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A TOUR

THROUGH INDIANA

IN 1840




JOHN PARSON/
From a daguerreotype



A TOUR

THROUGH INDIANA

IN 1840



The Diary of John Parsons
of Petersburg, Virginia



Edited by

KATE MILNER RABB




NEW YORK
ROBERT M. McBRIDE & CO.

1920



Copyright, 1920, by
ROBERT M. McBwDE <S- Co.



Printed in the
United States of America



Published, June, 1920



INTRODUCTORY NOTE

JOHN PARSONS graduated from the University of
Virginia in 1839 and began the study of the law.
Not finding the profession to his taste, however, he
made a tour of Indiana in the spring of 1840, with
the intention of visiting a cousin, who had gone
there three years before, and of purchasing land and
settling there if he found conditions to his liking in
"the Wabash country." He was 23 years old at
the time, handsome, intelligent, a keen observer and
possessed of a charming personality.

The time of his journey is one of unusual interest,
being the year of the Harrison campaign, the be-
ginning of our modern presidential campaigns.
That it was a time when the traveler used the stage
coach, the canal boat, the steamboat, the horse's
back, to say nothing of an occasional day's journey
on the latest novelty in transportation, the railroad,
gives variety and interest to his travels.

Carrying some letters of introduction from East-
ern friends, he gained entry into what were known
as "the most respectable families" of the various
Indiana towns he visited, and his observations on
family life, as well as on the country, are of suf-
ficient interest and value to warrant their publica-
tion.



Special thanks are' due to Mr. Lee Burns of
Indianapolis for the selection and preparation of
the pictures in this volume, and to the Indiana
State Library for the use of the Play Bill, the
Harrison campaign poster and for other courtesies.

EDITOR.



THE ILLUSTRATIONS

JOHN PARSONS . >. . > >. . ... Frontispiece

Facing
Page

A STAGE COACH ON THE NATIONAL ROAD .... 10

AN OHIO RIVER STEAMBOAT 28

THE RIVER FRONT, CINCINNATI, IN 1840 .... 34

THE EGGLESTON HOMESTEAD, VEVAY 52

AN OLD HOUSE AT MADISON ....... 60

TOMBSTONE OF JESSE VAWTER .... . . . 70

THE TUNNEL MILL AT VERNON ...... 84

ANNOUNCEMENT OF TIPPECANOE RALLY, 1840 . . 88

AN OLD HOUSE NEAR CENTERVILLE 136

THE GOVERNOR'S HOUSE, INDIANAPOLIS, IN 1840 . 178

A PIONEER'S CABIN IN 1840 ....... . 226

A VINCENNES PLAY BILL OF 1839 340

ST. FRANCIS XAVIER'S CATHEDRAL, VINCENNES . . 352

THE OLD STATE CAPITOL AT CORYDON 358

VIEW OF NEW ALBANY IN 1840 ,. 364



CHAPTER I

MAY 9, 1840.

1WILL seize the opportunity offered for an hour
or so of quiet while our steamboat lies at the
landing of the city of Wheeling, to chronicle the
account of my happenings since starting on my
journey, an act impossible on the long way by stage
coach.

Having decided on my trip to the Western coun-
try I made a careful study of "The Western
Tourist or Emigrant's Guide Through the States of
Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Missouri and the Terri-
tories of Wisconsin and Iowa," a book published
only last year by J. H. Colton of New York, which
purports to give a concise and accurate description
of each state with principal stage routes, canals,
railroads, etc., together with much other informa-
tion gathered from the letters of my cousin
Jonathan Parsons, who went three years ago to the
Wabash country and whom it is my intention to
visit.

I left Petersburg, Virginia, for Richmond by rail
the morning of May 3, 1840. My father accom-
panied me to the railroad depot in the family chariot
driven by old Uncle Peter and, "wise and grave
man" that he is, occupied the time, like the elder
Crusoe, in giving me "serious and excellent coun-

l



2 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

sel" as to the conduct of one, like Robinson, of
"a wandering inclination" though hitherto un-
traveled.

My mother, after some tears shed when the part-
ing was imminent, troubled herself over a luncheon
she would have me pack in my carpet bag. This I
refused, however, having secretly determined to
dine in state at the Powhatan House in Richmond,
whose beautiful situation on the hill fronting the
capitol I had frequently admired on my visits to
that city.

