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Manuscript Journal Recording Travel from New England West through Illinois to Iowa in 1838, by an unidentified writer

Journal inscribed on 7 sheets, quarto and octavo, 15 pages, inscribed in ink and pencil. The diary entries are written on sheets of paper which the author folded in quarters, forming “pages” and then wrote his impressions on. The entries are in pencil and ink, his hand is a bit difficult to decipher at some points due to his penmanship, and the use of pencil, which has faded in places. But, with diligence, the content can be deciphered and through his observations we are back with him on the Illinois prairies and rivers of the 1830s.

Manuscript diary-journal kept by an unidentified western traveler in the 1830s. Our diarist traveled from New England, west across Illinois crossing the Mississippi to Iowa in 1838. He describes the events and incidents along the way, the landscape and topography, the small frontier settlements, etc. Iowa became a Territory on July 4, 1838, while our writer was across the river in Rock Island. He crossed the Mississippi and spent time in Davenport, Iowa.  The first white settlement in Iowa had occurred only 5 years earlier, in 1833. Davenport, Iowa consisted of between 30 and 40 houses in 1838. He describes the various conveyances he used on his trip, he describes being in a small boat or canoe, a stage, horseback and an early steamboat. He mentions Native Americans. He describes the following locations: Pawpaw Grove, Illinois, Freeport, Stephenson County, Illinois, Chicago, and many other small towns, some locations are little more than a few cabins. While traveling by Canoe he mentions Broudy Grove, Rockford, describes the prairie, and writes observations on its birds, flowers and vegetation. He writes about the “Settlers”, land claims, and of settlers forming a mob to protect their land from claim jumpers. He writes of taking a trip in a small boat down the Rock River to the Mississippi, and thence by steamboat up the river to Galena, the author passed through such places on the Rock River as: Kishwaukie, Bloomingville, Oregon City, Grand Detour, Dixonville, Prophetstown, Portland, Cleveland, Stephenson, Rock Island. The writer then embarks on a steamboat up the Mississippi to Galena, Illinois.


On a smaller sheet, the writer appears to be in Louisiana in 1840, for four months and carefully describes plants and flora he sees there.


Sample Quotations: 


“May 30 1838 Wednesday – This day I commense my tour to the west made arrangements… The weather in the morning unpromising. But then arose and walked in to town acc. by Francis. A valise well stuffed is all my baggage. Took our departure about ½ past 7 – purchased a ticket to carry me to Providence – We then went into the cupola of the State House. Visited the collection of the S of S Went into the court house and lastly ate breakfast found C Young there – From the market about 1 ½ oclock with F … departed 10 min after 2. Took a back corner seat- The smoke and cinders drove into my eyes terribly in about 2 ½ hours we were in the boat on our way to Rd Is. The season is rather tardy – On our way to Prov we pass through a rather hilly cou I remark things were not so forward as proceded. Took the steamer Providence  On the Narragansett we pass beautiful F – We had a view of Warren beach and stopped a few moments at Newport … once styled the garden of America - … Mt Hope was pointed out to me… How beautiful an appearance did Newport present burnished as it was by the setting sun. It is situated on lawn gently rising from the water, parts of it look rather ancient … in the eve we had singing in the saloon by a lady … May 31 Im dressed looked at my watch ½ past 3 all was silent except the plashing wheels from each side the sound could be discerned and now and then a light house would hold out a beam of light”


“Chicago Monday 18th We got in about 7 I think All was bustle men were gathered around on the pier porters were on the move and pass full of business. Saw among the crowd J Adams Had valise car to Lake House Put up there a spacious hotel. Dr. Stuart has been very unwell for the last few days. Made several excursions around the city the Dr told me that it contains 8000 which I think an over estimate. The city is situated on a level ground and is not very completely built. The soil is sandy and the water soaks through and the city is clean and free from mud. It is situated on both sides of the Chi Riv - … Wrote letters  &c for 1 ½ oc settled for passage to Elgin on the Fox River late in evening before I got in bed preparing to start. Not much wood about Chicago.”


