Jonathan Rowley jr.

by Larry Daniels

Jonathan Rowley jr. lived through the pivotal years in American history of the French and Indian War, the Revolution, and the aftermath, and the DAR recognizes him as a "patriot." More importantly, we know a great deal about his interesting life.

Jonathan was born in East Haddam, CT on 18 November 1729[1], one of eight children of Jonathan Rowley and Anne Fuller. But around 1740, his parents decided to push out for the frontier (along the northwestern edge of Connecticut), presumably in the pursuit of cheap land. (The hostilities in the succession of Indian wars -- Queen Anne's War 1702-13, King George's War 1744-48, and the French and Indian War 1754-63 -- were in a state of momentary lull.) Moving to the town of Sharon, his parents followed the common practice of recording their marriage and births of all their children in the Sharon town records.[2] Thus a casual research may look as if they were married and the children were born in Sharon, even though most of these events took place before the town existed.

But the move to Sharon was of short duration. Jonathan's mother died there in 6 September 1741.[3] (The cause of her death is not certain, but since her last child was born in June-September 1741, she may have died in childbirth.) Jonathan's father, presumably grief-stricken and loaded down with young children and one newborn to take care of, quickly hustled the family back down to the comfort and safety of the East Haddam-Colchester area (both towns had become Rowley enclaves). But he does not seem to have grieved too long, for he remarried in Colchester on 4 February 1742[4], and he had three more children.

Jonathan Jr. presumably made the shuffle from East Haddam to Sharon and to Colchester (and later to Kent) with his father. While his father apparently was illiterate, we know Jonathan Jr. was educated enough to write and read.

Around 1747, his father gave it another try, moving back up to Litchfield county and settling in the town of Kent (just a few miles south of Sharon). We know that the father Jonathan senior bought land in Kent from his brother Moses Rowley, but he and his 18-year-old-son Jonathan jr. would also appear to have been squatters. Just west of Kent, across the Housatonic river, was 11,000 acres of ungranted land. The area was not surveyed until 1752, at which time the Connecticut General Assembly ordered various squatters who had settled there illegally to get off. In 1753, faced with the sale of this land from under them, eight of the squatters filed petitions pleading hardship and the need for the land. Two of the eight were Jonathan and Jonathan jr. Charles Grant in his book says:

"The Jonathan Rowlees, father and son, were members of Kent's largest family (fourteen adult Rowlees in Kent during the 1750s). They were office holders and freemen of Kent, but relatively humble as to tax list status. We could perhaps put them down as oppressed squatters were it not for a letter from Jonathan Junior to Thomas Seymour, an attorney and deputy for Hartford Rowlee wrote:

"Father is too infirm and I am too busy, so please handle our affairs at the General Assembly. The contest over the Plain 'tween self and John Mills continues. Mills hath made some attempts to improve the land but I have hitherto kept him off so he hath got no possession. If it should happen that Minor and William should be at the Assembly to get the grant established, I would have you do as you shall think most proper in the affair. Time and seasons are so difficult that I have not got old tenor at this present to send you, but take care of my business and old tenor should not be wanting."[5]

A list of debtors and creditors in Kent in 1752 lists "Jonathan Rowlee Jr., social status: office holder, economic status: speculator, creditor: Litchfield, 120 pounds."[6]

On 23 September 1756, Jonathan jr. married Elizabeth Hopkins in Harwich, MA.[7] Elizabeth was born 6 June 1738, a daughter of Joseph Hopkins of Brewster/Harwich on Cape Cod (a descendant of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower), but I don't think that Jonathan on the northwestern edge of Connecticut, could have met and courted a girl in Cape Cod. I do find that Elizabeth had a married sister who lived in the Oblong, New York ca 1749, now in southeast Putnam co., NY. (The Oblong was a strip of land ceded from Connecticut to New York in one of the border adjustments. Since Kent was almost on the New York border anyway, some parts of the Oblong were close by.) It would seem possible that Jonathan might have met Elizabeth while she was visiting to or living with her sister, but that Jonathan visited to her father's home in Harwich for the marriage. Jonathan and Elizabeth settled in the Beekman Patent in Dutchess county, NY (just across from Kent) and were taxed there as late as 1765.[8]

