|Historical Society Acquires
Letters from Dr. Jonathan Havens Case
To his family in Peconic, New York
Written during the
by Patricia Shillingburg
Recently, the Historical Society acquired 50
letters written by Dr. Jonathan Havens Case to his family in Peconic, NY
from May 1862 to January 1865. They are being transcribed for the Society
by Patricia Shillingburg. Both Edward and Patricia are in the process of placing
Jonathan within the Case family, and a brief introduction to the project
In about 1833 Jonathan Havens Case (Jony) was born to
Jonathan Havens Case, known to friends and family as Havens, (born 1808) and
his wife Bethia (born 1805) in Peconic, a village of the Town of Southold.
His parents, his extended family, of which there were many, and his neighbors
were subsistence farmers. This does not mean they were poor. Quiet the contrary.
They owned the land they farmed which was ample to provide for their families.
They had orchards, meadows, areas to grow grains and vegetables and feed
for their animals. There were well established churches for worship and schools
for learning. The family’s church was the Southold Presbyterian Church.
The first settlers in 1640 had all been educated men and
education remained important to the community. The two college preparatory
schools near Jony’s home when he was a teenager were the Southold Academy
and the Franklinville Academy, the former to the east and the latter to the
west of the village of Peconic.
Jony spent his early school years at the local Peconic
village school which was a short walk from his parent’s farm on Main Road
at Indian Neck Road. Because he was an only children for about eight years,
he had ample opportunities to work side by side with his father doing his
When he was growing up, New York City was five days away
by coach. New London, on the other hand, was a 15 mile sail North across
Long Island Sound. Emotional ties to Connecticut by the entire North Fork
of Long Island were much stronger than they had ever been to New York.
Since 1640, when the first English settlers -- among them Henry Case, Jony's
ancestor -- came to Southold and Southampton on the South Fork, young men
had sought wives from across the Sound in both directions.
A few years before Jony was born, three local men --David
Tuthill, Silas Webb, and Joshua Tuthill -- had purchased the land of Captain
Webb and had laid out a grid for a town they would call Greenport. By 1831,
it had 15 houses. 5 stores, a warehouse, mechanical shops, 2 whaling ships,
and a number of smaller vessels employed in fishing and coastal trade. In
1838, Greenport was incorporated as a village.
In 1834, the first camp meeting took place in Jamesport
a few miles west of Peconic, so rural religious revival meetings were probably
important events in his childhood.
Two younger brothers came along, Daniel Gilbert Case (Gill)
in about 1841 and Albert Wickham Case (Wick) two years later.
The most momentous event in Jony’s young life, however,
may have been in 1844 when the railroad came to Greenport. The tracks passed
within a mile of his home. The original intent of the railroad company was
to provide a direct link between New York City and Boston through a train
to Greenport and from there a steamer to Boston. There were no depots along
the way and the train took only two hours.
Within a few years, however, a direct railroad was established
between New York and Boston, and the owners of the railroad from Jamaica
to Greenport had to find new business opportunities. They built depots along
the route, thus opening up the New York City market to the farmers and fishermen
on the North Fork of Long Island. One depot was on Peconic Lane in Peconic.
Scallops, clams and oysters could be harvested from Peconic
Bay on Monday and served in the finest restaurants and homes in New York
City on Tuesday. Farm wives discovered that flour from the mills of Brooklyn
was far superior and cheaper than the flour milled locally from their own
wheat fields. The farmers found that the fields once devoted to grain
crops could be put to better use feeding the hungry tables of the City.
The conversations around the dinner table when his parents
plotted how they would exploit the new economic opportunities must have fired
Jony’s imagination. And, the family could afford expanded educational opportunities.
In 1850, when Jony was 17, he still lived at home in Peconic.
But, five years later, in 1855, he was studying medicine at Columbia College,
and in 1860, at age 27, he graduated from what is today New York University
School of Medicine.
In 1860, according to the Census, Joshua Case, age 54
and unmarried, was living with his brother Havens, Bethia, Gill, aged 19,
and Wick, aged 17. They were farmers and had extensive land holdings in Peconic.
By May 1862, Jony had joined the Union Army as a surgeon
and was stationed at Carver U.S. General Hospital in Washington D.C. He was
married to Marion Irwin, whose home was in lower Manhattan, near Allen Street.
Her father was also a doctor.
Jony’s letters to his parents are not just about Jony’s
War, but in the fall of 1862, they also became the story of Wick’s War as
well. In fact, the 51st letter in the collection was from Wick himself. Wick
joined the 127th New York Infantry Regiment along with thirteen other Peconic
lads -- a total of 110 young men from the North Fork of Long Island joined
the 127th alone. The Regiment’s first assignment in the fall of 1862 and
the winter of 1863 was to guard Washington, D.C. against attack by the Confederate
Army. Carver Hospital was only a few miles from Wick’s encampment, so Jony
could ride out and visit his brother from time to time.
The letters and their transcriptions will be on exhibit
at the Historical Society beginning in early October.