Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

The Humble Beginnings of an American Industrialist

Asa Packer spent his childhood on the Packer Homestead on the west bank of the Mystic River in Mystic, Connecticut. The area was predominately a seafaring village with many of its residents involved in shipping and ship building. When young Asa did not attend the winter district school he helped farm on the family's homestead. As Asa grew up, he apprenticed to work in the tannery of Elias Smith, in North Stonington, Connecticut-just east of the Mystic River. However, Elias Smith died and Asa switched his apprenticeship to Sanford Stark, a carpenter back across the river in Mystic. However, Asa apparently became disinterested in the Mystic area and resolved to move somewhere else. In 1822, at the tender age of 16, Asa Packer left his home in Connecticut and traveled west, where he ended up in the village of Brooklyn, in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. A rather colorful description of Asa’s famous trek is given in, “An Outline of the Career of the Hon. Asa Packer, of Pennsylvania”, which was published by an anonymous author during Asa Packer’s lifetime in 1867. The anonymous biographer describes Packer’s journey from Connecticut, “It was in the year of 1822, when hardly seventeen, that [Asa Packer]…left the home of his youth…to seek a new home in Western wilds. His knapsack contained his sole outfit: with that on his back and few coins in his purse, he bravely journeyed on foot to the township of Brooklyn, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania”. It was here that he was made an apprentice to his cousin Edward Packer, who made his living as a carpenter. Over time, Asa graduated from his apprenticeship and spent a winter in New York City as a carpenter. Packer did not enjoy the atmosphere of the big city and he moved back to Susquehanna County to continue carpentry and farm. On January 23, 1828, Asa married Sarah Minerva Blakslee. Sarah and Asa lived on and worked their land for five years, but they struggled to get ahead financially. In 1833, after hearing about the potentially prosperous prospects of the coal mining and transportation system along the Lehigh River, Asa set off in search of industry.

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