Jonathan and Elizabeth had ten children:[9]

Hopkins b. 18 Dec 1758 m. Elizabeth Stewart 1786, d. 1831 VT
Mary b. ca 1759 m. John Mott pre-1777, d. Ohio 1840
Jonathan #3 b. ca 1760-61 d. May 1779
Joseph b. ca 1762-63 m. ca 1782, killed in War of 1812?
John b. ca 1766-67 d. shortly after repatriation in 1782?
Levi b. 1758-67 m. Esther Woodward 1787-98
Rebecca b. 1758-1773
Anna b. 1758-1773
Elihu b. 4 Mar 1782 Mass., m. Cloah --, lived Ohio 1850
Jonathan #4 b. 1778 Pittsford, VT., d. 21 Sep 1803

But in the 1760's, Jonathan and Elizabeth were among the wave of Rowleys who flocked to Richmond, Massachusetts. The first two settlers in Richmond, Micah Mudge (who later married Jonathan's sister Abigail) and Ichabod Wood, didn't arrive there until 1760. According to tradition, the two men passed the winter separately without even being aware the other was there. The town was incorporated in 1765. Once the area opened up, "several branches of Rowleys" were among the early settlers.[10] I can't find any records of Jonathan or Elizabeth or of the births of any of the children in Richmond, but they must have settled there after 1765.

In March 1772, Jonathan's father died in Kent. (His will, written in 1769, indicates that Jonathan jr. had already moved away.)

In the fall of 1773, Jonathan bought land in Pittsford, Vermont (in the Lake Champlain valley, near Fort Ticonderoga) from Roger Stevens for 24. He built a log house 16 x 20 feet and, in the spring of 1774, brought his wife and first nine children to Pittsford.[11]

Pittsford had been founded by grant thirteen years earlier and, lying astride Otter Creek, was situated on the main transportation route north from Connecticut to Lake Champlain. However, the area we now call Vermont was then known as the "New Hampshire Grants," and New York and New Hampshire were embroiled in a bitter dispute over who it belonged to. The original New Hampshire boundaries had been made intentionally vague to allow encroachment on the Dutch territory, but once the Dutch lands became English, the New Yorkers tried to insist on the original Dutch boundaries and began issuing grants to land already settled under the New Hampshire grants. The King failed to give a clear-cut ruling on the matter, and the New York courts high-handedly authorized the eviction of New Hampshire settlers. Ethan Allen and his Greenmountain Boys had virtually declared war on all "Yorkers," and there were raiding parties and midnight rides. Since Pittsford had been settled under a New Hampshire grant, Jonathan's decision to settle in the middle of all that unrest can only be wondered at. Of course, he was no stranger to land disputes, as shown by his letter about his "squatters land" back in Kent. And he seems to have followed the lead of his cousin Samuel Crippen, who had settled in Pittsford in 1770, and of the James Hopkins (possibly a relative of Elizabeth's) who settled there in 1769.

It was a time of great movements, and in May 1775 Jonathan's son Hopkins Rowley was among the Pittsford men who participated in Ethan Allen's and Benedict Arnold's capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British (infiltrating the fort at night and capturing it without casualties, with Ethan Allen thundering for the British to surrender "in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.")[12]

In 1776, men from the Vermont towns met "to ascertain the prevailing opinion and determine what measures should be adopted for defense of the district against the common enemy." This Independence Convention, engineered by Ethan Allen, declared Vermont to be part of neither New York nor New Hampshire, but in effect to be a separate republic. (The joining of the Union as a state took considerable negotiations and intrigue during the years after the war.) Jonathan was one of three representatives from Pittsford at the Convention.[13]

In May 1777, Jonathan sat on a court which considered what to do with a party of Tories captured on their way to Canada. The court finally handed the captives over to the garrison at Fort Ticonderoga.[14]

