In Possession Of The “Promised Land”

Monday, Nov. 22, 1819.–This day breakfasted with Mr. R. Morrison and dined with Mr. W. Morrison. These gentlemen are wealthy and live in very comfortable style. Mrs. R. Morrison is one of the most intelligent women that I have conversed with, and possesses a lady’s privilege, while Mrs. W. Morrison might rank, in point of beauty with some of the belles of Philadelphia. Dr. Hill having accomplished his business, we set out from Kaskia at 2 o’clock, after bidding a friendly farewell to many new friends made in this place. I must confess I found a few possessing so much more merit than I anticipated that I parted with them reluctantly. Traveled twelve miles, and arrived at Mme. LeCount’s. We supped with a tableful of French. Not one of them could speak English. Pumpkins, spoiled venison and rancid, oily butter for supper, added to the odor of a few ‘coons and opossums that were ripening in the sun, induced us to cut our comfort short. During the night I was taken ill with rheumatism. Bled myself largely. Set out at 6 o’clock in the morning rather better, though dull. Passed some small lakes full of ducks and geese. Saw seven deer, some wild turkeys and other game. Retraced our former steps. Passed Cahokia, a small and unimproving village, and arrived at the town of Illinois at 7 o’clock p. m.

Wednesday, Nov. 24.–Crossed over to St. Louis to inquire for old friends or acquaintances from Philadelphia. Even an enemy would have been taken by the hand, but to my disappointment there was no arrival. Recrossed the Mississippi, and set out for Edwardsville. Passed some large lakes. Large and extremely fertile prairies, neat dwellings and good farms, well cultivated. Arrived at Edwardsville, a distance of twenty-two miles, at 7 o’clock. Edwardsville is a small but flourishing little village. Goods three prices. Labor high. Lands rich and the place thriving for an inland town.

Friday, Nov. 26.–Rainy day. Deposited deeds at recorder’s office. Detained on land business. I expected this day to have set out for the bounty lands. Dr. Hill having fully accomplished his business, he declined accompanying me agreeable to promise, and I returned to St. Louis alone, leaving him behind, intending to seek more grateful company.

Wednesday, Dec. 1.–In consequence of the disappointment occasioned by Dr. Hill refusing to accompany me to the bounty lands, I was subjected to considerable expense, loss of time and much inconvenience. On the 3d day of December Dr. Hill set out for Philadelphia, in company with one of my friends, a Mr. Pratt, a clever old farmer and a missionary Methodist preacher. I accompanied them across the river. In parting with Dr. Hill I must in honesty confess I felt none of those unpleasant sensations produced at parting with a friend. A pleasant ride and a final adieu to him. After dividing my time between St. Louis and Illinois until the 8th day of December, I set out, in company with a Mr. B—-, to visit the bounty lands. Traveled to Milton, a small town over the American bottom, twenty miles. This soil cannot be surpassed in fertility by any land upon the globe. Eighty and 100 bushels of corn to the acre are common crops without any labor except that which is necessary in planting. This, in truth, is the promised land–the land that flows with milk and honey. Stock in any quantities may be raised free from expense, and every article made by the farmer commands as high a price as in Philadelphia, and a more ready market. How many thousands are there in the eastern states who work like the slaves of the south and are barely able to support their families without even the hope in old age to become comfortable. Could they believe there was such a country in the world, could they know that lands of the first quality can be obtained so easily, and be informed that the rewards of industry are so great, they would instantly fly to the west and meet fatigue and hardships on the way with a smile. In a few years the consequence would be the accumulation of wealth and fair prospects for a rising family. Milton is situated on Wood river (a very small stream opposite the mouth of the Missouri river and within one and a half miles of the Mississippi). It is a flourishing little village only one and a half years old. Near this place lands command from $5 to $10 an acre. Milton, together with all the American bottom, is subject to bilious and intermittent fevers during the warm months. The banks of Wood river during the last war were often scoured by the Indians, and became the theater of some savage and barbarous deeds. A narrative hangs yet on the lips of the inhabitants, which has seldom found its parallel in the most remote desert by the most ferocious or bloodthirsty. Seven warriors attacked and murdered a female and her four little children almost in sight of her own dwelling. She and the little innocents had spent an evening at a friend’s house, and were returning home. The shrieks of this unfortunate family brought the husband to the scalped and lifeless corpse of a beloved wife, and a tender and affectionate father to his four little children bleeding in death, the suckling child with a tomahawk sticking in its head. None but a husband and father can feel the deep agony which must arise from so bloody a transaction. Those warriors, whose companion was cruelty and whose happiness was in murder, were pursued by some resolute and spirited volunteers from the neighborhood. They were overtaken and every man put to death. Not long after this butchery another party fell upon a defenseless family in the same neighborhood. They shot an old man in his door, scalped a young female in the house and threw her in the fire, tomahawked and scalped two little children, whilst two boys made their escape–one 6 and the other 8 years old. These little children wandered about the fields and woods for three days without nourishment except the berries and roots which they were able to collect from the fields. Three times did they get in sight of the murderers, and as often hid themselves in the leaves, and finally found their way to a house and communicated the dreadful intelligence of the massacre. The hand that governs and protects all was outstretched to save these children in a manner unusual. I am now in sight of the death spot of those unfortunates, and expect to travel 100 miles farther, where but a short time since no track or trace was to be seen except that of the savage.

