Kate Milner Rabb.

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

. (page 16 of 26)
Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 16 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

which cost $1,351, 1 am told, and the octagonal school
house erected several years ago.

I was told by these gentlemen of the Moot Legis-
lature, an organization that existed at Delphi for a
season. It consisted of a body of men supposed to


represent a legislative body with officers consisting
of a governor or speaker, a clerk, a treasurer and
a doorkeeper. This Dr. Stewart, whom I found
much interested in all the county affairs, was my in-
formant, and he was the first clerk to be elected for
this body. The length of the session was four weeks
and the Governor delivered a message at its begin-

It was most interesting, he said, and nothing ever
created more interest in the community than did
this organization.

Again on the stage and bound now for Lafayette,
the seat of justice of Tippecanoe County, which
county I had visited once before on my journey to
Battle Ground with Col. Vawter.

The first town on our course was in Tippecanoe
County, on the east side of the Wabash River, a vil-
lage called Americus, and as our stage stopped there
for some time for the exchange of mail I stepped off
to view the town. I became so impressed with the
possibilities of this town in the wilderness that I
ordered my carpet bags set off and remained at the
tavern until the coming of the next coach, two days
later. There is no haste in my journey and as the
object of my visit is not so much recreation as
search for an abode, or an investment in lands which
may later prove valuable, it seems important, since
I have decided that the Wabash country is the most
promising I have yet discovered, to take time in the
investigation of the possibilities of these various

Americus is a new town and a small one, laid out,


I have learned, in 1832 by William Digby, who also
ceded the land for the original plat of Lafayette.
At this time, it is said, it was considered as the loca-
tion for the seat of justice for its position as the
terminus of the Wabash and Erie Canal, where the
Tippecanoe River empties into the Wabash, was of
great importance. Because of this, lots sold at very
high prices and it gave promise of becoming the
foremost town in the county. However, it was de-
cided to extend the canal to Lafayette, which was
made the seat of justice, and the price of the lots in
Americus therefore declined. However, this does
not indicate to me the end of Americus. On the
contrary, I am convinced that it has a great future ;
it has the canal, the Wabash River, the neighbor-
hood of the Tippecanoe River, the advantages of
water power of various sorts. The township in
which it is located is in the extreme northern part
of Tippecanoe County. The surface of the town-
ship is low and level along the river banks, the soil
being of the richest formation and produces corn
and wheat in great abundance. From north to
southwest the surface is characterized by hills that
slope gently toward the center of the township,
forming beautiful farming lands.

Americus is the only town in this township and
with such advantages of location and resources I
see no reason why it should not soon become a great
commercial town, outstripping Logansport, Delphi
and Lafayette. Having drawn these conclusions
after a study of the land and the town during my
two days ' stay, I have written at length to my father


of the advisability of making investments here.
'Twill seem strange to him no doubt, yet I have
heard so much since coming into the Wabash coun-
try of these towns of mushroom growth that I am
no longer astonished, but only desire to find the
proper one and there to invest my money with the
hope of profit in the future. 2

On my way to Lafayette I found much to interest
me in Tippecanoe County and learned much of its
configuration from fellow travelers. On my way to
Crawfordsville I shall pass, I am told, over the
beautiful Wea Plains and there make my first ac-
quaintance with prairies. This county is not ex-
celled in beauty and fertility by many lands in the
Western country; it is generally level or gently un-
dulating, and consists of prairies, barrens and forest
lands, one-half prairie, one-eighth barrens and the
remainder heavy forests.

I have for two days now been taking my ease in
Lafayette, a town picturesquely situated upon a de-
clivity which affords a beautiful view of the Wa-
bash, three miles above and two below the town. It
is sufficiently elevated to prevent inundation and

2 Mr. Parsons, like others of his time, was no prophet on this
subject. The collapse of the canal system, the "hard times," the
building of railroads, combined with other circumstances caused the
growth and duration of Americus, to quote S. C. Cox, "to be much
after the fashion of Jonah's Gourd." The Indiana Gazetteer of 1849
describes Americus as "a small town on the Wabash River in Tippe-
canoe County, ten miles from Lafayette, containing one dry goods
store, two groceries and about fifty frame dwelling houses." In
1887, it had forty inhabitants.

