Tag Archives: New York

Jesse Feels “Almost Like Flying” from Palmyra

Have you read Jesse Morgan’s earlier letters to his wife? If you read the first letter, you may remember his enthusiasm for describing the land and his trip. Do you recall his admonition to Mary?

“Don’t let any trouble annoy your feelings but keep up a buoyant spirit.”

That was back in 1843. It looks like my great-great grandfather could use a little of his own advice as he writes to Mary from Palmyra, New York during August 1847.

Palmyra was the home of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon).  Coincidentally, Joseph Smith was born the same year as Jesse Morgan–1805.  A Mormon publishing house thrived in Palmyra, and the Book of the Mormon was firsts published there. By 1847 when we know that Jesse visited Palmyra, Joseph Smith had been gone for several years, having migrated west, first to Kirkland Ohio and then on to Nauvoo, Illinois. However, the Mormon headquarters in Kirtland Ohio was still active when Jesse moved to Ohio. The majority of Smith’s followers had moved on to Illinois by the time that Jesse started making forays into Illinois. Jesse seems to be always following the Mormons. Particularly in the next stage of his life.

But now he has stopped at Palmyra, along the Erie Canal. Perhaps the contact with the Mormon religion during this low period of Jesse’s life had an influence on later events. (You’ll just have to keep reading future posts to find out the significance.)

If you compare the writing on this letter to that on previous letters, two things are immediately obvious. It is not the carefully formed script he used earlier, and instead of firmly straight lines across the page, the lines dip downward. A graphologist will tell you that downward slanting lines denote pessimism.  (You can’t fool us, Jesse!)  Only in his signature, does he at least try to regain his strong sense of self importance and optimism.

The Letter

Jesse writes from Palmyra

Jesse Morgan’s letter to his wife, Mary, August 1 1847 from Palmyra, NY

Jesse writes from Palmyra NY

Bottom of 1st page of Jesse Morgan’s letter to his wife, Mary, August 1 1847 from Palmyra, NY

Jesse's letter form Palmyra

Jesse’s signature on letter August 1847

The Transcription

Palmyra [New York] Aug 1st 1847

Dear Wife

I improve the present opportunity to write you a few lines which I should have done two weeks ago to inform you that I am alive and tolerably well at present.

I had a long and tedious journey down this time owning to the warm weather and one of my horses got sick, and I got him in a bad season, just at the commencement of haying and harvesting and but for wanting to buy, the sudden change in the market of Wheat has produced a stagnation of business at present.

As soon as haying and harvest is over which will be next 6 weeks the fall work will commence and the boats on the canal will begin to do business again and it is _______horses will be in some demand then. I have sold but one since I came down that I made $25.00.

I am now living cheap. I buy my hay from $5.00 per ton and stable room found on a farm just in the edge of Palmyra and have gone to work for the man at $1.00 per day and the privalege[sic] of taking care of my horses. I have lost some time. I got poisoned almost as bad as I was last fall. My horses consume about  ___[10 lbs] per day which is 25 cents and I make $1.00 so I gain .75 cents. I find no grain, you can hardly imagine how bad I want to see home when I think about it I feel all most like flying but mean to hold on a little while yet. I want to do well this time if I can but I am well satisfied that I shall not do as well as I did the second time I was down. I think I shall be at home in a two weeks.

Receive these few lines with together with my warmest affection for you

from your affectionate husband

Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Thoughts on the Letter

I have very few comments to make on this letter from Palmyra.  His remark that he should have written two weeks ago, indicates to me that he has been away at least a month. Possibly  he continues a trip he wrote about in April and June.

One thing slightly puzzles me–his references to going “down” when he is going to Palmyra in northern New York.  Since we do have the usage of “down East” for Maine, I wonder if East was “down” and West was “up” in the way that now North is “up” and South is “down”? Perhaps one of my astute readers can clarify?

Say what you may about Jesse’s odd, meandering way of life, and his long absences, he was not afraid to work hard. He will do whatever is necessary to survive.  I am particularly touched by “..you can hardly imagine how bad I want to see home when I think about it I feel all most like flying but mean to hold on a little while yet.”

However, I can’t help but feel even sorrier for Mary.  Back home in Killbuck, she takes care of her own daughter and one of Jesse’s, without a regular source of income. She has no certainty about when her husband will resurface. What a pity that we do not have a record of how Mary is getting along with her end of “living cheap, ” while Jesse is suffering in Palmyra.

Coming Next

Jesse continues to travel, but with greater success.  He purchases land, indicating that he must have had success in selling horses.

Jesse Morgan, Canal and Lake Travel- 1846

Erie Canal, Ohio

Mule Train on the Erie Canal at Clyde, Ohio

When Jesse Morgan went “on the road” in 1846, the road was a watery one.  He chose canal and lake travel through Ohio and New York and perhaps even up to “Canadi”. These two letters are packed with interesting hints at his life–how he traveled, what it meant to be a horse trader, and even his state of mind.

