S.A. Ferrall.

A Ramble of Six Thousand Miles through the United States of America online

. (page 5 of 15)
Online LibraryS.A. FerrallA Ramble of Six Thousand Miles through the United States of America → online text (page 5 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one of Mr. Owen's sons, seized this opportunity to get the control of part
of the property. Mr. Owen became embarrassed. Harmony was on the point of
being sold by the sheriff - discord prevailed, and co-operation ceased.

Of the many private and public charges brought against Mr. Owen, I shall
only notice one. It is said that he invited people to throw up their
establishments in other parts of America, and come to Harmony, conscious
at the same time that the community could not succeed, and, indeed, not
caring much about its success, having ultimately in view the increase of
the value of his purchase, by collecting a number of persons together, and
thus making a town - a common speculation in America. Whether these were
his intentions or not, it is impossible for any man to assert or deny; but
the fact is no less true, that such has been the result, and that the
purchase has been increased in value by the failure of the community, so
that _ultimately_ he is not likely to lose anything by the experiment. As
to Mr. Owen's statements in public, "that he had been informed that the
people of America were capable of governing themselves, and that he tried
the experiment, and found they were not so," - and that "the place having
been purchased, it was necessary to get persons to occupy it." These
constitute but an imperfect excuse for having induced the separation of
families, caused many thriving establishments to be broken up, and even
the ruin of some few individuals, who, although their capital was but
small, yet having thrown it all into the common stock, when the community
failed, found themselves in a state of complete destitution. These
persons, then, forgetting the "doctrine of circumstances," and everything
but the result, and the promises of Mr. Owen, censured him in no measured
language, and cannot be convinced of the purity of his intentions in
_that_ affair. Indeed, they have always at hand such a multiplicity of
facts to prove that Mr. Owen himself mainly contributed to the failure,
that one must be blinded by that partiality which so known a
philanthropist necessarily inspires, not to be convinced that, however
competent he may be to preach the doctrines of co-operation, he is
totally incompetent to carry them into effect.

But Mr. Owen has also declared in public that "the New Harmony experiment
succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations." Now what may be his
peculiar notions of success, the public are totally ignorant, as he did
not think fit to furnish any explanation; but this the public do know,
that between the former and the latter statement there is a slight

Some of Mr. Owen's friends _in London_ say, that every thing went on well
at Harmony until he gave up the management - that is, that he governed the
community for the first few weeks, the short period of its prosperity, and
that it declined only from the time of his ceding the dictatorship. Now
Mr. Owen _himself_ says, that he only interfered when he observed they
were going wrong; implying that he did not interfere in the commencement,
but did so subsequently. These are contradictions which would require a
good deal of mystification to reconcile in appearance. All the
communicants whom I met in America, although they differed on almost every
other point, yet agreed on this, - that Mr. Owen interfered from first to
last during his stay at Harmony, and that at the time when he first
quitted it nothing but discord prevailed.

Very little experience of a residence in the backwoods convinced Mr. Owen
that he was not in the situation most consonant with his feelings. He had
been, when in Europe, surrounded by people who regarded him as an oracle,
and received his _ipse dixit_ as a sufficient solution for every
difficulty. His situation at Harmony was very different; for most of the
persons who came there had been accustomed to exercise their judgment in
matters of practice, and this Mr. Owen is said not to have been able to
endure. He would either evade, or refuse, answering direct questions,
which naturally made men so accustomed to independence as the Americans
are, indignant. The usual answer he gave to any presuming disciple who
ventured to request an explanation, was, that "his young friend" was in a
total state of ignorance, and that he should therefore attend the lectures
more constantly for the future. There is this peculiarity respecting the
philosophy propounded by Mr. Owen, which is, that after a pupil has been
attending his lectures for eighteen months, he (Mr. Owen) declares that
the said pupil knows nothing at all about his system. This certainly
argues a defect either in matter or manner.

