Kate Milner Rabb.

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

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after breakfast, I saw a serious-faced, though kindly
gentleman approaching me, who inquired if I were

8 Mr. Parsons could not know of course that in October of this same
year (1840) the famous school of St. Mary's in the Woods was to be
founded, nor could he foresee the Rose Polytechnic, the State Normal
and other schools which were soon to flourish in Terre Haute.


Mr. Parsons of Virginia and informed me that he
was Chauncey Rose.

I found him pleasing at our first meeting, for
though a man of reticent nature, he is in reality
full of enthusiasm over his various enterprises, and
when he perceives interest in one with whom he con-
verses he talks rapidly and enough.

He told me at once of his coming here when there
were but two houses in the town, one occupied by
Dr. Modesitt whom I have already met, and that he
boarded at the Old Fort. He was only 25 then, he
is now 47, he says, but he soon perceived the value
of the prairie land and soon made large purchases,
in 1830, 640 acres in one vast tract. He was for a
time in the business of general merchandise with Mr.
Warren. He asked me many questions concerning my
legal studies, the purpose of my journey, and made
me some wise suggestions concerning investments.

"I am myself but now considering entering into
a company," said he, "which you may find of inter-
est, something altogether new in this part of the
world. In Greene County, not far distant and in
a southerly direction, a gentleman, Downing by
name, has discovered vast quantities of iron ore,
some under the surface, some scattered over the top
of the ground, due no doubt to some convulsion of
nature in past ages. He has started there a blast
furnace for the purpose of making pig iron, casting
stoves, etc., about a mile from Bloomfield, the seat
of justice, calling it the Richland Furnace."

"And is this town," I inquired, "on a body of
water, or what are the means of transportation?"


He seemed pleased with my question. "True,"
said he, "it would seem strange that one would go
into such a business so far from the ordinary means
of transportation for such heavy freight. Much of
this iron is hauled with horse teams to Louisville, a
distance of 100 miles, and for this the teamsters re-
ceive five dollars a ton. Later, some gentlemen
went into the business with Mr. Downing and pur-
chased a steamboat which they called The Richland,
and which could occasionally come up White River
and take off the iron. These gentlemen have left
the company and I am contemplating entering it
and increasing the capital so that the business can be
carried on on a large scale. I have great expecta-
tions of success from this enterprise. ' ' 6

Space is lacking and time is too pressing to do
more than record most briefly the remaining events
of my stay in this city. Through my friend, Dr.
Parsons, I was taken to the palatial mansion of the
Blakes, built by a merchant now deceased, a Mr.
Linton, situated some distance from the town.
Here, eight years ago, Mrs. Blake brought the first
piano of the town. 'Twas such a curiosity, she said,
that for a season passersby among the uneducated
would stop and ask her "to play on the critter."
Another fine mansion is that of Dr. Ball, whom I
have already mentioned, his wife being the daughter
of Joseph Richardson, one of the early settlers at

6 The original members of this enterprise besides Mr. Downing were
M. H. Shryer, William Eveleigh, William Mason, E. J. Peck and A. L.
Voorhees. It is a matter of regret that Mr. Parsons leaves the sub-
ject with such abruptness and does not tell us more of this enterprise,
the existence of which must be a matter of surprise to many resi-
dents of Indiana. Editor.


Fort Harrison, and a most excellent female. Dr.
Parsons being young and unmarried, 'twas but nat-
ural that I should meet in his company several of
the young females, and while I have not time to
record these facts, I must jot down the incident of
our sunset walk to the old Indian orchard. 7

This spot is so called, I was informed, from an
old Indian legend, and 'tis indeed a place of sur-
passing beauty. Three couples walked out together,
Mr. Usher, Dr. Parsons and myself, in the company
of the young females. Miss Eliza was my partner,
a pink-cheeked damsel, whose face, though pretty,
is lacking in intellectuality. She is a chatterer,
however, and she told me the story of the Indian
lovers most engagingly and I fancy that she is a sad
coquette. Ah well, were it not for the thought of
Julia, I might have been a readier victim, for the
spot is one to be dedicated to love on a summer eve !
We stood among the gnarled apple trees said to
have been planted by the Indian maiden, on the high
bluff looking out over forest, prairie, bluff and river.
The river makes a sweeping serpentine curve here,
and can be seen, 'tis said, for a distance of two miles.
The scene at sunset is one of surpassing loveliness,
the place a rural paradise.

