Letter dated 9 October 1817 from 24 year-old Jacob Crowley to his younger sister, Asenath Crowley. Jacob, a native of Mansfield, Massachusetts, was employed as a school teacher at the time in Owego Village, Tioga County, New York. Presumably he was teaching in the early day school house that stood on Main Street near McMaster where the First Presbyterian and the Methodist Episcopal churches also held their separate services. The letter gives a glimpse of Owego in 1817 and describes the catastrophic flood that swept through the Susquehanna River valley in August of that year. The spelling errors are Jacob’s.
Owego [New York]
October 9, 
Miss Asenath Crowley
Mansfield, Bristol County, Massachusetts
I received your letter on the 4th of October you may well suppose with no small degree of satisfaction having been very unwell for some time yet was able to attend school every day. I have taught a school in Owego Village 4½ months the first month which I commenced on the 10th day after my arrival in town. I taught for 15 dollars at the expiration of which being offered 50 dollars I engaged for 3 months, and then after a vacation of a week I commenced the school for 20 dollars per month and expect to continue through the ensuing winter if I do not except of an invitation which has been given me by Priest [Hezekiah] May (man living in Owego) to accompany him into the southern part of Pensylvania to a town caled Williamsport 150 miles from Owego, there to take the English department of an Academy. But if I do go, I shall not set out before the middle of December next and shall expect to hear from some of you before that time.
I have a very nice school and it is every day increasing. The people who employ me say they never were so well pleased with any school before and will be very unwilling to part with me. I expect the school will be very large in the winter and a considerable number of large scholars – particularly ladies – will attend notwithstanding they thought they had done going to school being quite too large. Yet they have manifested a desire to attend for the purpose of completing their education and some who have not had time to attend school have hired me to give them private lessons in [the evening].
The season has been very fine and remarkably fruitfull. Everything has flourished exceedingly except fruit which was killed by the frost in the spring and Indian corn which failed by means of an early frost in the fall. We have had a very wet season and considerably of the wheat was damaged and some spoiled by means of storms whilst harvesting of it. And on the 10th of last August was a very great fresh which did great damage with water in the Susquehanna River. [It] was known to rise 10 feet in 12 hours from 9 0’clock in the evening to about 8 the next morning which in the middle of the night carried off a vast deal of property from the inhabitants living in and about Owego. And farther down the river the damage was even greater for not only hundreds of acres of wheat was destroyed by the overflowing of the flats or intervail lands but houses, barns, and cattle, horses and hogs went to destruction together as well as a vast deal of other property. What is still [worth mentioning,] a cradle containing an infant 9 months old was taken out of a house by the flood, carried away, and was never after heard of.
I have considerably recovered and enjoy tolerably health and am in all other respects in as good circumstances as I could wish. I do not know as I shall return before next summer unless something happens of which I am ignorant. I should be glad to see you if it was convenient for I have not forgotten you….
Give my love to all my acquaintances and enquiring friends. And if you please, let me know something about the young people of our acquaintance and how you have enjoyed yourselves this summer past and what has become of brother John and brother Nehemiah and when you intend to marry (if you are not yet married)….
— Jacob Crowley
Jacob Crowley was born 21 May 1793 in Mansfield, Bristol County, Massachusetts. He died 27 August 1877 in Harrison Township, Winnebago County, Illinois and is buried in the Oakland Cemetery near Durand, Illinois. Though he began his career as a teacher, census records indicate that he also labored as a farmer and as a physician. He was married twice. His first wife was Theresa Birdsley. She was born around 1800 in Connecticut. They were married in 1822 and took up residence in the farming community of Victory, Cayuga County, New York where their seven children were born between the years 1823 and 1836. He married second with Sylvia Z. Bird who was 22 years his junior. She appears in the 1870 census as a “clairvoyant physician.”
Jacob Crowley was the eldest child of Abraham Crowley (1763-1852) and Sarah Briggs (1771-1859). Abraham and Sarah had five children: Jacob (born 1793), Sabora (born 1795), Asenath (born 1797), Irena (born 1801), and Walter (born 1804).
