Kate Milner Rabb.

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

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many inns along the way, in Clay County, Ken-
nedy's, and, in a delightful situation, upon a hill,
Cunningham Tavern, which last named is fixed in
my memory because it stands just opposite a most
beautiful homestead erected by a Mr. Usher just two
years ago, I was informed, and which is considered
the finest dwelling house in this part of the state.

I had not been long in the stage coach before
noting the physiognomy of the gentleman who was
my vis-a-vis. There was something strangely
familiar in that noble face, the finely curved mouth,
the strong chin, whose squareness was but empha-



sized by its cleaving dimple. When he smiled and
spoke, I recognized his voice at once; he was a
clerical gentleman, a Methodist minister, whom I
had met briefly in Indianapolis, at the home of
Morris Morris, the Rev. Allen Wylie.

Mr. Wylie had recognized me immediately, he
said, and had been waiting to see if I would remem-
ber him. We talked most pleasantly of Indian-
apolis, and of our friends, and then he disclosed to
me that he was going on to attend the closing days
of a camp meeting, and suggested that if I had no
great reason for haste, I would find it well worth my
while to bear him company thither.

Needless to say that I accepted his invitation at
once. I had heard much of these camp meetings,
for this was the season in which they are held. I
was aware that this peculiar style of worship be-
longs to the Methodists, and I felt considerable
curiosity concerning them and was well aware how
pleasant it would be to visit one in company with a
man of the prominence of Mr. Wylie. As we rode
forward, he gave me much information concerning
the church and its practices.

This state, it seems, is divided into districts called
Conferences. At intervals, gatherings known as
Conferences are held quarterly. The camp meetings
are always held in the summer, and take the place
of the Conference for that quarter. They are
largely attended, many eloquent divines are present,
and Mr. Wylie assures me that they are occasions of
great spiritual outpouring, and conducive to great
moral and spiritual good. Unlike the other re-


ligious gatherings I have heard of or beheld in this
state, the debates between those of opposite sects,
for example, there are here* no controversies, only
exhortations to repentance, a continuous effort to
bring the sheep into the fold. There is, Mr. Wylie
declares, a great need of such meetings, because
there is, in this state, a class of well-disposed peo-
ple who have grown up without much religious in-
struction, and children of families who have run
wild in pursuit of pleasures of the world, and toward
these their efforts are mainly directed. Then, the
occasion is one to strengthen the faith of those al-
ready within the fold, a time when, undistracted by
either duties or pleasures, they may give themselves
altogether to worship, and renew their spiritual
strength from the Eternal Fountain.

All this is altogether new and unlike anything to
which I have been accustomed, and yet I am aware
that a new life and new conditions may perhaps
demand a new form of worship and,- while anything
so far from the conventions among which I have
been reared was, I will admit, on my first coming
hither, somewhat repugnant to me, I have now
breathed sufficiently the Western air, acquired suf-
ficiently the Western habit of thought, to be fain to
see somewhat of truth in what he told me. Mayhap,
too, I was the more readily become a convert be-
cause of his eloquence, for he spoke the most
quaintly and yet withal most wisely and convinc-
ingly. I had already witnessed it, and I was again
to observe at this camp meeting, that, while these
circuit riders are not, in the main, educated men,


yet they have studied the Scriptures so thoroughly,
that their speech, even their common conversation,
is almost altogether that of the Word simple, most
convincing, often poetical beyond belief. Yea, 1
have heard prayers but I anticipate.

We left the stage at some wayside tavern, sending
on my bags to Terre Haute, and rode some distance
on horseback, penetrating deeper and deeper as we
rode into the primeval forest. I thought, as I rode
under these noble trees, centuries old, erect as
marble columns, their heavy branches arching over
us, and came at last into the- opening chosen for the
"camp grounds," as they are called, that I had
never seen a more beautiful spot nor one more ap-
propriate for such worship. The camp was pitched
on a gentle declivity covered with a large growth
of trees, but no- underbrush, and from a neighboring
spring a little stream rippled, providing water in
plenty for all purposes of the encampment.