Here I would willingly have lingered had the
journey planned been a briefer one; as it was, I
took the railroad again, and in due time arrived in
Fredericksburg. This method of traveling, a new
one to me, is in the main very pleasant, but the
rumbling, tremulous motion of the cars is not very
agreeable, and after the novelty has worn off, the
pleasure of it is much diminished by the fumes of
the oil, the hissing of the steam, and the scorching
of the cinders which are falling all around you.
Neither is it a very rapid method of traveling, for
I noted that we did not go beyond seven or eight
miles an hour.

It was therefore with a sensation of pleasure that
I left the railroad at Fredericksburg to enter the
stage coach, which was to take me nine hilly miles
to Potomac Creek, where I found the steamboat.
This last is a most excellent method of travel when
the boat is, as was this, spacious, rapid and very
clean. This part of my journey was made by night,
and being very weary, it seemed that I was only



A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 3

through my first nap when Peter knocked at my
door to announce that we had arrived at Washing-
ton and that it was time to arise.

I tarried in this city only long enough for a meal
at that miserable caravansary, Gadsby's, as I had
viewed the city only last autumn, when a guest at
the reception of the lovely Mrs. Van Buren, wife
of the President's nephew, when, just home from
Europe, she assumed her place as mistress of the
White House. I had known her as the beautiful
Augusta Singleton of South Carolina, and with all
the sweet graciousness of her girlhood and alto-
gether unspoiled by her position as first lady of the
land, she welcomed me to the White House, so ex-
travagantly refurnished by the President, an ex-
travagance which I surmise will be dwelt on at
length by our Whig orators in the months to
come.

Into a wretched, dirty omnibus at Gadsby's, with
my carpet bags tossed carelessly about by the hire-
ling, and off again to the railroad depot, where I
took the train to Baltimore, forty miles in two
hours. Here I stopped at Barnum's Hotel, a matter
for rejoicing, for if there is a hotel keeper in the
United States who merits the commendation of the
traveler, it is the host of this tavern. His neat
private parlors and bedrooms, his quiet house, his
obliging attendants leave nothing to be desired, and
when I think of his excellent table, the canvas-back
ducks, the soft shell crabs anticipation can never
come up with the reality.

It is hard to realize that 100 years ago the land



4 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

on which this populous city stands was covered with
wide-spreading forests. 1

How different a scene must that have been from
the one which met my eye on that never-to-be-for-
gotten day of my stay here, a scene well worth the
effort of my journey, had it terminated here. For
this very day had been chosen by the young Whigs
for their national convention 2 partly no doubt be-
cause they hoped thus at the outset to discourage
the Democrats who were holding their national con-
vention in Baltimore at the same time.

From The Baltimore Patriot I copy a few lines
descriptive of the day and far more eloquent than
words my pen could inscribe.

Never before was seen such an assemblage of the people,
in whose persons are concentrated the sovereignty of the
government. . . . The excitement, the joy, the enthusiasm
which everywhere prevailed, lighting up the countenance
of every man in the procession; the shouts, the applause,
the cheers of those who filled the sidewalks and crowded
the windows; the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies;
the responsive cries of the people; the flaunting banners;
the martial music; the loud roar at intervals of the deep-
mouthed cannon. ... In no country, in no time, never be-
fore in the history of man, was there a spectacle so full of
natural glory. . . . Standing on an eminence commanding
a view of the line of the procession in the whole extent of
Baltimore Street, you beheld a moving mass of human be-
ings. A thousand banners burnished by the sun, floating
on the breeze, 10,000 handkerchiefs waved by the fair

1 The census of 1841, the year after this, gives the population of
Baltimore as 102,313. Editor.

* William Henry Harrison of Ohio had been nominated for Presi-
dent, and John Tyler for Vice- President, at the Whig national con-
vention, held in Harrisburg, Pa., Dec. 4, 1839. Editor,



A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 5

daughters of the city, gave seeming life and motion to the
very air. A hundred thousand faces were before you, age,
manhood, youth and beauty, filled every place where a foot-
hold could be got or any portion of the procession be seen.
. . . The free men of the land were there, the fiery son of
the South, the substantial citizen of the East, the hardy
pioneer of the West, were all there. It was the epitome
of a great nation.

It was really a great and inspiring sight, with its
lines of marching men, its log cabins drawn by
many horses, its banners predicting the fall of Little
Van and the rise of the "Log Cabin" candidate. I
had not guessed that so much enthusiasm could
have been aroused over a comparatively unknown
candidate, a backwoodsman, as we of the East are
accustomed to speak of him. For my father was a
follower of Henry Clay, and while, with a mag-
nanimity which bespoke the hero, this truly great
man had pushed aside the kingly crown, my father
with many others felt that he truly deserved and
should have had the nomination.

