The Journey to Illinois 1839
Written by Hermon Emmons
One of the first settlers of Coloma Twp in 1839
Saturday, Sept. 15, 1838 - I left Wilkesbarre (PA) about six o'clock in the evening, for the fr west, in the Packet Boat Cornet, Capt. Dannall. Being later than usual, darkness closed upon us before we left the valley of Wyoming, which never looked so lovely to my eyes, and I could not but feel regret at leaving it for its own sake, as indeed everyone must who has ever resided within its pleasant borders.
Daylight the next morning found us a few miles above Danville, the river on either side hemmed by high mountains, of nearly perpendicular ascent and of the most wild and rugged aspect. Aas we approached Danville, the valley began to widen and with its cultivated fields afforded a very agreeable contrast to the scene just pased. Just beyond the town (coming down the river rises ahigh round hill, with a cultivated patch on its very top and a fringe of forest around it. There are some very handsome houses in this place (Danville village) and I should think it a pleasant place to reside.
The town of Berwick we passed in the night, so I can say nothing about it. It is 28 miles below Wilkesbarre. About noon we passed Northumberland, which stands at the confluence of the West and North branches of the Susquehanna River. From its situation I should think it calculated to be a place of considerable importance. Sunbury , on the opposite side of the river, is, I believe, the county town. There the river widens considerable, and the bed of the river is very rocky and rough. There is a fine bridge over the west branch at its mouth, with a double wagon track, and a tow-path on the outside, the whole covered very handsomely.
Sometime in the night we passed the mouth of the Juniata and crossed the Susquehanna. Here again is a very noble bridge, with a double wagon track, two alleys for foot passengers, and on the outside are two tow-paths, one above the other, for the passage of the horses which tow the canal boats. I awoke the next morning in Harrisburg, the capital of the State, where I remained until about four o'clock in the afternoon when I again embarked for Pittsburgh. Harrisburg can boast of some very fine houses, among which Wilson's Hotel stands preeminent. The Capitol, though certainly a fine building, did not answer my expectations.
A bridge crosses the Susquehanna at this place which has a very heavy look; just below it another bridge is now building, intended for the passage of wagons below, and for railroad carriages above. Having n othing to the support of the place but the patronage it enjoys as capital of the State, it can never be a very large place.
Late at night on Tuesday we arrived at Huntington, where we left the canal and traveled 26 miles on the turnpike in stages, arriving in the morning at Holidaysburgh. Here we took the railroad across the Alegheny, traveling some of the way by steam and some of the way by horsepower. This road is 36 miles in length from Holidaysburgh to Johnstown and overcomes an elevation of upwards of 1,300 feet and passes through a tunnel about four miles from Johnstown of about 900 feet in length. The longest plain or level over which the cars are drawn by steam is 13 miles in length.
We arrived at Johnstown about five o'clock in the afternoon, where we were detained til the next morning in consequence of the low state of the water in the canal. We then left; some in one open float or scow and some on foot, and about eleven o'clock at night arrived within about four miles of Blairsville on the Conemaugh River. Here we again took a canal boat and without further delay arrived at Pittsburgh at nine o'clock on Friday night.
My journey has, upon the whole, been rather pleasant. The face of the country, however, thus far is not to be compared for beauty and fertility with that I have just left. Through the whole distance from Nanticoke to Harrisburg; and from thence to Pittsburgh I do not remember to have seen a single farm to be compared with those in the fair valley of Wyoming. As we approach Pittsburgh, however, on the Allegheny, land appears to increase in quality and I have seen some very fine farms. One principal feature in the project on the Kiskiminetas or the Alegheny is the numerous salt works on the banks. The salt is obtained from water, which is pumped up from a great depth, generally by steam engines. In the same district are fine seams of bituminous coal, so that it is not uncommon to see the little railroad leading from the coal bed immediately above the pump that raises the salt water.