'Twas from such scenes as this and such congenial
companionship as I have described that I was at
length forced to tear myself away and embark on
the steamer Indian for my next stopping place,

T Used as a burying ground for many years until the opening of
the City Cemetery about 1839. Editor.



IN spite of the announcement of the Indian's
owners that "The public can rely on the boat
making her trips on time, being the fastest boat
ever in this trade, ' ' I fear I should have thought the
journey a slow one had it not been for the congenial
companionship of a gentleman who introduced him-
self to me as Capt. Willis Fellows, recently ap-
pointed inspector of steamboats for the Port of
Vincennes. Him I found exceedingly well informed,
and while sitting on deck gazing upon the ever
beautiful and ever changing scene, I was continually
engaged in asking questions and jotting down the
information thus accorded me.

Ample as it was, it did not in the least temper my
amazement over the beauty, the antiquity, the inter-
est of this town. Its situation is of great loveliness,
being on what the early writers term a "savannah"
of irregular size, some miles in extent, with the
dense woods behind it and the placid river at its
feet. Along its streets, small century old houses
alternate with more recently erected magnificent
mansions. Its inhabitants, I have learned, are ex-
traordinarily interesting, high-bred people among
whom I have spent some of the most enjoyable days
of all my enjoyable journey.



I must confess to myself, although I endeavor to
keep the knowledge from others, that I am of a most
romantic temperament, and ne'er have I found a
spot, it seems to me, so full of charm as is this town
of Vincennes, a charm that I find it impossible to de-
scribe. Some of my newfound acquaintances have
told me much of the beauty of Indian summer in this
state, of the colors of the trees and of the opalescent
haze that hangs o'er woods and prairie and me-
thinks the charm is not unlike this haze. It is a
charm that comes from the age of the place and its
romantic history. The first French inhabitants
were, 'tis said, so good natured, warm hearted, and
gentle mannered that 'twas impossible not to love
them, and from what I can learn, their successors,
the English settlers, were people of refinement and
culture. From the beginning, there has always been
hospitality here; the place has been sought by
visitors from the old world, and these palatial home-
steads have been the scene of lavish entertainment.
When I close my eyes I can see, against the back-
ground of forest, the picturesque figures, the
painted Indian, the Jesuit father, the French
coureur-du-bois, the English soldier, the titled
visitors, the backwoodsman with his rifle ah, small
wonder my pen fails me when I attempt to write of
Vincennes! I shall merely set down, therefore,
some few of the incidents which I find most worthy
of recording.

First of all I sought out, on Captain Fellows' re(
ommendation, the American Tavern kept by Mr.


John C. Clark, a most affable gentleman. This inn
is in a most desirable situation, close by the Old
Fort, and commanding the Main Street ferry land-
ing on the river. It is situated on a corner, with
elevated porches on two sides from which one can
view the happenings in the streets, notably the mili-
tia musters. It is a meeting place for all promi-
nent citizens to transact business of a public char-
acter, and is moreover the headquarters for mer-
chants and traders from all parts of the country.

On the occasion of my memorable call on Judge
Blackford in Indianapolis in his room in the Gov-
ernor's mansion, he told me that he still considers
Vineennes his home, coming here every year, and
gave me the names of several of its respectable citi-
zens whose acquaintance I should make, and with
them, a letter to Mr. Samuel Judah of the firm of
Judah and Gibson. I accordingly set out to find Mr.
Judah, who received me most warmly and whom I
found a most extraordinarily interesting gentleman
of a little past forty, perhaps, with remarkably fine,
piercing black eyes. He is a native of New York,
and came out to Vineennes some years ago. He is,
I soon perceived, a profound scholar, and a gentle-
man most interested in young men of ambition. He
is most proficient in the Greek and Latin languages
and possesses an interesting library whose contents
I took pleasure in noting. Having learned the pur-
pose of my visit, he was even more gracious and
affable, if such were possible, and invited me to re-
main to a meeting to be held that same afternoon at


four o'clock, in his office, of the Historical and Anti-
quarian Society. 1

This society, of which Judge Blackford was one
of the original members, was organized in the year
1808 to investigate authentic evidence concerning
the early history of the place, over which there is
some dispute, I learn, and it has already accumu-
lated a considerable library and museum.