When Burgoyne advanced south along Lake Champlain, the American forces had to abandon Fort Ticonderoga. They made a desperate night evacuation, but on 5 July 1777 their rear guard was surprised and defeated near Hubbardton, about 8-10 miles from Pittsford. The noise of the battle could be plainly heard in town, and Jonathan was among the Pittsford men who helped bury the dead and scavenge the battlefield afterwards, collecting several guns which he turned over to the militia (and for which he was later paid by the State).[15]

Alarmed by their vulnerability to attack by Burgoyne's raiding Indians, the townspeople fortified one of the homes on Otter Creek as a strong point, naming it Fort Mott after Jonathan's son-in-law John Mott, who was the local commander.[16] William Cox's (Cook's) house:

was surrounded by a high breastwork of hemlock logs set endwise in the ground, and on the west side this work was carried down the bank into the channel of the creek which supplied the inmates with an abundance of fresh water. In form the enclosure was nearly square, and contained about three-fourths of an acre of ground, in the center of which was the log dwelling which took place of a blockhouse.

For the rest of the war, the area was constantly in danger of Indian attack, usually small raids and ambushes of individual homesteads. The Indians were often led by Tories who knew the exact location and condition of every family in the township. In the fall of 1777 or 1778 there was an Indian "raid" of sorts on Jonathan's home. Apparently Jonathan and the older boys were away at the fort, and Indians entered the house, greatly frightening Elizabeth and forcing her to prepare a meal for them, but doing no harm except to cut up a feather mattress and scatter the feathers in a kind of game. As they were leaving, however, they captured Jonathan's sons Joseph and John (aged 12-16) who were fishing at the creek, carrying the boys off to captivity in Canada, and eventually selling them to the French. The boys were finally located and repatriated home after the war (the family account written by descendants in 1872 says that Jonathan went to Canada to find them, but there seems to be no evidence of this). However, one of them (the accounts say Joseph, but it must have really been John) came back in such poor health that he died a few years later. The survivor later served as a scout in the War of 1812 and was killed by Indians on a scouting mission.[17]

Two of Jonathan's sons served in the militia during the Revolution. Hopkins, in addition to his role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, served several stints in the militia between 1778-81, and a son Jonathan #3 was killed on a scouting mission in 1779. (According to an account of the event in Caverly's 1872 history, he was part of a four-man party sent to check reports of an approaching enemy force on Lake Champlain. Finding nothing, they disobeyed orders and went further along the lake. Surprised and chased by Indians in another canoe, Jonathan #3 was shot and scalped. The other three were captured, and later repatriated home. The only problem is that the account of Jonathan #3's 1779 death is quite similar to the account given of Joseph's death in 1812, so the accuracy of the stories is questionable. However, an August 1782 militia record notes that Benjamin Stevens, Ebenezer Hopkins, and Ephraim Stevens were taken prisoner 12 May 1779 and taken to Canada, losing their guns and accouterments, but were exchanged 9 June 1782. Yet a 19 Oct 1782 record note the payment of five dollars each to Benjamin Stevens, Ebenezer Hopkins, Ephraim Stevens AND JONATHAN ROWLEY for the loss of the guns. Apparently father Jonathan collected for his dead son's lost gun.)[18]

Wife Elizabeth died on 16 January 1779, a few months after the Indian raid. (The tale in Caverly of her not recognizing the boys when they were returned was in error.) Her gravestone in the cemetery at Pittsford reads: "In Memory of Elizabeth wife of Jonathan Rowley who died Jan 16th 1779 in the 43rd year of her age." The stone next to her reads: "In Memory of Jonathan Rowley who died Sept. 21st 1803; in the 25th year of his age."[19] Great controversy has raged over these stones, as researchers try to make them read differently than they do. Caverly mistook Elizabeth for a daughter of Jonathan's. Others, finding stones for Jonathan's wife and a Jonathan side by side, try to twist the date and age to make this Jonathan jr.'s grave. It isn't. These graves obviously belong to wife Elizabeth and one of her sons. But which one? If Jonathan #3 was killed and scalped in 1779, it must be another son, a Jonathan #4, born 1778-79 (probably not baptized and named until after Jonathan #3 was killed in May, 1779). It's even possible that Elizabeth (age 43) died in childbirth.

