Kate Milner Rabb.

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

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sationalist. He dresses studiously plain, wears his
hair long, falling about his face, and his motions are
certainly not offsprings of the polished drawing
room, but under this plain exterior there lurks, if
I mistake not, an indomitable pride and a sense of
mental superiority.

' * The Whigs, ' ' he assured me, ' * are certain to win.
Van Buren's shocking extravagance and misman-
agement of financial affairs have turned the people
against him."

I ventured to take issue with him. "I myself am
a Whig," I assured him, "but I have heard my
elders in Virginia question the propriety of nomi-
nating a man comparatively unknown and whose
popularity rests solely on his military reputation
and to the fact that he lives in a log cabin. ' '

The circuit rider smiled. "As to the humble con-
dition of that log cabin you will be able to judge
for yourself if you take the river route from Wheel-
ing," he said.

Mr. Letcher continued the conversation. "While
I appreciate to the full the ability and the merits
of my distinguished fellow citizen, Mr. Clay, I am
convinced that he could never have been elected, had
he received the nomination. And I surmise that
your elders have no idea of the following Gen. Har-
rison has in the West. I predict a great surprise
for you as you penetrate farther into the Wabash
country. Here in Pennsylvania, of course, Van
Buren has many followers," and he proceeded to
narrate with great humor an incident of a fight be-

tween Democrats and Whigs in which the Democrats
were the victors, which occurred on the Cumberland
Koad and which he had witnessed on his journey to
Washington. An old wagoner had exhibited from
the front of his wagon a petticoat in allusion to a
partisan and groundless charge of cowardice made
against Gen. Harrison. Even the young female,
Caroline, whose surname, alas, I know not smiled
faintly as he narrated the incident. She has not
spoken to me, however, only nodded slightly in re-
sponse to the assistance I have occasionally rendered
her in alighting from or mounting into our vehicle.
Our minds perforce turned continually to politics,
for everywhere, in town and countryside, we ob-
served the progress of the campaign. In one town,
we would see the log cabins, the barrels of hard cider
and hear the song,

Little Van's a used-up man,
A used-up man, a used-up man,
A used-up man is he,

while in the next town 'twould be all for Van Buren,
and the singers would roar out:

When the Whigs at a table begin to feel "hip,"

They roar out right boldly, "Hurrah for old Tip!"

When another glass seems to indicate high,

'Tis three lusty cheers for old Tip and old Ty!

Alas, what a mishap is easy acquired

In the month of November 'twill be ' ' Tip-sy and Ti-red ! ' '

It was soon after this that the circuit rider, sitting
beside me at our evening meal, broached the sub-
ject of the continuance of my journey. "I had


thought, ' ' I told him, ' ' of continuing overland to my
cousin's home."

"You will find the river voyage of much greater
interest and improvement to your mind," he coun-
seled me, "and from my knowledge of our state of
Indiana you will have enough and more of journey
by land once you are within its borders. By the
river route you will see Blennerhassett's Isle
de Beau, Cincinnati, the largest and most flourishing
city of the West, the "log cabin" of Gen. Harrison
at North Bend, and many interesting villages in
Indiana on to my town of Madison, with whose most
respectable families I shall be most happy to make
you acquainted."

The prospect was attractive, but I had heard much
of steamboat disasters and mentioned the large
colored posters I had seen in the East, made to warn
travelers by showing vessels whose boilers were ex-
ploding, throwing the mangled victims far and wide
into the waters. Mr. Letcher, who had heard our
conversation, smiled at this.

' ' Do not allow yourself to be unduly frightened, ' '
he said. "It is not so frequent a happening as you
might suppose. Most frequently it is because of
the ambition of the boat's master to maintain his
boat's reputation as the swiftest boat on the river.
Wood is heaped on, rosin sprinkled on the fires, the
boilers are forced to the limit, and all at once off
they go, and the boat is blown into kindling wood.
There have been some famous explosions the Ben
Sherrod, in '37, and the Moselle, in '38 frightful
catastrophes, both of them, but they served as a


warning to the other masters, and, judge for your-
self, our Methodist friend and myself have many
times braved the perils of the flood and still survive.
Besides," he continued, "on the boat you will be
sure of continuing in good company. Our friend
here, myself, Mr. Buffum, for I take it, sir, you dis-
embark at Cincinnati, and ." His eyes sought our
fair traveling companion across the table, with
whom our conversation had been limited throughout
the journey to the merest civilities.

