October 1988

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Horace Fowler's Family


Marion Sauerbier

"It is a vast solitude—What a noble forest this is, covering the valleys and its high rounded hills."

It was to such a place that Horace Fowler journeyed from Guilford, Connecticut in 1806. Carrying his ax wrapped in linen cloth on his back, he had moved into the Konhocton wilderness and built a log house on the spot where the municipal building now stands. Although this was not yet a teeming community, the Hookers, Clelands, Hatches, Havens, Woodards and Chamberlains had arrived a short time before and had begun to clear farms and build taverns.

Horace Fowler's first American ancestor, William Fowler, had migrated from Lincoln, England in 1676, settling in Vermont. Horace's father, Eliphalet, had served in the Revolutionary Army and another ancestor, dubbed "the Giant of America," had captured a five hundred pound shark, shouldered it and carried it alive to shore.

After coming to Cohocton, Horace married Martha Howe who was born in Vernon, Vermont, May, 1787, and had moved to Prattsburgh, New York, in 1807 with her widowed mother. She was a devout churchgoer and the granddaughter of Jemima Howe who had been captured by the Indians.

Their small log cabin was the meeting place for many Sunday worship services and it was Horace who donated the land for the Congregational Church which sat on land now owned by Thomas Crosby. The church was dedicated February 3, 1830. From this church, later, the First Presbyterian Church was formed. Horace acquired the title of Deacon in 1816 and history tells of his serving as a trustee with Constance Cook.

There were three children born of the first marriage: Orson Squire was born October 11, 1809. In Orson Fowler's book, Science of Life, (page 776) he tells, "I was the first one born in the town of my nativity, of as godly a Congregationalist deacon, and as devotedly pious a mother, as ever lived." Perhaps Orson was speaking of the hamlet of Liberty (now Cohocton) rather than the town, as local history states that the first white child was Bethuel Hooker, born in 1800.

Lorenzo Niles Fowler was born June 23, 1811, followed by a sister, Charlotte, born August 14, 1814. Records mention a Theron Field, born December 1, 1812, but there is no further record of him.

Their mother, Martha died August 13, 1819, when Orson was not quite ten years old. Horace married Mary Taylor of Heath, Massachusetts, a grand niece of that Mrs. Phillips of Maryland whose daughter was the first sweetheart of George Washington. Mary Taylor was well educated, a school teacher and knowledgeable in the pioneer arts.

There were three more children from the second marriage who were also born in Cohocton: Samuel Theron, 1821; Almira, May 26, 1829?; and Edward Payson, November 1834. Mary Taylor Fowler died May 10, 1835. Horace was not one to live alone and in October he married again, this time to Susan Howe, a sister of his first wife.

All six children of Horace Fowler would eagerly grasp the reforms of the day and carry them to such lengths as to leave their own mark in many writings and in the history of the 19th century. Although the formal education of Horace Fowler had lasted only six weeks, his offspring were to go on to obtain an education comparable to the very best of the era.

This was no ordinary family, for if you consider that period, a son seldom received very much formal education and was expected to step into the farm work along with his father as soon as he was old enough.

Not so with the Fowlers. After leaving the local school, Orson attended the Ashland Academy. In 1827 when he was seventeen he left home with four dollars in his pocket and all his possessions on his back for a four hundred mile walk to Heath, Massachusetts. Here he studied under the Rev. Moses Miller, pastor of the First Congregational Church, then under Rev. Benjamin Clarke at Buckland, Massachusetts. In 1829 he entered Amherst College, working at sawing wood and odd jobs to earn his board and tuition.

It was while at Amherst that he and his friend, Henry Ward Beecher, attended a lecture in Boston and heard a talk on Phrenology given by an Austrian, Dr. Johann Spurzheim. Orson and Beecher became so enamored with the new science that they immediately found all they could on the subject and were soon reading the heads of their classmates.

When Lorenzo was seventeen, he left home to go to the Academy at Dansville. He also worked part of the time to pay his board and tuition. He enjoyed the tutoring and friendship of Rev. Hubbard of Dansville.

From Dansville he went to an academy in Heath, Massachusetts, and from there to Hadley. In 1831 he entered Amherst Seminary and like his older brother, Orson, began to prepare himself for the ministry.

Charlotte attended the academy at Prattsburgh and then in 1835 joined her two brothers in New York City where she learned to read character and was a pillar of strength through the first difficult years when they were establishing the Phrenological Journal.

Meanwhile, at the age of 54 and with his pioneer spirit still young, Horace, Susan, and the three younger children moved to Jackson, Michigan. Records show the family residing in Hanover, Michigan, a few years later.

The younger Fowlers busily furthered their own education and helped their half brothers and sister promote the science of phrenology. Phrenology was based on the idea that the brain was the organ of the mind and that its growth shaped the skull. By close examination of the contours of the head a person could learn the characteristics of its contents.

The Fowlers saw in this new science hope for the oppressed. The fatalistic attitudes of the day were questioned. Phrenologists preached that by knowing your weaknesses through phrenology, all could be cured by simple rules and practices. Everything in the human body was made for one reason and this was happiness. Only when the mind and body were not used in the way the Creator intended would a person find suffering. The remedy of all ills, of course, began with a phrenological reading of a person's head to discover which faculties of the brain should be exercised and which should be subdued.

The Fowlers and their companion phrenologists travelled around the country on tours, lecturing and examining heads. For many years they had offices in New York and at different times in Boston and Philadelphia where they gave talks and consultations. From their office in New York were sent books and periodicals, that they published, to places in all parts of this country and much of the world. Among their supporters were many of the leading thinkers and writers of the time: Horace Mann, Horace Greeley, Walt Whitman, Ralph W. Emerson.

But the Fowlers were not only phrenologists, but also adherents of many of the causes and reform movements of their time. They were vegetarians, they ate Mr. Graham's coarse flour, advocated deep breathing and the water cure, they opposed tobacco, alcohol, medical drugs and tight lacing. Among their reform-minded friends were: Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elisabeth C. Stanton, and Clara Barton. They even advocated the 40 hour week. Orson Fowler promoted houses that could be built cheaply but would be durable and convenient, and he wrote books on choosing a mate and rearing children.

But times changed and phrenology lost its appeal. The Fowler name faded, even in the memories of the Cohocton people. Eventually, however, interest was reborn and the work of the Fowlers was remembered, and in 1966 Cohocton again celebrated the Fowlers in the first annual Fall Foliage Festival.

© 1988, Marion Sauerbier
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