His followers appear not to be aware of the fact, that Mr. Owen has not
originated a single new idea in his whole book, but has simply put forward
the notions of Rousseau, Voltaire, Condorcet, Plato, Sir Thomas More, &c.,
in other language. His merit consists in this, and no small merit it is,
that he has collated the ideas of these philosophers - arranged them in a
tangible shape, and has devoted time and money to assist their

I find on one of his cards, printed for distribution, the following
axioms, in the shape of queries, set forth as being _his_ doctrine, - not
the doctrine which _he advocates_.

"Does it depend upon man to be born of such and such parents?

"Can he choose to take, or not to take, the opinions of his parents and

"If born of Pagan or Mahometan parents, was it in his power to become a

These positions are laid down by Rousseau, in many passages of his works;
but as one quotation will be sufficient to establish my assertion, I shall
not trouble myself to look for others. He says, in his "Lettre à M. de
Beaumont," p. 124, "A l'égard des objections sur les sectes particuliéres
dans lesquelles l'universe est divisé, que ne puis-je leur donnez assez de
force pour rendre chacun moins entêté de la sienne et moins ennemi des
autres; pour porter chacque homme à l'indulgence, à la douceur, par cette
consideration si frappante et si naturelle; que s'il fut né dans un autre
pays, dans une autre secte il prendrait infailliblement pour l'erreur ce
qu'il prends pour la verité, et pour la verité, ce qu'il prends pour

None but a man whose mind had been warped by the too constant
contemplation of one particular subject, as Mr. Owen's mind has been
warped by the eternal consideration of the Utopian republic, could suppose
the practicability of carrying those plans into full effect during the
existence of the present generation. He himself, whilst preaching to his
handful of disciples the doctrine of perfect equality, is acting on quite
different principles; and he has his new lecture-room divided into
compartments separating the classes in society - thus proving that even his
few followers are unprepared for such a change as he wishes to introduce
into society, and that he finds the necessity of temporising even with

Another proof of the variance there is between the theory and the practice
of Mr. Owen, may be found in the constitution of his new community. The
first article says, that, "An annual subscription paid, of not less than
one pound, constitutes _a member_, who is entitled to attend and _vote_ at
all public meetings of the association." These may be termed the
twenty-shilling freeholders of the community.[4] Then follow the other
grades and conditions. A donation of one hundred pounds, constitutes _a
visitor_ for life: a donation of five hundred pounds, _a vice-president_
for life: and a donation of one thousand pounds, _a president_, who, "in
addition to the last-mentioned privileges," will enjoy many others of a
valuable nature.

King James sold two hundred baronetcies of the United Kingdom, for one
thousand pounds each; and Mr. Owen offers an unlimited number of
presidentships in his incipient Utopia on the same advantageous terms. I
by no means dispute that the distinction Mr. Owen will confer on his
purchasers may be quite as valuable, in his eyes and those of his
disciples, as that conferred by King James; yet I cannot help suspecting,
despite of the insatiable yearning the aristocracy have after
vain-glorious titles, that few of them will come forward as candidates for
his Utopian honours.


[4] Since writing the above, I find that the constitution has already
undergone an essential change; but Mr. Owen appears to entertain views of
reformation very different indeed from our present Whig administration,
for he has actually placed both _members_ and _visitors_ in schedule (A)
of _his_ reform bill, and at one fell swoop has deprived this most
deserving class of all political existence. None but vice-presidents and
presidents have now the power of voting.


Having remained about a fortnight at Harmony, we made the necessary
arrangements, and, accompanied by B - - , set out for St. Louis, in
Missouri. We crossed the Wabash into Illinois, and proceeded to Albion,
the settlement made by the late Mr. Birkbeck.

Albion is at present a small insignificant town surrounded by prairies, on
which there are several handsome farms. Messrs. Birkbeck and Flowers
purchased large tracts of land in this neighbourhood, for the purpose of
re-selling or letting it to English or other emigrants. These two
gentlemen were of the class called in England, "gentlemen farmers," and
brought with them from that country very large capitals; a considerable
portion of which, in addition to the money laid out on purchase, they
expended on improvements. They are both now dead - their property has
entirely passed into other hands, and the members of their families who
still remain in this country are in comparative indigence.