In this spot, a hollow square was laid out, the
inner side of which formed the front row of tents.
About midway on the lower side of this square, a
little in front of the line of tents, was erected the
preacher's stand or pulpit, in the rear of which was
a tent which served as a sort of vestry room for the
ministers. From this point tents were put up in
the form of lines fronting together, the rows being
left with proper entrance openings at the corners
of the main avenues. The cooking, I learned laier,
was done in the rear of the tents, where also the
meals were eaten. In front of the preaching stand
were log seats for the congregation.


By day one was impressed by the forest depth and
stillness, the arches of the great trees, the slanting
rays of sunlight on the thick turf; by night, in the
light of the candles thrust into bolts driven in the
trees and of beacons kindled on mounds built up, not
unlike altars, at frequent intervals without and
within the grounds, the heavy shadows throwing
into strong relief the rapt faces of the congregation,
one could but long for the brush of the artist, since
words alone could ne'er depict the scene. I be-
thought me of the lines of our native American poet,
William Cullen Bryant, which I had read many
times with pleasure, but which I now recalled with
true appreciation. He must have witnessed some
such scene as this, or he could ne'er have written
so feelingly of ''God's First Temples," these groves

" in the darkling wood,
Amid the cool and silence, he knelt down
And offered to the Mightiest, solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influence "

These backwoods ministers are right when they
choose such spots as this among these "venerable
columns," "this verdant roof," these "dim vaults,"
"these winding aisles," "fit shrine for humble wor-
shiper to hold communion with his Maker,"

There was, I soon learned, a rigid program for
the day, which is strictly followed out. I was
aroused very early, our first morning, by a loud
voice, the voice of some Brobdingnagian, it would
seem, for surely from no ordinary mortal throat


could such a voice proceed, and obeying Mr. AVylie's
beckoning forefinger, I peered through the tent en-
trance to see, in the preacher's stand, a man of
ordinary stature, rather uncouth in appearance, clad
in blue homespun, the skirted coat enormously long,
reaching indeed almost to his heels. His face was
upturned, his eyes closed, and he was bellowing
forth a song which, later, with Mr. Wylie's aid, I
recalled sufficiently to inscribe two stanzas in my
commonplace book. "Fishing Peter" was its name,
and the stanzas ran :

"When Christ the Lord was here below,

About the work he came to do,

Before He left His little band

He said to Peter, 'Feed My lambs.'

"But Thomas was of doubtful mind,
Yet Jesus left him not behind.
' Thomas, ' He cried, ' behold My hands ! '
To Simon Peter, 'Feed My lambs.' '

'Twas fortunate for me that Mr. Wylie, although
most devout, was also most full of fun and life, for
he therefore has told me the amusing sides of camp
life as well as the serious. 'Tis usual, he says, at
the meeting, to call the people together, to indicate
the time for prayers, for meals, for all down sittings
and uprisings; in fact, by means of a horn hung
in the speakers' stand. This man, he said, is old
Father Bennett, known as an "exhorter;" that is,
not a licensed preacher, but one who speaks God's
word and calls the sinners to repentance at various

1 A song of innumerable stanzas much in vogue in southern Indiana
in the forties and fifties. Editor.


religious meetings. He possesses, moreover, this
tremendous voice, and 'tis his pleasure, when he at-
tends a camp meeting, to sing this song, a favorite
of his, with, says Mr. Wylie, innumerable verses, to
call the people together, and from my own observa-
tion 'twas an undoubted success, for I give my word
'twas heard from one end of the township to the

Mr. Wylie told me many other things which I have
not space to record some of the humors of the
meeting for when these simple people are over-
come with emotion they are w r ont sometimes to ex-
press themselves in most amusing fashion, and to
express their conversion in most amazing terms.
One young man, Mr. Wylie told me, insisted that no
one was converted until he could smell fire and
brimstone, and that he himself smelt it. When the
minister assured him that this was imagination, and
tried to turn his mind toward Christ, he declared
that he did and that no one could be truly converted
until he smelt the terrible pit. At another time, a
woman, overcome with emotion, kept up her shout-
ing throughout the night, keeping all the camp
awake. When one of the ministers at last remon-
strated with her, urging her to save herself for the
morrow and be quiet, she called out, " Quiet?
Quiet? Ah, brother, if I were to keep quiet the
very stones would cry out ! ' '

Many amusing and many serious stories he told
me, and explained at length the program of the
camp meeting.

