Kate Milner Rabb.

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

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town to the railroad in an omnibus, but an inclined

Jesse D. Bright (1812-1875) lawyer, able Democratic politician,
state senator, Lieutenant Governor in 1843, and later, United States
senator. Editor.

James F. D. Lanier, founder of Winslow, Lanier & Co., was at
one time a practicing lawyer in Madison and later president of the
Madison Branch Bank. He went to New York in 1848 to start the
banking house which bears his name.: Editor.


plane 7 is in process of construction commenced in
1836 by which the cars will be let down the incline
by gravity and hauled back by horses.

A locomotive for this railroad had been ordered
from Baldwin Company's works in Philadelphia, but
unfortunately it had been shipped on a vessel around
by New Orleans, and during a storm was thrown
overboard with other freight to save the ship. As
the invitations to the grandees had already been is-
sued when this news came, a locomotive, the Elkhorn,
was borrowed from Louisville, brought over on a
boat used to transport stone and dragged up the hill
by five yoke of oxen. The great event was a success.
The people gathered from far and wide to view the
sight, the Governor and important officials arrived
in due time, the trip was made, and on the party's
return a banquet was held in a building down by the
river, over which Mr. Bright was master of cere-
monies. He showed me one of the invitations, which
he is carefully preserving, and which reads as fol-

" MADISON, OCT. 15, 1838.

"Sir The Common Council of the city of Madison has
directed us to invite you to participate with them in a
festival to be given on the occasion of opening the regular
trips of the cars on the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad.

T When the plane was completed the cars were let down the in-
cline by gravity and hauled back with eight horses driven tandem
to each car. The practice of letting all freight and passenger cars
down by gravity was continued until 1880, at which time Col. John
J. R. Shaler, superintendent of the Jeffersonville, Madison & In-
dianapolis Railroad, issued orders requiring the hill engine to be
attached in the rear of all cars coming down and going up the in-
cline. This order is still effective. Editor.


The hospitalities of the citizens of the city will be tendered
to you on Monday of the 26th of November next. On
Tuesday the celebration will take place, and on Wednes-
day you will be taken on the cars to Vernon on your way
to Indianapolis. Arrangements will be made to convey
you from Vernon to Indianapolis if necessary.

"Milton Stapp, J. F. D. Lanier, C. P. J. Arion, Jesse D.
Bright, John King, Committee."

Mr. Bright, I soon learned, was an ardent Demo-
crat, and when I heard his views on the coming
election I began to wonder if, after all, Gen. Har-
rison was so likely to be elected as I had supposed.
"True," said he, "the Whigs are noisy and con-
spicuous ; the tocsin has been sounded and they are
daily girding on their armor, preparing for the con-
flict, but they do not realize the strength of their
foe." Taking up a copy of the Madison Courier of
recent date, he read me a long editorial, concluding
with, "Let us leave the subject for the present with
a firm reliance that the people of the State of Indi-
ana and of the Union at large will never place an
individual at the head of the affairs of the only re-
publican government upon earth, that has and still
entertains sentiments so diametrically opposed to
the universal spirit of freedom that pervades every
American heart."

As he concluded, most impressively, a sound at-
tracted my attention (we were sitting in his office),
and I turned to see standing in the doorway a most
unusual man, over six feet high, ungainly, with a
large head covered with a mop of sandy hair. He
was carelessly dressed, Ms stock bow awry, his


trousers twisted, but there was that in his face and
bearing that bespoke the man of power. He smiled
rather scornfully.

" Faugh, Bright, you know as well as I that Gen.
Jackson turned the ship of state out of her course
and Mr. Van Buren has kept on. He has been ad-
monished of danger, been told by several good old
pilots that he would run the ship aground or drive
her on the breakers, where she would be ship-
wrecked, but he seems to fear no evil and to listen
to no counsel. Thus the country suffers. Business
is nearly suspended, confidence is destroyed, and
will never be restored until Gen. Harrison is elected.
But stay" he silenced Bright with a gesture "I
did not come for this ; we can talk politics any day.
I wish to meet your young friend, of whom I have
heard much."