The most inveterate hostility was manifested by the backwoods people
towards those settlers, and the series of outrages and annoyances to which
they were exposed, contributed not a little to shorten their days. It at
length became notorious that neither Birkbeck nor Flowers could obtain
redress for any grievance whatever, unless by appealing to the superior
courts, - as both the magistrates and jurors were exclusively of the class
of the offenders; and the "Supreme Court of the United States" declared,
that the verdicts of the juries, and the decisions of the magistrates
were, in many cases, so much at variance with the evidences, that they
were disgraceful to the country. A son of the latter gentleman, a lad
about fourteen years old, was killed in open day whilst walking in his
father's garden, by a blow of an axe handle, which was flung at him across
the fence. The evidence was clear against the murderer, and yet he was
acquitted. Whilst I was at Vandalia, I saw in a list of lands for sale,
amongst other lots to be sold for taxes, one of Mr. Flowers'. The fate of
these gentlemen and their families should be a sufficient warning to
persons of their class in England, not to attempt settling _in the
backwoods_; or if they have that idea, to leave aside altogether refined
notions, and never to bring with them either the feelings or the habits of
a _gentleman farmer_. The whole secret and cause of this _guerre à mort_,
declared by the backwoodsmen against Messrs. Birkbeck and Flowers, was,
that when they first settled upon the prairies, they attempted to act the
_patron_ and the _benefactor_, and considered themselves _entitled_ to
some respect. Now a west-country American would rather die like a cock on
a dunghill, than be patronized after the English fashion; he is not
accustomed to receive benefactions, and cannot conceive that any man would
voluntarily confer favours on him, without expecting something in return,
either in the shape of labour, or goods; - and as to respect, that has
totally disappeared from his code since "the Declaration."

Mr. Birkbeck was called "Emperor of the Prairies;" and notwithstanding the
hostility of his neighbours, he seems to have been much respected in the
other parts of Illinois, as he was chosen secretary of state; and in that
character he died, in 1825. He at last devoted himself entirely to gaining
political influence, seeing that it was the duty of every man in a free
country to be a politician, and that he who "takes no interest in
political affairs," must be a bad man, or must want capacity to act in the
common occurrences of life.

From Albion we proceeded towards the Little Wabash; but had not got many
miles from that town, when an accident occurred which delayed us some
time. We were driving along through a wood of scrub-oak, or barren, when
our carriage, coming in contact with a stump that lay concealed beneath
high grass, was pitched into a rut - it was upset - and before we could
recover ourselves, away went the horse dashing through the wood, leaving
the hind wheels and body of the vehicle behind. He took the path we had
passed over, and fortunately halted at the next corn-field. We repaired
the damage in a temporary manner, and again set forward.

After having crossed the Little Wabash, we had to pass through three miles
of swamp frequently above our ancles in the mire, for the horse could
scarcely drag the empty waggon. We at length came out on "Hardgrove's
prairie." The prospect which here presented itself was extremely
gratifying to our eyes. Since I had left the little prairie in the
Wyandot reserve, I had been buried in eternal forests; and,
notwithstanding all the efforts one may make to rally one's spirits, still
the heart of a European sickens at the sameness of the scene, and he
cannot get rid of the idea of imprisonment, where the visible horizon is
never more distant than five or six hundred yards. Yet this is the delight
of an Indian or a backwoodsman, and the gloomy ferocity that characterizes
these people is evidently engendered by the surrounding scenery, and may
be considered as indigenous to the forest. Hardgrove's is perhaps the
handsomest prairie in Illinois - before us lay a rich green undulating
meadow, and on either side, clusters of trees, interspersed through this
vast plain in beautiful irregularity - the waving of the high grass, and
the distant groves rearing their heads just above the horizontal line,
like the first glimpse of land to the weary navigator, formed a
combination of ideas peculiar to the scene which lay before us.

With the exception of one or two miles of wood, occasionally, the whole of
our journey through Illinois lay over prairie ground, and the roads were
so level, that without any extraordinary exertion on the part of our
horse, he carried us from thirty to forty miles a day.

