Josiah Mosher and Sarah Jane Harrington Life in New York in the 1800's

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Josiah Mosher (ABT 1834-1924/5)and Sarah Jane Harrington (1840-1895)

Stephen Whitman Harrington (ABT 1818-1846/8) and Eliza Cool (ABT 1820-1895)

A Future Lock Tender is Born

Josiah Mosher was born about 1833 or 1834 in Oakland, New York. Oakland was very close to Portage, as will be noted in the description later about the canal which was built through the area and for which Josiah was at one time a lock tender. Josiah’s parents were Jabez and Elizabeth Doane Mosher.

Josiah is found alone in the 1850 Census, a 16-year-old boy. It would appear that he worked early and hard all of his life. His parents may have even sent him to another family to earn money and bring it back to the family.

Marriage and a Life in Oakland, New York

Josiah married Sarah Jane Harrington in 1857, probably in Oakland, New York, or in Portage, New York, which is where they spent their entire married lives. He was 23 and she was 18. 2 Portage is a town in Livingston County, New York. The name of the town stems from the need to portage canoes around the falls of the Genesee River. A canal was eventually built in this area, and more information about that follows.

Sara Jane Harrington’s father was Stephen Whitman Harrington; he is supposed to have died of typhoid in Mexico during the Mexican War. Her mother, Eliza Cool, is said to have been of New York Dutch descent. The exact date and place of Sarah Jane’s birth is unknown, but it is presumed to be in New York, perhaps even in Oakland where Josiah was born.

Josiah and Sarah had at least five children:

Josiah finds many ways to earn a living

Josiah was a farm labourer for most of his life, and there is no evidence that he ever owned his own land, though he might very well have rented land. He lived with Sarah and their children in Portage all of his life.

In the 1860 Census, he is is living in Portage, age 26, with his wife, Sarah (19) and their small son, J.S.P. (1). There is no mention of Seneca, though she was supposedly born the year before J.S.P. In this Census, Josiah is said to be a Lock Tender. He owns no land and values his personal property at $100. It would seem that Josiah took advantage of the canal which was built earlier in the century.

The Genesee Valley Canal

As early as 1918, the state legislature had declared the Genesee River a "public highway." Shallow-draught boats navigated the river and lumber floated down to Rochester. By the 1820s, some steamboats navigated the river. A man named Sanford Hunt, who settled at Hunt's Hollow in 1819, used the Genesee River to transport lumber and then he built a canal boat, the Hazard, in 1824. When the river was most navigable during the spring, Hunt transported lumber, potash and pearl ash to Albany, by way of Rochester and the Erie Canal.

By 1823, Genesee Valley settlers wanted a canal to transport their crops. James Geddes, who had engineered much of the Erie Canal, made a survey in 1826, but nothing else was done for another ten years. In 1836, the state legislature authorized the construction of the canal, from Rochester to Olean, with a side cut to Dansville. Only 11 locks were required as far as Dansville, so construction progressed rapidly and the canal was opened to Dansville in 1841.

With a change in government, work stopped in 1842 and didn’t resume for six years. In that time the elements had heavily damaged what had already been done.

In 1860, Josiah found work as a Lock Tender on this canal (near Portage). This is where the barge was at it highest point in the system between Rochester and Olean, completed in 1856. In background is the dam of Cuba Lake that was built as a feeder for the canal.

The Family Grows; Life Continues

By 1870, the family had grown. Now Josiah is 35 and his wife is 31. Seneca, 12, and George, 6, live with them. J.S.P. is not there (he died three years before). During this census, there is also a woman named Betsey, age 68, living with them. It is not known who she is.

Still living in Portage ten years later, in 1880, Josiah (48) and Sarah (40), have their two young children, Alvin and Fremont, living with them. Seneca has probably married and perhaps George, who would have only been 12, was already working on another farm.

Sarah and Josiah come to the End

By the 1900 Census, Sarah is gone; she died 30 April 1895 (aged 55 years, 1 month, 20 days). By 1900, Josiah, a widower, is living with his son, Alvin, now 24, and Alvin’s wife, Jennie (32), and their son, Elea (4).

In 1910, Josiah is living alone, at the age of 78, in Portage.

In the 1920 Census, Josiah is living with his son, Freemont, now 42 years old. In the mid-1920’s, his great-grandson, Robert Mosher Ingraham recalls: “On one Christmastime visit there [to Aunt Mary in Dalton, NY], [my brother] Lee and I skied over to Oakland where my mother [Ratie Mosher] was born to visit my great-grandfather. He lived with my [Great] Uncle Freemont, my grandfather Mosher’s youngest brother. It was the last time I ever saw Great-Grandfather Josiah Mosher who was then in his 90’s and died not long afterward. On the way back to Dalton we got caught in a severe blizzard and almost got lost in skiing across the fields blinded by the snow. But we made it, although we were late and the cause of some worry.”

According to his great-grandson (who remembered visiting him once), Josiah Mosher died in 1924. He would have been 90 years old.

Sarah's Parents: Stephen Harrington and Eliza Cool

Stephen Whitman Harrington (ABT 1818-1846/8) and Eliza Cool (ABT 1820-1895)

It is believed that the photograph at left is that of Eliza Cool, Sarah Jane Harrington’s mother. It is not known who the gentleman is, but it may be one of her three husbands (Stephen Harrington, Harmon Kelly, or Joel B. Robeson, most likely Kelly or Robeson as she is not a young woman in the photograph).

Not a great deal is known about Stephen Whitman Harrington and Eliza Cool (said to be of New York Dutch ancestry), except that they were the parents of Sarah Jane Harrington. It is assumed that Stephen was born in about 1818 and Eliza in about 1820. They were married in about 1838 and their daughter, Sarah Jane, was born in 1839. They had another daughter, Catherine, who eventually married Marsden M. Hall. As far as it is known, they lived in New York state together before Stephen went off to war. Their daughter, Sarah, lived with her husband, Josiah Mosher, in Oakland, New York, so perhaps that is where her parents also lived when they were first married.

Family history says that Stephen, five years after his daughter was born, joined the military to fight in the Mexican-American War. It is said, though, that Stephen died of typhoid fever before he returned home from that war, leaving a widow at only 26 years of age with a young daughter of seven.

The Mexican-American War was an armed military conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico did not recognize the secession of Texas in 1836; it considered Texas a rebel province. In the United States, the war was a partisan issue with most Whigs opposing it and most southern Democrats, animated by a popular belief in Manifest Destiny, supporting it. In Mexico, the war was considered a matter of national pride. Since Stephen was willing to fight, one can assume he sided with the southern Democrats. Then again, maybe he just needed a job or was attracted by the possible adventure. He was about 28 years old.

The most important consequence of the war for the United States was the Mexican Cession, in which the Mexican territories of Alta California and Santa Fe de Juevo, Mexico, were ceded to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In Mexico, the enormous loss of territory following the war encouraged its government to enact policies to colonize its northern territories as a hedge against further losses.

Where Stephen died is not known. It is believed, as mentioned earlier, that Sarah married again after her husband died. She may have been widowed a second time and married a third.

This page written and researched by Susan Overturf Ingraham, wife of Robert Philip Ingraham, a descendant of Josiah Mosher and Sarah Jane Harrington. This page last updated on April 27, 2019.

Return to Table of Contents for Exploring My Husband's Ancestral Roots: Ingrahams, Herricks, Moshers, and Brands

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. For information about Sarah's parents, see the end of this article. 

  3. For more information about George Henry's life, click on his name.