In late 1779, it was decided that Fort Mott wasn't adequate and that a real stockade fort should be built and garrisoned. The fort (called Fort Vengeance because one of the garrison was killed by lurking Indians) was built on Caleb Hendee's property, adjoining Jonathan's land on the south. It was completed in June 1780, covering more than an acre of ground, with hardwood palisade walls and flankers at the corners. The oak gate was "thickly studded with large headed nails or spikes so as to be completely bullet proof." It had officers' barracks on the north and soldiers' barracks on the south, with a parade ground between. A frame building magazine was in the northwest corner. The fort also had two wells, "but these were soon neglected and the garrison supplied themselves with water from a spring thirty or forty rods east of the fort." Jonathan and one of his sons helped work on the fort, and he supplied nails, corn, hay, and the use of oxen and an oxcart for the garrison.[20]

In March 1780, Jonathan was elected moderator of a town meeting. And in 1781 one of Jonathan's horses, being borrowed by a Mrs. Sarah June's sister Betsey Cox, was killed by Indians and Betsey Cox captured in an ambush.[21]

However, at some point (apparently in 1781) Jonathan and Caleb Hendee were advised by the garrison commander that they should "remove their families into more interior parts of the State." (I gather they must have complained about the fort interfering with farming their land, so they were in effect ordered off.) We don't know where Jonathan went, but he returned to his land in late 1781 (after Cornwallis's surrender in Virginia) to find that the garrison had ransacked the house, appropriating floor, ceiling, and partition boards for their own use. In January 1782 he petitioned for reimbursement, but the petition was "read and dismissed."[22]

Apparently times were hard and Jonathan was scrounging for money wherever he could get it. In addition to the petition for damage to his house, he petitioned for and was paid for the guns he had scavenged at Hubbardton, for his work on the fort and the supplies he had given the garrison, and even (apparently) for his son's gun lost when he was killed by Indians.

Some time between January 1779 and December 1784, Jonathan remarried to a woman named Esther. Nothing is known about her background. She may have been a Pittsford woman or someone he met during his "removal into the interior" in 1781. Apparently she was at least 25 years younger than Jonathan, and I figure she was born approximately 1755. I have heard it alleged that she was a younger cousin of the first wife Elizabeth, but there is no proof of this. The first mention of Esther is in the Pittsford church records for December 1784, when Esther Rowley was among those organizing the Baptist church there.[23]

Jonathan and Esther had four additional children:[24]

Esther b. 178-4 m. Phineas Squire, d. Ohio.
Sally/Sarah b. ca 1784-5 m. Bradley Squire 30 July 1803, d. Ohio
Isaac b. ca 1785
Samuel b. 11 May 1787 m. Betsey Ward 3 Nov 1808, d. 20 Nov 1851

From October 1783 to January 1784, Jonathan was appointed to a town group to "regulate" former survey records and investigate what had happened to some money (1 pound 10 shillings "York Money") that had been paid for one pitch of 100 acres. [25] (This, plus his letter back in Kent and his various petitions for money, would seem to indicate that he was literate, even though an elderly and infirm Jonathan had to make his mark in signing later deeds.)

Following the war came inflation and a ruinous issuance of paper money. One author says: "Money depreciated and an army of lawyers tramped up and down the valleys serving writs. Every second person, it seemed, was in jail for debt." The legislature procrastinated in doing anything, but finally agreed to consider the situation at their next session in January 1787. Meanwhile, the courts continued to try cases and enforce debtor laws. In November of 1786, an armed mob calling itself the Committee of Regulators tried to force the courts to adjourn until the legislature could meet as promised. "Two hundred farmers meeting in Rutland in 1786 to air their grievances served notice on the banditti of attorneys to take care. . . The killing of all lawyers and deputy sheriff was suggested as a palliative, but a more moderate course of action prevailed."[26] (This was the Vermont arm of Shay's Rebellion.) Ultimately the militia was called out and the Regulators were arrested. Jonathan appears to have been arrested as a participant in the riot, but charges against him were later dropped (that is, it was decided "not to prosecute further.")[27]