There was much in what was said in the publica-
tions of the time anent the Democratic convention 3
held on this same day to give a thoughtful man
pause.

One party, the Whig, said they, on this day cast
reason aside. The other, the Democratic, a digni-
fied, deliberative body, regularly formed, met
quietly, and broadly and plainly stated its principles
and submitted them to the consideration of the peo-

8 At the Democratic national convention held in Baltimore on
May 4, 1840, Martin Van Buren was nominated for President, and
Richard M. Johnson for Vice-President. Editor.



6 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

pie, made no inflammatory appeals, held no parades
of unmeaning contrivances, resorted to no clatter of
barrels and tin cups. The one but I anticipate, for
a part of this was really in a discussion held in the
stage coach which I will transcribe in due season.

Rejoicing that I found myself in the city on this
occasion, but realizing that I must push on, I took
my seat that same evening on the cars of the B. & 0.
and Patapsco River Railroad. These cars were
drawn by horses for the distance of one mile, the
jangling bells on their harness a strange contrast to
the puffing steam engine for which they were then
exchanged. This railroad follows the winding bank
of the Patapsco, a noble stream at Baltimore, capa-
ble of floating any vessels that come to its wharves,
but before coming, to Frederick it loses its impor-
tance and dwindles to the size of a fishing creek.
The river channel runs through a narrow valley
with imposing precipices along the entire course,
hence the railroad is constructed on the banks to
avoid making deep cuts and in this way increases
the distance between the two towns from forty-five
to sixty miles.

Some miles out from Baltimore stands Ellicott's
Mills, a place famous in a prosaic way for manufac-
turing flour, still more famous for its wild and pic-
turesque scenery. The bed of the river is rocky,
the shore steep and wild. During the hot weather
this is a favorite resort of the citizens of Baltimore.

On an eminence overlooking the village, stands
the Female Seminary of Mrs. Lincoln Phelps. This
was known to me by reputation, my cousin Lucy



A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 7

having once been a pupil here, so that I had heard
of Mrs. Phelps's high literary reputation as well as
her signal success as a teacher of youth in those
moral and domestic virtues which sweeten and
purify life, and render woman a blessing and an
ornament to society, and I looked forth from the
car window with some curiosity. There I beheld a
group of females apparently bidding farewell to one
of their number, no doubt a pupil of the school, since
they were accompanied by an elderly female, with-
out doubt an instructress in the institute. The
young women kissed their young companion and
wept profusely, alternately wiping their eyes and
waving their hands as she boarded the train and
took her seat, unfortunately for me, in the rear of
the coach, where I had not the opportunity to
further observe her.

She was soon forgot, however, in my observations
on the landscape, whose private and public edifices
alike showed no particular taste in architecture, be-
ing marked by variety without uniformity. Fred-
erick, Md., our next stop, is a rich and populous city,
second in the state, but I had little opportunity to
observe it while transferring myself and my bag-
gage to the stage, glad of the change of vehicle.

I was the first of the nine passengers to take my
seat in the coach. I had heard much of the splendor
of these coaches on the Cumberland road, and this
one did not fall below my expectations. Indeed, I
was afterwards told that chance had sent me to
one of the most beautiful coaches of the famous
"Good Intent " line. It was painted in brilliant



8 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

colors, its gilded panels ornamented with a picture
of the great Lafayette, whose name it bore, and the
interior was lined with soft silk plush. Both drivers
and line were famous. One of these drivers, Peter
Burdine by name, had once made a rhyme sung all
along the pike :

If you take a seat in Stockton 's line,

You are sure to be passed by Pete Burdine,

Stockton being the proprietor of the rival line of
coaches known as the ' ' June Bug. ' '

There were three seats in the vehicle, each seat-
ing three passengers, so the capacity of the coach
was nine, with an extra seat beside the driver.

Scarcely was I seated before a second passenger
arrived and took her place in the opposite corner
of the rear seat which I had taken, a young female
whom I instantly recognized by her mantle, a long
circular cloak of rich brown satin embellished with
black velvet, completely enveloping her form, as the
pupil of Mrs. Phelps, who had taken the railroad
train at Ellicott's Mills. She, too, was evidently
westward bound. Her leghorn bonnet, encircled by
an elegant plume, shaded her face, and her jetty
eyelashes veiled her dark blue eyes, of whose melt-
ing luster I caught the most fleeting glimpse, and lay
upon her cheek, now mantling with the blush of
modesty at the sight of the stranger with whom she
must perforce sit alone.