My spirits rose as her jetty eyelashes swept her
cheek in her nodded assent. Suppose the boat
should blow up, suppose I were given the chance to
play the rescuer, suppose

"I think I shall take the river route," I said

So our journey progressed, the circuit rider, who,
in spite of being the most ungainly, homely looking
man I ever saw, I had soon found to be possessed
of a very good mind and very well informed, and
Mr. Letcher passing the time with conversation on
many subjects, and the Quaker occasionally inter-
jecting a word when appealed to, otherwise he sat
silent, until, all too soon, we came in sight of Wheel-
ing, in my own state of Virginia.


CINCINNATI, 0., MAY 12, 1840.

1HAD hoped to write freely and at length from
day to day on the boat, but the influence of the
high-pressure engines made the boat shake so
badly that I could not write legibly and so was com-
pelled to abandon the idea.

Having arrived in Wheeling, we my stage coach
companions and I upon inquiry learned that the
steamboat Pensacola was lying at the wharf ready
to go down the next morning. We accordingly
passed the night at a most excellent tavern where
I sought my couch early, being much fatigued,- and
rose betimes in the morning that I might view the
City of Wheeling. This, I found to my astonish-
ment, a bustling city of 8,000 inhabitants, being a
place of embarkation and landing of goods for the
surrounding country, and the most important town
on the river between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. It
has but one street of any importance, however, be-
ing shut in on one side by a mountain and on the
other by the Ohio River. These two, however, are
the sources of its prosperity, the river providing
commerce, the mountain iron ore for its forges.

The steamboat to which I presently turned my
steps proved to be a most elegant one. I was told
of the great improvement that had been made in



these vessels within the last two years. Whereas
formerly the berths stretched the whole length of
the cabin, one part being curtained off for the ladies,
now staterooms have taken their place, both elegant
and commodious and giving both privacy and com-
fort. The salons are marvels of comfort and
beauty, the floors are carpeted, the folding doors
into the ladies' cabin richly paneled; indeed, the
whole of the noble vessel is fitted up with exquisite
taste. The officers and men are of a much better
class than formerly, less reckless than those com-
manders who risked the precious lives entrusted to
their care to keep up their vessel's record for speed.
Anxious to see the vessel on which I was to take
this journey, I arrived at the wharf before 10, and,
acting upon Mr. Letcher's advice, chose one of the
four rooms aft the wheel, which are considered safer
in blowing up or accidents of this kind. In my
ignorance, I had supposed we would start at the
time stated, 10 o 'clock. Instead we lay at the wharf
until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, taking on freight.
This, I learned, is the main object of the trip, and
when the boat is descending the river a stop is made
at every little hamlet, at many a lonely landing, to
leave freight or to take it on. This makes the
voyage tedious in the extreme if the traveler is im-
patient. "You can make no calculations on your
arrival anywhere. You may calculate when an
eclipse will certainly happen, but you can not ascer-
tain the period when you will go 100 miles on a
steamboat without interruption," said my friend,
counseling me to patience, though in truth I had


shown no impatience, foreseeing, as I did, much
pleasure both in the way of sightseeing and of com-

Some humorous stories were told us by the com-
mander of our boat in relation to these frequent
stops. One day, as a boat was plowing along at a
rate of twelve miles an hour, it was hailed by a man
on shore. With difficulty the boat stopped and
rounded to, supposing he either had freight to be
taken on, or -wished a passage, only to learn that
he merely wanted to know whether they could take
his hemp to New Orleans on their next trip. An-
other boat landed for a passenger who had been
signaling with both hands only to be informed that
he had not been signaling at all, but merely brush-
ing away the mosquitoes with both hands to enable
him to read the name of the boat.

