1837: Joseph Edward Hill to Joseph Fellows

Much of what is captured here regarding the family of Joseph Fellows is conjecture because I have not yet found a biographical sketch for him. This letter was written to Joseph Fellows, Jr. (1782-1873), an English-born lawyer, who came to America with his father’s family in the late 18th century as a young man. His father, also named Joseph (1755-1836)  — and often called “Squire Fellows” — I believe settled initially in Albany, New York, but then relocated to the Scranton, Pennsylvania area where he was an early settler of Hyde Park. Besides Joseph, Jr., there were two other sons who resided in the Scranton area named Benjamin and Henry.

An 1817 French Passport for Fellows signed by J. Adams Smith (grandson of John Adams). Courtesy of Preston Cook

An 1817 American Passport (written in French) for Fellows signed by J. Adams Smith (grandson of John Adams). Courtesy of Preston Cook

Joseph Fellows, Jr., described by those who knew him as a “parsimonious bachelor,” worked for Col. Robert Troup (1756-1832). Troup was a Revolutionary War veteran who served various political assignments until nominated by President George Washington, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, as a Judge in the District Court of New York. He resigned that post in 1798 to resume a law practice in New York City and to become the managing agent for the Polteney Estate. The Polteney Associates were British investors who purchased hundreds of thousands of acres in western New York State. Through the efforts of this association, land claims from Indian Nations and other states were cleared for this area by the mid 1820′s.

The ownership of this land by foreign investors did not sit well with the citizens of New York State, however. They particularly resented the fact that foreign investors were not required to pay taxes on this land and its improvements. Troup came to realize that these lands must be sold and was persuaded to offer them at a fair price. Further, to lessen the hostility of the citizenry, he was inclined to support philanthropic proposals. Joseph Fellows did not necessarily agree with his boss but carried out his wishes.

Fellows lived in Geneva, New York, until about 1856, whereupon he moved to Bath, and later Corning, New York.

This letter (really two letters) was written by Joseph Edward Hill — a nephew-in-law of Joseph Fellows. The first letter is addressed to Joseph Fellows. The second part of the letter is addressed to Hill’s son, Joseph Fellows Hill, who was probably residing with his Uncle Joseph Fellows in Geneva at the time. Hill’s wife, Catherine Caroline Fellows (1800-Aft1870) was also the mother of two other sons named Edward (“Ned”) Hill and Henry Hill. It seems clear that the Hills resided in Genesee County, New York in 1837 because he mentions returning “home” to that location and he also refers to Heman Redfield, the postmaster of Le Roy in that same county. Hill mentions having a house built for his family in Berrian County, Michigan, so I presume the family relocated there not long after.

I do notice that in the 1870 Census, Joseph Fellows is enumerated in the Corning, New York census and that his 70-year old niece, Caroline Hill, is residing in the same household with him.

Stampless Cover


Addressed to Joseph Fellows, Esqr., Geneva, Ontario County, New York

Berrien [Springs, Michigan]
5 October 1837

Dear Sir,

Your letter if this 9 September same to hand yesterday advising me of the safe return of Catherine from a visit to her friends in Pennsylvania and giving me great joy to learn that her health is improved by the journey.

Page 1

The house which I have been engaged in building for my future residence in Berrien is now so nearly completed that I should soon leave for home, but fear I shall be detained perhaps a week or two longer to collect about $800 dollars which has been due me since the first of September past, being the first payment for the Tavern Stand property sold by my Agent last winter in addition to which I have in the hands of the Agent some $700 which is the sum total of all that I can expect to realize from sales of any kind. Indeed, I have great fears of being able to collect this amount without subjecting myself to a detention which might prove very detrimental to my interest and engagements at home. The sale of the Tavern Stand is a good one and the purchaser has since expended by improvements on the property at least a $1,000, all which is forfeit by his failure to make the first payments agreeable to contract as he has received nothing yet. No advantage will be taken provided he meets the payment before I leave which I think he will do.

Page 2

Your friend James Cook called on me yesterday, and was much pleased with the prospects of Berrien. Says your lands near Goshen which you purchased at eight dollar an acre, and through which the canal now passes, are worth even at present prices, at least $50 an acre. Yet present cash sales of these lands or your village lots at anything like their fair value, he says, are out of the question. Thinks the latter will be worth from two to three hundred dollars a lot the moment the times change for the better.

My sales at Berrien including the Tavern Stand amount at this time to about $7,000 with few exceptions, being on time — say $1500 being now due. The Annual & Semiannual installments on remaining contracts will amount to some $2,000 a year, which I think on the whole is doing much better than we had reason to expect considering the extraordinary pressure — especially as it is notorious that there have been no sales since my arrival here & other places, even the most important towns & villages in this section of country.