These meetings, he explained, usually begin on


Thursday, this being the day of pitching the tents,
gathering the supply of wood, arranging the lights,
settling the families ; by night, all being in order, a
special opening service is held, the first sermon
preached and the evening concluded with a brief
prayer meeting. The following Tuesday is the last
day, because, he explained, "the true time to ad-
journ is while the spirit of the meeting is yet in its
strength. ' '

No liquor is allowed on the grounds, and a volun-
teer police of young men of good family and
friendly to the church but not religiously affected
by the worship, keep guard against the rowdies who
delight in disturbing such meetings by trying to pass
within the lines, untethering horses, pulling down
fences, making an uproar and mimicking sounds.

In the morning, the horn is sounded at sunrise
or in this case Father Bennett sang at which time
all are to rise; half an hour later it is blown for
family worship, which must be observed in every
tent; breakfast next, and at eight or nine the horn
announces prayer meeting in tents.

At ten, preaching is held, then prayers at the
stand and call for " mourners," this meaning, it
seems, an invitation to such as desire the prayers of
those present from a conviction that they are
sinners. After this, there is a recess for the mid-
day meal ; at two in the afternoon, preaching ; again
prayers at the stand and a call for mourners. A
stop at the setting of the sun for the evening meal,
through which the mourners commonly fast, then,
the fires are lighted, making the beautiful scene I


have described, the heavy foliage brought out by the
light, the rapt faces before the pulpit; at seven, the
preaching, the hymns, the call for mourners ; at nine,
the horn, the signal for family worship in tents, and
then, to bed.

Mr. Wylie explained to me that the preaching is
regarded as a subordinate matter; the sermons, to
be successful, should be brief and telling; that the
desirable thing is exhortations to repentance, a serv-
ice which will convict the sinner of his sins and
bring those seeking repentance into the fold.

I have not yet spoken of the singing, of the plain-
tive voices joining in songs of exhortation, of invi-
tation to the sinner, yet 'tis the most agreeable and
striking feature of the meeting :

"Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore ;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power !
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more."

And of the one with which those who have found
light, who have become converted are greeted, the
Hymn of Rejoicing in Communion with God.

"Come, thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing thy grace ;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,

Sung by naming tongues above ;
Praise the Mount, I'm fixed upon it,

Mount of thy redeeming love!"


I can not describe the effect on me of this hymn,
carried by the high treble voices, rising in the sum-
mer night. Ah, who can say that this homage in
His woodland temple is not pleasing to the Great
Jehovah, and that He does not incline His ear, hear,
and grant these prayers?

I must haste, without further detail, to describe
the breaking of the camp which I remained to see
and which I deemed most impressive.

Early in the morning, the tents were struck. The
congregation then assembled, the exhortation was
given, hymns were sung, prayers were made. Then
the farewell procession was formed, led by the
ministers, followed by the congregation, and all
marched around the outside row of tents. On ap-
proaching the stand, the ministers stopped, and as
the line passed by, they took the hand of each one
in solemn farewell. 'Twas a most moving sight,
one I shall ne'er forget, and which left me most
solemn long after the woods had closed behind me
and my face was again turned toward Terre Haute.

The journey to Terre Haute was accomplished
without incident worthy of note, across the county
of Clay and into that of Vigo, I was so fortunate,
however, as to meet on the stage coach, which, as
I have noted before, is, like the inn, the great meet-
ing ground, and whose enforced intimacy one may
say almost compels conversation, a Mr. Chapman,
who told me presently that he is the editor of the
Wabash Enquirer, a newspaper published at Terre
Haute, and who, on learning of my tour of the coun-
try, volunteered much information to me.


The county of Vigo, I learned from him, is named
for Col. Francis Vigo, a companion and friend of
Gen. George Rogers Clark, a most gallant gentle-
man, who, after the war, cast his fortunes in the
new country and settled at Vincennes. Touched by
the compliment of conferring his name upon the
county, Col. Vigo left a bequest 2 to Terre Haute for
the purchase of a bell for the Court House cupola,
which will be purchased if e'er the estate is settled.

