as very successful when he returned home to Fairhaven for a short vacation the next year.

There, in 1862, Abbie Palmer Gifford married young Henry Rogers, her childhood sweetheart. She returned with him to the oil fields where they lived in a one-room shack along Oil Creek, where her young husband and Ellis worked the Wamsutta Oil Refinery.

A short time later, Rogers met Charles Pratt (1830–1891). Pratt had been born in Watertown, Massachusetts. In nearby Boston, he had joined a company specializing in paints and whale oil products. In 1850 or 1851, Pratt moved to New York City, where he worked for a similar company handling paint and oil.

Pratt saw the same trend as Ellis and Rogers, and he became a pioneer of the natural oil (petroleum) industry. He established a kerosene refinery (Astral Oil Works) in Brooklyn, New York. Pratt's product later gave rise to the slogan, The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral Oil.

In Pennsylvania in the mid-1860s, when Pratt and Rogers met, Pratt had earlier bought whale-oil from Ellis in Fairhaven, and they were already acquainted. The two young men agreed to sell the entire output of their small refinery to Pratt at a fixed price.

This went well at first. However, Ellis and Rogers had no wells of their own, and were dependent upon purchasing crude oil to refine and sell to Pratt. A few months later, crude oil prices suddenly increased due to manipulation by speculators. The young entrepreneurs struggled to try to live up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus was wiped out. Before long, they were heavily in debt to Pratt.

Ellis gave up, but in 1866, Rogers went to Pratt in New York City and told him he would take personal responsibility for the entire debt. This so impressed Pratt that he immediately hired Rogers for his own organization.

Moving to New York, oil refining

Pratt made Rogers foreman of his Brooklyn refinery, with a promise of a partnership if sales ran over fifty thousand dollars a year. Abbie, Henry, and their baby Anne moved to Brooklyn. In the next few year Rogers became, in the words of Elbert Hubbard, Pratt's "hands and feet and eyes and ears" (Little Journeys to the Homes, 1909).

The Rogers family continued to live frugally, and Henry worked very hard. Abbie brought his meals to the "works", and often he would sleep but three hours a night rolled up in a blanket by the side of a still. Rogers moved steadily from foreman to manager, and then superintendent of Pratt's Astral Oil Refinery. Pratt finally gave Rogers an interest in the business as promised. In 1867, with Rogers as a partner, he established the firm of Charles Pratt and Company.

In the early 1870s, Pratt and Rogers became involved in a conflict with the infamous South Improvement Company, which was basically a scheme to obtain favorable net shipping rates of oil owned by John D. Rockefeller's interests from the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and other railroads through a secret system of rebates. Rockefeller and the South Improvement Company scheme outraged independent oil producers in western Pennsylvania and refineries there and afar alike.

The opposition to the South Improvement Company scheme among the New York refiners was led by Rogers. The New York interests formed an association, and about the middle of March, 1872, sent a committee of three, with Rogers, representing the Pratt interests, as head, to Oil City to consult with the Oil Producers' Union there. Their arrival in the oil regions was a matter of great satisfaction to the Pennsylvania independents. Together, they soon managed to forge an agreement with the PRR and other railroads, whose leaders eventually agreed to open rates to all and promised to end their shady dealings with South Improvement. The oil men were exultant, but their joy was to be short-lived, for Rockefeller had already begun forming his Standard Oil organization and was busy trying another approach, which included frequently buying up opposing interests.

A short time later, Rockefeller approached Charles Pratt with his plans of cooperation and consolidation. Pratt talked it over with Rogers, and they decided that the combination would benefit them. Rogers formulated terms, which guaranteed financial security and jobs for Pratt and himself. John D. Rockefeller quietly accepted the offer on Rogers' exact terms. In 1874, Charles Pratt and Company (including Astral Oil) became one of the important formerly independent refiners to join Rockefeller's organization, and it was to become part of the Standard Oil Trust when it was formed. Pratt's son Charles Millard Pratt (1858–1913) became Secretary of Standard Oil.

Rogers soon rose to become one of Rockefeller's key men of Standard Oil. By 1890, he was a Vice-President and headed the important production committee. Rogers also invested outside of Standard Oil and became one of the wealthiest men in the world. He had interests in oil, gas, steel, copper, coal, and railroads, and eventually founded and built the Virginian Railway at the end of his own career.

After 1874, the Rogers family continued to live in New York City, but vacationed at Fairhaven, where a large mansion was erected for them.

Family and children

Abbie was the mother of five children, four girls and a boy. Another little son had died at birth. Their eldest daughter, Anne Engle Rogers, was born in 1865 in Pennsylvania.

The family moved to New York in 1866. Daughter Cara Leland Rogers was born in Fairhaven in 1867, Millicent was born in 1873, followed by Mary (who became known as Mai) in 1875.

Their son, Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr., was born in 1879, and came to be known as Harry. In adulthood, after the death of his father, he became known as Colonel Henry Huddleston Rogers, apparently returning to an earlier spelling of his middle name. The title of Colonel was apparently honorific, not uncommon in those times.