Unfortunately the diary does not disclose whether Mr. Parsons
made investments here, if so to what extent, or whether this course
was opposed by his father. Editor.


low enough to make access to the river quite con-
venient. The ground ascends gradually for the dis-
tance of about 300 yards from the river; it then de-
scends a little and again swells into a handsome
eminence on the east side of the town on which fancy
may place in anticipation the habitation of future
wealth and luxury. It contains about 400 houses
and between 1,900 and 2,000 inhabitants, and al-
ready possesses a Court House, churches and a

If I am pleased with the town, what shall I say
of its citizens? The letters I have carried with
me have given me a welcome into several inter-
esting circles and I already number among my
acquaintances some of the most respectable at-
torneys, business men and men of letters of the

Having been informed that there is an Episcopal
Church in the city and having seldom been able to
worship with my own denomination, their churches
being few in the Western country, and the next day
being Sunday, I betook myself to St. John's Church,
and met the pastor, the Eev. S. E. Johnson, with
whom I speedily formed a warm friendship. He
came out to the Western country from New York
State as a-missionary some years ago, and, making
his home in this town, gave the lot on which the
church is built, and has refused during these years
of his pastorate to accept any salary for his services.
He is a most excellent man and one whose compan-
ionship I have found most delightful. I have ac-
cepted an invitation to his house for the morrow and


I anticipate a most delightful evening, which I shall
record later.

The church I found a most handsome structure of
frame, erected at a cost, I am told, of $3,500. In the
high pulpit, the reading desk, the communion table,
all painted white, and the square-topped pews with
doors, I found a sufficient suggestion of home, bar-
ring the antiquity of our buildings of worship, to
put me at my ease. I went again at candle light
and found the music most pleasing, the voices of the
choir being augmented most pleasingly by the flute,
violin and bass viol. Mr. Johnson detained me
after the service that I might meet the choir, Ezekiel
Timmons, Mr. Bansemer and Mr. Rhein playing the
instruments, and the singers being David Turpie
and the Misses Mary Turpie, Mary Hatcher and
Hannah Wilstach. The "parson," as he is com-
monly called, is fond of music and has in his home
the first piano brought to Lafayette. In fact, the
entertainment to which I am invited at his home is
to be a musical entertainment.

The next acquaintance I made, and this through a
letter from Mr. Green of Delphi, was Henry Wil-
liam Ellsworth, 3 on whom I called on Monday and
in whose company I have already spent some de-
lightful hours. Mr. Ellsworth is a son of Oliver
Ellsworth, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the
.Mr. Ellsworth has told me much of the society of

8 William Henry Ellsworth, born in Connecticut, 1814; graduated
at Yale, 1835; came at once to Lafayette; author of some poems and
of a book entitled, "Valley of the Upper Wabash, Indiana," published
in New York in 1838. Editor.


Lafayette and has introduced me to many gentle-
men. He pointed out to me many of the public
buildings, the Presbyterian Church among others, to
show to me the early interest of the community in
education, for, said he, those who contributed to its
erection stipulated that a room should be set off on
the west end for a schoolhouse until such time as it
was possible to erect a proper school building.

He told me something of the social life of the city.
"The rules for good society are now well estab-
lished," said he, "embracing, we may hope, every
honest man and woman. True, there are some who,
through perverted minds, consider themselves in-
dividually too high above the masses to be agreeable.
This class is to be pitied. Maturer years may teach
them better. "

Accidentally mentioning my interest in the Wa-
bash country as a field for agricultural experiment,
I found to my delight that this is a subject on which
Mr. Ellsworth may be said to be an authority. He
confessed that in the five years of his residence here
he has made a study of this subject and is thor-
oughly convinced of the superiority of the Wabash
Valley as a home for the enterprising settler because
of its position, the extraordinary productiveness of
its soil, its delightful climate, and its means of com-
munication with the markets of the Northern and
Southern states. Two years ago he published a book
entitled "Valley of the Upper Wabash, with Hints
of Its Agricultural Advancement, the Plan of a
Dwelling, Estimates of Cultivation and Notices of