The surface of this country is either level or
gently undulating, its fine timbered lands inter-
spersed with beautiful prairies, and the land is uni-
formly rich, giving large crops of wheat, corn and
oats. The town, Mr. Chapman informs me, is
beautifully situated on a high bank of the Wabash,
indicated by the name, Terre Haute (high land),
and the views, as I was soon to learn, of prairie,
river and bottom land, most enchanting, the banks
along the river being especially beautiful with grass,
flowers and large trees. This town has the distinc-
tion of having come into being the same year that
the state was admitted into the Union, 1816, so it is
now twenty-four years old, and has about 2,000 in-
habitants. As are many of these towns, it is built
about a public square on which the court house

3 The money mentioned in the bequest was to come from Vigo'a
claim against the United States government for money loaned the
government by which Gen. George Rogers Clark was able to provide
rations for his soldiers in their march for the recapturing of Vin-
cennes in 1779. The original amount loaned was $11,387.40. When
it was at last allowed, the principal and interest amounted to $50,-
000. The claim was paid in 1876, forty years after his death.
Vigo's bequest was used aa the nucleus in the purchase of a bell and
a clock for the new Court House erected in 1884. Editor.


stands, and when this was reserved, two quarter
blocks were also reserved, one for a Seminary and
one for a church, located at an equal distance from
the public square. The town, said Mr. Chapman,
was laid off and platted by the Terre Haute Com-
pany, and when he recited the names, I found to my
great pleasure that I knew one of the gentlemen and
was familiar with the names of the others. The
Bullitts of Kentucky were known to me by reputa-
tion, some members of the family having attended
the University while I was there, and the other
familiar name was that of Hyacinthe Lasselle.
Other members of the company were Jonathan
Lindley of Orange County, Indiana, and Abraham
Markle of Fort Harrison, whose sons I was soon to

Mr. Chapman waxed most enthusiastic over the
past and future of this city.

"Who," said he, "would have expected such
rapid growth of a settlement in this situation? A
thousand miles from the sea coast, with no highway
of intercourse, no approach even, excepting the back
door of Vincennes, by way of Cincinnati, in a region
subject to incursions of the Indians, yet what hap-
pened? In 1815, a settled peace was concluded with
the Indians, permanent settlers began pouring into
the state ; later, the National Road was planned and
constructed, and now, in a location geographically
on the direct line of travel from East to the far un-
explored West, with the Wabash and Erie Canal on
the way toward completion, and with citizens of in-


telligence and gentility, the town has grown beyond
belief, and has a radiant future."

On perceiving my interest and my desire to note
facts in my commonplace book, he drew forth from
his pocket a copy of the Bloomington paper, The
Extra Equator 3 a number of which I had seen be-
fore and made note in this diary, and read me the
following selection :

1 'There are some towns, however, and irrespec-
tive of the aid they receive from this source (the
public works) have sprung into life as if by magic.
Among these and at the head, stands the town, al-
most city, of Terre Haute. Here, where a few years
since, all was in its native wilderness, now is the
show of life and business. Farms cover the rich
prairie as far as the eye can reach. By what town
is it surpassed, by what place is it equaled in beauty,
elegance, and health? Surrounded by the large and
rich farming communities of Parke, Clay and Sulli-
van, the products of which may easily be launched
on the bosom of the Wabash, which rolls at her base,
and thus quickly be deposited at any of the Southern
ports, her commercial advantages are by no means
of minor importance. Neither are her means of
communicating less than those of any other place
in our state. From every direction, stages are run-
ning the proprietor of one of which resides in our
town and in favor of whose enterprise and accom-
modations too much can not be said. To what, then,
can this growing superiority of Terre Haute be at-

8 The Extra Equator, Bloomington, Ind., Nov. 8, 1839. Editor.


tributed? Next to her local advantages may be
mentioned the enterprise and industry of her citi-
zens. By her salubrious soil and beautiful situation
she has invited the stranger of intelligence and
capital to reside here. When here, they have evi-
dently taken a pleasure in expending their industry
and capital in benefiting and launching the town.
In a word, as the prints of a town are generally
considered as the representatives of its prosperity
and generosity, if judging from this infallible proof
in this case we read the interesting, racy and
spirited columns of the Courier and Enquirer, we
should say that Terre Haute is unequaled."