The passengers (in number about 90) were very civil, well disposed persons generally. One young fellow who hails from New Orleans blustered about considerably and tried hard to raise a swell, but as te rest only laughed at him, he soon sank to his proper insignificant level. To usa a common saying "Brandy would not savehim". Two of the passengers with whoom I became acquainted, I parted with, with much regret. One, a Mr. Doland of Lexington KY and the other a Mr. Sayre of New Jersey, both bound for Lexington. The former was not ashamed to own himself a total abstinence man. He was a merchant. By the way I must here record a little anecdote that occurred on board. The new Orleans chap, who all at once professed to have taken quite a fancy to me, called out "Hello there, come let's have something to drink; say, you Mr. Eastern man, what'll you have?" "Nothing I thank you sir, I never drink any spirituous liquors." "Why not?" "I have three unsurmountable reasons." "What are they? Come, let's hear." "The first is, I am a husband. The secon is, I am a father, and the third is, I am a member of the Temperance Society." Give me your hand," cried the Kentuckian; "I have seen many a man who professed to be a temperate man, but very few who could refuse to drink."
Oh Pittsburgh! Marah and Maribah! land of bitterness and chimney top of the infernal regions! what pen of mine can ever describe the dingy features! None but the initiated nostril can realize the abominable stench of the double extracted compound of al villainous smells! Thirty-Two long reeking hours did I spend, yes, absolutely squander, in thy contaminating precincts. With plenty of water in thy streets to make mud, but none in thy river, on which one might leave thee. Wearied without having worked, I deposited the trunk in my charge in a storehouse, and taking a receipt for it I wrote to the owner as follows (enclosing the receipt):
At Pittsburg 'neath a lurid sky And both its rivers nearly dry My journey downwards I gave o'er And took the stage for Erie's shore My passage thence I mean to take To Chicago, across the lake I think of nothing more to tell Except that all you folks are well
Leaving Pittsburgh at six, in the stage, we crossed the Alegheny on the bridge, just above its junction with the Monongahela, and at ten o'clock arrived at Economy, on the Ohio 18 miles below Pitts. This is a village belonging to followers of Rapp, who with his followers occupy about 1,500 acres of land, all of which is in a high state of cultivation. They have a cotton and woolen factory, and are likewise attending to the silk business.
It was here I saw for the first time some trees of the Monrus Multicoulus or chinese mulberry. Everything about the place bespeaks neatness and order, and consequent prosperity. But with all their industrious habits, they shamefully neglect one branch of business of more importance than all the rest; viz - the raising of children. This violation of nature's law is doubtless voluntary on the part of the aged and incapable, but cannot be so generally on the part of the young and vigorous. Indeed, if the stage driver is to be believed, this compulsory abstinence on the part of the young women is far from producing a corresponding purity of mind. Some instances of the vile tendency of their abominable system would make decency blush. But a society whose rules thus violate the first law of nature and God, carries in itself the seeds of a speedy dissolution.
Just as we left the village their meeting house opened and disgorged a throng of devotees; the women came first and the men after, from different doors. They all were dressed with uniformity and in its make more attention was paid to comfort and durability than to taste or elegance. The women wore a gown and petticoat of woolen stuff and a check apron, but the headdress was most remarkable. It consisted of a tight conical cap, sticking up rigidly from the back of the head as though thrust up and kept in that position by a high top comb. It was fastened on the head by tight straps under the chin but has no border whatever.
About noon we arrived at Beaver, a place that has been cracked up a great deal, and will, I suppose to be a place of considerable importance. Here we leave the Ohio and follow the course of the Big Beaver for some distance. As we approach the Ohio state line the soil improves in quality, and I saw some as good farms as the eye could desire to look upon, but all appear to have suffered from the late drouth. About nine o'clock we arrived at Poland in Trumbull Co. where we took supper and pushed on to Warren, the county town.
From Warren I hired a private conveyance to Nelson, the northeast town in Portage Co. The soil in this vicinity Id did not like at all, it being mostly composed of stiff clay, not at all suited to grain, fit only for grass and hardly that. The people however, appear to be industrious, economical, and thriving. On Tuesday, Sept. 25, I left Nelson and arrived the same evening in Painsville, passing through Chardon, the county seat, about sunset in the stage. Hired a conveyance the same evening to take me to Fairport on Lake Erie, distant from Painsville three miles. Here I remained till noon, Sept. 26, when I embarked on board the steamboat New England for Chicago as cabin passenger. The fare through is $20.
