The prosperity that Ithaca had experienced in the 1830s declined severely after 1837. Reckless speculation in commodities, securities, and land prompted the Panic of 1837 throughout the nation. Debtors defaulted on loans, businesses failed, banks closed, construction projects stopped, and employers laid off workers--one of them was Ezra Cornell.
When Colonel Beebe sold his milling concerns in 1839 and 1840, Ezra Cornell had to find other ways to make a living. He turned his attention to sheep raising and in agricultural experimentation. He tried setting up a grocery store, and built houses on land he had bought earlier. In 1842, he purchased the patent for the states of Maine and Georgia for Barnaby & Mooers' Double Mold-board plow, a new plow designed in Ithaca. He hoped to make a profit by selling the patent rights to machinists or merchants who would manufacture and sell the plows locally. In the spring of 1842 he left for Maine, and, after several months of traveling and selling there, went on to Georgia. He did not meet with a great deal of success in this business, but made the most of his travels as he passed-often on foot-throughout the counties of Maine and Georgia. He recorded keen observations of the land, the people, and the industries. While not an abolitionist, Ezra Cornell held very strong feelings about slavery. In his letters home during and after his trips through Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, he frequently commented on slavery, the plantation system, and the general backwardness of the area.
During the 1840s, like many other Americans, various members of the Cornell family went west, travelling by steamship to Michigan. They were also tempted by the prospect of gold which had been discovered in California in 1848.
Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave. Written by Himself with an Introduction by Lucius C. Matlack. New York: the Author, 1849.
Rare Book Collection
|While not an abolitionist,
Ezra Cornell held very strong feelings about slavery. In
his letters home during and after his trips through
Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, he commented on
the plantation system and the general backwardness of the
Ezra Cornell to Mary Ann Cornell, August 18,
|Jane Cornell to Mary Ann Cornell.
January 20, 1849.
Autograph letter signed.
On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered on land owned by Johann Augustus Sutter on a branch of the American River in the lower Sacramento Valley of California. The news soon spread, stimulating the great California gold rush. Adventurers came from all over the United States and as far away as Australia and China. By the end of 1849, the population of California had been swelled by 100, 000. The influx of the "Forty-niners" continued for the next two years. The Cornell family was not immune.
|In January 14, 1849, Jane Cornell wrote to Mary Ann
|As early as 1833, members
of the Cornell family became interested in moving west to
the Michigan Territory. Along with Mary Ann's father and
brother, Ezra invested in 340 acres in Calhoun County.
The 1830s were prosperous time in Ithaca, and Ezra and
Mary Ann decided to remain there. Michigan was admitted
to the Union in 1837, and Cornell family members
continued to move there: Martin Wood who was married to
Ezra's sister Phebe, another sister Mary, his younger
brothers, Edward, Daniel, and John, and finally, in 1855,
his father, mother, and youngest sister Jane.
Phebe Cornell to Elijah and Eunice Cornell, April 30, 1849. Autograph letter signed.
|An Account of California and the Wonderful Gold
Regions. Boston: J.B. Hall. ca.1849.
One of a
set of pamphlets collected by Ansel James McCall, a
lawyer from Bath, New York, who went to California during
the gold rush.
|Traveller's Map of the Middle,
Northern, Eastern States and Canada showing all the
Railroad, Stamboat, Canal, and Principal Stage routes. (Collection
New-York: J. Disturnell, 1849