William Bingley
Travels in North America, From Modern Writers


A heavy fall of wet had rendered the roads muddy and unpleasant. On the 10th of June, the party arrived at Wheeling, a considerable but mean-looking town, of inns and stores, on the banks of the Ohio. Here they baited their horses, and took a repast of bread and milk. At this place the Ohio is divided into two channels, of five hundred yards each, by an island of three hundred acres.

Between Wheeling and St. Clairsville, they had sundry foaming creeks to ford; and sundry log-bridges to pass, which are a sort of commutation of danger. They had also a very muddy road, over hills of clay; and thunder and rain during nearly the whole of this their first stage: such thunder, and such rain, as they had heard of, but had seldom witnessed in England.

They were detained some days at St. Clairsville. This place consists of about one hundred and fifty houses; stores, taverns, doctors'-shops, and lawyers' offices, with the dwellings of sundry artisans; such as tailors, shoemakers, hatters, and smiths. Its chief street runs over one of the beautiful, round, and fertile hills which form this country. The court-house, a handsome brick edifice, on the summit, has a cheerful and a rather striking appearance. If the streets were paved, St. Clairsville would be a pleasant town, but, from the continued rains, they were, at this time, deep in mud.

The rich clay of this country is very favourable to grass, and the pastures are extremely fine. When the timber is destroyed, a beautiful turf takes immediate possession of the surface.

As they proceeded westward, towards Zanesville, the soil did not improve. It is here a yellow clay, well adapted for grass; but, when exhausted by repeated cropping, it will be unprofitable for tillage. In some places, the clay is over limestone, and exhibits marks of great and durable fertility.

During their journey, on the 13th of June, they met a group of nymphs, with their attendant swains, ten in number, on horseback: for no American walks who can obtain a horse; and there are few indeed who cannot. The young men were carrying umbrellas over the heads of their partners; and the appearance of the whole was very decent and respectable.

At the distance of eighteen miles east of Zanesville, whilst taking shelter from a thunder-storm, they were joined by four industrious pedestrians, who were returning eastward from a tour of observation through this state. These all agreed in one sentiment, that there is no part of the Union, either in the new settlements or in the old, where an industrious man need be at a loss for the comforts of a good livelihood.

The land continued of the same character as before, a weak yellow clay, under a thin covering of vegetable mould, profitable for cultivation merely because it is new. The timber is chiefly oak. Little farms, of from eight to one hundred and sixty acres, with simple erections, a cabin and a stable, may be purchased, at the rate of from five to twenty dollars per acre. This is a hilly and romantic country; and affords many pleasant situations. Sand-stone is common; limestone more rare; but clay-slate appears to be the common basis.

The inhabitants are friendly and homely, not to say coarse; but they are well informed. This day the travellers passed various groups of emigrants, proceeding westward: one waggon, in particular, was the moving habitation of twenty souls.

Zanesville is a thriving town, on the beautiful river Muskingum, which is, at all times, navigable downward. The country around it is hilly and pleasant; not rich, but dry, and tolerably fertile. It abounds in coal and lime, and may, at some future period, become a grand station for manufactures.

At Rushville Mr. Birkbeck, another gentleman, and three children, sat down to a breakfast, consisting of the following articles: coffee, rolls, biscuits, dry toast, waffles, (a kind of soft hot cake, of German extraction, covered with butter,) salted pickerell, (a fish from Lake Huron,) veal-cutlets, broiled ham, gooseberry-pie, stewed currants, preserved cranberries, butter, and cheese: and Mr. Birkbeck, for himself and three children, and four gallons of oats, and a sufficient quantity of hay for four horses, was charged only six shillings and ninepence sterling.

South-west of Zanesville, instead of steep hills of yellow clay, the country assumes a more gently undulating surface; but it is sufficiently varied both for health and ornament, and has an absorbent, gravelly, or sandy soil, of moderate fertility.

Lancaster is on the edge of a marsh, or fen, which, at present, should seem to be a source of disease; though its bad effects, on the inhabitants of that town, are not by any means obvious.

