Movin' West

"Moving West"

[The excepts which follow are from a story written by Monna Milton Rowley.]

Jireh Rowley was born in Monroe County, New York in 1777[1]. He married Elizabeth Brace and their only daughter, Sabrina, was born in 1795, followed by Jireh, Jr., then Andrew, and then Calvin, and Joseph Brace in 1811. During the war of 1812 Jireh Rowley became a Captain. Following that war Hiram and Phineas were born.

cannon.gif (3107 bytes)In 1817 ground was broken for the Erie Canal, the first important waterway built in the United States. Jireh became one of the large contractors on the canal, building "the great embankment" near Rochester. This was a very heavy and difficult work. The Canal there crosses a considerable valley and a stream, and passes along the top of the embankment which Rowley made. While the work was in progress, Gov. Clinton, having great anxiety in respect to its success, made frequent visits to note its condition. On one of these occasions, the Governor and his party got in the way of the laborers and their teams, when Rowley pretty sharply ordered them to get out of the way. Instead of being offended at the brusque manner of the Captain, the Governor had the good sense to remark to his friends that he should go home with his mind at rest concerning the job, as Capt. Rowley evidently meant business."[2]

In 1822, Jireh Rowley's wife, Elizabeth Brace Rowley, the mother of his first children, eight in number, died. He married secondly a widow, Mrs. Polly O. Grey, who had two sons. Jireh and Polly had one son, Alfred Grey Rowley, born January 1, 1824. The Erie Canal was completed the next year.

Calvin was the first Rowley to come to Illinois, in 1832. He travelled all the way with a peddler's cart and set up a store near Lockport and traded with the Indians.

Alfred Grey Rowley wrote, "On or about July 17, 1833, the sail vessel Amaranth anchored in Lake Michigan, nearly opposite Fort Dearborn, Chicago, after a voyage of three weeks out from Buffalo, N.Y., and having on board about seventy-five souls, and among them was the writer, then a boy about ten years old." Also on board were Jireh and Polly and Jireh's sons, Joseph Brace, Hiram and Phineas. "Chicago then consisted of the Fort at the mouth of the river, the house of John Kinzie and some French shanties on the north side, the hotel kept by Ingersoll at the forks, a store at Wolf Point, the intersection of Lake and South Water streets, the frame of what was afterwards called the Mansion House on the north side of Lake between Dearborn and State Streets, a few other shanties and the palatial residence of our hosts" which was built of logs and sods and was located near the foot of Monroe Street."

"After 'taking in' Chicago the next day, three of the several families who had journeyed together thus far, chartered some 'prairie schooners' and 'set sail' for their destination, what is now the town of Homer, Will County [Illinois]. This colony was composed of the families of Capt. Jireh Rowley, John Lane and Charles M. Grey." After a difficult journey through tall growth and swampy areas and hoards of mosquitoes, near nightfall of the second day they "arrived at our destination, all weary and sad." John Lane's wife was Lucy Olmstead and Jireh Rowley's second wife was Polly Olmstead Grey. They were sisters. Charles Grey was one of Polly's sons by her first marriage and he later became Mayor of Chicago during the early years. The migrating together of these families is typical of how families moved together.

The Rowleys settled in Section 19, Jireh buying his land from the government for $1.25 an acre. Wm. Gougar's post office was on Hickory Creek. The mail was brought from Chicago on horseback. A saw mill had been built by Col. Sayers and "Here a little lumber was procured with which to construct some of the shanties and others were built of logs and chinked and mudded between the logs with stick chimneys 'turned out doors.' " In such a building the first school was taught. By August 17, 1833 a church was organized, now known as the Homer Congregational Church.

By 1834 John Lane, by necessity because of the difficulties in plowing the tall prairie grass under, had nearly perfected the first steel plow - made principally from a worn out saw blade from Col. Sayer's mill. Until the completion of the Canal years later, farmers had to haul their grain, pork, etc. to Chicago in wagons. During the period of time when the I & M Canal was in operation, fresh teams used on the tow path were taken into Lockport and exchanged for teams brought out to be rested on the Rowley farm. A portion of that farm bought by Jireh in Section 19 in 1833 has been continuously farmed since that time to the present, by Rowleys.

1. History of Ontario Co., New York, 1788-1876, published by Everts, Ensign & Everts, Philadelphia, p. 201: "Captain Jirah Rowley, son of Joseph Rowley, was an extensive canal contractor in district No. 7, and built the great embankment at Irondequoit. He served in the war of 1812, and was captain of a company that went from Victor. He moved upon the farm of Peter S. Bonesteel, cleared up the fields, built a mill, and erected a hotel. He rented the premises to Philip Bonesteel, who later purchased the property, now the heritage of his son, Peter S. Bonesteel."

Joseph,6 (John5,4, Moses3,2, Henry1) Rowley and Sybil (Fox) were the parents of Jireh.

2. The quotation is from The History of Will County 1878.

To Return to Index

To Return to Family History