Labor-Saving Machines." He showed me a copy
of this work, and I perused with interest his descrip-
tion of the geographical position of the "Wabash
Valley, the railroads which it is hoped ere long will
be constructed, the discussion of the soil and its
products and the products that can be grown on
these fertile fields are hay for the New Orleans mar-
ket; flax, from whose seed quantities of oil can be
extracted; beet sugar, hemp, sunflower, etc. He
gives also, with a plan for a neat and convenient
dwelling for the settler, a minute description of a
mowing and reaping machine recently invented by a
Mr. Hussey of Cambridge, Md., which is especially
adapted for use on a large prairie farm, and also of
a ditching and banking machine.

The book is written in a most interesting style and
closes with an eloquent chapter on the effects re-
sulting from the rapid means of intercourse
between distant nations and an impassioned ap-
peal to all true Americans to preserve their
country the abode of liberty at any cost, from

"And above all, let us guard against contentions,
schisms, and disunions. Pluck not a single plume,
cripple not one pinion of the heaven-daring bird we
have chosen as our symbol. Let his flight be still as
far, as strong and as fearless. Let him soar amid
the full effulgence of a noon-day sun and that the
sun of liberty ! Pluck not out one star from the rich
group that sparkles in our country's banner! Let
them shine in all the brightness of untarnished


lustre as a beacon to the storm-tost nations of the
earth, of the home which they adorn. Let them
shine, outshone by none save those brighter constel-
lations of a world above." *

4 In the light of future events in their country's history, it Is
Interesting to think of this ardent young Southerner reading with
such delight this appeal for loyalty written by a New Englander.



THREE events of my visit in Lafayette stand
out above all others, never to be forgotten a
political speaking, an evening party at the
home of the Rev. Mr. Johnson and a Fourth of July

My subsequent journey over the Wea Plains, a
scene of enchanting beauty, and my arrival in this
delightful town have served to strengthen rather
than to efface the impressions made by that visit.
When I recall that galaxy of brilliant men, that com-
pany of elegant and beautiful women and when clos-
ing my eyes the vision of the lovely Julia again rises
before me, then ah, then, I know that I have graven
it deep upon the tablets of my memory, never to be
effaced !

Mr. Ellsworth had most genteelly accompanied me
to the office of Rufus A. Lockwood to whom I had a
letter given me by Mr. Biddle of Logansport, and
it was through his offices that I found myself at the
political speaking.

I had already been informed that Mr. Lockwood
is a gentleman of marked eccentricities but of great
intellectual powers. Mr. Ellsworth told me that he
has again and again heard him plead in court, and
that he is each time more deeply impressed with the



superbness of his diction, his style and his delivery.
Mr. Hannegan had mentioned him on our stage
coach journey. When I informed him that my
itinerary included Lafayette, he remarked that as
an orator, Mr. Lockwood is not unlike Joseph Glass
Marshall of Madison, both of whom he had heard
speak in a certain trial.

4 'However," said he, "Mr. Marshall's argu-
ment was from first to last, a splendid conflagration;
Mr. Lockwood 's, a slower more consuming fire."

The speaking to which Mr. Lockwood himself con-
ducted me was held outdoors in a grove on the out-
skirts of the town.

The speaker, he informed me, is a senator at this
time, the Hon. Albert S. White. 1 I subsequently
met Mr. White at the inn, where, as he is a bachelor,
he makes his residence, having an office in another
part of the city. The day was fine, not too warm,
and the attendance was quite large, a number, so Mr.
Lockwood informed me, having come in from the
country, for this town is surrounded by fine farms,
and its farming class is intelligent and prosperous.

A wagon had been driven underneath a giant
beech tree, the horses unhitched, and in the back of
the wagon, Mr. White took his stand. It was a most
interesting scene. Here were gathered people from
town and country, men in broadcloth and beaver
hats, others in the rude garments of the pioneer
farmer. There were graybeards leaning upon

1 Mr. Parsons fails to mention it, but Mr. Lockwood was the
partner of the speaker of the day, the Hon. Albert S. White. Mr.
White was one of the ablest and most popular lawyers in the state,
and Mr. Lockwood soon proved himself his equal. Editor.

canes; there were young boys who had left their
games of marbles and mumble-peg to come to the
meeting; all gathered together eagerly listening to
this small, narrow-chested young man, who with his
thin face and Roman nose could not be called hand-
some. His voice is fine, however, his manner most
pleasing, and in a little while I perceived that he is
a most strong and convincing speaker.