The three towns, Zanesville, Lancaster, and Chillicothe, were founded by a sagacious man of the name of Zane, one of the earliest of the settlers. They are admirably placed, geographically, but with little regard to the health of their future inhabitants. The local advantages of Zanesville might have been equally secured, had the site of the town been on the higher, rather than the lower bank of the Muskingum: and the Sciota might have afforded equal facilities to the commerce of the inhabitants of Chillicothe, had they viewed it flowing beneath them, from those lovely eminences which adorn its opposite banks. Chillicothe is surrounded by the most charming elevations, but is itself in a bottom; and Lancaster is on the brink of an extensive marsh.

Seven miles north-west of Chillicothe the traveller enters on a tract of river bottom, the first rich land, for which this state, and indeed the whole western country, is so justly famous. It is agreeably varied in surface, occasionally rises into hills, and is never flat.

At Chillicothe there is an office for the several transactions regarding the disposal of the public lands of this district; and, on Mr. Birkbeck's arrival, he repaired to this office, for the purpose of inspecting a map of the district; and he found a great quantity of unentered lands, comprehending many entire townships, of eight miles square, lying about twenty miles south of Chillicothe; and, in several parts, abutting on the Sciota. Though it appeared certain that substantial objections had deterred purchasers from this extensive tract, in a country so much settled, yet Mr. Birkbeck, accompanied by his son, determined to visit it. They rode over twenty miles of fertile country, on the bank of the Sciota, and crossed that river to Pike Town; not far from which place was the land they were seeking.

Near Pike Town was a small cultivated prairie, the first Mr. Birkbeck had seen. It contained about two hundred acres of rich land, and was divided by a road, which ran through the middle; and nearly the whole of it was covered by fine Indian corn, neatly cultivated. The surrounding hills were crowned with woods. Nothing that Mr. Birkbeck had before seen in America at all resembled this delightful spot; but, from its low situation near the Sciota, it was unhealthy.

Pike Town was laid out, and received its name, about the year 1815. When Mr. Birkbeck was here, it contained a tavern, a store, and about twenty other dwellings.

The land of which Mr. Birkbeck came in quest was, as he supposed, of inferior quality. But though he found it unfit for his purpose, he had been repaid his trouble by the pleasure of his ride, through a fine portion of country. In leaving Chillicothe, to proceed towards Cincinnati, he and his party travelled through about seven miles of rich alluvial land, and over fertile uplands. But, as they proceeded, the country became level, with a cold heavy soil, better adapted to grass than tillage. Much of this tract remained in an unimproved state. They had passed some hills which were covered with the grandest white oak-timber imaginable. Within view from the road there were thousands of these magnificent trees, each of which measured fourteen or fifteen feet in circumference: their straight stems rising, without a branch, to the height of seventy or eighty feet, not tapering and slender, but surmounted by full, luxuriant heads.

For the space of a mile in breadth, a hurricane, which had traversed the entire western country in a north-east direction, about seven years before Mr. Birkbeck was here, had opened itself a passage through the forests, and had left a scene of extraordinary desolation. The trees lay tumbled over each other, like scattered stubble; some torn up by the roots, others broken off at different heights, or splintered only, and their tops bent over, and touching the ground. These hurricane tracts afford strong holes for game, and for all animals of savage kind.

As Mr. Birkbeck approached the Little Miami River, the country became more broken, much more fertile, and better settled than before. After crossing this rapid and clear stream, he had a pleasant ride to Lebanon, which is not a mountain of cedars, but a valley, so beautiful and fertile that, at its first opening on the view, it seemed rather a region of fancy than a real back-settlement scene.

Lebanon is itself one of those wonders which are the natural growth of these back woods. In fourteen years, from two or three cabins of half-savage hunters, it has grown to be the residence of a thousand persons, with habits and looks in no respect differing from their brethren of the east. Before Mr. Birkbeck and his party entered the town, they heard the supper-bells of the taverns; and they arrived just in time to take their seats at one of the tables, together with travellers like themselves, and several store-keepers, lawyers, and doctors; men who regularly board at taverns, and make up a standing company for the daily public table.