This was Joseph Glass Marshall. 8

For some time, he sat and chatted with us on
various subjects. Among other things he related to
me the story of Daniel Webster 's visit to Madison
in 1839, on which occasion he made the welcoming
speech. A Mr. George Robinson, an orator, editor
and lawyer, who was present, after hearing the
speeches, went to his office, wrote both speeches out
from memory, and returning, laid them before the
speakers. Both pronounced them exact, word for
wordj a most remarkable performance.

On the same evening, in company with Mr. Bright,

Joseph G. Marshall born 1800, came to Madison in 1828. As a
lawyer he stood among the very first in the state; his ability to
present his facts in the strongest possible manner was excelled by
po man. Editor.


I called at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Creagh and
together with the young ladies we sallied forth to
Paul's Spring, a pleasure resort. This Col. Paul, 9
I was told, was the founder of Madison.

The spring known as Paul's Spring, to which we
now bent our steps, is in the heart of the city. Here,
in 1812, a pleasure resort was established, with
rustic seats of hewn logs disposed about the
grounds. Here, I was told, the pioneers indulged in
dances on the green and wrestling bouts with the
Indian braves. Every evening, in pleasant weather,
the population of Madison gathered at Paul's

The young ladies were most charmingly attired
for this occasion. Miss Nancy, who walked with
Mr. Bright, wore a gown of violet satin with the
skirt immensely full, trimmed with lace, the whole
veiled by a long lace mantle. Miss Mary's simple
frock was almost covered by a pardessus of muslin
lined with straw colored silk and enriched with rich
descriptions of laces. Under her bonnet rim were
tucked clusters of violets and rosebuds. I felt my-
self quite equal to the occasion, for I had dressed
myself with care in my frock coat of brown, with
high rolling velvet collar, and vest of light buff, with
striped pantaloons.

9 Col. John Paul (1758-1830) bought the site of Madison in 1808;
founded Madison in 1810; was a volunteer colonel in the War of
1812. His home, the second brick house in Madison, is a two-story
house on the second bank of the river. Mindful of the difficulty he
had in making a landing, cutting his way through vine-tangled
thickets of willow, sycamore and cottonwood, he cleared the trees
from the terrace reaching from his front door to the river, making
a lawn 400 x 600 feet before his house. He piped water through
hollow logs to his house from a spring two miles distant. Editor.


'Twas a beautiful night, moon lighted, the breezes
soft and warm, and we sat for some time on the
benches, watching the people passing to and fro and
the gambols of the children. "VVe talked of songs
and of books. Miss Mary had, just that day, she in-
formed me, been perusing "The Laurel Wreath,"
a gift book, whose contributors are among our most
eminent writers, and which is recommended as a
model of literary excellence as well as moral instruc-
tion. She plays the guitar, too, she confesses.

Mr. Bright was in high spirits, he confessed, as we
strolled homeward, having parted from the young
ladies, feeling the witchery of the moon. He
hummed a serenade, then much in vogue

Underneath thy lattice, love, at even,
When the village clock is tolling seven,
And the stars are gleaming in the heaven,
Thou wilt hear my light guitar.
Tra-le ra le ra la la la
Tra-la le ra la la la !

"Pis true she is charming, and so are many of the
others whom I met at the evening party, but I must
confess that since meeting one all others, howe'er
fair, seem insipid. Ah, well !

Much impressed with the city, which I learn is
soon to be visited by Eastern architects who will
erect handsome residences for some of the town's
wealthy citizens, I desired much to view the adjacent
country and learn something of the price of farming
lands. Since it is my purpose eventually to pur-
chase land in this state, I intend making careful in-


quiry into prices and quality of land and market
facilities in each locality I visit.

In company with Mr. Bright I rode horseback one
fine May morning out to Wirt, a village a few miles
from Madison settled by the "Iron Jacket" Bap-
tists, among them John Burns and wife and James
Burns and wife, to call on this same Capt. James
Burns 10 who, I was told, was the owner of several
farms and could give me much of the information
I desired.

Wirt was named by Capt. Burns for William Wirt
of Virginia, his native state, which he left early in
life to come out to Kentucky and thence to Ohio,
where he was one of the militia of Ohio who kept
guard along the river at the time of Aaron Burr's
flight to intercept and capture him. He came down
to Madison on a flatboat in 1814.

