Kate Milner Rabb.

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

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ferry across the Wabash, at the same time laying
the foundation for his reputation as a most excellent
physician and surgeon. He is a graduate of Prince
William College, and resided in Cincinnati for a
season before coming to this place. He is a hand-
some gentleman, somewhat past 50, with snow-white
hair, an erect figure, an imposing presence and
most courtly manners, reminding me much of my

Among the younger physicians, I found most con-
genial Dr. Reed, a young gentleman of 29. In his
office on the public square, he has collected a library
of considerable size and merit, and I found much
amusement and edification in poring over these
volumes while waiting for him to measure out
nostrums for the patients who had gathered in his
office. He showed me the latest tale of our South-
ern novelist, William Gilmore Simms, "Playo, a
Tale of the Goth, ' ' purchased, he says, at the Phila-
delphia Book Store, kept by a Mr. Flint, a rather
good emporium. " Simms," he remarked, "will
add a new chaplet to his wreath of literary honors
with this volume, and do great credit to his fame.
It is an exciting story of the old time, as its name
imports, and richly rewards a perusal."

Here, too, I found a book of graceful letters,
"L'Abri, or the Tent Pitch M," by N. P. Willis,
Esq., a young writer coming more and more into
favor; a most excruciatingly funny book entitled
"John Smith's Letters with 'Picters' to Match,"
from the graphic pen of the veritable and original


Jack Downing; 6 "The Private Journal of Aaron
Burr" in two volumes, which I longed for the time
to read, and a year's numbers of a magazine printed
in Cincinnati called The Family Magazine, a veri-
table treasure trove of information which does
credit to the West.

Through Dr. Reed I met many of the physicians
Dr. Ball, a native of New Jersey, a gentleman
highly esteemed in the community, and whose wife's
family, the Richardsons, were among the first set-
tlers of the town, she a most delightful female, I
will add ; Dr. Patrick, brusque and most intelligent ;
Dr. Richard Blake, a Southerner from Maryland;
Dr. Daniels, and next a surprise sufficient yet to
make my heart beat faster as I write Dr. Thomas
Parsons !

I remember that Dr. Reed had repeated my name
when first he heard it, as though 'twere not un-
familiar, but he said naught until he brought me
face to face with him. I knew that my father had
cousins residing in Maryland, who long ago had
gone out to Kentucky. We knew not their where-
abouts, but my father had urged me to make in-
quiries. This Dr. Parsons, it seems, was but a boy
when the family moved to Kentucky, and he came
to Indiana in 1819, being now a man about 36 years
old, and as yet unmarried. He was as rejoiced,
apparently, to see me, as I to see him, and he in-
sisted at once on my coming with him that I might
relate to him everything I could remember of his

An extremely popular humorist of the time, Maj. Jack Downing,
now forgotten. Editor.


relatives in Virginia, promising, in return, to see
that I view everything of note, and make the ac-
quaintance of every notable before leaving his
adopted city. To-morrow I shall record my meet-
ing with Mr. Eose and my various social experiences
in his company.


ON BOARD STEAMER Indian, JULY 20, 1840.

1AM beyond doubt deeply indebted to Mr. Chap-
man for recommending that I take up my abode
at the Prairie House while in Terre Haute.
While 'tis true that it is literally "out on the
prairies," the walk into the town is not a long one,
and the tavern itself is so palatial in every way and
the guests so agreeable that I can of a truth say
that nowhere on my journey have I been so pleas-
antly entertained.

I rose betimes, the morning after my meeting with
Dr. Parsons, my new-found cousin several times re-
moved, for a cool breeze was blowing over the
prairie, the birds were singing, and all nature was
calling me to come out. After an excellent repast
I wandered into the office room and taking up a
number of Mr. Chapman's paper was soon lost to
my surroundings in a perusal of events of import-
ance. News from the outside world has now the
spice of novelty to me, for it haps sometimes that
I am so situated that I do not see a news sheet for
several weeks together.

I therefore perused with much interest the account
of a United States exploring expedition. Letters
have been received from Lieut. Wilkes dated


Sydney, New South Wales, which establish beyond
question the existence of a great continent in the
Antarctic seas, this discovery made Jan. 19, 1840,
and just now reaching our public prints. Full de-
tails are said to be given in the Sydney papers.