“Tuesday 19th washed dressed &c before 8 oclock … got on the seat with Drew and one other Mr. Seymour. We made two or three turns and through mud and over a weak bridge then struck in to the prairie. About 1 ½ mile from the centre of Chi saw five prairie wolves some men and boys took after them but did not succeed.. Proceeded through through the low wet level dreary prairie enough to make me homesick. The driver said that many turned back home at the end of this prairie the roads were horrible. A track like a path through private grounds is the stage road but they strike off it on to the prairie a good part of the way. We went on hour after hour getting 12 miles to the first station at last we arrived changed horses and proceeded. The next stage was somewhat better taken together but I think there were worse places in it. The next part would be quite good for a few rods and then a confounded miry hole and next perhaps a corduroy piece of road – the old stage would jounce over it. Here the country begins to improve – we enter the openings that is where the land is thinly wooded and there are two kinds the burr oak openings and the timbered. As we advance the country grows better after we leave these openings next comes a large rolling prairie. This kind of prairie is gently undulating it has the appearance of moving but is immensely large. The grass is short on all the prairies at this time of the year – because they are burnt over spring and autumn. The grass is perhaps up to 12 inches high. I did not think these prairies so smooth and handsome. We about 2 oclk arrived at our third stage And our new driver began to bustle about and scold threatening to go off without us. It made me swear. He after excused himself had been urging them to have it ready. We despatched our dinner lively and proceeded at a swifter rate. The land was better. We passed the Fox River this is a beautiful stream the land lies beautifully on its banks and there is in its vicinity a fine country. I did not expect to see so fine a country. … We took our last stage for this day about 6 proceed to Ames – arrived @ 10 o clock we had supper got for us … the next thing was a bed we were furnished very well up aloft this was a log tavern. We had to start at 4 o clock the next morning.”


20th The morning was fine every thing refreshed after the rain and natures dress looked to the best advantage. Think from Ames it is 16 miles to Rockford my destined harbor. I cannot describe the face of nature I cannot tell of the beauty of the day. The openings the prairies their deep verdure – the flowers. I have never seen anything approaching to this country. Reached Rockford on R River about ½ past 8 oclock Put up at the Rockford fare 7 ½ $ - This is a pleasant place – The Rock River is a noble stream it flows over a gravelly bed the banks are high near here. There are at this place 1 large tavern 2 stores another building &c – This is a bustling place it is all life.”


“23d St – Day Fine After breakfast went to Kishwaukie about 6 miles the road very good except 2 or 3 bad places excellent. The country is thinly settled the day was brilliant how gay did nature appear … at last Kiswalkie was seen here as yet there are but few finished buildings – but from 50 to 60 are framed and raised. It has some advantages water power and a pleasant situation &c. I stayed there but a short time saw Mr Seymore talked with a man splitting shingles – but 2 or 3 since first settlement got back between 12 and 1 – much fatigued after dinner had a nap waked went down and saw part of a law case…”


[undated section on land claims, immediately follows the above]


“… sometimes individuals undertake to furnish provide themselves with land by what is called jumping – that is when a person hold more than is thought to be his share they see persons holding claiming more than is thought to be their share and so they settle on a part of it put up their cabin and if they these large claims and if they can keep possession make improvements it is not often remain for the settlers don’t like the thoughts of having any part of their land jumped and so the[y] form a mob and recover the land jumped – However I see none of these irregular proceedings I am told such things take place but I believe very seldom.

Then there is what is called making claims this means settling on and improving lands never before claimed …”


“27th About 5 o’clock or after started on our exploring expedition. Rather foggy in the morn Reached Kishwaukie about breakfast time There are about 25 buildings finished and 50 are erecting. This place is well situated and will I think become an important place. The powerful men who are engaged in improving are all of N York … K is 6 or 8 mi from Rockford. Reached Bloomingville about 8 mi from Kishwaukie a pretty place … it stands on ground sloping down to the river and consists of 8 or 10 buildings … clothed with trees with prairie interspersed afforded elegant sites for building. Everything Verdant for it is the freshest part of the year from B the scenery on the R rather changed – Abrupt cliffs of limestone steep bluffs covered with verdure and hill sides covered with trees what a country this will become. We reached Oregon City about 4 18 mi from Kish took supper and concluded to stop overnight as a shower threatens. This vicinity is beautiful prairies forest hills and bluffs before supper took a stroll on a high hill in the neighborhood – a fine view. … Oregon City consists of a few houses perhaps 12 – in the AM before 5 o clock continued our voyage a brilliant day … some bluffs some hills and it seemed through this part much more heavily timbered than I have seen – Stopped at Grand Detour consists of 30 houses … Got breakfast we left East There is a bend in the R at this place … I rowed around following the course of the river it is over 12 m We reached Dixon’s ferry as we approached the ferry about 100 oxen were to cross the R We left Dixonville about 2 or 3 oclock and arrived to the Upper Rapids Beautifully situated among trees We had … supper about 8 or 10 of us had to lay in the comfort of a log cabin About 7 after breakfast we started again The next place of consequence was Prophetstown took some bread and milk before this we took a 6 or 8 miles walk across the prairie level some slews saw some sand hill cranes took the boat and proceeded to Prophetstown consists of one or two houses in sight [from] the river here we left 2 of our crew to cut across to Portland – Took the tiller run on a sand bar – lost hat – had rough time near P which is pleasantly situated on a curve of the river on a high bank fine crops. Left one we had taken in at ferry Dixons … a shower threatened us we came to half dozen houses … some way from river here while it thundered and lightened – some wishing to go on others to stop at last about dark after we had scattered but two of us we placed our trunks under the bank but concluded to turn the boat over the baggage and two of us proceeded through the darkness thunder and lightning to a cabin and had fine lodgings soon after we got there the storm came on. Next morning went to the river and found 2 there and took boat along had a rough time in an hour and half we came to a house on opposite side river and found our 2 missing men we hallowed them and proceeded – While I am writing we are sailing through a low bottom country thickly wooded – 2 o’clock the water very rough some danger of being capsize some walked part of the way to Cleveland and stopped on the opposite side the river against the ferry – our boat took us over  - Had fine supper bought a ribbon for a hat This day sold share in boat Had a rather severe debate on going on – decided to keep on as far as Wilsons ferry … Cleveland consists of 15 or 20 houses Put up to Wilsons Had debate on taking breakfast.”