At their last meeting the officers for the coming
year were elected: Mr. Nathaniel Ewing, Presi-
dent; Mr. S. Hill, Vice-President; Mr. G. R. Gibson,
Treasurer; Mr. A. T. Ellis, Secretary, all of whom
I met on this occasion and who showed themselves
most cordial to me.

At this meeting several objects of interest were
presented to the society which I, with their permis-
sion, noted down By the Honorable John Law, a
discourse before the New York Historical Society
by William B. Reed; by the Kentucky Historical
Society, a large collection of books and pamphlets;
by the Honorable Albert S. White, whom I had met
at Lafayette, a memoir, historical and political of
the northwest coast of North America, by Rob-
ert Greenhow, translator and librarian to the De-
partment of State; by the Honorable John W. Da-
vis, documents No. 206, 26 Con. I Sess. House Rep-

1 "It is a matter of sincere regret that the Vincennes Historical
and Antiquarian Society was permitted to perish for want of appre-
ciation and support. The valuable collection of important physical
specimens contained in its museum and its documents and records
were suffered to be carried off and scattered, and are not now, for the
greater part, in existence, or at least are not accessible to the pub-
lic." (Cauthom.) The society has in recent years been revived.

The "Vincennte Literary Dramatic Society' will give their first perform-
ance on Saturday the 2nd of February, 1839, in t!ie room formerly occupied
as the Post Office, on Water Streclj where will be presented the Rev. B. C.
Matrum's Tragedy of




tt to conclude wiih ffr latlgfuil'h a>id-n

The Apprentice.

The members of this Soc.ii-i v deem it a duty devolving npnn themselves to
make this public declaration of their intentions, by publishing, to the citi-
zens of Yincennes, the first resolution of their "Ity-t.uirs."

u lieolved, That the surplus of this Society shall be presented to the Coun-
cil of the Borough of Yincennes, to be by Item, applied in the purchase of a
Fire Engine."

The room is well fitted up, and proper officers nil! be in attendance to en-
force order. Jfo smoking allowed. Front stats reserved for the ladies
Doors open at 6. Cnrtain will positively rite 15 minutes before?.

Tickets of adm ssion, 50 cents. Childrei over 10 years of age will be
charged full price No money received at the door. Tickets to be had at
Clark's Hotel, and at the stores of Messrs. Burtch $ Hannah, 0. Cruik-
shank <S," Co. and tie Coffee-Houses. Good music will attend the performance.

From the original in the Indiana State Library


resentatives, entitled " National Defense and Na-
tional Boundaries;" by the Honorable George W.
Rathbone, two skeins of sewing silk, one black and
one white, grown and manufactured in Vincennes
in 1839 ; by H. D. Wheeler, a specimen of ore from
Iron Mountain, Missouri; by George Frederick, a
calculus from a hog's bladder; by D. Stahl, a geo-
logical report of the state of Michigan; by H. Bert-
rand, Esq., a manuscript volume of 240 pages, in
French, dated 1790, a most beautiful specimen of

Mr. Ewing, the President, I found most agreeable.
In conversation, after the meeting, having inquired
concerning my journey, he informed me that he had
first come to this place as a boy from Pennsylvania
on a trading trip in a pirogue laden with apples
and salt, later having come to settle permanently.
He has been Register of the Land Office, and Presi-
dent of the first bank here, and has retired, being
now near to 70, to his country place, Mont Clair,
east of the city, to which estate he has invited me,
showing himself especially agreeable after I men-
tioned meeting his daughter, Mrs. Farrington of
Terre Haute. He also presented me to his son-in-
law, Judge Law, 2 to whom I at once gave Judge
Blackford's letter of introduction.