In groups of twos and threes the passengers came
on, men whose dress and bearing indicated wealth
and position, planters without doubt from the South
who had been visiting in the East and were return-
ing home, frequently accompanied by their families
and servants; men whose assured manner without
the leisurely elegance of the planter class clearly in-
dicated the merchant; roughly-clad farmers; an oc-
casional smooth-looking gentleman whose shifty eye
marked him as a member of the gambling fraternity,
who I had been told infest the steamboats and are
the cause of many a comedy and tragedy. On and
on they came until I foresaw that we were to have
a large, varied, and interesting company from whom,
in the freedom of intercourse permitted in so


leisurely and pleasurelike an excursion, I should
have ample opportunity to learn much of the West-
ern country. Our own party was already on board.

The circuit rider and Arnold Buffum had pre-
ceded me, for it was with Mr. Letcher that I had
gone about the city after breakfast. The young
female came later and had evidently gone at once
to her stateroom. Just as the last barrel was being
rolled aboard and preparations being made for lift-
ing the gang plank, I perceived far up the hill, a
couple hurrying towards the wharf, followed by a
negro carrying their bags. Something familiar in
the man's carriage caught my eye. I looked again,
and as he set his foot on the gang plank, recognized
him as Thomas Buford, my class mate at the Uni-
versity, whom I had not seen since the day of our
graduation, when he returned to his home in Missis-
sippi. His surprise and pleasure, when I rose to
greet him, equaled mine. The reason for his pres-
ence was soon explained. He had returned to .my
state to marry the lady at his side, Miss Jane
Hunter of Ohio County, Virginia, and was now tak-
ing her back to his home in Mississippi, stopping for
a few visits on the way.

Mrs. Buford is a pretty creature of about 17, of
a figure full, yet delicate. Her hair is as black as
the raven's wing and has its very sheen; her eyes
rival it in hue and are as bright as stars. She is
extremely vivacious, and I speedily foresaw that,
no matter how tedious our journey in the matter of
time, we should at no time be lacking in entertain-

11 We were to meet my cousin here," she said.
"She has been at Mrs. Phelps's school at Ellicott's
Mills and we were to accompany her on her journey
down the river. She was intrusted to my care in-
deed, otherwise, she would not haye been permitted
to go so far alone. Our carriage was mired a few
miles out of Wheeling, hence our delay. Have you,
sir, by any chance, observed her among the pas-
sengers, a very pretty young girl, extremely shy!"

"A young female from the Patapsco Institute
came out to Wheeling in the same coach with our
party," I informed her. "I observed her come
aboard this vessel some hours ago."

' ' Oh, 'tis she ! ' ' she cried, and darted off, followed
by her husband, who had not yet reserved their
stateroom, and my friends and I resumed our obser-
vations of the ' ' deckaneers, " 1 as the men are called
who handle the freight.

It was an hour at least before Mr. Buford, ac-
companied by the ladies, came on deck and sought
our group, the ladies, I surmised, having occupied
the time with much important conversation on per-
sonal matters. We were all duly presented to Miss
Caroline Hunter, for such, I learned, was her sur-
name, and as I had surmised from our journey in

J From 3811 to 1830, the "deckaneers" as they were then called,
were native Americans whose manhood exacted a manly treatment
from their employers. Between 1830 and 1835, this work was done
by German immigrants. From 1835, through the Civil War period,
the Irish immigrants monopolized the deck labor upon the western
steamboats. Since the Civil War, the whites have been altogether
supplanted by negroes, and the term deckaneer has given way to
that of roustabout. The individual condition and treatment of these
crews have gone from bad to worse. Editor.


the stage coach, she is most shy and modest. I had
now the opportunity to observe her more particu-
larly in the proximity afforded by the grouping of
our deck chairs. Her nose is the finest feature of
her face, which is very rare. Her face is one of
those which require studying. When excited in con-
versation she is very interesting, her deep blue eyes
have depths that but enough of this I am not in
love yet!

Mr. Letcher and the circuit rider proved them-
selves most edifying companions, as they sat with
us, commenting on the constantly changing scene
that passed before our eyes as the gallant steamer,
glorious champion over winds and waves, rode
with the current of the noble river. The Quaker
said little, but I noticed that he drew his chair near
ours always, and seemed ever intent on the conver-
sation. Gradually, into our group were drawn
many of the others. Some were already known to
Buford, others to Mr. Letcher. With some, we fell
to talking without introduction at the table or in the
smoking room or over the cards. For I confess
that I took a hand at cards occasionally and was a
witness late one night of a game of faro, in which a
negro man was staked and played by Bullock, a
negro trader. And lost, I should add, as well.