He held a document in his hand, to which he oc-
casionally referred for items and facts, and he be-
gan his address with an attack on the extravagance
of the Van Buren administration, charging it with
lavish and unnecessary expenditure of public money
in furnishing the White House and beautifying
its gardens and grounds. For all this, he de-
clared, Mr. Van Buren is responsible, this man who
eats from gold spoons, also purchased with the
public money, and this at a time when most of the
people of the United States are still using spoons
made of horn and wood. He read from the paper
the account of the purchase of a large number of
young trees of the "morus multicaulis."

"My Latin is a little rusty," he explained, "but I
understand this to mean the many-leaved mulberry,
whose foliage is fed upon by the silkworm. The
President is evidently going into the mulberry trade
in order .to procure, I presume, silk napkins, table-
cloths and towels to match the golden spoons. But
let me say, gentlemen, that there is another tree
which would have been far more appropriate to
adorn the lawns and gardens of the executive
mansion than the morus multicaulis ; that tree is the


ulmus lubrica, rendered into English, the slippery

At this there was loud applause and much
laughter, with shouts of "Down with the Kinder-
hook Wizard" and ''Little Van's a used-up man!"

When the crowd again became quiet, Mr. White
dropped into a more serious vein and described the
great Whig national convention at which he was
present; he detailed Gen. Harrison's government of
Indiana Territory ; told of the faithful and long con-
tinued safe-guarding of white settlers on the fron-
tier; his treaties with the Indian tribes; his defeat
of the Prophet at Tippecanoe and the subsequent
overthrow and death of Tecumseh at the Thames,
closing with an appeal full of force and feeling to
the old soldiers and settlers of Indiana to stand by
their former friend and commander.

I thought the applause would never cease when he
had concluded. Men threw their hats in the air,
clapped their hands, shouted and huzzaed. It was
evident that Mr. White is a man of great popularity
as well as ability.

As I approached with Mr. Lockwood to be pre-
sented to him, I observed part of the secret of his
popularity. He is extremely affable, and I noted
again as we walked into the town in his company
that his greetings to the young boys whom we met
and to whom he always touched his hat, was ever as
agreeable as it was to his elders.

I learned in the course of our pleasant conversa-
tion that he is a graduate of Union College and came
to Lafayette eleven years ago. I had already dis-


covered that lie is a ripe scholar, his speech was full
of classical allusions, his references and quotations
from the most noted thinkers and writers disclosed
the wideness and depth of his learning.

'Twas on the evening of this same day that the
Rev. Mr. Johnson had invited me to a small com-
pany at his home, and I must confess that my mind
had dwelt continually on this event with the greatest
anticipations of pleasure. Much as I have enjoyed
my experiences in the wilds, the crude life, the ad-
venture, yet the thought of again mingling with
those of my own kind and my own age in social inter-
course was irresistibly attractive.

I found the little company assembled when I ar-
rived at the house, for I had spent some time at my
toilet, arraying myself in my brown broadcloth coat
with the velvet collar, drab pantaloons and Monroe
shoes with brass buckles. My host I found as
charming as he had been on the day of our first meet-
ing; his manners are marked by a childlike sim-
plicity, and his countenance wears the pale cast of
thought. It was evident that these young people
whom he has gathered around him are bound to him
by the ties of love and affection as well as of simi-
larity of taste.

I learned here, on commenting to a young gentle-
man on the excellence of the music I had heard at
the church on Sunday, that this music is widely
known and that the 'special music given by the choir
at Easter and Christmas brings large crowds to the
church from the town, the country, and even from
other towns.