What or who is my Great-Great Grandfather hiding from? Is there cause for his paranoia? Does his penchant for secrecy explain his later disappearance from home and family?

In his letter to Mary Bassett Morgan in 1843, Jesse Morgan gave details of his travels, but did not specifically say why he was traveling. Although his 1843 letter was sent in November,the timing of the surviving letters, at least in 1846, seems to indicate this was a spring and summer enterprise, perhaps after his school teaching duties were done.

These 1846 letters lack some of the enthusiasm for travel seen in the 1843  letter. Instead, these letters that he wrote to Mary in 1846, in June and July, focus on his business–horse trading. Perhaps the novelty of constant travel has gotten old?


Wooster June 17th 1846

Dear Wife

Agreeable to promise, I drop you a few lines hoping that you will not be surprised in finding a letter mailed at Wooster—when I had started for Illinois, such has been my conclusion hoping for the better I am now on my way to York State with horses.

I feel well satisfied in the way that I have lain out my money, taking in to consideration that I had to make some disposition of the mare and could not short of going whear (sic) horses would fetch money I have come to this conclusion, and really believe that I can make a goodly profit in the horses that I bought and turn the mare in to money also. I have a finer pair of horses than I ever seen raised in Killbuck and in this place considered worth eighty dollars I gave $105 for them.

Don’t let any body know where I am. You need not let Mrs. Woods know everything. Keep everything right at home if you can. I will wright or send a paper as soon as I get throw (sic) if I do not sell immediately. Don’t borrow any troubles(?) on my account. I can take care of myself.

Your affectionate husband

                                                                                                                 Jesse Morgan

Mary Morgan

Mary Reads Her Husband’s Letter

So, to clarify what Mary is reading here–she said goodbye to Jesse as he set out to travel south to the Ohio River to go on to Illinois. But in mid June, she gets a letter from Wooster, Ohio–a town that is 25 miles north of Killbuck, where they live. Although that is very close in today’s thinking, it could have been a two day journey for Jesse by horseback.

It seems to me that Jesse is being a little defensive about how well he is handling his money, and his confidence that he can make more profit on his horses by traveling east to New York rather than west to Illinois. I picture him sitting at an Inn or Tavern and shooting the breeze with other traveling salesmen about where business is good.

But why is it necessary for Mary to keep Jesse’s whereabouts secret?  The Woods family appears more than once in the letters, so they must have been friends, so why does he have to warn Mary not to tell her friend everything.  All that, and then he tells her not to worry, he can take care of himself?  Poor Mary is getting mixed messages at best.


Albany [New York] July 31st 1846

Dear Wife

As usual I have been delaying writing with the expectation of soon being ready to start for home. Mr. Scott and my self have had good offers and had ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead. We have now come to a stand aside determined to sell out but horses are no higher here than at Syracuse and our expenses have been considerable. We have 2 or 3 chances of selling our Match Span [Two horses harnessed together, matching in size and perhaps color for pulling together as a team] but I cannot think we will get more than $225 for them. They will probably be sold by Monday next. Then I shall go back to Canadi [sic] again to sell the Mare. I left her in good pasture and if she improves as I think she will in so long a time and I can make her drive well, I can get a good price for her, if so I shall be able to get home with $75 or $100 clear of all expense besides turning the mare into money. I feel anxious to get home. I want to see you all. When I see a little girl about like Harriet, I think about home more especially. My health is very good and hope these lines will find you enjoying the same blessing.

Your affectionate husband

Mary Morgan                                                                                                          Jesse Morgan

Mary Reads The July Letter

His Route–By Water

By July, Jesse is in New York State. Apparently he went from Wooster to Massilon, Ohio, where he got a canal boat on the Ohio & Erie Canal to Lake Erie. Then probably a quick trip across the border to Canada and then back to New York, and to Syracuse before going to Albany. it is tempting to assume that he may have stopped in Chautauqua County to see his father and some other members of his family–perhaps even his sons who had been farmed out to live with family.  However, that is pure speculation, and according to my admittedly sketchy map, would have been too far out of his way.

The Ohio & Erie canal would have taken him to Lake Erie, for further transport by boat. At the peak, Ohio had 1000 miles of canals throughout the state. In 1836 there were 3000 canal boats –one leaving every hour from ports. Ten years later the business was still thriving.

In the map below, you can see how handy the canals were, reaching across the state from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. From Jesse’s home in Killbuck, Ohio, he could reach the Erie canal by a short journey to the South at Coshocton, or to the east.

Ohio Canals.

Map of Ohio Canals prior to 1919. Jesse’s home is in Holmes County, and his first letter is from Wooster in Wayne County, directly north of Holmes County.

