Kate Milner Rabb.

A tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia online

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nature concerning it from friends and travelers
during my journey in the Western country. Some
assert, as Governor Ray is said to have done, that
it is a miasmatic place, "set in a boundless contigu-
ity of shade. ' ' Others declare that its location is not
only beautiful but salubrious. It would seem that I
must view it with my own eyes and judge for myself.
Then, too, there is always much to excite interest in
the capital of a state, and I have letters and oppor-
tunities for introduction to most of the respectable
families residing here, so I have been most anxious
for the time to come when I might walk about its
streets and meet its people.

I will set down first my observations on the city.
The population, I am told, is 2,692, whereas, accord-
ing to the "Emigrant's. Guide," which the host of the
inn, Mr. Browning, showed to me, there were in 1832,
just eighteen years ago, only ninety families, an in-
dication of rapid growth and, in consequence, pros-
perity. The county, the Guide continues, is an ex-
act square, a delightful tract of country, presenting
a level and rich surface. The town is situated on a



beautiful, fertile and very extensive plain just at the
confluence of Fall Creek with the White Eiver,
and the main street, sometimes called Washington
Street, and which is the National Eoad, is 120 feet
wide. In 1820, Mr. Browning informs me, the whole
country for forty miles in every direction, with the
exception of a few unimportant prairies, was a dense
forest with no settlements nearer than fifty miles,
and it was through these forests that the first set-
tlers had to make their way. Naturally they made
their first settlements near the river, where there
was less underbrush and but a few thinly scattered
sugar trees which only required to be deadened and
the land fenced in order that it might be cultivated.

Discovering my interest in this settlement, Mr.
Browning himself pointed out to me the historic spot
where the first settler, McCormick although I learn
that there is a dispute as to whether he or George
Pogue really came first to this spot built his cabin
overlooking White Eiver and not far from where is
now the long and handsome bridge which spans the
river and affords entrance to the town over the Na-
tional Eoad from the west, the road being improved
by being graded and bridged as far as the town of
Terre Haute. The first comers to this spot came
because of the Indian trails, a half dozen of which
converged to the mouth of Fall Creek, because of
a sandbar across the river.

In my few days' stay here I have been several
times driven about the city and am charmed with
its plan. On mentioning to some friends that it re-
called to me the city of Washington, I was informed
that this was not singular, since one of the surveyors


who planned the city, Alexander Ralston, had as-
sisted Major L 'Enfant in the survey of our national
capital. This young Ralston later came out to
Louisville, Ky., then to Salem, la., and thence to
Indianapolis in 1822, where he became county sur-
veyor. He and Elias Fordham, a young English-
man, an engineer, planned the city on a very large
scale; their plat, it is said, provides for a mile
square, the boundary streets being known as North,
South, East and West, a ridiculously large plat, it
would seem, even to so thriving a population, but it
may be, Mr. Browning says, and many others proph-
esy, that it will eventually fill the entire space in-
cluded in these encircling streets.

The four central blocks of the city are known as
the Governor's Square, and at their very center is a
circle known as the Governor's Circle, on which
stands the house of the Chief Executive. From the
four corners of the Governor's Square four diag-
onal streets branch out, which run to the four cor-
ners of the plat, and all these streets are ninety feet
in width. They are named respectively for the
states of Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Massa-
chusetts. The streets east and west are parallel with
Washington (the National Road) and north of it are
named Market, Ohio, New York, Vermont, Michigan
and North, and to the south of Washington Street
they run Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana and the
bounding street, South.

After the first two blocks north of and south of
the main street, or Washington, the streets can
hardly be dignified by that name. They bear much


more resemblance to the country roads over some
of which I have fared. In the very middle of some
of them the forest trees are still standing ; in others,
stumps compel the wagon way to wander crookedly
along, and this same wagon way is rendered ex-
tremely unpleasant for travel by numerous mud
holes. South of Washington, and along the part of
the plat traversed by the creek known as Pogue's
Creek, the land is extremely swampy, and in order
to reach some of the houses of men of prominence
whom I shall name later, it is necessary to pass
along over corduroyed thoroughfares and skirt
swampy pastures fringed with willows. However,
this is all incident to the making of a town on level
ground traversed by water courses.