We arrived at Cleveland the same evening at four o'clock and left about six or half past. At two o'clock a.m. 27th touched at Huron to land, passengers, and about daybreak arrived at Put-in-Bay Island where the boat was provided with wood for the remainder of her voyage to Detroit, where we arrived at four o'clock p.m. Eighteen miles below Detroit on the Canada side stands Ft. Mulden, an insignificant, squat looking place, that looks as if it was hardly worth a year's time of the 200 troops by which it is garrisoned.
From on board our boat as we passed we saw parties of soldiers parading on the banks, and another party engaged in throwing up an earthen breastwork. Between theis place and Detroit the river makes a bend, so that in passing up towards Lake St. Clair from Detroit, the head of the vessel stands to the east. This the mind can scarcely realize, and it is hard to believe that we are not all the time proceeding to the westward.
To the American, passing up these straits with the British and American shores both in view at the same time, it is a source of no small pride to see the numerous evidence of the superior industry and enterprise of his countrymen; on the one side all appears old and dilapidated, on the other all appears new, bright, and thriving.
At Detroit we remained until the next day when we again left for the upper lakes. Detroit is now quite a large city, and a place of a good deal of business; is a place of much importance now and will become still more so.
In the course of the day we passed through Lake St. Clair iinto the river of the same name. The navigation of this lake is attended with considerable danger, on account of the shoals, which make it necessary to use much caution in passing it with large vessels. On the American side of St. Clair River for a considerable distance the country appears thickly settled, and from its general appearance I should think the land very fertile. Just at sunset we stopped to take a supply of wood, and in the course of the night we entered Lake Huron. The whole of the 29th we were stretching away to the North along the American Shore. This lake is celebrated for its stormy boisterous character, and well did it sustain its reputation this day.
For 200 miles along this coast the shore is fringed with one interminable forest of stunted trees, on which the hand of man has not as yet made so much as a mark. Owing to the roughness of the weather many of the passengers, of whome more than 300 were on board, became very seasick, but in the course of the night which ushered in the 30 of Sept. the wind died away in a great measure, and through the day (Sunday) we had very fine weather. On Saturday night we touched at Thunder Bay Island but made no stop; toward morning there came on a thick fog so that we were obliged to lay by at intervals, and to proceed with much caution in order to find the wooding place on Presque Isle, where we finally arrived and took on a supply of wood. This place is a low and gravelly marsh covered with a small growth of cedar and fir and some turmeric. Here I saw for the first time since I was a child some trees of the Canadian balsam. The tree which produces it was as large as any in its vicinity being 25 or 30 feet in height. The balsam is found in blisters in the bark of the tree of about the size of a small bean.
On Sunday evening about a dozen of the men assembled with three women in the ladies' cabin and held a prayer meeting. A Brother Smith from Delaware Co., N.Y. took charge of the praying department, and his honor of the singing, and the whole was carried with much decorum, and all were much edified, no doubt.
Oct. 1 at about ten o'clock we arrived at the Manitou Islands, where we stopped to wood having just passed the Fox Islands, and being 60 or 70 miles from the straits of Mackinaw, to the south in Lake Michigan. The principal characteristics of the islands and the eastern coast of the lake is a light, sandy, barren soil. The shore in some places presents the appearance of high bluffs composed entirely of yellowish white sand, occassionally fringed with low everreens. At Manitou Island the settlement consisted of a single log house, a couple of barns and a sort of store house for fish and salt, but the whole presenting so much neater appearance than any I had before seen even in a much less desolate looking place, that I had the curiosity to go on shore to see where they were from. "Pray" said I, to a tidy looking girl in the house, "are you not Yankees?" "Yes sir," said she "do you know whether there are any persons on board the boat from Madison County??"
At sunrise on Tuesday we were opposite the town of Sheboygan on the west side of the lake and 60 miles below Milwaky. We arrived at the latter place at one o'clock p.m. and landed several passengers. This will eventually be a place of considerable importance. This place (Milwaky) appears from the lake to be not very compactly built, but is still a very flourishing place; they however suffer much inconvenience from the want of a good harbor, as the water is very shoal, so that large boats cannot land at all. The United States government is now building a lighthouse, and will probably improve the harbor. At sunset we arrived at Racine, another port on the same side, but as the shades of evening had fallen so as to preclude the possibility of seeing anything. I shall not attempt to describe anything about it.