Capt. Burns 's home is a large frame house with
two front doors, pleasantly situated on a hillside,
among forest trees, and was of particular interest to
the entire countryside at that time because in its
spacious kitchen stood the first iron cook stove in
the community. Capt. Burns drove me out through
the country, 11 showing me the farms, giving prices
and regaling me with many interesting anecdotes
from his varied experience.

Across the road from Captain Burns 's house was
a graveyard in which Mrs. Burns told me I would
find the grave of her father, Elder Jesse Vawter,

10 Grandfather of Judge Harrison Burns of Indianapolis. Editor.
u It is a matter of regret that our diarist neglected to record
the prices of this farming land. Editor.


whom I mentioned early in this diary as a promi-
nent Baptist minister. I copied the inscription on
the stone for my father, to prove that, after all,
Indiana is not so new a country. The lines run,

"In Memory of Elder Jesse Vawter, who departed this
life March 20, 1838, aged 82 years, 3 months, 20 days.
He lived in the state of Indiana 32 years. He left sur-
viving him 4 sons and 4 daughters, 71 grand- and 54
great-grandchildren. ' '

Another drive of interest which I took in company
with Mr. Marshall had for its object the college at
Hanover, founded in 1827 by the old-school Presby-
terians of Salem (la.) Presbytery. The road to this
institution winds pleasantly along the river and to
the college up the face of the river bluffs by gentle
grades and easy curves, from which elevation the
scene is of most impressive beauty. I had the
pleasure of meeting the president, the Rev. Erasmus
D. McMaster, D. D., who informed me that during
this collegiate year, which would end in September,
the whole number attending was 105 students, of
whom five were candidates for the degree of
Bachelor of Arts. Mr. Marshall told me much of
the Union Literary Society and presented me to
several of the members, among whom I remember
most distinctly a Mr. Thomas A. Hendricks of Madi-
son, a most charming young fellow, now in his
junior year.

To-day being my last in the city, I made a visit
to the boat yard, one of the flourishing industries
of Madison, and made note of many points in the
construction of the steam boat and of its business. -

At Wirt, a few miles north of Madison


The steam boats on the western waters, it seems,
are all what is termed "high pressure" and are con-
structed very differently from those on the Atlantic
waters, with which I am somewhat familiar. The
cylinders are generally in . a horizontal position.
The lower deck, on which is the engine and ma-
chinery, all open, is appropriated for some freight,
fuel and deck passengers, but the bulk of the freight
is carried in the hold. On the upper deck, extend-
ing nearly the whole length of the boat, except a
small portion forward, is the upper or dining
cabin, but the details of this part of the boat I
have set down earlier in my diary. What inter-
ested me here was what I learned of the life of a
boat. It is not of long duration. In three or four
years it is generally "used up." But they are in-
dustrious when afloat, running on an average about
180 days in a year. Their consumption of fuel
varies somewhat in proportion to their tonnage ; be-
cause some boats of the same number of tons con-
sume more than others for this reason, they have
more boilers. A boat of 100 tons will consume
about eighteen cords of wood in twenty-four hours.
The price of this wood in Ohio is $2.50 a ton.

The monthly wages of a captain or commander
are $150 a month; of a pilot, $140; of an engineer,
$125 ; of a clerk, $50, and of a fireman, $25.

I was informed that the price of voyaging is
higher by at least 25 per cent than last year, in
consequence, say the- parties interested, of the ad-
vance of wages and the high price of provisions, and
when their tables do not present as plentiful a sup-


ply and as great variety the same reason is assigned,
* ' the high price of provisions will not permit it. ' '

The hour is late, my candle burns low, and as I
depart in the morning, and the cars leave the depot
at 9 o'clock, I must now seek my couch.


VEKNOST, JUNE 2, 1840.

1WAS accompanied to the omnibus which carries
the passengers from the town up to the station
at the top of the hill on the morning of my de-
parture from Madison by Mr. Hicklin and Mr.
Bright, who bade me farewell and gave me into the
care of John G. Sering, who was acting as Station
Agent in behalf of the state. The duties of this
office require him to be on the train each trip, and
see that all the passengers and freight are duly
entered on the Way Bill and a copy of the same kept
on file for the use of the state. This bill, which Mr.
Sering permitted me to examine, gives the pas-
senger's name, the number of seats occupied by him
and his family, if so accompanied, his extra baggage,
his home, his destination, and the sum paid for his
fare. Our passengers numbered twelve on this trip,
stopping at various stations on the route, and the
sum collected from them was $7.75.

