Letter from Henry Luther Plumb of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts to his friend Daniel Rogers Williams. The letter was written within a couple of weeks of Henry’s arrival in Owego, Tioga County, New York, where he had opened a store in partnership with Samuel Kellogg Worthington. The letter provides a glimpse of Owego in the early 1840’s — known as the “Hungry Forties” — when the Nation was deep in a financial depression. The deflated currency, the rise of the temperance movement, and the interest in the Whig Party are all described from the perspective of this twenty-two year-old merchant.
The spelling errors are Henry’s.
Owego, May 16, 1842
Dear Daniel [Rogers Williams],
I agreed to write you before I left home in two or three weeks after I got settled in Owego – that time has arrived and I am about to begin. I don’t know when I shall get through [writing it]. I have to do it by ketch work a few lines at a time. I suppose that you have not got settled yet in your families occasioned by the death of our dear sister Harriet who has gone to her rest. We shall never hear her sweet voice & see her sweet face no more untill the great day of accounts. And how flattering it is to us that she died so happy & was supported to the last by a consious mind. She is now praising God in the presence of friends that is dearer to her then those she left this side of [the] grave.
I did not go to your house as I expected to the morning that I left. I was called on by the man that brot me down to go – and I thought I would not add another pang to bosom. I tell you Daniel, it is no easy thing to bid your friends adieu and leave them perhaps forever, but not withstanding all this, I feel bad that I did not go. And now Daniel I suppose that you would be glad to know all about my affairs in Owego.
Owego is situated in a valley something like the Valley of Housatonic, surrounded on the north by the Hills of Berkshire & east also by large hills & west the blue mountains of Pennsylvania, which from our store door you can see them as far as the eye can reach off in to the interior of the State. And on the front of the Village runs the Susquehannah [River] slowly & adds much to the beauty of the town. I don’t know how many inhabitants [there are] but it is a larger village than Pittsfield [Massachusetts], streets paved & looks realy like a city. Thorough[ly] going Whig & Temperance, which of the two you know I am a strong advocate.
Some of the most splendid houses that I saw in my life – the [James] Pompelly [residence] for instance – is situated back from the street about as far as Mrs. Sedguiks and surrounded by the most beautiful trees & shrubbery of all kinds that this country can afford – with circle gravel walks & small mounds which are covered with beautiful flowers. But alas yesterday [there was a] tremendous cry of fire in the streets. Men shouted, boys hollowed, & the bells rung. The cry was that [the] Mr. James Pompelly house was on fire and true it was. We shut up our store and ran and found out that the splendid house was all in flames but it was put out before it did much damage. I recognized one countenance at the fire that was Mrs. [Lydia Abbey Pumpelly] Lovejoy [ — wife of Dr. Ezekiel Lovejoy] that was at Mrs. Ingersoll’s last fall – a very large woman. I should think about as large as old Bob’s wife in the East St.
Our store is situated on the Corner of the Street close by the R[ail] Road & thousands of waggons are passing continually back and forwards which adds much to the appearance of business of Owego. [Our store is] a two story building about as long as your store and wider with doors in the front the whole length of the building which we can open or keep shut at our pleasure. We have a store full of goods and receiving them mos[t] every day from the East. I tell you D. R., that J. Z. Goodrich’s operations in Owego is doing the business for him.
We exchange goods for wool with merchants, farmers & pedlers & I presume to say that at the least calculation we shall take in for the next four or five months to come the amount of fifteen or twenty thousand dollars worth of wool. I don’t know but I am wild, but I should think it would go over [that amount] if anything. Now to day we sold one merchant from Pennsylvania a Bill of Goods to the amount of One Hundred and twenty-four dollars to be paid in wool. It is all wool – Southdown, Saxony, Merino – I don’t know which but my partner here is a good judge. I guess it will make satinetts that will fetch 3 lbyd. The next time I see you I hope to be a good judge of the article.
We have no good money in Owego. All is Pennsylvania [currency] & that [is from] broken banks such as Berks Co. [and] Susquehannah [Co.] and [even] that is not worth taking [as it] is about fifteen or twenty percent discounted. That is the reason why wool is so plenty, no more to go to New York, no money to pay store debts and they say I must take my wool which we never did before & we get a good profit for goods in exchange pay from six cents to thirty eight cents – it depends on the quality altogether.
Samuel Worthington, my chum, is about my size & not so old as me, but a verry fine young man. I like him verry much. He is a competent hand to carry on such kind of business. I board in Mr. Gad Worthington’s family and like them verry much. Miss Fanny has just arrived home from the West where she has [been] spending the last year with her Brother and I assume they was glad to see her. She is good as ever and more so to me because she is the only person in Owego who I am aquainted with. They do say she is engaged to a young Hard Ware Merchant in this Town. I don’t know but it’s true. She enquired verry particularly about your honour and wife, which you know that I had to tell her all about it. I think Mr. [Gad] Worthington a fine good man. He is Episcopalian & family. One more I forgot to add is Doct Hyde’s old dog that use to follow him about so much is alive yet & well but rather old — “spring” I believe is his name.