For he must have opticks keen Who sees that which cannot be seen
The same remark will apply to Southport 12 miles below, situated on Pike River, where some of the passengers were landed.
Hurra! Hurra! stamp! stamp! clatter! clatter! - bear a hand there! what's the matter?
Oh, here we are safe in port; no more sleep then tonight; althought it is but three o'clock in the morning. So up I got as soon as it was light enough to see and away up town. Hard by the steamboat wharf towers an immense pileof brick an stone which by the glimmering of daylight I see is labeled "Lake House" "Pray, friend" said one of our passengers, "can you tell us how a man can get into one of these hotels?" "Why, " replied the other "don't you know that when small folks go to big houses, they should go to the back door?"
I spent the day at Chicago and tried to get work but was unable to do so. This is one of the many western towns which like to gourd of Jonah has grown up in the nightl; and increasing in a short time far beyond the actual requirement of the surrounding country has come to a sudden halt, and all business i snow rather dull except tavern-keeping.
I left the next day, Oct. 4, for Rockford on the Rock River and distant from Chicago about 87 miles. This morning I crossed, for the first time in my life a prairie and felt what everyone must feel that to form a correct idea of a prairie one must actually see and cross one. We crossed in the course of the day Fox River at the distance of 30 miles from Chicago and the head of the Des Plaines. Our road lay through a country of immense prairie interspersed with patches of wood, here called "timber." We stayed at night at a place called Amesville, consisting of one log house and barn where we were charged 50 cents per m eal for supper and anything else we could get in proportion. The next day we arrived at Rockford. At every house at which we stopped some of the family were sick and at one place every inmate of the house was sick in bed of the fever and ague.
At Rockford five of our company united to construct a raft or scow in which a little before sunset we started down the river. Soon after sunrise the next morning we arrived at Oregon, a new town on the northwest bank of the river and the county seat of Ogle Co. Proceeding slowly down we arrived at Grand Detour 12 miles below at five o'clock in the afternoon. The river in this place makes a great bend and after running a circuit of about nine miles returns within 100 rods of its bed above the town. From this place we started on Sunday morning, Oct. 6 and passing through Dixon arrived at noon at Harrisburg at the rapids of the Rock River. About two miles above Dixon the bank of the river presents a very curious appearance. Owing to the falling down of the lower stratum the bank has taken the form of a cornice on a house, the upper stratum forming the crown mould being composed of rock and turf. In some places there is a perfect resemblance of the upper end of the shaft of a column with its capital.
At Harrisburg I found some old acquaintances from Wilkesbarre, the Worthingtons and their brother-in-law Merritt, and I concluded to stay a few days. On Monday, Oct. 8 I went in company of William A. Merritt and someone else out on the prairie to the north of this about five miles and made a claim on some prairie. On the next two days I was engaged in work for Merritt making a planking machine to plank hats, and on Thursday, Oct. 11 worked for a Mr. Guild getting in his crops on this and the two following days. On Sunday, October 14 I again went out claiming land across the Elkhorn about six miles from this village.
I waded over the Elkhorn twice on that day and made a claim on Section 28. Through most of following week I worked for P.E. Worthington on his house over the river and on Tuesday, Oct. 23 worked for Col. E. Kilgore. I worked for him for the succeeding ten days and a half and then began working for myself. On the 27th I concluded a bargain for a claim on the opposite side of the river which I bought of P.E. Worthington for 400 dollars. I commenced improving on my claim in the form of a house on Sunday, Nov. 4 and continued work until Wednesday and was then obliged to quit on account of the weather. On that day a storm of snow commenced and the next day and day following the cold was so intense that on Saturday, Nov. 10 I crossed the Rock River on the ice. In the afternoon I husked corn in the field for E. Worthington. On Sunday the weather moderated a good deal and the ice in the river began to break up. [end of available data]
[Source: "Sterling Daily Gazette', July 25, 1967 - their Centennial Edition]
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