One of the men, a planter from Mississippi, as-
sured me that it was almost impossible to believe
the rapid changes in the Western country, which
imparts to it the character of a players ' stage where
both the actors and the scenery are shifted as fast
as you can turn your eye. "It is difficult to


realize," said he, "that only twenty-nine years ago
the first steam craft 2 navigated these Western
waters and that these lonely shores, which hitherto
had echoed only to the occasional ululations of the
boatman's horn, were ever after to be wakened by
the shrill yet often musical whistle of the steam-

Not many years ago, he informed us, these river
banks were covered with the primeval forests, which
from time to time were mowed down by storms.
Over the fallen trees, masses of vines and creepers
soon ran, making a passageway impossible; trees
and wreckage were also brought by the floods, so
that many times the river traveler must go miles
and miles before he could find a landing place. In
the winter the stream was frequently frozen for
long periods, and when the ice finally broke up
terrible ice gorges were formed, the blocks of ice,
enormous in size, working themselves up on the

Not only were the banks thus terrible and forbid-
ding, but the river bed itself was full of terrors,
seen and unseen. There were "planters," logs
which were imbedded in the river bed and stuck out
of the water, either straight up or slanting, and
which were immovable. There were "sawyers,"
trunks or limbs of trees protruding from the water,

s The New Orleans, belonging to the Ohio Steamboat Navigation
Company, incorporated by D. D. Tompkins, Robert R. Livingston,
DeWitt Clinton, Robert Fulton, and Nicholas J. Roosevelt, December,

1810, was launched March, 1811, went to New Orleans in October,

1811, the first steamboat to navigate the waters of the interior.


which were kept in motion by the swinging tides of
the river. There were bars, snags, rocks and sunken
logs, and worse than all these, the Indian foe along
the river bank.

"And some of these dangers still remain," Mr.
Letcher, who stood near by, reminded him. "Ten
thousand obstructions were removed from the Ohio
in the twenties and thirties, but for some reason the
work has ceased, though as many more remain. It
requires great nerve and hardihood to pilot a mag-
nificent steamer like this on a river which has re-
ceived so little improvement. Whether another ad-
ministration " He broke off abruptly.

"If you are meaning, sir, to cast any aspersion
upon the President, pray understand that as a loyal
Democrat, I stand ready to defend him against the
world," cried my friend Buford hotly.

I had not forgotten the fiery temper which more
than once had got my former classmate into trouble
at the University. Buford is a handsome young
fellow, with dark glossy hair, regular features, a
sparkling eye, and with a perfection of dress and
delicacy of swagger that mark the dandy, though he
is far from the empty-headed foppishness of that
class. He is in reality a fine-souled fellow with a
stratum of good common sense in his composition,
though with an excessiveness of the fiery tempera-
ment usually attributed to the South. I was re-
lieved at the tactful manner with which Mr. Letcher
relieved the situation.

"I trust, my young sir," said he, "that you will
recall the presence of our young female companions,


and hasten to make your apologies to them. As to
the attributing of the failure to continue internal
improvements to any body of men, that is too large
a question to enter upon now. Pray note, my dear
madam," he turned to Mrs. Buford, "the resem-
blance of yon hilltop to an ancient fortification.'*

Buford instantly collected himself, made his apolo-
gies, and, harmony restored, we sat in silence con-
templating the scene before us, whose beauties,
silhouetted against the sky and mirrored in the
placid bosom of the river, to be enjoyed should ever
be viewed from the deck of some quiet boat.

The banks on either side, approaching and reced-
ing like all earthly joys, present a succession of tall
and picturesque cliffs with alternate valleys,
meadows and woodlands which nature seems to have
arrayed with more than her customary regularity;
while numerous islands, decorated with superb
trees, complete a natural panorama. The deep
forests that cover the hillsides or lave their branches
in the waters of the beautiful river are arousing
themselves from the slumbers of winter, and against
their green appear at frequent intervals the white
umbrella of the dogwood, the pink blossoms of the
red bud, and the pendulous bloom of the trumpet
vine. Small wonder that the French, whose taste
is as correct as that of the Greeks, called this the
Beautiful River !