Judge Law is a man eminently handsome and ele-
gant in appearance, portly, with aquiline nose and

2 John Law, born in Connecticut, 1796, died at Evansville, Ind.,
1873. Graduated at Yale. Came to Corydon, 1817; later to Vin-
cennes. 1825, prosecuting attorney; 1830, legislative judge. Elected
to Congress. "A fluent and graceful writer, who gained a national
reputation for his contributions to the Colonial History of Indiana."


penetrating eyes. He is most urbane and at once
invited me to his home, to which I went on that same
ev'ening, my stay here being limited. I noted with
pleasure the beautiful home, the books and papers
like Judge Blackford he is an inveterate reader.
The spirit of hospitality was evident, and the affec-
tion in which he holds his family. Later, we sat
in the garden under the beautiful trees, and among
the flowers and fruits in whose cultivation he de-
lights, and he quoted Marvell.

"What wondrous life is this I lead!
Eipe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach ;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

"Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit tree's mossy root,
Casting the body 's vest aside
My soul into the boughs does glide ;
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and claps its silver wings,
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light."

His love for these surroundings was, I could per-
ceive, no idle fancy.

He is 44 years of age, he informed me ; from Con-
necticut, from which state his grandfather was a
member of the Continental Congress, and he him-
self graduated from Yale at the age of 18. The
pride of birth is there, it speaks in the stateliness


of his bearing, but much else, a courtliness of man-
ner, a brilliancy of intellect, a wit and humor that
make his conversation most delectable, in short, I
never have looked upon a man who, I deem, unites
in himself more of the gifts men pray the gods for.

On learning of my interest in the history of the
Western country and also my surprise over finding
such a body as the Antiquarian Society here, he
told me much concerning the object of the society
and its work and confessed that only last year he
had delivered an address 3 before the society on
the date of the first settlement of Vincennes.

"When I ventured to express to him my feeling
over finding a city of such age and of such historical
interest in what we in the East are wont, I fear, to
consider a wilderness, he burst forth:

"Think, sir, you are in a town which is one of
the oldest on the continent, one for the possession
of which the greatest nations of the earth have con-
tended France, England, the United States. Think,
sir, of this river, the Ouabache, they called it, a
river known and noted on the maps of the West
long before the Ohio was known in the geography
of the Mississippi Valley, a river which for nearly
a century bore upon its waters the bateaux of the
three great powers above mentioned, bringing their
armed warriors to occupy and if possible, to pre-
serve it. One which had seen within its garrison
the Mousquetaire of Louis XV, the grenadier of
George III, the rifleman of Clark, and the regular

3 This address was delivered on Feb. 22, 1839, and printed in 1858
under the title "The Colonial History of Vincennes under French,
British and American Government." Editor.


troops of Harmar, St. Clair and Harrison, one
above which has floated the Fleur-de-Lys, the Cross
of St. George, and our own glorious Stars and

He paused for a moment, and then continued:
"I came here at twenty-one, in 1817 it has
changed much since then; it had changed greatly
since 1800, I was told. Fancy, sir, what those first
English speaking settlers must have seen when they
came here, this little foreign village, the low-ceil-
inged, straw-thatched cottages, vine-wreathed, set in
blossoming fruit trees, the old church, which you
must see without fail, the Old Fort, no French-
man's tongue calls it aught else, 'twas only the Eng-
lish who said Fort Sackville, the Indians, the
priests, ah, 'twas a picture to stimulate a man's im-
agination to make a poet of him "

I ventured to say that the spell still hangs over
it for me, and 'twas perhaps this appreciation of a
place he loved so well that caused his continuous
and untiring kindness to me throughout my visit.
'Twas upon this occasion that Judge Law told me
of those men who have given what I may call his-
toric interest to the town the Sieur de Vincenne,
from whom it takes its name : Father Gibault, a most
celebrated priest who, when he heard of the Amer-
ican Revolution, called a public meeting of the
French of Vincennes, explained to them the nature
of the struggle and administered to them the oath
of allegiance to the American cause; Gen. George
Rogers Clark, over whose exploits I have marveled
much; Col. Francis Vigo of whom I had already


heard at Terre Haute, and above all, of Gen. Wil-
liam Henry Harrison, who came here as first Ter-
ritorial Governor of Indiana to find a French vil-
lage, few in the place speaking or understanding
aught but the French language, and who devoted
himself while here to the promotion of learning and

