Collection: Narrative of Richard Lee Mason

Philadelphia To Steubenville

Monday, Oct. 4, 1819.–Dr. Hall and myself left Philadelphia at 1 o’clock p. m. after taking an affectionate leave of friends and acquaintances. Fair and pleasant weather, and the roads very fine in consequence of a refreshing shower of rain which fell on the night previous to our setting out. After traveling twenty-two miles and passing some rich and well-cultivated farms we arrived at West Chester at 7 o’clock. West Chester contains about 600 inhabitants, several places of worship, a gaol, etc., etc. A man named Downey is confined in the gaol of this place for debt. He was once in affluence, but from misfortunes and some imprudence he became reduced in circumstances. During his confinement he determined to starve himself to death, and for seven days had refused nourishment of every description. Even the clergy waited on him and endeavored to dissuade him from his rash determination, offering him food of different kinds, but all without avail. He was able to stand. No doubt one or two more days will end his troubles. How long, O my country, will your cheeks continue to be crimsoned by the blush that must follow the plunging an innocent and unfortunate being, a debtor, in a dungeon, amongst murderers and cut-throats? Tuesday, Oct. 5.–Left West Chester at 7 o’clock a. m. Traveled a rough road. Passed some travelers on foot migrating to...

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Through Ohio And Kentucky

Sunday, Oct. 18.–Myself and friend proceeded on our journey. We arrived at Siers, a distance of thirty miles, at dusk, much relieved by the change from our horses to the wagon. The roads were muddy, the weather drizzly and the country hilly. Buildings indifferent. The land very fertile and black. Trees uncommonly tall. Passed the little village of Cadis. In this country a tavern, a store, a smith shop and two or three cabins make a town. Passed ten or fifteen travelers. Great contrast between the quality of the land from Chambersburg to Pittsburg, and that which we have already traveled over from Steubenville in Ohio. Monday, Oct. 19.–Left Siers at 6 o’clock a. m. The morning fair and cold. Roads extremely rough. Country fertile, but hilly. Log cabins, ugly women and tall timber. Passed a little flourishing village called Freeport, settled by foreigners. Yankee Quakers and mechanics. Remarkable, with two taverns in the village, there was nothing fit to drink, not even good water. The corn fields in the woods among dead trees and the corn very fine. We arrived at Adairs, a distance of twenty-seven miles, at 6 o’clock p. m. Passed some peddlers and a few travelers. Value of land from Steubenville to Adairs from $2 to $30 per acre. Lots in Freeport, eighteen months old, from $30 to $100. This day being Monday and the...

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A Brotherhood Of Cutthroats

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1819.–Left Miller’s tavern at 7 o’clock and arrived at Squire Chambers’ at 6 o’clock, after traveling a distance of thirty-six miles. Passed a trifling village, Fredericksburg; also Greenville. A poor, barren, deserted country. For ten miles, stony, poor, mountainous and naked. Land a little better. Miserable huts, poor accommodations, cabin taverns, and high charges. Crossed Blue river. Every man his own hostler and steward. Plenty of game–deer, turkeys, etc. Inhabitants generally possess a smaller share of politeness than any met with before. Thursday, Nov. 4.–Left Squire Chambers’ (who is only member of the assembly, by the by) at 7 o’clock a. m. Arrived at Lewis’ at 6 o’clock, a distance of twenty-five miles. Passed a little village called Peola. The fact that this part of Indiana is a late purchase by the United States, accounts for its towns being so inconsiderable and being made up of log houses. The lands here are very fertile, the country mountainous and broken. Traveled twenty-five miles through woods and passed but four houses. With great difficulty obtained water for our horses. In the midst of one of those long and thick pieces of woods, we passed one of the most miserable huts ever seen–a house built out of slabs without a nail; the pieces merely laid against a log pen such as pigs are commonly kept in, a dirt floor,...

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Escape From The Robber Band

Monday, Nov. 8, 1819.–The disappointment experienced from the unmanly conduct of Dr. Hill had a happy effect on our little company. It bound us more firmly and nearer together, and, I may add with truth, almost fitted us for the field of battle. The hour of 9 o’clock had now arrived, the night uncommonly dark and cloudy. On our going into the house one of the strangers went into the yard and gave the Indian warwhoop three times very loud. About 10 o’clock they took their six rifles, went into the yard with a candle and shot them off one by one, snuffing the candle at forty yards every shot. They then loaded afresh, primed and picked their flints. A large horn was then taken from the loft and blown distinctly three times very loud. All those signals (which we had been told of) brought no more of the company. They then dispatched two of their own party, who were gone until 12 o’clock. They stated to their comrades “they could not be had.” It may be readily imagined, after what we had overhead, seeing such preparations and observing many of their private signals, being warned of our danger previous to stopping at the house, together with the recent and cruel murders which had been committed, in a strange country, where every man made and executed his own law...

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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....

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Narrative of Richard Lee Mason in the Pioneer West, 1819

In the late fall and early winter of the year 1819 Dr. Richard Lee Mason made a journey from Philadelphia to Illinois, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Some of his adventures were remarkable, and these, together with his observations on the country, the towns and the people whom he encountered, were recorded in a diary kept by him, which is now in the possession of his only surviving child, a daughter, who resides in Jacksonville, Ill. Dr. Mason was a remarkably intelligent observer, and his record of the people whom he encountered in Illinois more than three-quarters of a century ago, not to mention his notes of travel in other states, is unique and valuable. Richard Lee Mason, whose diary is being published in THE RECORD, was born in Port Tobacco, Md. In 1806 he was married to Mary Hodge Cochrane. Seven children were born to them, of whom five lived to maturity. Soon after his marriage he was graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. For a time he did military service in the war of 1812, belonging to a cavalry company called “The White Horsemen.” For this service he was awarded a large tract of bounty land near Alton, Ill. It was to locate and take possession of this land that the long journey from Philadelphia to St. Louis was taken. So pleased...

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