Thursday, Dec. 9.–Left Milton at 6 o’clock. Passed Alton, distance from Milton one and one-half miles. Here I must remark every man makes his own town and sometimes more than one. Within five miles there are five towns, as they are called, but all insignificant and improperly placed. Their names are Milton, Alton, Middle Alton, Lower Alton and Sales. Those mushroom towns in a short time will produce their own death. Although their lives are short they do mischief to the community. People in their neighborhood are unwise enough, for the sake of having a town lot, to give as much for a few feet of ground as would purchase a good farm (160 acres of land). They are then tied to the little town, where their property can never be of much value, nor can it produce a living. Strangers or men at a distance purchase lots in towns they have never seen, under the impression they are, or soon will be, like the eastern cities. To town makers or land speculators the subject is very pleasant. To hear them describe the advantages of a barren spot perhaps ten miles from any navigable stream, and it is more than probable not even near a spring branch that would float a cornstalk boat. Could you believe their assertions, a single lot which they have for sale would produce a fortune that would make a man comfortable all his old days. I must not omit an anecdote that applies well to those town makers. A gentleman visited the fertile lands of Illinois. In the course of his journey he passed very many of those trifling towns. When about to turn toward his home he had occasion to enter a tavern for refreshment. Here they kept a register of names, a common practice in the western country. On entering the door the barkeeper requested him to enter his name. He hesitated, appeared confused and begged to be excused, stating he had a particular objection which he would make known when he was about to start, provided it could be kept a secret, which was consented to. This was sufficient to arouse the suspicions of all who were in the house as to the stranger’s honesty. All the neighbors assembled. Some declared he was a horse thief, others a murderer, while the most charitable stated he had been a member of the penitentiary fraternity. After obtaining refreshments with some difficulty he mounted his horse amidst the gaping crowd, called for the barkeeper and whispered in his ear, loud enough for everybody to hear: “My name is Robinson. I objected to mentioning it, fearing you would name a town after me!” He spurred his horse, rode off and left the gaping crowd, which is always to be found about little villages, much disappointed and chagrined. Traveled twenty-seven miles over a rich country, part rolling, part broken, belonging to the United States. This part of Illinois is high and healthy and is well watered. Arrived at the Widow Jackaway’s ferry, one mile above the junction of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Passed several small French huts, made principally of bark, very open and but little appearance of comfort. Large strings of geese, ducks, opossums and skunks hung upon the sides of the huts to ripen. At Mrs. Jackaway’s we were entertained kindly. We slept on a bedcord and covered with a cow-hide. There was but one room to the house, hen house excepted, which formed rather a separate apartment, but without a door, and the fowls had to pass through the house to get to their lodgings. This appeared necessary to protect them from the wolves and wildcats.

Friday, Dec. 10.–Left Mrs. Jackaway’s at 8 o’clock. Crossed the Illinois on a platform placed on two canoes, and arrived in safety on the bounty lands a little above the junction of the bold Mississippi and the Illinois. Each of those rivers is about half a mile wide. Here a new country presented itself, of better quality and under more advantages than I was prepared to meet. Traveled all day through the woods, meadows and prairies. It began raining. We were fortunate in being able to reach Mme. Belfie’s, on the banks of the Illinois. On inquiring if we could remain all night, being wet and uncomfortable, we were received with all the politeness that characterizes the French under all circumstances, and given in broken English a hearty welcome. Supper being prepared for the family, we were invited to partake. Curiosity, which has led us into many scrapes, was on tiptoe. Wild goose was very good. After fishing in the dish some time I found something with a new flavor. It proved to be skunk. Made a light supper and retired to bed. Mme. Belfie lives in a log hut about twelve feet square. This contains a bed for the old lady and her daughter, two dogs, one hen and chickens, two chairs, and one table. It is easy to imagine there was not much room left for two common-sized men. However, we spread down our buffalo-skin and covered with our great-coats, and for the first time I slept on a floor. Sore sides, but good spirits and no cold. Began to envy the red-men of the forest. They have no care, no trouble, to wrinkle the brow.

