1848: Joseph Coward William Applegate to Jacob Irons Applegate

This letter was written by Joseph Coward William Applegate (1808-1893), the son of William Applegate (1763-1835) and Hannah Potter Warner (1770-1860) of Toms River, Monmouth (now Ocean) county, New Jersey. Joseph wrote the letter to his older brother, Jacob Irons Applegate (1795-1875) and his wife, Rebecca Page (1794-1865). Joseph was married to Zelphia Ann Potter (1811-1871) in 1831 and at the time of this letter in 1848 the couple had 9 children ranging from 2 to 16 years in age, most of whom were born in Ohio.

A family history states that Joseph at one time made a living as was a “drover” meaning he brought horses from where he settled in Walnut Hill (near Cincinnati, Ohio) to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be sold. He went to Ohio about 1833 and stayed there until 1855 when the family moved to Lawrence Co., Illinois, where Joseph was listed as a carpenter and joiner.  In the 1850 census, Joseph and his family were enumerated in Washington, Brown county, Ohio.

The letter contains a vivid description of the December 1847 flooding on the Ohio River in the vicinity of Cincinnati and the wretched conditions in which Joseph had to rescue his family from the rising floodwaters and save his livestock.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published here by express consent.]


Addressed to Mr. Jacob I. Applegate, Monmouth county, Toms River, New Jersey

Five Mile
May 9, 1848

Dear Brother & Sister,

It has been some long since I have heard anything from you. I was almost afraid something dreadful had happened till I saw Emson. He states he thinks you are all well. Now won’t you write and let us know what is the reason we have never heard from you. I have wrote you twice & G. C. Williams twice about a year or two ago & never got an answer. I concluded then to write no more till I heard from you & never have till Emson came out.

We are all enjoying good health [and] still live on the bank of the Ohio River 10 miles from Cincinnati. Have been here 3 years. Was here in the time of the high water. The river was 3 ½ feet in the house doing us considerable of damage. Lost about 15 tons of bailed hay ready for market worth at that time 15 dollars per ton, between 5 & 6 hundred bushels of corn, 800 bushels of oats, 224 bushels of potatoes, 120 cords of wood, one flat boat loaded with wood laying at Cincinnati containing 30 cords. Had sold the wood for 6 dollars per cord. The boat cost 100 dollars. One stud horse I was offered last fall $300 dollars for got drowned getting him out.

Our place is [on] a ridge. The water runs on both sides of us before it gets to the house & we expected the river would stop rising till it got up to the house before we undertook to get the horses out. Our boat was at town and we had to swim them out. I rode the stud & led one little pony by him. We had to swim a full quarter of a mile. The horse got [    ] & tired—kept plunging his head under the water & strangled him. I managed to get on the back of the pony & let him go [before] he drowned.

We had pretty scarce times for awhile. I had 5 horses left and nothing to feed them on nor ourselves either. I had just commenced running my wood, just got my potatoes barreled up, was preparing to turn everything of my past year’s labor in[to] money & lost all. If I had had a boat, I could [have] saved a good deal but we had nothing but an old boat gunnel to take the family out on about 50 feet long & about 2 feet wide. We all got on that and paddled for the hills. When we got there, we had to walk about one mile [in] bitter cold weather, the snow over 2 feet deep. Some of the bigger children had to carry the smaller ones. They came very near freezing. It took a long time to paddle the old gunnel to shore. We could scarcely stand on it. It was a solid cake of ice. The water would freeze as it splashed on it. It was an awful time. You could not look on the river without seeing something adrift—houses with families in barns, boats, saw mills, wheat shocks, oats. In fact, you can mention nothing that was in reach of the river but you could see. I can give you but a faint idea of the distress—every man running to get help & everyone had as much as he could do to help himself.

Now my dear brother, I will conclude as I have said nothing about our friends in Jersey by begging you to give us some information concerning them. In the first place, I want to know how our dear old mother comes on. Tell me how she looks. I am afraid I will not get to see her anymore this side of the grave. I was fixing to get some horses by next fall but will be disappointed in consequence of my bad luck. I may come next spring.

Tell G. C. Williams if he can spare me that money, he will confer a great favor by doing so at this time. Give our love to all the folks & our dear old mammy in particular. Tell us how you all look. Tell mother Potter we send our respects to her & family, Sally, Josey, Az & lot, Bill and Hannah, John & Olly [   ] Aunt Sally & all the children. Goodbye.

From your affectionate brother & sister, — James Applegate

To Jacob & Rebecca Applegate




Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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