We next crossed the "grand prairie," passing over the Indian trace.
Although this is by no means so picturesque as Hardgrove's, yet the
boundless prospect that is presented on first entering this prairie is far
the more sublime - the ideas expand, and the imagination is carried far
beyond the limits of the eye. We saw some deer scouring the plains, and
several "prairie wolves" skulking in the high grass - this animal is
sometimes destructive to sheep. The size is about that of our fox. Most
farmers keep three or four hounds, which are trained to combat the wolf.
The training is thus - a dead wolf is first shewn to a young dog, when he
is set on to tear it; the next process is to muzzle a live wolf, and tie
him to a stake, when the dog of course kills him; the last is, setting the
dog on an unmuzzled wolf, which has been tied to a stake, with his legs
shackled. The dog being thus accustomed to be always the victor, never
fails to attack and kill the prairie wolf whenever he meets him.

Within thirteen miles of Carlisle, we stopped at an inn, a solitary
establishment, the nearest habitation being more than six miles distant.
The landlord, Mr. Elliot, told us that he was unable to accommodate us
with beds, as his house was already quite full; but that if we could
dispense with beds, he would provide us with every thing else. Having no
alternative, we of course acceded to his proposal. There was then holding
at his house what is termed an "inn fair," or the day after the wedding.
The marriage takes place at the house of the bride's father, and the day
following a party is given by the bridegroom, when he takes home his wife.
The people here assembled had an extremely healthy appearance, and some
of the girls were decidedly handsome, having, with fine florid
complexions, regular features and good teeth. The landlord and his sons
were very civil, as indeed were all the company there assembled.

A great many respectable English yeomen have at different periods settled
in Illinois, which has contributed not a little to improve the state of
society; for the inhabitants of these prairies, generally speaking, are
much more agreeable than those of most other parts of the western country.

When the night was tolerably far advanced, the decks were cleared, and
three feather beds were placed _seriatem_ on the floor, on which a general
scramble took place for berths - we wrapped ourselves in our cloaks, and
lay seventeen in a bed until morning, when we arose, and went out to "have
a wash." The practice at all inns and boarding-houses throughout the
western country, excepting at those in the more considerable towns, is to
perform ablutions gregariously, under one of the porches, either before or
behind the house - thus attendance is avoided, and the interior is kept
free from all manner of pollutions.

An abundance of good stone-coal is found all through this state, of which
I saw several specimens. Were it not for this circumstance, the difficulty
of procuring wood for fuel and fencing, would more than counterbalance the
advantages, in other respects, presented to settlers on the prairies.

The average crops of Indian corn are about fifty bushels per acre, which
when planted, they seldom plough or hoe more than once. In the bottom
lands of Indiana and Ohio, from seventy to eighty bushels per acre is
commonly produced, but with twice the quantity of labour and attention,
independent of the trouble of clearing. There are two denominations of
prairie: the upland, and the river or bottom prairie; the latter is more
fertile than the former, having a greater body of alluvion, yet there are
many of the upland prairies extremely rich, particularly those in the
neighbourhood of the Wabash. The depth of the vegetable soil on some of
those plains, has been found frequently to be from eighteen to twenty
feet, but the ordinary depth is more commonly under five. The upland
prairies are much more extensive than the river prairies, and are
invariably free from intermittent fever - an exemption, which to emigrants
must be of the utmost importance.

Previous to our leaving Elliott's inn, we witnessed a chase of two wolves,
which had the boldness to come to the sheep-pens close to the house.
Unfortunately the dogs were not at hand, and the wolves escaped among the
high grass. Mr. Elliott positively refused accepting of any compensation
in lieu of our supper and lodging: he said he considered our lodging a
thing not to be spoken of; and as to our supper - which by-the-by was a
capital one - he had invited us to that. We merely paid for the horse,
thanked him for his hospitality, and departed. During our journey through
Indiana we had invariably to use persuasion, in order to induce the
farmers to take money for either milk or fruit; and whenever we stayed at
a farm-house, we never paid more than what appeared to be barely
sufficient to cover the actual cost of what we consumed.

At Carlisle, a village containing about a dozen houses, we got our vehicle
repaired. We required a new shaft: the smith walked deliberately out - cast
his eye on a rail of the fence close by, and in half an hour he had
finished a capital shaft of white oak.