By the 1840’s steam boats had replaced most of the schooners that previously sailed the Great Lakes.  Mary might have been concerned about his safety, because shipwrecks were common, although more numerous in the fall before the traffic closed entirely for the winter months.

The canal and lake boats were economical. For instance, early fares from Albany to Buffalo was $14.52 including meals and $1 per hundred pounds of goods. After 1840 passage from Buffalo to Chicago on the lake cost $12 for a cabin and $2.50 to $10 for a horse.  As one writer says, “In 1835 as the spirit of land speculation had commenced west the number of passengers crossing the lake was increased….the cost of travel by land was immeasurably higher.”

New York State, likewise had a fully developed canal system that he could have taken advantage of when he arrived back on shore in New York and traveled on to Syracuse and Albany (where he wrote the letter) before his planned trip back to “Canadi”. Presumably he was buying and selling horses along the way.

His Motivation

This letter deepens our understanding of Jesse.  “We ought to have taken them, but the market is always a little better further ahead.” He is the consummate optimist, convinced that the end of the rainbow is just over the hill. This desire to not settle for the bird in the hand draws him farther and farther on his travels.

Note:  I have no idea who Mr. Scott is and have not spotted him in any of the places where Jesse lived, although Jesse himself seemed to evade the census takers in 1840 and 1850.

Fatherly Concerns

As in the 1843 letter, when he sent kisses to his baby girl, he mentions the now four-year old  Harriet (Hattie Morgan Stout, my great-grandmother) but oddly does not mention the two daughters from his earlier marriage in any letters. They both would have been living with Mary in Killbuck, Ohio, according to the stories my mother told me, and the 1850 census shows one of the girls still living with Mary.  One married in 1851 and the other not until 1861.

See the post immediately beneath this one for more information about horse trading.

 Coming Attractions

In the next letters (1847) we will learn more about Jesse’s occupation of horse trader plus more about the mysterious desire to be secretive.


The site of the old Erie & Ohio canal that Jesse must have traveled regularly, is now a National Heritage Area.  See the website for more about all the activities available, and detailed maps of the area. We visited Ken’s mother (Agnes Badertscher, now deceased) twenty-some years ago, and took her from her nursing home to visit Roscoe Village, a reconstruction of a pioneer town just outside Coshocton Ohio.  There you can ride a short distance on a canal boat pulled by mules.

Why Chautauqua County, Jesse Morgan?

When I ask a question like “Grandpa Jesse Morgan, why did you go to Chautauqua County and why did you move to Ohio?”  a lot of people just shrug and say, “You’ll never know.”  I love challenges!

Answering the Basic Questions

Just as in journalism, family historians are constantly seeking What, Who, Where, When. But the all-important Why is the most difficult thing for us to find when the ancestors are long gone and did not leave a journal or letters to explain their actions.

The Who, What and Where

Last week, I concluded that Jesse Morgan moved to Ohio because of the encouragement he received from a nephew, Aaron Purdy in an 1835 letter addressed to Jesse at Volusia, Chautauqua County, New York. Ironically, as my great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan, was moving to Ohio, Aaron was giving up his grocery store in Holmes County, Ohio and taking off for the Pacific Northwest.

In searching for motivations for Jesse’s relocations, I found answers in a very unlikely place. I had searched birth dates for Jesse’s children to see where he lived when they were born, and looked for the cemeteries where they were buried. I had looked at the family of Mary Pelton, his first wife and where they lived. I had read portions of a history of Chautauqua County, a history of the Morgan family and a portion of a book about the Pelton family.

Taking time off from genealogy research (I thought) I was reading the historical account of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She traces the backgrounds of the three men who worked most closely with Abraham Lincoln.  As I read about William H. Seward, who became Lincoln’s Secretary of State, a location jumped out at me: Westfield, Chautauqua, New York. Volusia, the place where Jesse was living in 1835, was a hamlet within the town of Westfield.

The book, Team of Rivals, introduced me to the housing boom in Chautauqua County and the Holland Land Company.  Perhaps that boom is what took Jesse there.  His wife-to-be had lived in the area on the Pelton family farm close to the nearby town of Sherman, so it is likely he met her after he moved. I may never know what Jesse was doing there.  Was he speculating in land? Was he teaching–a sometime later occupation? There was a Westfield Acadamy founded the year that he probably moved to Westfield, so I can speculate that he may have gone there to teach, and met his wife there.

Holland Land Company

Map of Western New York from late 18th or early 19th century,including land owned by Holland Land Company.


The Holland Land Company was an investment company owned by investors from Amsterdam. The original landholders never left Amsterdam to see the vast country they acquired in New York and a bit of northern Pennsylvania. One of the many towns that evolved from that original purchase was Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York.