Queen Victoria held a drawing room last
month, and her costume is described at length, a
dress of white tulle over white satin, body and
sleeves richly ornamented with diamonds and
blonde; skirt elegantly trimmed with a rich blonde
flounce ; train of pink Irish poplin richly brocaded in
silver and lined with white satin, with a head-dress
of feathers and diamonds, necklaces and rings en
suite. The details of fashion have a special
piquancy, after our backwoods experiences.

An item of especial interest to the traveler be-
cause it reveals the dangers only too recently from
the Indians, was copied from a Peru, Indiana,
paper : "Mr. John Parrett, Jr., residing in Whitley
County about thirty-five or forty miles east of this
place, visiting the residence of some Indians, found
in their company a white male child supposed to be
6 years old, black eyes and fair hair, large for his
age, and has a long, broad, full face. The child is
thought to have been taken from its parents by the
Indians and carried to where it was found. Mr.
Parrett purchased the boy of his adopted parents
for $2.50, and took him to his house, where his
parents, if living and chance to see this notice, may
find him."

According to my custom, I noted the market price
of various commodities, flour, $3.75 a barrel; meal,


12 and 15 cents a bushel; wheat, 50 cents a bushel;
potatoes 10 and 12 cents a bushel; butter, 5 and 6
cents a pound ; eggs, 3 and 6 cents a dozen ; whisky,
14 cents a gallon.

The greater part of the paper was devoted to
political items, a long letter from Mr. Robert Dale-
Owen covering the entire front page. These polit-
ical items I read always with the greatest interest,
because each party seems to me to be very strong,
and espousers of either side each assure me that his
party can not fail to win. From a perusal of this
paper, for instance, one would be convinced that the
followers of Gen. Harrison stand no chance what-
ever in the coming elections. The editor writes that
he thinks it an evidence of insanity on the part of
Mr. Lane, Whig nominee for Congress in the
Seventh District, that he should run against Mr.
Hannegan. In another column the accusation is
made that Mr. George H. Proffitt, a Congressman, I
was to learn later from Vincennes, and one of the
most brilliant men in the state, "is literally flooding
the state with electioneering documents. Not con-
tent with practicing on the unsuspecting of his own
district, he must stick his finger into every other.
We have a letter before us from Clay County, stat-
ing that at one small postoffice no less than three
pounds of 'Lives of Harrison' printed at the Madi-
sonian office, came in one mail, franked by G. H. P.
as public documents. These are the men who cry
so loud about abuse of official power! Democrats,
you must be stirring! Every scheme which in-


genuity can invent will be put into operation to de-
feat you. Be watchful, then! Be prudent! Be
firm ! And above all, be united ! ' '

It is probable that my face betrayed my thoughts,
for a gentleman sitting near me, having evidently
perceived what I was reading, said, with a smile,
"Most convincing, no doubt, until you read the other
side ! Pray listen to this. ' ' Drawing a paper from
his pocket, a Whig sheet with the title The Spirit of
Seventy-Six, which I learned later is printed at the
capital, Indianapolis, he showed me column after
column of statements entirely as positive that the
Whigs would be victorious in the state elections.
He told me the story of how some leader had
written to the editor, Chapman, telling him that he
must put on a bold front and seem to be positive
that the Democrats would win. "Tell Chapman he
must crow, ' ' he said, and that this story has got out,
to the discomfiture of the Democrats and the enor-
mous delight of the Whigs, and that every Whig
paper has in black letters, "Crow, Chapman,
Crow." He read me from this paper a bit of
doggerel entitled "Song of Jim Crow."

"Let all de British Tory

"Who feel so very low,
Keep stiff de upper lip

And give a loud Crow.
Brag about and bet about

And grin just so,
And every time you meet a Whig

(Jive a loud Crow,


"Massa Van he frightened,

Everybody know.
Still he scold at Amos

Cause he doesn't crow,
Brag about and bet about,

And grin just so ;
And never lose de spirits,

But give a loud crow."

"Now as for Mr. Proffitt," continued my com-
panion, " 'tis all a base and scurrilous slander.
Mr. Proffitt is one of the finest gentlemen in the
state, and the greatest public speaker in the West.
Let me tell you something in confidence," he said,
lowering his voice. "The Whig citizens of this
county have so high a regard for Mr. Proffitt and
esteem so greatly his services in this campaign, that
they intend in September to give a great barbecue
in his honor. We have the form of our invitation
already prepared, which I will show you, strictly in
confidence, sir, we do not want our enemies as yet
to get wind of it. It will be engraved in due season
and sent out to the respectable citizens of this and
other counties," he added.