“July 1st Sunday Left Wilson’s ferry about 6 … the country from this place on the river is made up of bluffs and bottoms some prairie and some timber crossed some island opposite the rapids on foot and took the boat at its point crossed the river left 2 of our men and the rest of us continued on At last we entered the Mississippi. It was hard work to make much headway against the current we stuck on the opposite side the Mississippi opposite the Rock R. Rockingham consisting of 20 or more houses … We crossed the river and about 10 o clock p. m. very tired arrived at Stephenson. After dinner having a good opportunity I crossed over to fort Armstrong [Rock Island, Illinois] took a stroll through the fort which we found in a rather dilapidated condition… we crossed the river with a company bent upon removing the flagstaff … a fine spring of water about a rod from river a house of Menominees Indians saw some others a steamboat with a stern wheel… Stephenson I think is a part of Rock Island City and is very pleasantly situated on a midling high bank the east side of Mississippi the opposite side is Davenport …”

“4th July Independence great preparations have been making – cloudy with some rain in the morn… heard an oration by Mister … in courthouse to dinner and in eve a ball…”


“Sunday 8th Went over to Davenport in Iowa exceedingly warm climbed a bluff and had a fine prospect counted the houses in Stephenson @ 70 30 or 40 in Davenport went through the woods to the prairie and returned about noon … Monday eve 9th walked out and got into a slew and being dark had bad time.”


“Tuesday A. M. A Boat arrived took passage for Galena – Some of the land lies beautifully on the Mississippi & there is a great deal of wood on the bottoms There is a large village between St & G some of the places we passed are Port Byron, N Albany, Camanche, Savanna, Bellevue. These don’t contain more than 8 or 20 houses perhaps not so many. It was late in eve when we arrived put up at the Galena Hotel. Galena on the Fever R 6 miles from its mouth among the hills Perhaps it contains 2000 inhabitants – There is much bustle here. It depends on the lead mines for its importance, the surrounding country not being excellent in an agric point of view. The land seems to be in ridges the ridges divided into minor hills. About the streets you see heaps of lead. There are a number of smelting furnaces in the vicinity.”


“Wednesday 11th Visited in company some furnaces for smelting went round some of the hills. Look into some holes called diggings. Took walk with a person from south.”


17th 16th got good breakfast about 8 oclock and went on … came to a Connect. Man very sociable talked on the profit of dairy stock towards 5 left … found Peckatonic had to ford twice banks very muddy and slippery I soon came across another which waded lost sock came to another smaller yet. A shower was threatening me and 6 miles to travel … saw 4 deer believe cut across path into wood – at last came in sight of mill stream and some houses engaged with Mr. Prentice (?) stayed next morning breakfast and pushed on –“


“17th Went into a large proportion of opening –I recollect nothing of consequence stopped as usual at most the houses to get a drink enquire the distance &c – saw 40 acres of corn – at last reached Freeport – a pretty village on the Pekatonic – got supper…”


“Wednesday 18th left Freeport the shiretown of Stephenson consisting of perhaps 20  houses and courthouse, tavern and public house erecting – took breakfast a mile or two from there and a drink of water 3 miles further and proceeded to 12 mile grove across prairie a hot sun pouring its earnest beams upon us much troubled for water – drank out of creeks &c At last almost exhausted we saw across a bottom a house and started for it but got as far as the creek and washed laid down got cool and proceeded. Some clouds and breeze got to the grove engaged for the night got to sleep under tree and wrote some. After supper without suger we had ride on horseback to a cold spring next mor


“Next morning 19th we procured junk bread and went on – 12 miles or more perhaps and no house … drank out of creek where we lunched on bridge… went on at last saw some farms … dry enough enquired for spring ½ mile back – Went to it returned and took drink buttermilk at last got to Rockford crossed ferry &c some time before noon.”


Louisiana 1840


“Sunday 5 April 1840 During my residence in Louisiana (of four months) the climate had been bland and delightful – especially to one accustomed to the severe New England winters – Water has occasionally frozen over but ice is rarely formed of the thickness of half an inch… Since March set in there has been but one frost and that was about a week ago, it did no injury as far as I have learned to fruits or vegetables. There has been occasional storms lasting perhaps about 10 or 12 hours and then clearing breaking up. For the last week there has been almost constant rainy and cloudy weather. The winter in general has been unusually mild…”