Local historians recall that the children of Henry Huttleston Rogers and Abbie Gifford Rogers were far more than vacationers in Fairhaven. Their roots were deep in the community. They spent time with grandparents and family friends, and became knowledgeable about the traditions of the old whaling town.

Anne Engle Rogers Benjamin

Anne married William Evarts Benjamin, a prominent Boston publisher and collector. They had 2 children, Beatrice Benjamin Cartwright and Henry Rogers Benjamin.

Cara Leland Rogers Broughton, Lady Fairhaven

In 1890, Cara Leland Rogers married Bradford Ferris Duff of New York. Their marriage was to end a year later, in 1891, when her new husband, aged twenty-four, died of a lung ailment at the Rogers' Fairhaven residence, making Cara a widow at twenty-three.

In the 1890s, Cara's father had begun to consider a sewer and water project for the Fairhaven community. After much consultation with experts, he had chosen to adopt a sewerage plan developed in England known as the "Shone Sewer System". To manage the project, a young English engineer, Urban Hanlon Broughton, was sent to town by the Shone executives to explain procedure and direct the actual work.

During his stay, Cara Duff had become acquainted with the young Englishman. By 1895, the sewer work was well on the way to completion, and Cara Rogers Duff and Urban Broughton had decided to be married. Cara became Mrs. Urban Broughton in late 1895. Departing on Christmas Day, they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a honeymoon trip to Europe.

The Broughtons' first child, a son, was born in Fairhaven in 1896, and was named Urban Huttleston Broughton. A second son was born in 1900, and was called Henry Rogers Broughton.

Although Urban Broughton was by birth an English subject, he spent more than twenty-five years in America, many of them in Chicago, Illinois. Urban Broughton became president of Utah Consolidated Mining Co. in 1901, and was chosen a director and a manager of the United Metals Selling Co., the selling agency for Amalgamated Copper. He was also a director of the Atlas Tack Co. in Fairhaven, the Santa Rica Mining Co., and the Butte Coalition Mining Co. in Montana.

After the sudden death of his father-in-law (Henry H. Rogers Sr.) in 1909, Urban Broughton became president of The Virginian Railway Company.

In 1912, Urban, Cara, and their two sons, Huttleston Broughton, and Henry Broughton, moved to England. They took up residence in Mayfair, London. Urban became a member of Parliament (MP). He found pleasure in this new career, becoming a close personal friend of Prime Minister Bonar Law. Cara devoted herself to family matters and other domestic duties. Their young sons soon became thoroughly-oriented British subjects.

During World War I, both Urban and Cara were very active in the war effort. Urban served the English government in many ways. He published a strong brochure designed to appeal to the good will of America entitled "The British Empire at War".

Cara offered all her efforts to the good of her adopted country as well, sponsoring many types of war work. She was deeply interested in the well-being of Bethnal Green Military Hospital. She gave hospitable parties for wounded soldiers at the family home in Broadoaks, Byfleet.

During the 1920s, the Broughtons visited Fairhaven several times. In 1926, Cara purchased the revolutionary war site of Fort Phoenix and donated it to the city of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Today, it is a park.

Urban Broughton died in 1929, at the age of 72. Earlier in the same year, his name had been pending for elevation to the peerage by King George V. On May 2, 1929, the King proclaimed "... Cara Leland Broughton, widow of Urban Hanlon Broughton, may henceforth enjoy the same style and title as if her husband...had survived and received the title and dignity of Baron Fairhaven".

The eldest son, Huttleston, was elevated to his father's barony, and became the first Baron Fairhaven, and Cara, the first Lady Fairhaven.

Millicent Gifford Rogers

Millicent "Millie" Gifford Rogers was born in 1873. It is recorded that the child loved to draw sketches and read. She is to have once said on a visit to Fairhaven "I wish we had a good library!" However, in 1890 she died of heart failure at age 17.

The grieving Rogers family sought an appropriate means of memorializing her short life. Because she had been an avid reader, especially of poetry, the Rogers decided that they would build and donate to the town of Fairhaven a library named for her and given in the names of her sisters and brother.

In the same year she had died, land was acquired and plan were begun to erect in Fairhaven a unique and lavish tribute to the arts, the splendid yet functional Millicent Library. The cornerstone was laid in September, 1891 at a quiet morning ceremony with only the family and their clergyman, Rev. J.M. Leighton, in attendance. After prayer, Millie's little brother, Harry, set the cornerstone. Within its confines were a sketch of Millicent, a tracing of the Rogers' ancestry, and a copy of the Fairhaven Star carrying a picture of the proposed building.

The Millicent Library describes the memorial window to the little girl who wished for a good library in Fairhaven as follows:

In the Library, just to the left of the main entrance, is a stunning stained-glass window made by Clayton and Bell of London. In the central panel is the figure of Erato, the Muse of Poetry, and her features bear a striking resemblance to those of the girl to whose memory the library was erected.

