Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Life of Merritt Howell, Jr.

I thought I’d take a look this week at my paternal 4th great grandfather, Merritt Howell Jr. What could I find out about his life?

When Merritt was born on 10 November 1783 in Southold, Suffolk County, New York to Merritt Howell Sr. (1750-1818) and Sarah Luce Howell (1755-1824) America was just seven years old. Merritt was the third of four children and the oldest son.

At the age of nine Merritt, his parents, sisters Patience and Sally as well as brother Benjamin must have been living in the newly formed (13 March 1792) town of Riverhead which broke off from the town of Southold. Merritt’s father, Merritt Sr. was named as one of the Overseers of the Poor in the new town at the first town meeting held on 3 April 1792.

1800 US Federal Census Merrit (age 17) appears to be living in Riverhead with his parents, brother Benjamin (12) and sister Sally (19). Patience (23) was married.

Merritt, at the age of 20, married 17 year old Eleanor Luce in 1803. They would have 12 (?) children: Buel, Jemima (my 3rd great grandmother), Eleanor, Fanny, Hampton, Betsey, Sarah, Henrietta, Merritt, Frances, Eleanor and Daniel. Four of their children would die at a young age Buel (2 years old), Eleanor (1st) (15 years old), Merritt (1 year old), and Eleanor (2nd) (1 year old).

1810 U.S. Federal Census finds Merritt (27) and his wife Eleanor (24) living in Riverhead with children Sally (6), Jemima (4) and Eleanor (2).

12 November 1819 Merrit Howell purchased a tract of land in Halseys Manor in the town of Brookhaven from Abraham Luce, John P. Luce and David Hulse.

1820 U.S. Federal Census finds Merritt (37) engaged in Agriculture and living in Riverhead with his wife Eleanor (34) and children Sally (16), Jemima (14), Eleanor (12), Fanny (10), Hampton (8), Betsey (6), Henrietta (1).

1830 U.S. Federal Census finds Merritt (47), wife Eleanor (44) and children Hampton (18), Betsey (16), Sarah (14), Henrietta (11), Frances (4), Daniel (?), Eleanor L. (1) still living in Riverhead, New York. Living with them were also a free Colored male (age 10-23) and a free Colored female (age 10-23).

1840 U.S. Federal Census finds Merritt ((57) living with his wife Eleanor (54) and children Hampton (28), Betsey (26), Daniel (15-19), Frances (15), Eleanor L. (11). Also living in the home is a free Colored female (age 10-23). Three people in the household were employed in Agriculture.

  • *Up until 1850 in the US Federal Census records children are just listed by age. I am guessing at which children are still living with them during these census years based on their ages and the dates I have for their marriages and probably moving out of the home. If you know of any errors in my estimations above, please let me know so I may correct these errors.

1850 U.S. Federal Census reported on 5 September shows Merritt (66) still living in Riverhead with his wife Eleanor (63) along with Elbert Howell (6) and Priscilla White (12). I wonder if Elbert and Priscilla are grandchildren?? Merritt has listed his occupation as a Farmer and the value of Real Estate owned is listed as 20,000.

1850 September 5th U.S. Census Non-Population Schedules, Agriculture


  • Acres of Land-150 Improved, 850 Unimproved. Cash value of farm 20,000.
  • Value of farming Implements and Machinery-100.
  • Livestock-Horses-2, Milch [cow kept for milking] cows-4, Other cattle-15. Swine-9. Value of Live Stock (1 June 1850)-300.
  • Produce during the year ending 1 June 1850: Wheat, bushels of-50. Rye, bushels of-30. Indian corn, bushels of-250. Oats, bushels of-80. Irish Potatoes, bushel of-100. Butter, lbs. of-200. Hay, tons of-40.
  • Value of Animals slaughtered-60.

Merritt’s wife of 51 years Eleanor would die on 31 October 1854 just three years before he did.

Merritt died 4 December 1857 at the age of 74 in Riverhead, Suffolk County, New York.

I started with the basic of facts about Merritt and was still able by transcribing the information to determine a lot about his life. I have more research to do but this is a good start. Looking at the Census records from 1850 and the neighboring farmers leads me to believe that he had one of the most prosperous farms in the area. Now I would like to find out more about where his farm was and his land purchases that brought him up to 1,000 acres of land with a value of $20,000.

If you have any corrections, additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,


  1. Wow, 1,000 acres worth $20,000. What would that be in today's dollars, I wonder? That’s a very impressive amount of land. Kind of like the Ponderosa on Bonanza huh?

    1. Thanks Diane! I was surprised when I looked at the other farms in the area at the time and saw that his was one of the largest. Now I'm driving around the area and wondering where it was. Yes, I would image like the Ponderosa, lol.

    2. My sister, Beth K. Daqui lives on Halsey Manor Rd in the hamlet of Manorville. It is in Brookhaven town just west of Riverhead township. It is still largely agricultural and not all that developed relatively speaking. It is just to the south of exit 70 on the long island expressway.

    3. Hi Todd. Yes, I know that area well and it's so nice that there is still woodlands and agriculture left.