I previously had met several of the gentlemen on
the train, among them Mr. Cravens and Mr. Sims,
who were making the journey together, and they
showed themselves most agreeable in pointing out
to me various localities of interest along the line of
the railroad. A remark to Mr. Cravens concerning
my journey to a new country indicated that he con-



sidered this country no longer new and he talked
to me most interestingly of the classes of settlers
who sought it in earlier days.

"There are three classes in the Western settle-
ments," said he, "which, like the waves of the ocean,
have rolled in one after the other. First comes the
pioneer, who makes a small clearing and builds a
rude cabin in the primeval forest. The next class
comes in, purchases the land of the pioneer, who
pushes on to more distant primeval forests, and adds
field to field, builds roads, bridges, schoolhouses and
leads a plain, frugal but civilized life.

* * The next class is composed of men of capital and
enterprise, under whose leadership the small village
rises to a spacious town or city, adorned with sub-
stantial edifices of brick." This third wave, he in-
formed me in conclusion, is now sweeping over large
districts of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

In pleasant conversation on topics connected with
the country and political affairs, the time passed
very rapidly, and by noon I found myself in Vernon.
The approach of this town is most interesting, as the
county, named after Jonathan Jennings, the state's
first Governor, is traversed by creeks, whose borders
are broken, the hills interspersed with rich alluvial
valleys and high tablelands or "flats."

The north and west forks of the Muscattatuck,
quite a large and beautiful stream, unite with the
south fork here at Vernon, curving like an encircling
arm around the little village and shutting it in on
three sides.

Having sought the tavern on my arrival and there


procured, I must confess, an indifferent dinner of
the ham, eggs, biscuit and coffee, which seems to
be the universal bill of fare at country cabin and
village caravansary in the western country, I walked
about over the town on a voyage of discovery.

Vernon is a post town and seat of justice and its
location on the state road, and the fact that it is at
present a post road, insures it an increasingly pros-
perous future. 1

It was court week, I learned from the proprietor
of the tavern, a time when all the people, old and
young, men and women, assemble at the county
seat. The chairs before the tavern front were all
occupied by men who, tilted back against the wall
under the grateful shadow of the overhanging bal-
cony, exchanged stories and viewed the changing
crowd in evident satisfaction. To the hitching racks
around the Court House lawn were tied the horses
of the country people, whose women, in gay calicoes
and flower-wreathed bonnets, often piloting a little
family, crowded the stores. Farm products were
being unloaded, freight that had been brought in on
the train, carried away from the depot to the various
mercantile stores, in short, the whole scene was one
of extreme liveliness and ceaseless activity.

The population of the town is now 350, 1 had been
told. Besides its large and elegant brick Court
House, whose lawn is shaded by tall forest trees, it
has a jail, a stray pound, and a clerk's office, two
taverns, two mercantile stores, a carding machine,

1 Our diarist's prophecies are sadly incorrect as regards the future
of some of our early towns. Editor.


two physicians, one lawyer, a minister, and a num-
ber of craftsmen of various trades.

As I had been given letters by some of my Madi-
son friends to Dr. Ezra F. Peabody, I now sought
him out at his office, which I found to be situated on
the ground floor of a small building on the public
square, a large room with shelves on one side of
which were ranged large glass jars with gilt labels
indicating their contents, a great mortar and pestle
for the pulverizing and compounding of drugs, and
a pair of scales in which, at the moment of my en-
trance, the doctor was engaged in weighing out a
quantity of quinine. He is of a gaunt figure, and
speaks low, as I learned later, and with great slow-
ness, but is full of easy and interesting talk.

"Enter, sir, and be seated," he said courteously,
and having perused my letter, "I am now engaged
in the compounding of pills for the cure of the ague,
the scourge of our new country. While it is now
not so severe as it was at the time of the first settle-
ment, when it was often so malignant that as many
as three or four deaths of adults occurred in one
family in less than forty-eight hours, the long and
severe chills followed by a burning fever still are
common and are frequently more than a match for
our skill. The form which afflicts the settlers along
the Wabash is known as the Wabash ague, and is
the most severe known."