I unfolded the memorandum he handed to me
with great interest. It ran as follows: "Sir:
The Whig citizens of the County of Vigo will give
a barbecue to the Hon. George H. Proffitt on the
third of October next in a grove south of this town
for his vigilant, bold, and energetic course as a
Representative in Congress, and for his general zeal

1 One could wish that Mr. Parsons had gone into more detail be-
cause this incident is said to be the origin of the adoption of the
rooster as the symbol of the Democratic party. Editor.

in sustaining and advancing the Whig cause. You
are respectfully invited to attend with the assur-
ance that it will afford the citizens of Vigo great
satisfaction to have the honor of your company on
the occasion. With high regard, Your obedient serv-
ants, Thomas H. Blake, James Farrington, T. A.
Madison, A. L. Chamberlain, John Dowling, Rufus
Minor, Henry Boss, Charles T. Noble, Lucius Scott,
Committee. ' '

11 There, sir, the cream of the community, on that
committee, present company always excepted!" he
added, with a whimsical smile.

I was sufficiently impressed, for this seemed to me
a great tribute, and presently my new acquaintance
explained to me that he was the A. L. Chamberlain
of the committee and we fell into an interesting

Learning of my intended profession, Mr. Cham-
berlain straightway presented me to a gentleman
who sat near us, a Mr. Griswold, who is a young
man come here recently and who for a season was
the instructor in a school, but who has now formed
a partnership for the practice of the law with an-
other young gentleman, a Mr. Usher, 2 who came
here from New York state driving all the way in an
open buggy.

"We met here in this tavern," said Mr. Griswold.
"On a frosty morning in the fall, as I left the break-
fast table, I was followed by a strange young guest,
and meeting face to face before the fireplace, we fell

1 John P. Usher, who later became a member of Lincoln's Cabinet
and died in 1889. Editor.


into conversation. From exchanging experiences,
we came to confidences, and it was not long until
we had agreed to enter into a partnership. This
was only last year," he explained, "and our firm is
Usher and Griswold, and our office is on Cherry
Street, where I hope to have the honor of your pres-
ence for a call.

"This inn," continued Mr. Griswold, "I regard
as a paradise. 'Tis not alone its comforts, though
there is much to be said for them, 'tis the company
that gathers here and the free and easy intercourse
ah, sir, it has something about it I can scarcely
define, but which you must even now perceive!"

I admitted that already I had felt something of
this charm in the hospitality and the pleasant com-
panionship afforded in its ample rooms, and we were
conversing in a most lively fashion when who should
arrive but Dr. Parsons, who naturally knew them
both well, and we accordingly sauntered forth to-
gether toward the town, talking gayly, as is the cus-
tom with young folk, together, in pleasant weather
and beset by no carping care.

All of the young gentlemen are members of the
fire company, it seems, and there was no little jest-
ing on the subject as we walked along, and they told
me something of the formation of the company. In
spite of their jests I noted that they felt consider-
able pride in the company and in the engine "Old
Hoosier" bought some years back. Their Council,
they said, had but recently appropriated $300 for
the construction of a cistern in each ward. Many
funny tales had they to tell of fires and fire fighting.


Spirited young men, all three of them, in their sev-
eral ways.

Our next burst of laughter was at the sight of a
drove of hogs coming down the street. I have al-
ready described the appearance of a drove of hogs
on a country road on their way to Cincinnati.