These blocks which are built upon, none of them
completely covered as yet with buildings, present a
very pleasing appearance. Some of the buildings
are surrounded by gardens and give evidence of the
presence of a sober, moral and industrious commu-

Of the salubriousness of this town I was soon to
hear varying opinions. Some declare it a most
health-giving spot. Others say that it is infested
with that ague of which Dr. Peabody of Vernon told
me so particularly. Still others declare that while
there was much chills and fever at the time of the
city's settling, such is no longer the case. So I am
forced to dismiss the subject, unsettled, with the
hope that I, myself, may not be made the proof of
the existence of this dread disease.

The first letter I chose to present was one from


Mr. Dumont of Vevay, to Mr. Samuel Merrill. My
reasons for this were several. Mr. Merrill, I had
been told by Mr. Dumont, had years ago come out
from Vermont, his birthplace, to Vevay, had served
in the Legislature, was elected the state 's first treas-
urer, had assisted in the naming of the capital city,
and, when the capital was moved to the city in the
wilderness, as was said at the time, had brought
with him in a wagon the state's moneys, over the
long and perilous wilderness road. On the expira-
tion of his term of office Mr. Merrill had become
connected with the State Bank.

On seeking Mr. Merrill at his home on Washing-
ton Street, opposite the new State House, of which
I shall have more to say later, I found him all and
more than Mr. Dumont had assured me I would.
He introduced me to his family, has invited me to
his home several times, has presented me to several
of the principal men of the community, and it is in
his company that I have viewed much of the city.
One of the interesting things he has told me is the
story of his journey from Corydon to Indianapolis,
a distance of 160 miles, requiring two weeks, on
account of the difficulties of travel, and on which
journey he carried in wagons the state's silver,
packed in strong wooden boxes.

In my several visits to Mr. Merrill's home, I was
much impressed with his library, one of the three
best libraries in the city, I am told, the others being
those of Calvin Fletcher and James M. Blake, Mr.
Merrill's being the largest. As to his character, I
was to hear from others as well as to observe for


myself, his benevolence, his generosity, his interest
in all good works.

Having served as an official in its beginnings, Mr.
Merrill was most excellently qualified to describe to
me the most intelligent people in the community and
to point out the places of interest connected with
the government. All center naturally about the
Governor's Square, the Governor's Circle and the
Governor's Mansion. This mansion, he explained
to me, because of the publicity of its location, is not
and never has been occupied as a residence, but is
used for any social gatherings the Governor may
desire, and is now occupied by the judges of the
Supreme Court and is also the home of the State
Library. He informs me that at the corner of Illi-
nois and Market Streets is to be found the home of
Governor Wallace, to whom I have letters from vari-
ous acquaintances in Brookville, and he has prom-
ised himself to accompany me to call on this digni-

Mr. Merrill has given me the history of the new
State House, very recently completed, and on the
occasion of my first visit to him he took me across
the street to view it at close hand. It is a magnifi-
cent structure, stuccoed and built in the Doric style. 1

I met at this time, through the offices of Mr. Mer-
rill, James Blake, the commissioner, a most inter-

1 Our diarist's taste must be at fault here, if we are to credit
Col. Holloway, who in his history of Indianapolis (1870) declares
that the style of architecture is unfitted to the level country, that
the stucco has not withstood the extreme vicissitudes of the climate,
and that "the incongruous contemptible dome condemns it utterly."
Mr. Parsons being young and enthusiastic, evidently did not think
for himself, but reflects the sentiment of the community. Editor.


esting man, whose commercial venture in ginseng
and later in hemp form an interesting chapter in
the town's history, and also young Mr. T. A. Morris,
an engineer who assisted in the building of the State
House, a West Point graduate, who a few years ago
organized an excellent military company. This com-
pany, in their handsome gray uniforms faced with
black velvet, I have' several times had the pleasure
of seeing drill and parade.