Should I be fortunate as to collect the amount of money now due, it will of course be in Michigan paper, as safety-fund bills are about as difficult to procure here as there. I wish you, therefore to write me at Detroit, which place I am in hopes to reach by the last of the present month, perhaps not before the first of next, and advise or assist me to effect an exchange at some of the Banks there. I have written President A____ a severe letter which must have reached him some two or three weeks since in relation to his unexpected & abrupt call upon you for amount of my notes — a copy of which I will show you on my return.

It has not been in my power to go to Fox River but have corresponded with your brother Benjamin. With regards to Ph___ & Mr. Wyncap, Mr. Young & Family, with the rest of our friends, I am yours truly, — E. Hill

Berrien, Michigan
5 October 1837

Dear Son,

Page 3

You wished to know in your letter of the 2 July whether I would take up Gov. Lands by being paid for it. In reply to which I can only say that it has not since my arrival here been convenient for me to do anything of the kind or ______  to leave Berrien at all but intend to turn some attention to the business on my return to this country, which will be sometime this winter or early in the spring. I have not yet made my Grand & Maple River tour but shall go to the Rapids on my way home, and probably to Ionia. Still I fear that it will not be possible to obtain specie to enter your quarter section, nor do I think ___ material as I can make precisely as good a ___tion next spring as now, when it is to be hoped that specie as payments for land will not be required or if it _____, that it will be obtained for a less premium. Nor have I yet been _____ purchase on the St. Joseph in Branch County, but am informed by Mr. Redfield (Brother of Heman Redfield of Le Roy) who is well acquainted with my tract and [other tracts] near mine, that my entire tract is even at this time worth $10 an acre, being of very superior quality both of soil and timber.

I wrote your Mother last but a few days since taking for granted that she had returned to Genesee but was glad to learn by your Uncle’s letter that she had not as it is hardly possible that I can reach home before the first of next month. Affectionately, your Father, — E. Hill

P. S.  I have not been able to learn from any source as yet what disposition was made of Henry and Ned in the absence of their mother. Write me at Detroit. I shall probably visit Geneva soon after my return to Genesee.


8 responses to “1837: Joseph Edward Hill to Joseph Fellows

  • David A Hill

    What a great service/provision/occurrence! This connects me with some of my relatives. I’m pretty sure this letter was written by Dr. Eli Hill, an older brother of my ancestor, Arunah Hill.
    Joseph Fellows would be his brother-in-law and Joseph Fellows Hill would be his eldest son.
    Eli Hill died in, or near, Berrien Springs in 1838 and his wife, Catherine seems to have been provided lodging thereafter by her brother, Joseph Fellows.

    – David A Hill

    • Griff

      Thank you for your comments, David. Any additional information on the family or photographs of those mentioned in the letters would be appreciated. — Griff

  • Preston Cook

    Hello, I recently purchased a passport issued to Joseph Fellows on September 30, 1817 in London signed by J. Adams Smith, Charge de Affairs (grandson of John Adams). This passport is in French. It states Fellows age at 35 (he would then be born 1782) and height at five feet, ten inches. It looks like it is for passage to France. My initial research indicates this is the same Joseph Fellows. Maybe someone can shed more light on this for me, as I am writing a book and will be using this document. Also, I would be happy to digitalize this document and send to you if you would like. Preston Cook. PS. When I purchased this document, it came with a letter to Robert R. Livingstone, Esq., Paris, from Robert M. Fox, Consul for the United States of America dated, “Falmouth, October 5, 1801.” I can be reached at pceagles@comcast.net

  • Elizabeth Knauss

    My husband is descended from Benjamin Fellows, brother of Joseph and Catherine mentioned above. There is a fair amount of information on the family in local histories published in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

  • Preston Cook

    Hello. Thank you for the information on Joseph and Ben Fellows. I am in possession of a passport issued to Joseph Fellows on September 30, 1817 when he was 35 years old, with his signature. Also signed by J. Adams Smith, charge d affaires of the American Legation in London, and the son of the President, and nephew of another. Let me know if you would like a copy. Preston

  • Raymond Mead

    Hello Preston, I am doing a project for the Lackawanna Historical Society (Scranton, PA) on their paintings collection. We have a portrait of Joseph Fellows, 1782-1873 and in doing some research on line I came across your message stating that you have a passport for him dated 1817, that includes his signature. I was wondering if we could get a copy of that passport??? It would be GREATLY appreciated. Also, I notice in another message you posted that you state that you hadn’t been able to find a biographical sketch on him. Well, nor have we……….. In fact, at this point in time, the information that you listed is pretty much the sum of what we know! So, I was wondering if you have come up with anything else that is not listed in your postings…………Again, any information would be GREATLY appreciated. By the way, would you like a picture of his portrait? Thanks, Raymond Mead 570-239-9765

    • Preston Cook

      Hello Raymond, I have several photos for you of the 1817 J. Fellows passport. I will attempt to leave them in this box. If I cannot, please email your address and I will email them to you. Preston

      This return email does not accept photos.

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