"Behold, Mr. Parsons," said Mr. Griswold, in
tones of mock solemnity, "behold a vision of Pork-
opolis. Mayhap you have not heard that in spite of
our culture, our schools, our professions, the real
source of our prosperity lies in our pork-packing
establishments, of which we have so many. Can it
be that none has as yet vouchsafed you a view of
those elegant edifices, those slaughter houses, our
pride, that cluster on the river's brink? Mayhap it
has been whispered to you, young sir, that our great
fear, at least the fear of those of us who own no
porkers, and no packing house, but who breathe the
refined air of the heights of culture, that our
adopted city may yet receive the name of Pork-
opolis! Perish the thought! Eather may our
boasted prosperity vanish ! ' '

As he burlesqued tragedy in his tone, we stood at
attention on the sidewalk, watching the surging
mass of porkers go by, a sight well worth the see-
ing. First went a man on horseback, scattering
corn and uttering at intervals in a minor key the cry
"Pig-oo-ee! Pig-oo-ee!" All along the sidewalk,
at street crossings and at alley ways helpers were
stationed to keep in line the pigs that were driven
forward from the rear by drovers with long sticks.
The rear was brought up by the very fat porkers


who had to have special attendants, and a wagon fol-
lowed for those who became too tired to walk.
'Twas an interesting sight, and we stood until they
had entirely passed.

"Joke as you will, Griswold," said Mr. Chamber-
lain, "these are indeed amazingly the source of our
prosperity. And whence, pray tell me, would your
much needed fees come were it not for these de-
spised hogs? You must understand, Mr. Parsons,"
he said to me, "that corn grows on our fertile
prairies for the planting, and that it is the food
of all others for fattening these hogs. 'Tis then but
a matter of killing them and sending the meat to
New Orleans on flat boats. Let us show him," he
proposed to the others. "Let us walk over to the
river. ' '

I confess that I had not the slightest idea of the
immensity of the river traffic, and that I hastened
to jot down the information that these three ac-
corded me, between jokes, as we stood on the river
.bluff and looked down at the beautiful river at
whose wharf lay several steamers.

The use of the river for shipping is almost un-
believable, they informed me. In 1836, as many as
800 steamboats came here, steamboats from New
Orleans, St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati and Pitts-
burg, being daily visitors during the boating season. 3

This year more than 200 boats are carrying on
a regular traffic between these Wabash towns and
ports on the Ohio and Mississippi. However, the

*The almost complete passing of the steamboat traffic on both
Wabash and Ohio makes the statement almost as unbelievable to us
as it was to Mr. Parsous. Editor.


flat boats are the most astonishing sight to me.
This Wabash River, it seems, is a thoroughfare for
all the country to the north by which the farmers
may ship their produce, and it is undoubtedly made
excellent use of. In less than a month and a half,
in the fall, they told me, 1,000 flat boats will pass
down the river, the majority of them loaded with
flour, pork, etc., in this proportion: one-tenth with
pork, 300 barrels to the boat; one-tenth, lard,
cattle, horses, oats, corn meal, etc., and the re-
mainder of the load consisting of corn on the ear.
However, as a proof that this is not always the load,
they told me of a flat boat setting out from Jackson
County at one time, going down White River, carry-
ing a load of hickory nuts, walnuts and venison
hams. The value of the produce and stock on flat
boats is $1,000,000 annually.

I had already seen flat boats on the Ohio River,
but had received no particular information concern-
ing them. Mr. Chamberlain, who seems a most
practical gentleman, explained to me their value, as
besides having great carrying capacity, they are of
light draft, and hence adapted to small streams, and
in times of flood, the countryman living on a small
stream in the interior can construct his flat boat,
load it and float it to the Wabash and thence to the
Ohio and Mississippi. The matter of construction
is easy and not expensive. He called my attention
to the great tulip poplars which abound in this
locality. "These," said he, "are easily worked
with the ax, and afford slabs long and broad
enough for the sides. All that remains to be done,


then, is simply to attach planks to these for the
bottom and ends, and the boat is completed."

He told me what I had already heard, that these
flat boats can not come up stream. The flat boat
man disposes of his produce in New Orleans, sells
his boat to be broken up for lumber, and returns on
the steamboat, though in the early days it was neces-
sary that he should walk home over the long road
known as the Tennessee Path, though it was fre-
quently called The Bloody Path because of the high-
waymen that infested it.