Not for long, however. Speedily our future
traveling companions gathered, the first evidently a
minister of the Methodist denomination, a circuit



A TOUE THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 9

rider bound for the "West, his baggage a pair of
saddlebags, which he threw carelessly under his
seat; the second, a rather handsome gentleman,
from his manner a politician, and, like myself, from
the South; and next, a man in Quaker dress and, to
judge from his bearing and the authority of his
speech, one high in their councils, and no doubt
bound on a mission of importance. The others were
uninteresting specimens of humanity for whom a
glance sufficed, though for these principals I have
just named I determined to learn, like the chroni-
cler of the Canterbury pilgrimage, "which they
weren and of what degre," before our "journey's
ende."

The coach full, off we started, going at a great
rate, past the beautiful and fertile valleys that lay
between Frederick and Hagerstown and on to Han-
cock, where the country is very broken and the hills
very high. Six miles from Hancock is the base of
the Cumberland Mountain, w r hose ascent we im-
mediately began and which continued for more than
three miles. It was a stupendous * sight, as we
mounted higher and higher, the fleecy clouds over
our heads and far, far below the little brook, now
only a thread. Each held his breath, marveling at
the spectacle; doubtless each mused on the thought
of how frail the bond between him and eternity, to
which a false step, the stumble of a horse, the break-
ing of a trace, would consign us. The parson voiced
our thoughts. "Give glory to God," he ejaculated.
' ' Give glory to God for His infinite goodness, to Him
who has shown us in this spot how frail is man,



10 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

and how we are indeed held in the hollow of His
hand. Amen ! ' '

The hilltop reached without the least slackening
of speed, down, down the next incline we raced, each
no doubt inwardly wondering if the bottom of the
hill would ever be reached in safety though some-
what comforted by the thought that the vehicle was
equipped by a novel device known as a " brake,"
a piece of iron running across the bottom of the
stage and which the driver, by the use of a crank,
could throw against the wheel and thus impede its
velocity. And at the bottom of the hill was waiting
the postilion, an unusual sight, who quickly attached
the two horses he was holding to our four, to make
our next ascent easier.

! From Hancock to Cumberland the road repeated
itself, the forty miles stretching between the two
highest points being filled in with hills and valleys ;
and then came Cumberland, a pretty place of 3,000
inhabitants, where begins the famous Cumberland
Road, commenced by the United States government
thirty or thirty-five years ago, and which almost
every year has been a subject of debate in Congress.
It has been carried through Wheeling, Va., on to
Terre Haute, la. 4 It is macadamized and is indeed
one of the finest roads in the United States, al-
though, from excessive use, it is in many places in
bad repair, in spite of the state act which I was
told was passed in 1828, authorizing the erection of
toll gates for the purpose of collecting toll in order
to make repairs on the roads.

4 In. was the old abbreviation for Indiana.




A STAGE COACH ON THE NATIONAL ROAD
From an old print



We halted, of course, at each of these old round
stone toll houses, most picturesque features of the
landscape. One of the toll gate keepers, I was told,
went by the name of ' ' Gate Bob ' ' to distinguish him
from the other Bobs of the locality.

From Baltimore to Cumberland, the road has also
been finished in the same style, but not so perfect,
by private enterprise.

From Cumberland to a little village called Frost-
burg, from Frostburg to Union, from Union to
Washington, Pa., runs the route, and the account of
the expense, which I will herewith set down for
future reference was as follows :

STAGE COACH PASSAGE

From Baltimore to Frederick $2.00

From Frederick to Hagerstown. 2.00

From Hagerstown to Cumberland. . . . . 5.00

From Cumberland to Uniontown 4.00

From Uniontown to Washington. . . . . . 2.25

From Washington to Wheeling. ...... 2.00

Through fare to the Ohio Eiver. . .$17.25

The scenes and happenings of these two days and
two nights of travel were so varied and numerous
as, at the time, to be confusing, but as I look back
I see them in a series of pictures on my mind. The
broad white highway, winding ribbonlike over moun-
tain top and through valley, with its many stately
stone bridges, its iron mile posts and its great iron
toll gates, and over it the long procession of stage
coaches, like ours, going and coming, heralded by
the winding horn, with picturesque drivers, who, at