Mr. Birkbeck and his family next passed through Cincinnati, [a town which presents a scene of great life and activity. The market-house is an excellent building; and the market is under judicious regulations. Provisions are here plentiful and cheap; but articles of clothing, house-rent, and journeymen's wages are all very high.

This interesting town is situated on the banks of the Ohio, and contains from eight to ten thousand inhabitants, including blacks, who are numerous. It is built on the same plan as Philadelphia. There is a school, in which children are educated on the Lancasterian plan; and which, in 1817, contained one hundred and fifty children. Owing, however, to the "untamable insubordination of the scholars, it was found impossible to put in practice most of the punishments that are directed by the founder of the system. Two weekly newspapers are published at Cincinnati; one called "The Western Spy," and the other, "Liberty Hall."

There are, at this place, a woollen manufactory, a steam corn-mill, and a glass-house, on a tolerably large scale; and, in the main street, English goods abound in as great profusion as in Cheapside. The tradesmen import some of their goods direct from England, but they usually purchase them at Philadelphia; the journey to and from which place occupies three months; and goods are generally about fifty days in arriving.

There are, in Cincinnati, three banks; and paper-money is here so abundant, that specie, even of the smallest amount, is rarely to be seen. The little that does exist, consists chiefly of cut Spanish dollars. Notes of two shillings and two-pence, thirteen pence, sixpence halfpenny, and even of three-pence farthing, are very common: indeed, they constitute the chief part of the circulating medium.

Cincinnati is a very handsome town; a town, in fact, which must astonish every traveller, when he considers how recently it has been formed. Some of the houses are on a large scale; and the number of moderate-sized and well-built brick buildings is considerable. The churches are neat; and the post-office, in arrangement and management, would bear comparison with that of London.]

After having passed through Cincinnati, Mr. Birkbeck and his family entered the state of Indiana, and proceeded towards Vincennes. Indiana was, evidently, newer than the state of Ohio; and the character of the settlers appeared superior to that of the settlers in Ohio, who, in general, were a very indigent people. Those who fix themselves in Indiana, bring with them habits of comfort and the means of procuring the conveniences of life. These are observable in the construction of their cabins, and the neatness surrounding them; and, especially, in their well-stocked gardens, so frequent here, and so rare in the state of Ohio.

The country, from the town of Madison to the Camp Tavern, is not interesting, and a great part of the land is but of medium quality. At the latter place commences a broken country, approaching to mountainous, which, if well watered, would form a fine grazing district. In their progress, Mr. Birkbeck, one of the ladies, and a servant boy, were benighted at the foot of one of these rugged hills; and, without being well provided, they were compelled to make their first experiment of "camping out," as it is called.

A traveller, in the woods, says this gentleman, should always carry with him a flint, steel, tinder, and matches; a few biscuits, a half-pint vial of spirits, a tin cup, and a large knife or tomahawk; then, with his two blankets, and his great coat and umbrella, he need not be uneasy, should any unforeseen delay require his sleeping under a tree.

In the present instance, the important articles of tinder and matches were in the baggage of the division that had proceeded; and, as the night was rainy and excessively dark, the benighted party were, for some time, under considerable apprehension, lest they should be deprived of the comfort and security of a fire. Fortunately, Mr. Birkbeck's powder-flask was in his saddle-bags, and he succeeded in supplying the place of tinder, by moistening a piece of paper, and rubbing it with gunpowder. He then placed the touchpaper on an old cambric handkerchief. On this he scattered gunpowder pretty copiously, and with a flint and steel he soon succeeded in raising a flame: then, collecting together a quantity of dry wood, he made a noble fire. There was a mattress for the lady, a bear-skin for Mr. Birkbeck, and the load of the pack-horse served as a pallet for the boy. Thus, by means of great coats and blankets, and their umbrellas spread over their heads, they made their quarters tolerably comfortable; and, placing themselves to the leeward of the fire, with their feet towards it, they lay more at ease than they could have done in the generality of taverns. They had a few biscuits, a small bottle of spirits, and a phial of oil. By twisting some cord very hard, and dipping it in the oil, they contrived to make torches; and, after several fruitless attempts, they succeeded in finding water. "Camping out," when the tents are pitched by day-light, and the party are furnished with the articles, which Mr. Birkbeck was obliged to supply by expedients, is pleasant in fine weather. The lady was exceedingly ill, which had in fact occasioned their being benighted; and never was the night's charge of a sick friend undertaken with more dismal forebodings. The rain, however, having ceased, the invalid passed the night in safety; so that the morning found them more comfortable than they could have anticipated.