And yet it is not, as might be inferred from this
description, a quiet river. Craft of every kind were
continually passing us steamboats, large and
small, going up and down the river ; flatboats on the


way to New Orleans laden with corn, hay, pork and
manufactured articles and smaller craft of great
variety. These flatboat excursions, I was told, are
eagerly look 3d forward to by the farmer whose dull
and monotonous round of existence is enlivened by
these long journeys to the famous and far-away city
of New Orleans. The danger from the river bed
itself, from the river pirates and from the long,
tedious journey homeward, for, as the flatboats can
not come up stream, they are broken up and sold in
New Orleans and the men must walk home on "the
Tennessee Path'* or "the Bloody Way," as the
perilous road is called, does not deter them. Many
of these craft we passed on our way, among them,
a novelty, a floating theater, concerning which I was
told an amusing story. When moored one time at
an Indiana town, an audience aboard and the play
in progress, the moorings were cut loose by some
mischievous boys and the boat, drifting down, could
not be landed for some miles, from which point the
audience was compelled to walk home.

Added to the interest given our journey by the
sight of this varied water craft, was the excitement
caused by the steamboat landing. Heralded by the
whistle, blown several miles away, our boat would
approach a town, turn with a laborious churning o
the waters to make its landing at the floating wharf,
to find a crowd gathered to meet it. It has been
twenty-nine years since the first steamboat journey,
yet, 'tis said, interest in the boat's arrival never
slackens. The townspeople come aboard to see and
chat with their friends, the officers; the loafers

, ^


> 5


gather to watch the deckaneers unload the freight;
in short, the steamboat's arrival is one of the events
on the town's calendar.

I will here and now endeavor to set down my im-
pressions of the towns ere they slip completely from
my memory. Marietta 3 the first town of any im-
portance, called, 'tis said, from the ill-fated Marie
Antoinette, was the first settlement made in Ohio,
being settled by revolutionary officers, soldiers and
their families of sturdy Puritanical stock of Massa-
chusetts and Connecticut, and to them is attributed
its culture and intellectuality.

The town is pleasantly situated on the right bank
of the majestic Ohio, at the junction of the clear
waters of the Muskingum, and in the midst of a
thickly wooded country whose hills furnished in un-
limited abundance the oak, the pine and the locust
for shipbuilding, which was established here in 1800.
By 1805, 'tis said, no less than two ships, seven
brigs and three schooners were built and rigged

"0 wouldst thou view fair Melrose right,
Go visit it by pale moonlight."

The same might be said of Isle de Beau, Blenner-
hassett's Island, past which we floated by a moon-
light which transformed the historic spot into a
scene of enchantment. "This little world, the pre-
cious stone set in a silver sea," this little wooded

"In 1878 Manesseh Cutler and Winthrop purchased for The Ohio
Company of the general government 1,500,000 acres lying along the
Ohio River. The first settlement at Marietta was made in 1J88, -


island took on another aspect as Mr. Letcher, in
eloquent phrases, repeated the story of the ill-fated
Irishman to the two young ladies, re-creating the
past with an unbelievable vividness.

" 'Twas here," he said, "that this gentleman and
scholar, a man who could repeat from memory the
Iliad in the original Greek, came in 1801 and, having
purchased this island, reared upon it a costly and
splendid edifice for his dwelling house. A consider-
able part of the island was laid out into gardens
after the most approved model of European taste,
and the whole scenery combined seemed like the
fabled fields of Elysium."

He sketched for us the picture of the mansion
forming half an ellipse, with circular porticoes, one
wing with library, philosophical apparatus, labora-
tory and study, all furnished with luxurious comfort
and elegance rich carpets, splendid mirrors, hand-
some curtains, costly silverware; he told us of the
idyllic happiness of the family, of Mrs. Blennerhas-
sett, a brilliantly active girl, "a marvelously good
and sweet mother, hostess and friend," of the com-
ing of Aaron Burr into this paradise like the ser-
pent into Eden. He described the scene of Blenner-
hassett's flight, the wanton destruction of their
Lares and Penates before Mrs. Blennerhassett's
eyes, of her departure from her ruined paradise and
of her lonely death in a New York garret, closing

Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 2 of 26)