Around 1782(?), son Joseph was married and Jonathan sold the northern part of his land to him. Joseph joined the Baptist Church in 1785, and there are 1799 references to him selling Joab Powers land which originally was owned by Peter Johnson. However, Jonathan's other sons too were beginning to move off. About 1787 son Hopkins got married and built a small house on Jonathan's land, just across the road from their home, but he later moved to Shoreham. And Jonathan began a series of rather involved land transactions:[28]

[1790 - The census shows Jonathan, Joseph, and Hopkins all as heads of their own households in Pittsford. Jonathan's household was 3 males over 16, 2 males under 16, 3 females.]

October 1798 - 69-year-old Jonathan "retired," selling his remaining land, except for the "Home Acre" his house was on, to his son Levi. In return Levi paid him $1200 and agreed to a formal support agreement under which he would provided specified goods and services to support Jonathan and Esther for the rest of their lives. Included was the agreement that Levi take his 11-year-old brother Samuel and lodge, clothe, feed and educate him to age 21`. (Samuel was the youngest of the children. Jonathan was already 58 when he was born.)

May 1800 - Levi moved on. He sold the land he held to brother Joseph (who already owned the northern portion of the land). Joseph agreed to take over the support payments to Jonathan and Esther and to accept care of 13-year-old Samuel.

[ 1800 - The census shows Hopkins living in Shoreham; Jonathan and Joseph in Pittsford. No sign of Levi, John (supposedly dead), or Elihu. Jonathan was age 45 +, Esther 45 +, and a daughter under 10 (?).]

February 1803 - Joseph sold the southern land to his brother-in-law Phineas Squire (who had married Jonathan's daughter Esther). Phineas agreed to take over the support payments and to care for the almost 16-year-old Samuel. Samuel seems to have finally found a home with the Squires.

March 1805 - A Joseph Wright of Monkton bought the land from Phineas, and also bought Jonathan's Home Acre. In return, he apparently gave Jonathan and Esther a life lease on the Home Acre and agreed to take over the support payments. No mention is made of Samuel, who either stayed with Phineas or, being almost 18, was considered able to take care of himself.

[TWR NOTE: Joseph Wright, b. 17 Dec 1769 Lenox, MA, m. ca 1792 Elizabeth Rowley, b. ca. 1766, d. 24 Mar 1837. Elizabeth is believed to be another daughter of Jonathan][29]

Jonathan must have died some time between the signing of the March 1805 deed and May 1806, for on 25 May 1806 his widow Esther remarried to Abraham Stewart of Shoreham (probably related to Elizabeth Stewart that Hopkins Rowley had married and moved to Shoreham with).

1810 - The census shows both Joseph and Samuel living up north in Enosburgh in Franklin county; and Isaac Rowley, Phineas and Bradley Squire, Abraham Stewart and Joseph Wright all living in Pittsford.]

1811 - There was some sort unpleasantness with Esther's new husband over the land and, although I can't be sure, it looks as if she left him. Esther gave Joseph Wright a quit claim for further support responsibility to her (and the town clerk felt it necessary to annotate that he had examined Esther separately on the matter and that she was acting "freely and voluntarily without fear or compulsion of her husband." Phineas Squire deeded some land to Samuel, who in turn gave it to Esther and agreed to provide her support. At the same time, Samuel formally committed himself to pay one-third of any costs and damages "that may hereafter be recovered against the said Phineas in consequence of a suit which may be brought by Abraham Stewart by virtue of a life lease on the acre on which his wife now lives."

We don't exactly know when Jonathan Rowley jr. died, therefore, or where he is buried. He may have an unmarked grave in the Pittsford Baptist cemetery (there is plenty of unmarked room near Elizabeth's grave), or his second wife and his sons and son-in-law may have buried him somewhere on his or Phineas's land. Jonathan left no will. And in 1812 most of the remaining family members made a migration to central Ohio.