"By far too complimentary to the editors," ob-
served Mr. Chapman modestly, "but most true of
the town. ' '

I learned from this same source that I was now
approaching a place of genuine historical interest,
a place that has a part in the history of the north-
west territory, Fort Harrison, erected by Gen. Wil-
liam Henry Harrison in October, 1811. The old
log fort, now sadly fallen into decay, I have looked
upon with the greatest interest. The inclosure is
150 feet square, a stockade of heavy timbers, with
block houses at the corners and two-story bastions,
a typical Western fort, even in its decay calculated
to fire the imagination and to recall the day when
from beneath the high bluff came the war cry of the
savage in his canoe echoing the shout of his brother
lurking above in the forest fastness !

For some time after 1816, 'tis said, the fort was
used as a refuge, for although the Indian was said


to be friendly, he was still regarded with suspicion.
The fort, too, was the landing place for all who came
up the Wabash to the new settlement, and many of
the first prospectors boarded at the fort on their
arrival, among them, Chauncey Rose, 4 Abraham
Markle and Curtis Gilbert.

I was quite ready, therefore, to be pleasantly im-
pressed with Terre Haute, at which we arrived near
nightfall. I had been advised by Dr. Layman to go
to "The Eagle and Lion," one of the oldest and
best taverns in the town, but Mr. Chapman advised
me of a new inn which I should by all means seek
out. This inn, he says, has but recently been built
by Mr. Rose, and is kept by a Mr. Barnum. This
Mr. Rose, he says, I must by all means make the ac-
quaintance of.

Mr. Rose is a gentleman of about 47, who came
out to Terre Haute from Connecticut in 1817. He
has, during his residence here, engaged in mercan-
tile pursuits, purchased vast tracts of land, built
houses, and, said Mr. Chapman, if I am interested
in investments in the new country he is the man
above all others with whom I should hold consulta-
tion. He furthermore promised himself to intro-
duce me to Mr. Rose.

I found the inn, while some distance removed
from the rest of the town, all and more than Mr.

4 Chauncey Rose, born in Connecticut, 1793; went to Terre Haute,
1817; died, 1877. "The list of his benefactions is a long one, includ-
ing the Rose Ladies' Aid Society, the Rose Polytechnic School, the
Rose Orphans' Home, the Rose Dispensary." The inn referred to is
the famous Prairie House, whose name Mr. Parsons neglects to give.
It is described at length in Beste's "The Wabash" { 1851 ) .Editor.


Chapman had declared it to be. His statement that
it is the largest and best appointed inn in this state,
if not in the West, is true without doubt, and I found
my apartment both commodious and comfortable,
and my meals all and more than I could have de-
manded. It was in a most excellent humor, there-
fore, that, the next morning, having changed the
garments in which I had traveled for the more
modish attire of broadcloth, fresh ruffled shirt, and
my best beaver hat, I set forth to find Dr. Layman's
friend, 5 and to view the city.

Through this friend, it was my good fortune to
make the acquaintance of the town's most prominent
physicians, of whom there is an unusual number.
Most capable and interesting men I found them. It
is a matter of interest and worthy of note, I think,
that among the pioneers, the professional men the
preachers, the doctors, the lawyers, who endure
great hardships in the practice of their professions
have been formed by this hard school of experi-
ence into men of mark. To change the figure, those
of baser metal do not survive the fire, and those who
do survive are all men of exceeding ability. How-
ever it be, I have found this uniformly the case in
each community I have visited.

A most striking and interesting figure is that of
Dr. Modesitt, pioneer physician, a typical Virginia
gentleman, unchanged by his residence in a pioneer
settlement. He can truly be called a pioneer, for
he built the first log house in Terre Haute, and
proved himself a man of affairs, setting up a mortar

Strangely, at no time does he give this friend's name. Editor.

for corn, when there was no mill, and establishing a

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Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 20 of 26)