The Court House, also on Washington Street, and
two blocks east of my tavern, has been, since its erec-
tion soon after the location of the capital, the seat
of the town's business and social interests, so Mr,
Merrill informs me. It had originally a fine situa-
tion among beautiful forest trees, but many of these
have been cut away, others, left unprotected, have
been blown down, until now almost all are gone, and
the grounds present a bare and unsightly appear-
ance. From the years 1825 to 1835 this rather
sightly two-story building was the only public build-
ing in the town, and was used for the meetings of the
Legislature, the Federal and Supreme Courts and
the county board. Now that these are passed, it is
still in constant use for meetings, lectures, preach-
ings, theatrical exhibitions, concerts, conventions
and balls. To one of these last named, soon to be
given, I have been invited.

One of Mr. Merrill's daughters, a most intelligent
and interesting young female, has been most kind
to me, and has given me much information concern-
ing the social side of the city. The family belongs
to Mr. Beecher's church, and she tells me that two


of the most beautiful young women in the city are
members of this congregation. There are in this
city, she says, many men of the most polished man-
ners, among them former Governor Noble, who,
Mr. Beecher asserts, has the finest manners of any
man he has ever known. Dr. Andrew Wylie, 2 pres-
ident of the State College at Bloomington, a town
at not a great distance from here, who has lectured
here recently before the Female Academy, Miss Mer-
rill professes to admire almost more than any man
she knows.

"You should have seen him," she said, "that hot
June day, walking along in the street in his brown
linen coat, with a Leghorn hat, beneath whose ample
brim a breath of wind occasionally stole to play with
his silyer locks; his large, well-proportioned form,
his broad, noble brow, the domain of high thought,
the bluff independence of his look and manner. And
then his address you should hear him engaged in
argument, and hear the depth of his thought, the
elegance in which this thought is clad, and his elo-
quence also. Oh, sir !" She paused, unable to
continue. It is my hope that ere I leave this state I
may have the opportunity to meet this man, to whose
school I have been told Governor Wise of my own
Virginia has sent three of his sons, so highly does
he value the excellence of this great instructor's

It was this same young lady who informed me of

'Andrew Wylie, born in 1789 in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
Came to Bloomington in 1829 to assume the presidency of the Uni-
versity. Died 1851. Editor,


some of the social gayeties of Indianapolis to which,
through her agencies no doubt, I am soon to be ad-
mitted. There are, she says, parties, church sup-
pers, sewing societies, singing schools, something
continually with which to divert and also to im-
prove one's self.

The weather has become quite warm, the heat most
oppressive, indeed, within the last few days, and
while passing along the main street yesterday in
company with Mr. Hicklin, who was bound to a camp
meeting in the military reservation, a large ground
in the western part of the city, I stopped at a store
whose advertisement I had noted in the newspaper
at the tavern, to purchase some clothing better
adapted to the exigencies of the weather than that
with which I am provided. The store is known as
The Indianapolis Clothing Store, and is situated on
Washington Street, the first door east of the Man-
sion House, and the notice in the paper advised that
its proprietor had just received from Baltimore an
extra supply of summer clothing, white and brown
grass coats, also drab and white linen, Holland and
gingham coats, together with a splendid assortment
of muslin, linen and gingham shirts, plain and fig-
ured satin vests, and also those of marseilles, Va-
lencia, silk, merino and toilonet. I found an assort-
ment quite to my liking, and a most genteel propri-
etor, Mr. Orr, most solicitous as to pleasing, and
soon made a selection of appropriate garments with
which to attire myself for the days I intend to linger
in this city, whose social life is far more extensive
than I had imagined.


I soon met, and this too through Mr. Merrill,
whose kindness was unceasing, Mr. Calvin Fletcher,
who showed me the greatest courtesy, and on learn-
ing that I was a stranger come from Virginia to
inspect farming land in the Western country, as-
sisted me in every way in acquiring information and
viewing the environing country. He informed me
that in 1835 this county contained 1,300 farms, and
produced 1,300,000 bushels of wheat and the same
of corn.