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Larry Daniels (1933-1996) was the author of this article prepared for The Mayflower Quarterly in 1991. Larry was an enthusiastic and studious genealogist, and his association will be sorely missed. This is being published with the permission of his widow, Joyce, who stated, "he would have been pleased and proud to have his research available" in this manner.

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At the time of this writing, Larry did not know about the Mary (Rowley) Mott pension application which proved that her brother John did not perish early as the Caverly document had stated. We do not have positive documentation that the Elizabeth Rowley Joseph Wright married was Jonathan's daughter, but it looks like a good bet.

From Pittsford Gleanings put out by the Pittsford Historical Society, we find that Betsey Cox referred to above (daughter of the owner of the land Fort Mott stood on), was released a short distance away. The local Tory, Roger Stevens (who sold Jonathan Rowley his land when he arrived) persuaded the Indians to let her have her freedom.

In the fall of 1779, the Indians killed several settlers in Neshobe (Brandon) immediately north of Pittsford, which had increased the alarm of Pittsford residents. When Fort Vengeance was completed in June of 1780, there were about 150 men stationed there.

As noted above, Fort Vengeance was located on Caleb Hendee's property which was immediately south of Jonathan Rowley's property. Caleb Hendee, Jr. was born 21 Oct 1768, and thus was a child during the American Revolution. According to his diary, the kidnapping of the Rowley children took place in 1777. Young Hendee, beside holding a number of public offices and judgeships, also became a Brigadier General, and in 1814 commanded a Company of Volunteers. Caleb Hendee died in 1854 at the age of 86.

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[1]    Born in East Haddam, but recorded in Sharon town records.
[2]    Sharon land records 2:16, 18, 20; and Lawrence Van Alstyen, Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Town of Sharon, Conn., 1897, pp. 108-9.
[3]    Homer W. Brainard, "Henry Rowley and Some of His Descendants," in New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 1906, vol. 37, p. 99.
[4]   Brainard, op cit., p. 99; also in Frederic W. Bailey, Early Connecticut Marriages, 1968, p. 99. See Colchester town records 1:42, and Colchester church records 4:49
[5]   Charles S. Grant, Democracy in the Connecticut Frontier Town of Kent, 1961, pp. 88-9 (cf. also pp. 46-7, 71, 72).
[6]    Grant, op. cit.
[7]    "Stephen Hopkins and Descendants" in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. 102, 1948, pp. 54-56; in Harwich, MA vital records 2:115.
[8]    "Early Leases in the Beekman Patent," New York Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. 117:146-9.
[9]   A. M. Caverly, History of the Town of Pittsford, Vt., 1872, p. 722. I have reordered dates in according with some other records.
[10]   Katherine H. Annin, Richmond, Massachusetts, the Story of a Berkshire Town and Its People 1765-1965, p. 9.
[11]   Caverly, op. cit., pp. 41, 47. (See also Pittsford land records 1:37.)
[12]    Ibid., pp. 99-102.
[13]   Ibid., pp. 111-115.
[14]   Ibid., pp. 116-117.
[15]   Ibid., pp. 117-121.
[16]   Ibid., pp. 121-122.
[17]    Ibid. pp. 122, 124, 722-724.
[18]   Ibid., pp. 133-134, 136-138, 145.
[19]    Gravestones in Baptist cemetery in Pittsford, Vt.
[20]   Caverly, op. cit., pp. 149-155.
[21]    Ibid., p. 161.
[22]   Ibid., pp. 179-180.
[23]    Ibid., pp. 628-629.
[24]   Caverly's list, reorganized by me.
[25]    Caverly, op. cit., pp. 235-237.
[26]    Ralph Nading Hill, Yankee Kingdom, Vermont and New Hampshire, p. 126.
[27]   Caverly, op. cit., pp. 246-254.
[28]   In Pittsford town land records, 2:265, 3:74-8, 4:80-6, 5:185, 194-8, 6 or 7:261-4, 8:11, 61-2, 65-6, 186-8.
[29]    Susan Holt MacIntire and Sanford Stowell Witherell, A Genealogical Register of the Early Families of Shoreham, Vermont 1761-1899, 1984, p. 268.

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