Asenath Crowley was born 8 April 1797 in Mansfield, Bristol County, Massachusetts. She married Nehemiah Hall on 27 November 1817 in Mansfield, some seven weeks after this letter was written. She died 8 December 1871 in Mansfield. Mansfield is 28 miles southwest of Boston on the road toward Providence, Rhode Island.
Rev. Hezekiah May organized the First Presbyterian Church of Owego, Tioga County, New York in August, 1817. He was the pastor of the church for less than a year, succeeded in the spring of 1818 by Rev, Horatio Lombard. Rev. May died in 1843 at the age of 69. The movement to build a church began during Rev. May’s ministry when the society purchased property from Charles Pumpelly for $100 per acre. The first church was built in 1819. It was 44 feet wide and 53 feet deep with large pillars in front, painted white. The lofty pulpit was constructed between the entrance doors at the west end. The church was enlarged in 1831.
The “Williamsport Academy for the Education of Youth in the English and other Languages, in the Useful Arts, Sciences, and Literature” was founded in 1812 by Scotch-Irish settlers of the river port town under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. It was a coeducation subscription school.
A Wilkes-Barre newspaper called The Gleaner carried news of the Susquehanna River flood on two consecutive Friday’s:
15 August 1817 — The late rains and the destruction of bridges have prevented the mail from going up the river any further than Tunkhannock, and we understand that all the newspapers were destroyed, and that the mail got very wet. Our subscribers Our subscribers therefore will not receive our last paper in consequence of the above circumstances.
The Freshet. The Susquehanna and its tributary streams, have been so swelled by the late rains, that property to a very great amount has been destroyed within 100 miles of this place. The extent of the injury we have not yet ascertained; we learn however that several mills have been entirely washed away, and a great number of mill dams destroyed. The fine large bridge over the Tunkhannock at its mouth, went away on Saturday night, and on Sunday a portion of it rested against one of the piers of the bridge now erecting at this place. The bridge over the Meshoppen at its mouth was also nearly destroyed. Besides lumber, drift-wood, &c. which came down the river, there has been taken up household furniture and provisions. Fortunately the wheat and rye harvest, which has been very good, was already gathered in. We hear of no lives which have been lost in consequence of so sudden and unexpected a fresh.
22 August 1817 — Flood destruction in the Borough of York, Pennsylvania, on 9th August. (See article)
It will seem by the accounts which we this day publish, that the late heavy rain has been very extensive and destructive. In Luzerne and Susquehanna Counties, we learn that the bridges are generally carried away – several mills in Susquehanna County – all the mill-dams and most of the mills on Mahoopany – the mills at the mouth of Meshoppen – Mr. SUTTON’S mills in Exeter, and many others whose names we do not recollect, are entirely destroyed.
Upstate New York must have received lots of rain during the summer months of 1817. In a January 1818 Assembly journal, the Erie Canal Commissioners mention heavy rains and repeated flooding along the Mohawk River.
The rains have surpassed in extent and duration all former example. More water has flowed in the Mohawk river the past summer, than was ever before witnessed in any season by the oldest inhabitants. Its extensive intervale lands have several times been deluged… And in 1817, when the works were to be commenced, no season was ever marked with such repeated inundations; as if to indicate at the commencement, by the height, impetuosity and durability of the greatest floods, the exact dimensions and strength of the works necessary to discharge or resist them.
While the exact date of flooding is not described in the journal, it does mention high water in Rome during October as part of the summer flooding in 1817. W. B. Langbein mentions in his report how the flood of 1817 “became the design flood,” which the Canal Commissioners used as a flooding reference, particularly in their construction of those areas which paralleled the river (Langbein 1976). It is obvious from the report that the flooding of 1817 was quite severe, if not marked by an instance of extremely high water, than by “repeated inundations” as mentioned.
Grave of Jacob Crowley