I want to tell you about the Society of Owego. The Temperance reform has done more for this County than any thing else yet to be got up. I don’t find much more profane swearing & drunkenness than I did to the East and if anything not so much. They have meetings two or three times a week & lectures made up of the same kind as we had in Stockbridge last winter. I see the long flag out to night that there may be a meeting at the Mechanic’s Hall to choose two delegates to attend the mass meeting at Utica. There is five churches in this place & are well filled Sabbath Day.
I enquired from a man the other day that was in town from Lisle [New York], the place where Uncle Cyrus had land, and he knew all about it. I asked him if the land was good. He said no but poor. I then asked him if it was well timbered. He said that it use to be but the Devils, as he said, has cut all the best timber off & stole it.
You must give my love to your wife & remember me to all your family, Jesse G. Whitney & all. And write me all the news that is afloat in Stockbridge. Tell Mr. [John Z.] Goodrich we are looking for him every day & hope that he will not disappoint us. I hope you will forgive all bad spelling in this scrawl because it is done by ketch jobs one line [at a] time. I shall expect a line of paper from you now and then. Love to all, — Henry L. Plumb
- Henry Luther Plumb was the 22 year-old son of Luther Plumb and Lydia Hempstead of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He would marry Sarah Stuart three years after this letter was written and take up residence in Stockbridge. The 1850 Census lists his occupation as merchant. The 1880 Census lists his Stockbridge occupation as Clerk in a Grocery Store.
- Daniel Rogers Williams was a 31-year old, recently married merchant in Stockbridge, Massachusetts at the time of this letter. His wife’s name was Frances (Fanny) Mary Walker of Lenox, Massachusetts. Years later Daniel became President of the Housatonic National Bank in Stockbridge.
- Harriet’s identity is uncertain. The author of the letter had a sister named Harriett but she lived until the 1890’s. The deceased was probably an aunt.
- The Housatonic River flows through western Massachusetts in a southerly direction. The mouth of the river is at Milford Point, Connecticut on the Long Island Sound.
- James Pumpelly was a prominent citizen of Owego, New York. His residence was on Front Street. He died a couple of years after this letter was written. The entryway of his “splendid” residence is now in the Tioga County Historical Society’s museum.
- This is probably Jane Sedgwick who lived next door to John Zacheus Goodrich in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The 1850 census record shows the value of her property to be $43,000, a princely sum of money in those days.
- This is probably Sally Ingersoll who lived in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts at the time.
- This is undoubtedly John Zacheus Goodrich, a manufacturer living in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1847, he formed a partnership with Samuel G. Wheeler of New York City, under the chartered name of “The Glendale Woolen Company” in Stockbridge. Later, John Z. Goodrich entered politics and served as a U.S. Congressman (Whig) and as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. John married Sarah Worthington in 1831, suggesting a possible family relationship with Gad Worthington of Owego, New York. [Editor’s note: John Z. Goodrich was a distant relative of my great-great-grandmother, Augusta Goodrich (they shared the same g-g-g-grandparents).]
- The entire Nation was still in a deep economic depression in 1842 following the Panic of 1837. Many State Banks had failed. Apparently Tioga County had informally adopted the “Wool Standard” as its chief form of currency.
- Samuel Kellogg Worthington was the twenty-year-old son of Gad Worthington and Francis (Fanny) Belden. He eventually married and moved to Buffalo, New York where he worked as a grain merchant. [Editor’s Note: Samuel’s younger sister, Mary Ann, would marry Bristol Wheeler and become a neighbor of my great-great-great grandfather, Silas Goodrich in Goodrich Settlement, west of Owego Creek, during the 1860’s.]
- Gad Worthington was born in Westchester, CT in 1786. He came to Tioga County by way of Lenox, Massachusetts where he met and married Fanny Belden in 1812. In the 1840’s, Gad ran some sort of a business in Owego. [Editor’s Note: Gad’s father, also named Gad, is buried in the Westchester cemetery not far from where my great-great grandfather, James Griffing, taught Select School in the winters of 1847-48, 1848-49, and 1851-52.]
- Fanny Worthington was the 25 year-old daughter of Gad Worthington and Fanny Belden. The brother she visited in the “West” was Dan Leander Worthington who lived in East Bethany, Genesee County, New York.
- The “Hard Ware Merchant” was probably Oscar Packard, who Fanny Worthington eventually married. In 1850, the couple resided in St. Louis, Missouri where Oscar worked as an Express Agent.
- According to the records of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Owego, Gad Worthington was one of the first communicants in the church when it was founded in February 1834.
- This dog mentioned in this letter belonged to Dr. Caleb Hyde of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The dog probably came to Owego when his widow, the former Rhoda Steele, relocated following her husband’s death in 1838. Rhoda Steele Hyde was also a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Owego. Though Rhoda died in 1839, the dog must have been adopted by one of her Owego relatives.
- Tioga County had a young men’s temperance society that met regularly in the early 1840’s and sent delegates to an annual State Temperance Convention. One such convention was held in Utica, New York as early as 1834.