As we drove about, Mr. Fletcher told me much of
the surrounding country and of the citizens of the
capital. Born in Vermont, he had lived in Ohio for
a season, acting there as tutor in a family, and from
there went to Richmond, Va., to engage in the prac-
tice of the law. His love for freedom and the rights
of man soon caused him to feel the atmosphere of
this state uncongenial, and he returned to the north,
eventually settling in Indianapolis in 1821, where he
was the first lawyer to come to the city. From oth-
ers I learned of his success in the practice of the law,
of his serving as State Senator, and as District At-
torney. He is at present sinking fund commissioner
for the State Bank, which he assisted to organize.

My acquaintance with Mr. Fletcher I found most
delightful, the congeniality of our tastes completely
bridging over the difference in our years. Like Mr.
Merrill, he possesses an extremely fine and well se-
lected library, and when I visit him I find the great-
est delight in perusing the titles of the books, among
them some volumes of Audubon's ''Birds of Amer-
ica' 7 with beautiful hand-colored plates. Mr.


Fletcher is a great lover of nature and is especially
fond of ornithology, and he has told me much of
Audubon and of his Western residence in Hender-
son, Ky.

When he told me something of the round of his
daily life, I was not so greatly astonished at the ex-
tent of his accomplishment. He rises, so he tells
me, at 4 in the morning and attends to his corre-
spondence until breakfast. He next rides out to his
farm of 600 acres, two miles from the city, and then
returns to take up his duties at the bank. He is in-
terested in every good work, is a man of remark-
able temperance in all his habits, and of a most re-
markable energy. He is something under six feet
in height, strongly and compactly built, and has an
extremely penetrating gray eye. He tells me he is
keeping a diary in which he records everything of
importance which takes place under his notice. I
have met him at some of the gatherings of lawyers
of which I shall have more to say presently, and I
note that while he indulges in none of the convivial-
ity which is a feature of these meetings, he is as fond
of a joke as the best of them, and I am told has a
considerable reputation for his quizzing and prac-
tical jokes among the members of his profession.

On my confiding to Mr. Fletcher my impressions
of the city, he informed me that I am correct in con-
cluding that the citizens are unusual in the degree
of their enlightenment. He has had ample opportu-
nity for observation during his residence in Vir-
ginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and he assures me
that in the new towns in Virginia, the old towns of


Pennsylvania, and in Urbana, Columbus, Dayton
and Bellefontaine, Ohio, there is not the enlighten-
ment that he has found among the citizens of In-
dianapolis. There is in this place, said he, both a
certain intellectual activity and a strong moral bent
which is a characteristic of all. There are many
political meetings, but these are not all. These men
are continually engaged in town meetings to promote
civil affairs, in debating societies, in Bible classes,
and the union Sunday School under the leadership
of Dr. Coe is flourishing beyond belief. "I am con-
vinced," he concluded, "that there is not a settle-
ment in the West which has a more church-going
population than has ours. As for our schools, you
will, I am sure, find them most interesting and flour-

With this I was ready to agree, for I had already
viewed the Indianapolis Female Institute, under the
leadership of the Misses Axtell, to which I am in-
vited to attend an exhibition given soon by the young
females who attend it. I had also seen the Franklin
Institute of which Nathan B. Palmer is president,
and on University Square, between the streets of
New York and Vermont, and of Pennsylvania and
Meridian Street, a square held now by the city on
consent of the Legislature, but given originally to
help endow a state university, the County Seminary,
the best educational establishment, I am told, in the
city. This building was erected six years ago and
stands on the southwest corner of this square.

It is two stories high with projecting lobbies at
each end, has two rooms below and a lecture room


and a teachers' private room above. Besides its
use as a school, it is much used as a lecture room
and for church services, this being the place in which
Mr. Henry Ward Beecher holds his church services
until the completion of his new church in the Circle,
even now in process of erection. The principal of
this school, the Rev. James Kemper, it has been my
good fortune to meet, and I find him not only a
remarkable scholar, but a man of fine personality
and highly esteemed in the community.

