Family Profile

Seneca Howland


Roger Howland

Source: This information was contibuted by Roger Howland, the owner of the original receipt.

Copyright 1999 Roger Howland

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Family Profile of Seneca Howland

Seneca Howland of South Danby, N.Y.

Seneca Howland was born in Beekman, Dutchess County, New York.

His line is as follows:
Seneca, Charles, Cook, James, Nathaniel, Zoeth, Henry, Henry. Cook's wife was Ruth Bennett. Ruth was born in Little Compton, R.I. where she and Cook were married on 21 Feb 1751. She is 5th generation Mayflower descended from John Alden, William Mullins, and Richard Warren. Sources include "Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1636-1850, by James Arnold Vol 4, Newport County, 1893; National Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol 75. #3 Spt 1987; Oblong Monthly Meeting Records, Quaker Meeting by John Cox Jr.; New York Biographical & Genealogical V. 61 p.9 Abstract Will of Cook Howland."

Seneca was born 12 Feb 1780 in Beekman, N.Y. Seneca's first start in life had been at age 10 delivering newspapers. In this way he earned $30.00 with which he bought a pony and there after carried his own delivery route. By the time he was 20, he had saved $178. As time permitted, he also worked at his father's trade of wheelwright. He had also been appointed constable of the township of Fishkill. Land records show that he also purchased land from his parents and was the owner of several properties in Fishkill.

At age 25, Seneca was slim, straight, of medium build with deep blue eyes. Seneca married Polly Hagerman, a sister of his brother Benjamin's first wife. They had two children, Levinah Anne and Charles Henry. The summer of 1803, before moving his family to South Danby, Seneca had been out and chopped a small clearing in the woods and built a log cabin. The entire area, of course, was wooded. There were only four others in the settlement.

When he moved to south central New York, he owned 24 acres for which he paid $615. With his brother, James, his with Polly (Mary) Hagerman, their two children, Pollys sister Betsey and Seneca's brother James, he came with a yoke of oxen pulling a long sleigh loaded with a few household goods. It was a journey of some 250 miles and was accomplished during the winter when the rivers were frozen. Leivinah Anne was two and Charles Henry was seven months.

They removed to Danby, Tompkins County, N.Y. in 1804 to become land agent or manager for General J.B. Van Wyck and William and Henry Verplanck, who had bought a 6,000 acre land tract of the Watkins and Flint land division.

With James' help, Seneca cleared some land in time to sow crops for that season. But his family never recovered from the hardships of the long journey through the winter snows. In the fall, the little daughter died, and ten days later his son died as well. By the following winter his wife Polly had succumed to TB and returned to Dutchess county with her sister where she died in March of 1806, just a year from the time she had come into the wilderness.

Their work forced the two brothers to put grief aside. Seneca had taken up 400 acres of land and there was much ground to be cleared. During that summer Seneca made occasional trips to the little village of Ithaca, and had stopped at the tavern kept by Francis King on South Hill three miles from Ithaca. King's daughter, Agnes, was then 18 and the story is that when she first saw the young widower, she announced to her family that he was the man she was going to marry. And on 14 December 1806, they were wed.

Agnes King was a young woman of great energy and, from the reminiscences of her grandchildren, of a harsh and rather dictatorial character. (When this characteristic showed up occasionally in descendants, it was always attributed to this inheritance). From the time of this marriage, a new energy and thrift were given to Seneca's fortunes. His new wife made him give up 200 acres of his land and devote himself to improvement of the remaining 200. His property in Dutchess county was sold and after payments of old debts on that place, there was only $500 left to pay on the land in South Danby.

In 1825 Seneca build a frame house reputed to have been of virgin white pine without a knot in it. It burned down shortly thereafter and a second one was built on the site. This house was still standing in 1844. Soon after it must have pretty well collapsed and fallen in as it is visible on a topographic air photo taken in 1844, but does not appear on the 1849 edition of the map. On the property were also a silo and corn crib next to the barn, and west of the house were several small buildings: a smoke house for curing ham, an ice house, and a soap house with large iron kettle.

Seneca was elected Justice of the Peace and regularly re-elected until his death. In 1812, he was appointed Ensign of the 95th Regiment of the New York militia, and five years later promoted to Captain. Later, on the death of the Colonel, he was offered the colonelcy of the regiment, but Agnes would not allow him to accept the command, evidently thinking he had enough to do at home.

In 1827, Seneca was confronted by a serious lawsuit. General Van Wyck gradually formed a dislike for his agent in Danby. The two had maintained close business relations for twenty years, but their characters were wholly unlike. Seneca was a kind-hearted, rather easy-going man, not very prompt in doing business. He had a habit of putting off disagreeable tasks. General Van Wyck insisted on the new settlers living up to the letter of their agreements, and if their payments fell the least in arrears, he kept writing to his agent to have them ejected at once from their holdings. The latter was unwilling to proceed to such hard measures against his neighbors.

Thus, partly because of this, as well as because Seneca had not made any further payments on his own land since coming out to Danby, General Van Wyck in 1824 revoked Seneca's power of attorney and appointed another man as agent. He also charged Seneca with poor management and dishonesty; but it was not until 1827 that he brought suite against him in the State Supreme court for $800.00, a sum he claimed owing for lands sold by Howland during the latter's agency.

Seneca brought a counter claim against Van Wyck for $1,000 for improvements made on the latter's land, for taxes paid and surveys made thereon and for his own commission of 4% on lands sold. The counter claims were finally left to three referees, who decided that "John B. Van Wyck was indebted to Seneca Howland in the sum of $158.36" thus vindicating the latter from any charge of dishonesty.

But the pressure of the law suite, together with Van Wyck's demand for final payment for his farm, forced Seneca in July of 1827, to borrow $600 for which he gave a mortgage on his land. Four years later, at the time of his death, one-half of this mortgage had been paid off; but it was not until several years later that the remainder of the debt was discharged.

In 1829 Seneca was siezed with a lameness in the knee which soon developed into what was then called a "white swelling" (later known at tuberculosis of the bone). This was treated by two local doctors, but their treatments were unavailing, and a "capping" of the swelling, it was said, scattered the disease into all parts of the body. He died 26 July 1834 in South Danby, Tompkins County, New York and is buried in the "Old Episcopal South Danby Cemetery".

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Ernie Miles