Sunday, Dec. 12.–Left Mme. Belfie’s after being treated with the utmost hospitality and politeness. She discovered herself to be a wellbred woman, but she was not one of fortune’s favorites. During the evening she amused us by giving a small history of her life. However, her story ended with a detail of misfortunes. About seven years ago a dreadful earthquake occurred at New Madrid, on the Mississippi where was the habitation of this lady and her husband. Their home was swallowed up, their slaves ran away, all their property was lost, and with great difficulty got off with their lives. The earth opened and swallowed up many houses, then threw up water and trees to a great height. Several lives were lost and many families ruined. These unfortunate French people then sought shelter from the storm near the forks of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, intending, by industry and frugality, to make an effort to get forward once more in the world. The manner in which this old lady gave an account of her misfortunes was truly interesting whilst she made a strong impression on the mind by her gestures. The only article saved from the earthquake was a bag of gunpowder, with which, in this country, where there is an abundance of game, plenty of provisions may be obtained. It was necessary that the bag containing this powder should be tied. The wife held whilst the husband tied the string, but drawing it very tight one end slipped through his fingers and the jerk threw the bag of powder into the fire, which blew them both up and burnt all their clothes off them. They were ill a considerable time, but recovered. They had nothing left, but, like the French, they were cheerful, not discouraged, and almost happy. They are now getting forward again, and, oh, may the storm of adversity never again assail the cottage of genuine hospitality!

Monday, Dec. 13.–Left Mme. Belfie’s, crossed the Illinois and breakfasted at the Widow Jackaway’s. Here we met with some travelers, ladies and gentlemen, who had been upwards of three months on the water in an open boat. They were forty-nine days on Lake Michigan and were bound from Mackinaw to St. Louis. We retraced our former footsteps for four miles and traveled on the shore of the Mississippi twelve miles. On the shore of the Mississippi for miles stand cliffs or bluffs composed of rocks, stones and marine substances. They are from 100 to 400 feet high. In many places there appear to be pillars or regular columns supporting those wonderful heights, which in many places appear almost ready to tumble on those below. In the body of this irregular mass I entered three caves, two large enough to protect a considerable family from the storm and the third sufficiently large to contain twenty men on horseback. This cave is supported by a neat pillar in the center. In several places I saw marks on the cliffs at a considerable height made with the different colors that Indians use to paint themselves. From their arrangement, it appears the men of the desert had tried their agility to place the highest mark on the cliffs. Near those caves are the names of a number of persons cut in the soft parts of the rocks. In traveling along the shore I picked up several specimens of the most beautiful pearl I ever beheld. It is so plentiful here that no person thinks it worth picking up. After traveling forty-three miles through the rain I arrived again at St. Louis on the 13th of December. In approaching the Illinois and Mississippi near the mouth from Milton a scene beautiful, grand and sublime presents itself. Immediately after leaving a thick wood you find yourself on the point of a knob or small mountain many hundred feet high. From this eminence you have a view of three bold and beautiful streams–the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri. The country on one side is bordered with very high bluffs as far as the eye can reach, and on the other is a meadow or plain prairie, which extends for many miles in every direction, and occasionally is interspersed with handsome forest trees. The shells and marine substances which are found near those large rivers are similar to those seen in the West Indies and on the seaboard, but I have no recollection of ever having seen such near any stream remote from the sea. This, with many other appearances, holds out a strong inducement to believe that the sea once covered this country for many hundred miles; that the cliffs were its borders, and that some violent convulsion of nature has caused it to recede and expose to view the most fertile country on the globe. Should accident place this memorandum in the hands of any person, an apology will be necessary for expressions and opinions which it contains. In speaking of particular states and people I have expressed myself as a traveler, but have stated facts. The country traveled over by strangers is generally the most barren, and the inhabitants a coarse sample of the state. When I have expressed an opinion which appears not to be liberal, it is intended to apply to the lower class, of whom there is a large majority. A gentleman or lady is the same all over the world, and although in the different states there are many characters of the first respectability, and although some of the French are rich, liberal and gentlemanly men, yet this memorandum is strictly correct when applied to the general mass.



MLA Source Citation:

AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/in-possession-of-the-promised-land.htm - Last updated on Apr 21st, 2013

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