"While I had brought letters and had several means
of introduction to citizens of Indianapolis, some of
my introductions were brought about quite by acci-
dent. One of these incidents I shall narrate be-
cause of its amusingness and unexpectedness.

I have neglected to say that the time of my visit
finds this city, as it has many others, filled with
excitement over the political campaign, although I
am surprised to be informed that General Harrison
is not so well known here as I had imagined to find
him. It is natural that he should not be known out-
side the Northwest Territory, but even here, it seems
that since the days of his active participation in af-
fairs and his return to Ohio, his name has become
unfamiliar to a generation that has grown up since
the days of Tippecanoe and Tecumseh. However,
the Whig population seems to be in the majority, or
perhaps possessed of better lungs, and the hurray-
ing and jollifying has been going on ever since my
arrival. 'Twas during a Whig procession preceding
a stump speaking in the outskirts of the town that
I unexpectedly made an acquaintance which I had


expected to make later on through other and more
formal channels.

At the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets
a cabin of buckeye logs had been erected. " Buck-
eye" being the name applied, I am told, to the state
of Ohio, and this, then in compliment to General
Harrison, and whenever a Whig meeting is in prog-
ress, as was the case on the day of which I am
speaking, barrels of cider are kept constantly run-
ning before it. This procession was in nature like
all I have seen since coming to the state wagons
with log cabins, with coons, with barrels of cider,
1 i dug out ' ' canoes filled with young females singing
the popular Whig song:

"What has caused this great commotion, motion, motion,
The country through?

It is the ball a-rolling on for Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,
And with them we '11 beat little Van ! ' '

I was standing on this particular day on the oppo-
site corner from the cabin, where the new inn, which
is to be called the Palmer House, is in the process
of erection, when two gentlemen stopped near me
to watch the procession and to engage in conversa-
tion. The one, a tall, striking looking man, I soon
gathered from his conversation to be a minister of
the Campbellite Church, and who, I learned later, is
named O'Kane, and is a distinguished controver-
sialist, who has debated long and successfully on
religious topics, his most noted debate being held
recently with none other than my recent acquaint-
ance, the Universalist Kidwell. The other man, to
whom I felt at once attracted by a certain charm of


manner and an exceeding richness and melodious-
ness of voice, was a man below medium size, with
prominent eyes, large forehead and fine features.
They talked first of politics and then spoke of reli-
gion, and finally on the last-named subject, the tall
man said:

"Suppose we debate on it, Beecher."

"No, no," replied the other man, laughing. "You
would soon use me up, O'Kane, and I can't afford
to be demolished so young ! ' '

"Beecher!" So this was Henry Ward Beecher,
who had preached only the last year at Lawrence-
burg and to whom my friend, Mr. Dunn, had given
me a letter. Since coming to Indianapolis I had
learned, both through Mr. Merrill and Mr. Fletcher,
of his success as a minister. I have had pointed
out to me the First Presbyterian Church, established
here very soon after the founding of the city, and
have been told of the separation in 1837 into the
Old School and the New School, at which time fif-
teen males and females left this church and founded
the church known as the Second, to which Mr.
Beecher came from Lawrenceburg only last year.
As Mr. O'Kane passed on and Mr. Beecher re-
mained, looking at the procession, I ventured to step
forward, introduce myself, and explain that I had at
the tavern a letter to him from Mr. Dunn.

His greeting was hearty and sincere. I knew he
meant his welcome and the invitation he extended
to me to his church and his home. The latter, a
neat, one-story cottage, in Market Street, near
New Jersey, I soon visited, meeting his wife, a

rather discontented woman, complaining constantly
of the chills and the unhealthy nature of the
town. I also met here a Mr. W. S. Hubbard, a
young man of the congregation who was boarding
with them, for it appears that the ministers ' salaries
in these new places are insufficient to support their
families without additions from other sources.

Mr. Hubbard accompanied Mr. Beecher and my-
self in a stroll about the garden in which the minis-
ter is extremely interested, and which is greatly pro-
ductive of vegetables, fruits and flowers. I soon
found that one of Mr. Beecher 's great interests is

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Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 10 of 26)