I will note here that through the kind offices of
Mr. Griswold and Mr. Usher, whom I found most
congenial companions, I met many of the members
of the bar of this city for whom there is but space
to record their names that I may be enabled al-
ways to recall them. It seems to me, as I recount
them, that the number is unusual for the size of
the city and that their ability is also remarkable.
There is Judge Demas Deming, vastly rich, a man
of ability and of remarkable poise; the President
Judge, Elisha Huntington, a man of vast popu-
larity; Judge Jenckes, Judge Gookins, the firm is
Kinney, Wright and Gookins, and I found them all
men of most agreeable manners, Judge Kinney and
Judge Gookins being most interested in the good of
their fellow men. This last named gentleman re-
lated to me the interesting fact that with his mother
and brother, he was the first to come into the settle-
ment by the northern route, they having come out
from New York, and the journey occupying six
weeks and two days. Another attorney-at-law was


Mr. Barbour, a young gentleman who graduated
from Indiana College at Bloomington and in whom
I was particularly interested when he informed me
that he had read law in the office of Judge Isaac
Blackford in Indianapolis.

Through Judge Kinney, I made the acquaintance
of a most interesting man, the Rev. Mr. Jewett,*
pastor of the Congregational Church.

While I have found many sects in the Western
country, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Chris-
tian, Catholic and Universalist, this is my first en-
counter with the Congregational Church, whose
stronghold, I learn, is New England. Mr. Jewett, I
was informed, was making a tour of the West as a
missionary, and passing through Terre Haute, de-
termined to remain over the Sabbath. On hearing
that he was a minister, the people invited him to
preach at the court house, and so much impressed
were those who heard him by his beautiful character
and his interesting discourses that he was urged by
all classes to establish a church here and return East
for his family. Mr. Jewett, 'tis easily to be seen,
is a man of strong sympathy and broad catholicity
of spirit and superior talent, and I marveled not
at all at his popularity when I had heard him preach
and engaged in conversation with him. 'Tis no
wonder that his church is so thriving and embraces
such admirable citizens among its members.

Among the merchants of the city whom I remem-
ber best, perhaps, is Mr. Chauncey Warren, at one

4 It is a matter of interest that the successor of Dr. Jewett in this
church was Dr. Lyman Abbott who remained there from 1860 to 1866.


time a partner of Mr: Rose. Him I met through
Dr. Modesitt, his father-in-law, and I found him a
man of great liveliness, an excellent raconteur and
in manner most kind and agreeable. A gentleman
of the Quaker faith, a man of refinement and most
gentle manners was a Mr. Ball who came to this
city some years ago and was engaged as the chief
engineer in the building of the Wabash and Erie
Canal. I met, too, the sons of Maj. Markle, one of
the founders of the city, and builder of its first mill,
a man, 'tis said, of unusual charm and ability, and
these sons I found most agreeable young gentlemen.
I must record the name, too, of Mr. Curtis Gilbert,
one of the early citizens, for a long time postmaster
and conspicuous in all public movements, a most
estimable and agreeable gentleman, who told me,
among interesting narrations of the town's early
history, of the visit here, in 1831 of Mr. Clay. This
great man, he said, was entertained at the Eagle
and Lion, the first tavern in the village, and a most
noted resort, which I have seen with its quaint sign
of the American bird pecking out the eyes of the
British Lion. In the early days, it was frequented
by chance travelers and by the traveling lawyers,
and it was the central place of meeting for the
townspeople and moreover possesses an enormous
stable for the accommodation of the stage and
wagon horses.

Senator Clay, said Mr. Gilbert, was met several
miles from the village by a large number of citizens
and escorted into the town, his approach being an-
nounced by the roar of artillery. Addresses were


made by citizens of prominence and his eloquent
reply is still quoted by his admirers of whom I find
many, a matter which will delight my father, and of
which I must not fail to inform him.

Space is lacking for more than a brief mention
of one item that has impressed me much, the multi-
plicity of businesses and occupations I have found in
this small city more, I believe, than in any other I
have yet viewed. I have already mentioned the
pork-packing, a great industry in itself, the stores
of general merchandise, a most excellent market.
There are also a wagon yard, a brick yard, shoe-
making is carried on, coopering, and hat-making
and there are several mills.

In the matter of schools, this, for a town of its
size, does not compare, it seems to me, with others
I have viewed, though I am told there are several
private schools, in one of which Mr. Griswold, as he
told me, taught when he first came to Terre Haute. 5

'Twas in this same assembling room of the tavern
in which more and more from day to day as I lingered
I was to perceive the charm of which Mr. Griswold
had spoken so poetically, that I finally met Mr.
Chauncey Rose. Dr. Parsons had been called away
but he told me that he had spoken to him concern-
ing me, and one morning as I entered the office room

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Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 21 of 26)