The town of Vincennes is scattered over a plain, lying some feet lower than the banks of the Wabash: a situation seemingly unfavourable to health; and, in fact, agues and bilious fevers are frequent here during the autumn.

The road from Sholt's Tavern to this place, thirty-six miles distant, lies partly across "barrens," that is, land of middling quality, thinly set with timber, or covered with long grass and shrubby underwood; generally level and dry, and gaudy with marigolds, sunflowers, martagon lilies, and many other beautiful flowers. On the whole, the country is tame, poorly watered, and not desirable as a place of settlement; but, from its varied character, it is pleasant to travel over. Vincennes exhibits a motley assemblage of inhabitants as well as visitors. The inhabitants are Americans, French Canadians, and Negroes. The visitors are chiefly Americans from various states; and Indians from various nations: Shawnees, Delawares, and Miamies, who live about a hundred miles northward, and who come here to trade for skins. The Indians were encamped, in considerable numbers, round the town, and were continually riding into the place, to the stores and the whiskey-shops. Their horses and accoutrements were generally mean, and their persons disagreeable. Their faces were painted in various ways, which gave an appearance of ferocity to their countenances.

One of them, a Shawnee, had his eyes, or rather his eyelids and the surrounding parts, daubed with vermilion. He thus looked hideous enough at a distance; but, on a nearer view, he had good features, and was a fine, stout, and fierce-looking man. Some of the Indians were well dressed. One young man, in particular, of the Miami nation, wore a clear, light blue cotton vest, with sleeves; and had his head ornamented with black feathers.

They all wear pantaloons, or rather long moccasins of buck-skin, covering the foot and leg, and reaching half way up the thigh, which is bare: a covering of cloth, a foot square, passes between the thighs, and hangs behind like an apron. Their complexion was various: some were dark, and others were not so swarthy as even Mr. Birkbeck; but he saw none of the copper-colour, which he had imagined to be their distinguishing characteristic. These Indians are addicted to drinking spirits, and are often intoxicated. They use much action in their discourse, and laugh immoderately. Their hair is straight and black, and their eyes are dark. Many of the women are decently dressed and good-looking.

Mr. Birkbeck remarks that, in Great Britain, the people are so circumscribed in their movements, that, with them, miles seem equal to tens of miles in America. He says that, in America, travellers will start on an expedition of three thousand miles, by boats, on horseback, or on foot, with as little deliberation or anxiety, as an Englishman would set out on a journey of three hundred.

At Vincennes, the foundation had just been laid of a large establishment of mills to be worked by steam. Water-mills of great power were building on the Wabash, near Harmony; and undertakings of similar kind will, no doubt, be called for and executed, along the banks of this river, and of its various tributary streams.

On entering Vincennes there is nothing which tends to make a favourable impression on a stranger; but it improves on acquaintance, for it contains agreeable people: and there is a spirit of cleanliness, and even of neatness, in the houses and manner of living. There is also a strain of politeness in the inhabitants, which marks the origin of this settlement to be French.

At Princeton, a place scarcely three years old, Mr. Birkbeck and his family went to a log-tavern, where neatness was as well observed as at many taverns in the cities of England. The people of this town belong to America in dress and manners; but they would not disgrace old England in the general decorum of their deportment.