Although the land company and its successors who bought smaller portions of the properties were generous in their terms, sometimes charging no down payment at all, I was interested to learn that settlers complained that interest was too high and a serious revolt developed. This unrest by settlers seems to be a foreshadowing of Jesse Morgan’s fate.

The first settlers of Westfield came from Pennsylvania, just as Jesse did. In 1801 two Pennsylvania men had purchased the land that would incorporate the new town and in 1805 the first post office was established and by 1803 there was a school.


Mary Pelton’s father  moved his family to Cuyahoga County from Oneida County in 1827, and Mary and Jesse Morgan’s first child was born in 1830, so they were probably married in 1829.

Jesse and his first wife lived in Westfield before they moved to Ohio in roughly 1837.  Their four children who survived to adulthood were born in Westfield in 1830, 32, 34 and 36. What drew him to Westfield from his father’s home in northwestern Pennsylvania?  And why did he leave?

In 1835, according to Team of Rivals, William H. Seward was hired as the manager to handle the legal details of land transfers and moved into a  rented house in Westfield, where he also ran the land business with five clerks. That means that William Seward and my great-great grandfather Morgan might very well have known each other, since Seward’s time in Westfield (1835-1838) overlaps Jesse (1829-1837). The “pleasant village” as Seward’s wife described it, had a population of just under 3000 in 1837.


I knew that something gave the restless Jesse reason to depart for greener pastures around 1837 or 1838. The reason became clear when I learned about a terrible recession, known as the Panic of 1837, that hit the booming housing developments of Chautauqua County very hard. William Seward had no sooner established himself there with a job with the Holland Land Company, than property sales plummeted.

This “panic” of 1837 brought widespread misery in its wake–bankrupt businesses, high unemployment, a run on banks, plummeting real estate values, escalating poverty.  “I am almost in despair,” Seward wrote home.  “I have to dismiss three clerks…”

From a letter by William Seward in fall, 1837, quoted in Team of Rivals.

Panic of 1837

US Whig poster showing unemployment in 1837

This family of a tradesman parallels Jesse’s family in 1837–two boys and two girls.

  • Father: I have no money, and cannot get any work.
  • Little girl: Father, Can I get a piece of bread.
  • Boy in blue: I say, Father, could you get some Specie Claws? (A play on the “Specie clause” by which president Andrew Jackson mandated that payment for land be in gold or silver rather than bank-printed paper notes)
  • Boy in brown: I’m so hungry
  • Mother: My dear, cannot you contrive to get some food for the children? I care not for myself.
  • Man at door: I say, Sam, I wonder when we are to get our costs? (Poster words: Warrant, Destraint for Rent.)
  • Posters on the wall show Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Jackson had been president during the lead up to the panic, and the unfortunate Van Buren, inherited the panic, which started five weeks after he took office.

In the midst of this great recession, largely driven by land speculation, Jesse joined the large movement into the new state of Ohio. His interest in Westfield continued, as I have a photocopy of a letter sent to him  in Ohio many years later from an old friend in Westfield that outlines the economy.

To Be Continued

As you will see as I continue the story of Jesse, his move to Ohio did not solve his financial problems.  Again, I am not sure what he intended to do in Ohio. Mother thought that he taught at Keene Academy in Coshocton County and that is where he met his second wife, my great-great-grandmother Mary Bassett Platt, but as I look at the documents that possibility is looking less likely.  Jesse and his first wife’s infant son (who probably died as an infant) was born in Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio.

Mary Bassett Platt’s first husband died in 1833 in Killbuck, and she received letters addressed to Killbuck, so there is no record proving that she went back to her home town of Keene to teach in the academy after her husband died. Because the records of Keene Academy seem to have disappeared, I have to say her teaching at Keene and meeting Jesse  could be a possibility, unproven.

Note: If I ever go on a research trip to Westfield, I can stay in the William Seward House which is now a Bed and Breakfast Inn. According to one account, William did not actually live in that house, but purchased it and oversaw (by mail) its remodeling by his brother Benjamin who succeeded him as land agent from 1838 to 1840. Furthermore, the Inn was saved from destruction, by moving it, so it is no longer even in the same location as the original mansion/land office.

Notes on Research

Federal Census, 1830, Chautauqua County, New York. 1820, Oneida County, New York, 1850 Marrion, Oregon Territory.

Letter from Aaron Purdy to Jesse Morgan, August 7, 1835, photocopy in author’s possession

James Morgan and his Descendants, by Nataniel Morgan, 1869, Hartford: Case, Lockhard and Bernard, available on line at archive.org

Genealogy of the Pelton Family in America, J. M. Pelton, 1892, Albany: Joel Munson’s Sons Publishers. Available on line at archive.org.

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005: New York: Simon &  Schuster Paperbacks

History of Chautauqua County, New York: from its settlement to the present time, Andrew White Young, 1875, Buffalo: Matthews and Warren. Available on line at archive.org