Mary Huttleston Rogers Coe

Mary Huttleston Rogers, known as "Mai", was the youngest daughter, born in 1875 in Fairhaven. Mai was educated at private seminary schools, spoke fluent French, played the piano, and was interested in art and decoration.

After an earlier marriage which was unsuccessful (her father and family friend Mark Twain labeled her first husband a "scalawag"), on June 4, 1900, she married William Robertson Coe, a 30-year-old insurance company manager. Coe had met her during a transatlantic crossing. Between 1900 and 1910, the couple had four children: William Rogers Coe (1901–1971), Robert Douglas Coe (1902–1985), Henry Huttleston Rogers Coe (1907–1966), and Natalie Mai Coe Vitetti (1910–1987).

By 1910, Coe had become president of insurance broker Johnson & Higgins, and he was involved in insuring the hull of the RMS Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. Coe rose to become Chairman of the Board of Johnson and Higgins by 1916, a position he held until 1943. [2]

Coe was on the Board of Directors of The Virginian Railway Company from 1910 until his death in 1955, and headed the company for a brief period during World War II. He was also a director of Loup Creek Colliery and the Wyoming Land Company.

Mai and her husband had a large estate, Planting Fields, built on the Gold Coast of Long Island, New York. They named the manor house "Coe Hall". Mai and her husband shared a love of horticulture. Following an extended illness, Mai died in 1924, and was interred nearby. In 1949, their estate was donated by Coe to become Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park.

Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr.

Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr. was born in 1879. He came to be known as Harry. He was the youngest of the Rogers children.

Harry became a favorite of Rogers family friend Mark Twain, who in 1897 dedicated his new book Following The Equator with the following quipping preface:

This Book Is Affectionately Inscribed To My Young Friend,


With recognition of what he is and apprehension of what he may become, unless he form himself a little more closely upon the model of - The Author

As a young adult, Harry often joined his father and family friends on trips aboard their luxury steam yacht Kanawha, built in 1899.

Harry married his first wife, Mary Benjamin. He and his wife traveled to Virginia with his father and Twain on the Kanawha in September, 1907 when the latter spoke at Robert Fulton Day at the Jamestown Exposition. After their 1929 divorce he married 2, Marguerite von Braun Savell Miles (married 1929-33) and 3, Pauline Van der Voort Dresser (married 1933).

Harry journeyed again with his father and Twain to Norfolk, Virginia, in April, 1909 for the dedication ceremonies and dinner to celebrate the completion of the Virginian Railway, which turned out to be his father's s final life achievement. After his father's death the following month, Harry took over his father's seat on the Board of Directors of the new railroad, with his brother-in-law, Urban Broughton, serving as the railroad's President.

He assembled a valuable collection of model sailing ships, which were donated the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, after his death in 1935.

Harry and Mary Rogers had a son, Harry III, and a daughter, Millicent Rogers, a prominent socialite during the 1930s and 1940s whose vast collection of turquoise jewelry and Native American artifacts are housed in the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico. [3] [4]

1894: A new Town Hall and tragedy

In 1894, Fairhaven received the gift of a new Town Hall from the Rogers Family. Abbie dedicated it to the memory of her mother. The following text about Abbie Rogers is from the Millicent Library, Fairhaven Massachusetts.

"Mother of six children, Mrs. Rogers is represented as having been of a quiet and retiring disposition, completely devoid of the ostentation often associated with great wealth. Contemporary photographs attest to a shy and gentle charm of feature, and she is known to have cherished a deep affection for Fairhaven and a nostalgia for the simple ways of her childhood.

"She was, therefore, delighted to become the donor of Fairhaven's beautiful new 'Town House,' and on February 22nd and 23d, 1894, she attended dedication exercises and received graciously at the splendid Dedication Ball, in the first gala functions marking the opening of the new building.

"It was not given those attending these happy festivities to know that - but three months later - in May, 1894, this gentle woman was to die in New York City after an operation performed to save her life."


Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers died unexpectedly on May 21, 1894, age 53 in New York City. She had been undergoing an operation to remove a tumor. [5] Her widower, Henry Rogers Sr., eventually remarried, but had no children with his second wife. Outliving her two days short of 15 years, after his death on May 19, 1909, he was interred beside her in Fairhaven's Riverside Cemetery.


The Town Hall in Fairhaven survives, as do many other gifts of the Rogers' family to Fairhaven, where she and her husband grew up. The home of Captain Peleg Gifford (Abbie's childhood home), a two-story gable-end frame house built in the Greek Revival style at 36 Green Street, has been preserved. It and many other historic buildings in Fairhaven are opened periodically for special public tours.

The bronze plaque on the Fairhaven Town Hall, reads:

This Building was presented to the Town of Fairhaven February 22, 1894, three months prior to the death of the donor Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers. The people of Fairhaven in expressing their appreciation and gratitude for the gift would also record the sorrow they feel as a community through the loss of one whose life was full of good works. May this structure in its strength and beauty ever stand as commemorative of her character and thoughtful kindness.

See also

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  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-07-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Notable Persons". Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
  4. "Museum Info". Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
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