The next town we came to was Lebanon, and we determined on staying there
that evening, in order to witness a revival. They have no regular places
of worship on the prairies, and the inhabitants are therefore subject to
the incursions of itinerant preachers, who migrate annually, in swarms,
from the more thickly settled districts. There appeared to be a great
lack of zeal among the denizens of Lebanon, as notwithstanding the
energetic exhortations of the preachers, and their fulminating
denunciations against backsliders, they failed in exciting much
enthusiasm. The meeting ended, as is customary on such occasions, by a
collection for the preachers, who set out on horseback, next morning, to
levy contributions on another body of the natives.

From Lebanon we proceeded across a chain of hills, and came in on a
beautiful plain, called the "American bottom." Some of those hills were
clear to the summit, while others were crowned with rich foliage. Before
us, to the extreme right, were six or seven tumuli, or "Indian mounds;"
and to the left, and immediately in front, lay a handsome wood. From the
hills to the river is about six miles; and this space appears evidently to
have been a lake at some former period, previous to the Mississippi's
flowing through its present deep channel. Several stagnant ponds lay by
our road; sufficient indications of the presence of disease, which this
place has the character of producing in abundance. The beauty of the spot,
and the fertility of the soil, have, notwithstanding, induced several
English families to settle here. Their houses are built of brick, and
their gardens and farms are laid out and fenced tastefully.

After traversing the wood, we at length came in sight of the Mississippi,
which is here about three quarters of a mile broad. There is a steam
ferry-boat stationed at this point, (opposite St. Louis), the construction
of which is rather singular. It is built nearly square, having in the
middle a house containing two spacious apartments, and on each side decks,
on which stand horses, oxen, waggons and carriages of every description.

St. Louis is built on a bluff bank. The _principal_ streets rise one above
the other, running parallel with the river; the houses are mostly built of
stone, the bank being entirely composed of that material, the walls
whitewashed, and the roofs covered with tin: from the opposite side it
presents a very gay appearance. The ascent from the water's edge to the
back of the town is considerable, but regular. The streets intersect each
other at right angles, as do those of most American towns. They are much
too narrow, having been laid down and built on from a plan designed by the
Spanish commandant, previous to the Missouri territory becoming part of
the United States. The population is estimated at six thousand, composed
of Creole-French, Irish, and Americans.

St. Louis must, at some future period, become decidedly the most important
town in the western country, from its local and relative situation. It is
seated on the most favourable point below the mouths of two noble rivers,
the Missouri and the Illinois,[5] having at its back an immense tract of
fertile country, and open and easy communication with the finest parts of
the western and north-western territories. These advantages, added to the
constant and uninterrupted intercourse which it enjoys with the southern
ports, must ultimately make St. Louis a town of wealth and magnitude.

We visited General Clarke's museum, which chiefly contains Indian costumes
and implements of war, with some minerals and fossils, a portion of which
he collected while on the expedition to the Rocky mountains with Lewis;
and also, two sods of good black turf, from the bogs of Allen, in Ireland.
A sight which was quite exhilarating, and reminded me so strongly of the
fine odour which exhales from the products of illicit distillation, that
guagers and potteen, like the phantoms of hallucination, were presenting
themselves continually to my imagination for the remainder of that day.

General Clarke is a tall, robust, grey-headed old man, with beetle-brows,
and uncouthly aspect: his countenance is expressive of anything but
intelligence; and his celebrity is said to have been gained principally by
his having been the _companion_ of Lewis to the Rocky mountains.

The country around St. Louis is principally prairie, and the soil
luxuriant. There are many excellent farms, and some fine herds of cattle,
in the neighbourhood: yet the supply of produce seems to be insufficient,
as considerable quantities are imported annually from Louisville and
Cincinnati. The principal lots of ground in and near the town are at the
disposal of some five or six individuals, who, having thus created a
monopoly, keep up the price. This, added to the little inducement held out

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryS.A. FerrallA Ramble of Six Thousand Miles through the United States of America → online text (page 5 of 15)