As he talked, he proceeded with deft fingers to
pour the quinine on an inverted plate, mix it with
a small quantity of molasses into a thick dough, with
the aid of a spatula, cut portions of this into bits and


roll them into pills, dusting them, at the last, with

Among many other things he told me that the
town of Vernon was founded in 1818 by Col. John
Vawter, 2 now an elderly man, to whose home, near
by, he promised to take me as he started forth to
make his call. When founded, the proprietors made
a donation for the benefit of the county, which pro-
duced upwards of $5,000, by the avails of which the
Court House, which I had so much admired, was
erected, as well as the stray pound, the jail, and the
clerk's office, in which, he told me with pride, is a
library room with near 200 volumes of choice books.
After defraying all these expenses, the county still
has about $500 loaned out at interest.

Col. Vawter, he told me, like all the Vawters, is
a peculiar character, very stubborn, but good, honest
and dependable. He was once subpoenaed as a wit-
ness in two cases in which a well-known Irish lawyer
was engaged, in one, on the side in whose favor Col.
Vawter was to testify ; in the other, on the opposite
side. In summing up the first case, in which Col.
Vawter was his witness, the lawyer cried out:
"And who is this Col. John Vawter? He is the
marshal of the territory of Indiana, the founder of
Vernon, and the defender of the oppressed." In
the other case, the lawyer thus apostrophized him:

3 Col. John Vawter, born in 1782, in Virginia; moved to Madison
in 1807; first magistrate of Madison; sheriff of Jefferson and Clark
Counties in 1810; United States marshal in Indian campaign, 1811-
1813; colonel of militia in county, 1817; pastor of Baptist ChuTch
in Vernon, 1821-1848; in Legislature, 1831-1835; state Senate, 1836;
moved to Morgantown in 1848; died in 1862. Editor.

"Who is this old John Vawter? He is the hireling
of the United States government, the nabob of
Vernon, and a secrater of nagers!"

The pills compounded and put in the pill box,
which found its place in the saddle bags, Dr. Pea-
body flung these over his arm and walked with me
out on to the square. As we walked towards Col.
Vawter's house, he told me two other facts of great
interest. One was that a large brick meeting house
had been erected at a common expense, in which the
several churches, Baptist, Methodist and Presby-
terian, convene, each one according to its appoint-
ment, the oldest having the preference; the other,
the Jennings County Academy, which was organized
in 1824 by Dr. Burt, the Rev. Daniel Lattimore, W.
A. Bullock, Alanson Andrews, the Rev. J. B. New
and Dr. Peabody, and he pointed out to me the two-
story brick building with two rooms and an outside
stairway. A superior class, surely, these citizens of
Vernon, so early to provide for education by means
of such a school and a library !

By good fortune, we found Col. Vawter at home,
and he received me with the utmost cordiality. As
he was just preparing to ride out to the home of
his brother, a few miles from Vernon, he invited me
first to take dinner with him, and then to accompany
him on his journey.

"There are two different kinds of timber land
in this county," he informed me, as we set forth
soon after dinner. "The flats, as we denominate
them, are covered with large and tall timber, white
oak, beech, gum, soft maple, burr oak, hickory, and


some other varieties, with a thick undergrowth in
many sections, interwoven with grapevines. The
second is the rolling land, where grow profusely the
white oak, the black oak, the beech, the sugar tree,
the linden, the ash, the black walnut, the white wal-
nut, the cherry and the poplar, with an undergrowth,
on the rich bottoms, of pawpaw and an occasional
large sassafras. On the bottom lands along the
streams, sycamore, hackberry, elm and buckeye
flourish. ' '

So he talked as we rode, 'pointing out splendid
specimens of the forest growth, and the feathered
denizens of the wood, as well, whose sweet song
smote the ear this old man to whom the wood was
an open book, for, like his father before him, when-
ever he learned of a new settlement being founded,
he visited it, and held religious meetings there, some-
times blazing trees and breaking down underbrush
to mark his way through the wilderness.

On May 8, 1833, he told me, there was a killing
frost, still well remembered, because it had done
such damage to the timber in certain localities. On
the "west flats," the beech grove was almost en-

Online LibraryKate Milner RabbA tour through Indiana in 1840; the diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia → online text (page 5 of 26)