1849: Lydia (Johnson) Bates to Fleming Bates

Lydia J. Bates' Gravestone

Lydia J. Bates’ Gravestone

This interesting letter was written by Lydia (Johnson) Bates (1799-1870), the wife of Quaker farmer Benjamin Bates (1796-1865) of Marlboro, Stark County, Ohio. Benjamin was the son Edward Bates (1763-1806) and Elizabeth Harrison (1769-18xx).

Lydia wrote the letter to her brother-in-law, Fleming Bates (1803-Aft1880), a Quaker farmer of Mount Pleasant, Jefferson County, Ohio.

Lydia’s letter contains a personal observation of the Stark County tornado of 25 July 1849 which first touched down west of Canton and moved to the northeast. A description of that tornado follows:

Numerous fences were demolished and damage was done to several farms. The storm hit one house, throwing a woman out and covering her with bricks from the chimney. She was badly hurt but was not killed.

As the twister moved on, it made a path almost 220 yards wide across one farm, causing considerable damage. On another farmstead, a new house was entirely destroyed along with a barn, but the old house just 6 or 7 feet from the new one was left untouched. A man and his wife were still living in the old house.

On another farm, a barn and orchard, with the exception of one tree, were destroyed. So powerful was this storm that it carried 7 or 8 trees a distance of almost 9 miles and dropped them on two different farms. One tree sailed over a house and landed on an outdoor oven, flattening it. Another one of the trees was reported to be nearly 9 inches in diameter.

From here, the tornado unroofed two more houses and a stable. Then, it lifted a two story frame house into the air, carried it over a fence and left it standing in the road intact except for half the roof which was carried nearly a mile. Two more houses were then unroofed and a wagon shed destroyed. Another house was wrecked clear down to the foundation. The tornado continued its northeastward march, hitting and destroying a house and barn near Marlboro, also in Stark County. [Source: Owl — Weather Archives]

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Fleming Bates, Mount Pleasant, Jefferson County, Ohio

Marlborough, Stark County, Ohio
13th of 8th Month 1849

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have once more taken my pen in hand to write a letter to you as there has not been any communication between us for some time [and] I thought it would be right not to give it up altogether. The boys have looked for Aunt Hannah’s letter but in vain as yet. We must conclude that she thought theirs not worth replying to. We frequently hear from you by mother’s letters among the connection but we have not received a line from any of you since brother Fleming and Cousin John was here. Now I write these lines with hopes that they may meet you all in a better situation than we are at present.

You probably will hear something from us and not be fully informed thereof. I have no doubt you will feel anxious to know the particulars but I can give you some of them — the compass of a letter would not contain all — for on the 25th of 7th Month there was as beautiful a rainbow in the morning as I ever saw. [But] the sky soon became overcast with clouds and rained moderately all the forenoon. As it was getting dry and vegetation suffering, the aspect was cheering so far, but between 6 and 9 in the evening, just as we had all collected in the room, Benjamin called to me to come to the door. The air was full of leaves and broken boughs. As soon as I saw, I knew in an instant what was approaching. We closed the door, the rest all being shut, and went in the cellar. Oh, no one knows the awfulness of such a storm but those who have experienced it. It was a whirlwind. It came more like lightning than anything I can compare it. It was over in a minute seemingly and was still. We then returned up to see but alas, what was the scene. It appeared to us that the house had fell. It came from the southwest and went toward the northeast. The streak was narrow here but was wider at some other places. It seemed to raise and fall, taking nearly everything in its way. It struck down at Samuel Elyson’s and swept all of his buildings except the new dwelling house which was unroofed and moved 10 feet from the wall. Had there not stood a large cherry tree there, it is supposed it must have gone in the ruins. The barn was taken from the very foundation and I suppose there is very few pieces of whole timber to be found. It is said to be gone for miles. There was 15 or 16 persons in the house at the time and not one of them were hurt. We then were the next in its course. The barn was unroofed and every other building on the place — the dwelling house and smoke house excepted — were gone in the ruins. The shed at the west of the house is also gone. There was an apple tree brought from Elyson’s orchard right over our house which took off both chimneys and injured both roofs very much. The timbers, boards and shingles all coming from Elyson’s  drove through our house in many places and broke sixty panes of glass and several sash. It still continued to rain very hard through the night by showers, the water pouring in on every side seemed to heighten our calamity. Our wheat and hay being nearly all in the barn and stack was exposed to the wet. It appears it must inevitably be all lost. The fruit trees nearly all gone. To look over the places, it is a scene of destruction, but through all I think we have great cause to be thankful that our lives were all spared and not one of us or our stock were hurt except the poor chickens. They seemed to fare the worst. We have not heard of but one person being killed but several said to be some hurt. But there has been a great loss of property and stock in places.

It is said to start near Canton and we have heard from considerable distance the other way but have not ascertained where the end was. It did not reach town or Brantingham’s except the south part of town there was one new barn blown down and two dwelling houses moved. It came through James Enlaw’s woods and he says that the damage is not less than two hundred dollars. It also went across the southeast of father’s farm but did not go near the buildings. It only threw down considerable of fence and some timber. The neighbors coming to our assistance helped us to put up the outside fences that evening and the next day were spent in trying to repair the house to keep us dry. The day following, being a clear nice day, our relations collected and spread out the grain and hay and helped to take care of it. We have since got the barn covered in. I often think of Job; he lost estate, children, and all, yet the Lord did bless and sometimes have a comfortable hope that if we look unto Him, He will provide for us. But at other times feel as if it was not worth while to toil and weary ourselves so much seeing the uncertainty of all things. Even life itself. How many are summoned suddenly away and we know not how soon we shall be among that number.

There has been several deaths in this neighborhood this summer — mostly of lung disease, some of which is thought was brought on by the ague. It seems to leave persons in a weakly situation which terminates in the dropsy or settle on the lungs, tho’ there has not been much of it this season. Edward and Jesse both had it awhile in the fore part of summer but have recovered so as to be able to help their father some as there is need for them at home. They have not gone to school this summer. I will also mention that Samuel Elyson’s family had to go among their children to live until the house could be repaired which is going on. They have got it covered in and are plastering it as the plastering had nearly all fell off. It went through both their and our oats and nearly thrashed them as they stood. The corn was all down but that has risen beyond expectation.

Now, as we have no prospect of coming to Yearly Meeting [at Mount Pleasant], we shall certainly expect a letter from some of you at that time, if not before. As I have been out of the practice of letter writing so long and a very poor scholar at best, I have always felt a delicacy in writing to you as sister Hannah is such a good hand. I don’t like to expose myself but as things are Benjamin says he cannot write and wished me to do it. His hands are full of other concerns. We are all enjoying pretty good health at present. Also our relations generally. Father and Mother are gone to Quarterly Meeting.

Now as I am limited for time, I must draw to a close with desires for your best interest in every sense of the word and bid you farewell. We all wish to be remembered to our relations theraway. So with my love in which Benjamin and the boys all join, I conclude and remain your affectionate sister, — Lydia J. Bates

P. S. Father & Mother expect to come to yearly meeting.


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