Mr. Birkbeck lamented here, as in other parts of America, the small account that is had of time. Subsistence is easily secured, and liberal pursuits are yet too rare to operate as a general stimulus to exertion: the consequence is, that life is whiled away in a painful state of yawning lassitude.

Twenty or thirty miles west of this place, in the Illinois territory, is a large country where settlements were beginning; and where, Mr. Birkbeck says, there was an abundant choice of unentered lands, of a description, which, if the statements of travellers and surveyors, even after great abatements, can be relied on, he imagined would satisfy his wishes.

Princeton affords a very encouraging situation for a temporary abode. It stands on an elevated spot, in an uneven country, ten miles from the river Wabash, and two from the navigable stream of the Patok; but the country is rich, and the timber is vast in bulk and height.

The small-pox is likely soon to be excluded from this state; for vaccination is very generally adopted, and inoculation for the small-pox is prohibited altogether; not by law, but by common consent. If it should be known that an individual had undergone this operation, the inhabitants would compel him to withdraw from society. If he lived in a town, he must absent himself, or he would be driven away.

On the 25th of July, Mr. Birkbeck explored the country as far as Harmony and the banks of the Ohio. He lodged in a cabin, at a very new town, on the banks of the Ohio, called Mount Vernon. Here he found the people of a character which confirmed the aversion he had previously entertained to a settlement in the immediate vicinity of a large navigable river. Every hamlet was demoralized, and every plantation was liable to outrage, within a short distance of such a thoroughfare.

Yet, to persons who had been long buried in deep forests, the view of that noble expanse was like the opening of a bright day upon the gloom of night. To travel, day after day, among trees a hundred feet high, without a glimpse of the surrounding country, is oppressive to a degree which those cannot conceive who have not experienced it.

Mr. Birkbeck left Harmony after breakfast, on the ensuing day, and, crossing the Wabash, at a ferry, he proceeded to the Big Prairie, where, to his astonishment, he beheld a fertile plain of grass and arable; and some thousand acres of land covered with corn, more luxuriant than any he had before seen. The scene reminded him of some open well-cultivated vale in Europe, surrounded by wooded uplands. But the illusion vanished on his arrival at the habitation of Mr. Williams, the owner of an estate, on which, at this time, there were nearly three hundred acres of beautiful corn in one field; for this man lived in a way apparently as remote from comfort, as the settler of one year, who thinks only of the means of supporting existence.

The inhabitants of the Prairie are healthy, and the females and children are better complexioned than their neighbours of the timber country. It is evident that they breathe better air: but they are in a low state of civilization, being about half Indian in their mode of life. They are hunters by profession, and would have the whole range of the forests for themselves and their cattle. Strangers appear, to them, invaders of their privileges; as they have intruded on the better founded and exclusive privileges of their Indian predecessors.

After viewing several Prairies, which, with their surrounding woods, were so beautiful as to seem like the creation of fancy; (gardens of delight in a dreary wilderness;) and after losing their horses, and spending two days in recovering them, Mr. Birkbeck and his party took a hunter, as their guide, and proceeded across the little Wabash, to explore the country between that river and the Skillet Fork.

The lonely settlers, in the districts north of Big Prairie, are in a miserable state: their bread-corn must be ground thirty miles off; and it occupied three days to carry to the mill, and bring back, the small horse-load of three bushels. To struggle with privations has now become the habit of their lives, most of them having made several successive plunges into the wilderness.

Mr. Birkbeck's journey across the little Wabash was a complete departure from all mark of civilization. Wandering without track, where even the sagacity of the hunter-guide had nearly failed, they at length arrived at the cabin of another hunter, in which they lodged. This man, his wife, his eldest son, a tall, half-naked youth, just initiated in the hunter's arts; his three daughters, growing up into great rude girls, and a squalling tribe of dirty brats, of both sexes, were of one pale yellow colour, without the slightest tint of healthful bloom. They were remarkable instances of the effect, on the complexion, produced by living perpetually in the midst of woods.