Besides these whom we may call public charac-
ters and historic, are men of prominence now living
here or but lately passed away, who are a part of
the history of the place. Among these is Bishop
Brute, the first Eoman Catholic bishop of the Dio-
cese of Vincennes, born and educated in France,
who came to this -city in 1834, at which time the
church of St. Francis Xavier was partly erected.
Bishop Brute left, so Judge Law tells me, a mar-
velous library of 6,000 or 7,000 volumes, priceless
manuscripts, many of them, some dating back to
1476. Another gentleman is Elihu Stout, who
founded the first newspaper in the state, the Vin-
cennes Sun, the first number of which was issued in
1804. Mr. Stout was one of the founders of the
Historical Society, where I met him and enjoyed his
conversation, although, as he was an ardent Dem-
ocrat, I found his opinions of the election altogether
at variance with the opinions of the many Whigs I
have encountered.

I found the opinions of another gentleman, Mr.
Caddington, who edits the Vincennes Gazette, much
more to my liking, and it was this gentleman who,
when I questioned him concerning Gen. Harrison's
following in this place and the strength of the Whig


party, invited me to accompany him to a great mass
meeting and barbecue to be given in the walnut
grove before the Harrison mansion, of which last
named I shall write at length later on.

The scene was one of indescribable interest. Two
speakers had been provided, so Mr. Caddington in-
formed me, but the crowd was so enormous, so far
exceeding all expectations, that it was necessary to
provide two others that all the crowd might be ac-
commodated at once. The two speakers first pro-
vided were the Mr. George Proffitt, 4 concerning
whom I had heard so much in Terre Haute, and a
Mr. George G. Dunn of Bedford; the two others
hastily invited, were Mr. Eichard W. Thompson,
who chanced to be in the city at this time, and Mr.
John Ewing of Vincennes, whom I had already met.
With my new friend, Mr. Caddington, as cicerone,
I penetrated the vast crowd, stood on the trench in
which the great bullocks were roasting, when the
time came, ate my share with, I must confess, a most
unsuspectedly voracious appetite, washed it down
with dippersful of campaign cider, heard with great
delight campaign songs shouted forth by lusty
voices, and listened with the greatest curiosity and
interest to each of the speakers.

Of Mr. Proffitt I had heard so much, including the

4 George H. Proffitt, educated in England and France ; belonged to
one of the leading families in Louisiana, where his grandfather held
the office of surveyor general under the French government. Came to
I'ike County in 1826, a very young man and engaged in merchandise
business. Legislature, 1828, and elected to same position five times
in succession; two terms in Congress; minister to Brazil under
Tyler; died in Louisville, 1847. Man of extraordinary popularity;
had high standing in the East. Editor.


encomiums of my Terre Haute friend who had told
me of the barbecue planned in his honor next month,
that I had the greatest curiosity to see him and
was no ways disappointed in my expectations. Mr.
Proffitt is a handsome young man, below the medium
size, slim and spare, with a good mouth, a high
forehead, dark eyes and light brown hair. He had
spoken but a few moments when I perceived the se-
cret of his power and marveled not when Mr. Cad-
dington informed me that he has already a high
reputation for oratory in the East and South. His
voice is remarkably loud and clear, having that qual-
ity known as "silvern," so here he has an advan-
tage over many of his adversaries; his elocution is
of the most fluent, his imagination most fertile, he is
ever quick and ready. 'Twas easy to see how he
swayed the multitude I have never heard a more
persuasive speaker. Mr. Caddington related to me
an incident revealing this power. It seems that for
some reason, some years ago, about the time of an
election, he had become unpopular with the people
of his town, whether through the defamation of his
rivals or some fancied wrongs, is unknown. Hav-
ing in some way become aware of this displeasure,
Mr. Proffitt notified the voters by placards at the
polling place, that he wished to address them once
more before they voted, and such was his power,
popular or unpopular, that a large crowd gathered
to hear him. He spoke for an hour, says Mr. Cad-
dington, and so strong was his logic, so overpow-
ering his eloquence, that he secured every vote in
the town, much to the chagrin of his scheming op-


ponents. "He is a true Southerner," concluded Mr.
Caddington, apparently forgetful of my origin, of
which I did not remind him, fearing his embarrass-

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Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 22 of 26)