12 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

each appointed spot, drew up the horses, threw down
the reins and watched the quick attachment of the
fresh team, and off again at the same high rate of
speed; the great Conestoga wagons of which I had
heard but never seen, long and deep, bending up-
ward at the bottom in front and rear, the lower
broadside painted blue, with a movable board in-
serted above painted red, the covering of white can-
vas, stretched over broad wooden bows, and the
whole heralded by the bells on the high arch over
the horses' backs; the emigrant wagon, whose occu-
pants encamped at night by the roadside; an oc-
casional young man on horseback with a country lass
behind him, on their way to a frolic; "pike boys,"
the aristocracy, who dwelt beside the pike, and coun-
try boys, and now and again a long line of negro
slaves, driven along in couples, fastened to a long
thick rope.

At this last, not, to me, an unfamiliar spectacle,
the Quaker gentleman gave a groan. "How long,
O Lord, how long!"

The Methodist parson scanned his face closely.
"Brother, I have observed that you wear the garb
of the Society of Friends. From your abhorrence of
this lamentable sight I surmise that you are also a
member of the Anti-Slavery Society. It may be that
we travel on the same business, work toward the
same goal. May I inquire your*name?"

"Arnold Buffum," the Quaker responded.

"Then, without doubt you are that Arnold Buf-
fum, organizer of the American Anti-Slavery Soci-



A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 13

ety on the ground of immediate and unconditional
emancipation, bound to Ohio and the West, so I
have heard it rumored, to hold meetings among the
people and to talk of the wrongs and sufferings of
the slave."

"The Heavenly Father has called me to plead
the cause of the oppressed; to speak for the dumb,
and to show forth the cruelty of slavery."

"My name is Louis Hicklin," said the circuit
rider, * ' and on my return to my home near Madison,
I, too, have the intention of traveling over the state
of Indiana organizing anti-slavery societies. It
may be that there our paths will cross."

The Quaker lapsed into silence. I scanned him
curiously, for it was my first sight of one of these
agitators of whom I had heard little good. How-
ever, both he and the circuit rider were decent ap-
pearing men, and, the blacks having been left be-
hind, it seemed prudent to let the subject drop,
particularly in the presence of ladies.

The inns or taverns at which the coach stopped,
that we might take our meals, impressed me
mightily. There were taverns especially for the
wagoners, who patronized them in great numbers,
sometimes as many as thirty six-horse teams being
stabled on one lot for the night, and the assembly
room full of jesting, singing, dancing, drinking
wagoners; the other taverns, "stage houses," as
they were called, were located at intervals of about
twelve miles and were of almost uniform excellence.
One feature of the fare I found a most interesting



14 A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840

novelty, a bread vulgarly called salt-rising, unknown
in the South, most delicious, and which, it is said,
will cure dyspepsia.

One incident connected with the tavern I shall not
forget. After waiting some moments in the as-
sembly room of a tavern not far from Wheeling we
were just obeying the summons to table when I ob-
served that the young female, who had modestly
withdrawn to one side of the room on our entrance
and had now passed into the dining room, had
dropped a small volume she had been perusing. As
I picked it up the title page met my eye, "The
Flower Vase, Containing the Language of Flowers
and Their Poetic Sentiments," and below, in deli-
cate chirography, "To Caroline from Lucy."

I eagerly followed her and put the tiny book in
her hands. She thanked me almost inaudibly and
turned away to her chair, and somewhat chagrined,
I was left to talk to the Southern gentleman who,
by this time, J had learned was the Hon. Robert P.
Letcher 5 of Kentucky returning home from a trip
to Washington to enter upon his campaign as candi-
date for Governor of Kentucky for the Whig party.

He had served in Congress several years and, I
gathered, was a man of great personal popularity.
He was not a gentleman in our sense of the word,
his father having been a brick-layer, but he had
chanced to fall, while a mischievous, headstrong boy,
under the influence of a famous teacher, a Mr. Fry,
who had turned his abilities in the right direction.

Robert Perkins Letcher, 1788-1861, Member of Congress, 1823-
1833. Presidential elector for Harrison in 1837. Elected Governor,
of Kentucky on Whig ticket in 1840. Editor.



A TOUR THROUGH INDIANA IN 1840 15

I had already found him a most interesting conver-



Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 1 of 26)