In my occasional visits to the capital of my state
and to Washington I have been a guest at various
parties where there has been a vast amount of grace-
ful pantomime and pretty conversation, sometimes
sparkling, mostly, I must confess, silly ; where there
have been Italian music and American dancing;
pyramids of ice cream and piles of confectionery
and mountains of cakes; where the guests talked
about the last opera and quoted long Italian names,
and criticized the new theater and the star actresses,
or indulged in little side eddies of gossip. At the
time, I thought it all most enchanting and edifying,
but I must confess, no social gathering I have ever
attended has had for me the interest, the charm, of
this at Mr. Johnson's. The simple rooms, candle
lit, with their plain mahogany furniture, the wild-
wood flowers disposed with such taste, the handsome
young gentlemen in their broadcloth and ruffled
shirts, the beautiful young females in gowns of silk
or of cambric, the music, the sweet voices, the light
laughter, the edifying and intellectual conversation,
I shall probably never again, take it for all in all,
experience another such evening.

'Tis impossible to transcribe all the events of this
evening. When I write of the episode of Julia 'tis
not that I need to do so to fix her image in my mind.
Far from it 'tis ineffaceably graven on my
memory, on, alas, my heart! Julia, in white book
muslin with blue sash, her bright brown hair looped
in smooth bands over her ears, most timid and
maidenly, until she lifted those white lids, and one
perceived gazing forth from those glorious dark


orbs, the spirit of proud, impassioned youth 1 And
when she sang, and when she talked, such charm,
such grace, such cleverness in conversation I have
never before heard from the lips of a young female.

Mr. Johnson had recently been sent by a friend in
the East, the autographs of some famous English
writers, and these he now exhibited to us. The first
was the autograph of the Honorable Mrs. Caroline
Norton. "Poor lady," he said, "I sympathize with
her in her domestic sufferings."

"What?" exclaimed his wife. "I thought you al-
ways blamed her for leaving her husband's protec-

"I no longer blame her for leaving her husband
since I have had the opportunity of learning the
abuse she has suffered."

"No good wife ever left a good husband," replied
his wife, "and it is very doubtful to me whether a
wife ever improved her own happiness by leaving a
bad husband."

1 1 Her conduct since her separation has been above
reproach," the minister responded warmly, "and
her genius has been, as it were, endowed with new
life ; for genius often seems to require crushed affec-
tions for its sacrifice."

"I have heard," remarked one of the young
gentlemen, "that some of the English reviewers
have styled her 'the female Byron.* "

"For that I am sorry," said Miss Julia, who, it
seems, is something of a blue, "for it seems to imply
more of passions than affections and the last are
so much more the province of woman's poetry


that I think the critic paid her a poor compliment. ' '
"Critics often consider more the effect than the
truth of these comparisons," replied Dr. Johnson.
"It is a very pretty turn of expression, this 'female
Byron,' and Mrs. Norton may have fallen a little
too much into his habit of dwelling too much on his
own sorrows; but there the similarity ceases. She
is tender and devotional in her sorrows and wrongs ;
Byron, terrible and misanthropical in his injuries
and resentments."

My friend Mr. Ellsworth launched into a eu-
logium of Eliza Cook, whose autograph he had
found and whom he declared deserved the laurel,
displaying as she does more native poetical talent
than any female writer now living in Great Britain.
"She displays such originality," he persisted.
"Listen to this:

" 'Hold up your heads, ye sylvan lords,

Wave proudly in the breeze ;
Our cradle bands and coffin boards

Must come x f rom the forest trees. '

"The idea- in the third line was never probably
expressed before," he continued. "It strikes the
reader at once as original, bold and true. Such
new thoughts, vivid as a flash from a dark cloud, and
strong enough to paint the rush of the cataract, are
not infrequent in her productions. She wants a
little sweetness, a little grace at times, but she will
gain these by and by, when she marries."

"La! la!" cried Miss Julia, tossing her pretty

"I mean it," said Mr. Ellsworth earnestly. "She


only needs to become a wife and mother to know the
real tenderness of the heart, and then her lyre will
assume all the softness it needs to make its tones
perfect; it is now, at times, harsh." 2

'Twas soon after this most learned and edifying
conversation that music was called for. The violin
was played by the gentleman of the choir; there
were some instrumental selections and then Miss

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 16 of 26)