” I Felt I Must Die Where I Was and Could Do No More Upon the Road” Part II

This is the second installment of the account of Colonel Francis B. Fay’s journey from Boston to St. Louis in the autumn of 1836. As we rejoin the story, our hero has already survived various and sundry vicissitudes, including being shipwrecked on Lake Erie….

The route described in this portion of the letter. By comparison, the modern traveler could drive this distance in a little more than 5 hours.

 

We left Logansport in the afternoon and went 6 miles to a small tavern on the banks of the Wabash and here my scene of troubles began. I rose in the morning with one of my most severe turns of headache. That house was no place for comfort [and with] my friends urging me on I consented to start and rode 20 miles in the most excruciating torture before I came to any house where we could get entertainment. Before we arrived it seemed I should be obliged to get down from my horse and sit down by the roadside. I however arrived at Delphi and put up at a miserable hotel; staid till next morning and although no better and having a high fever I again mounted my horse and rode 20 miles to Lafayette in search of better quarters. I staid their until the next morning but found no better entertainment and being unable to ride horseback my companions led on my horse and I to the stage to go 50 miles. I road 40 miles and was obliged to stop, unable to go any farther and stopped at Covington. I there stayed three days, had a physician to be X and other medicine. I sold my horse and took the stage for Terre Haute—50 miles. My companions had left a half a day before me in order that they might arrive at Terre Haute at the same time I did. They went 35 miles to Clinton and learning that they could save a few miles by not going to Terre Haute they very cooly left a line for me that they had taken a different route and presumed I should arrive at St. Louis now 200 miles distant before them.

Thus I was left alone among strangers scarcely able to sit up or walk. I however proceeded to Terre Haute and there found myself more feeble than ever with a high fever, my tongue coated to its very tip, my pulse up to 90, no appetite and parched with thirst. Add to this I was staying in a tavern with building, plastering, whitewashing and sawing going on, a horse race about to commence and the house filled with gamblers, [illegible] who appeared ready to rob me at every step and who occupied the next chamber to mine with a only a board partition and were gambling through the night. And added to all these the landlady an unaffecting brute with no disposition to contribute to or afford me any comfort or attention. The first night I took a severe sweat—rolling and tumbling and almost dying with thirst without anything to quench it but the water from my washbowl. I lay till 9 in the morning and no one appeared to see whether I was dead or alive. I got up, the sweat then rolling off my face, running down my bosom, my shirt wet with sweat. I stepped into the entry to go down, found them whitewashing one part and scouring up the other with soap and sand. I went down one flight of stairs out on a piazza, down another into another with a room with two Negroes plastering, clambering over the staging. I went out of doors round the corner of the house in a good northeast storm through the bar room into the sitting room which was also the eating room for some 40 or 50 each meal, which kept it in constant commotion through the day setting tables, eating, and clearing off—here I was obliged to stay through the day… [illegible]

I stayed here in this situation 4 days, had two Physicians, had [eaten] nothing for 10 days except once or twice a day a little sip of coffee or gruel. I got so reduced that I was scarcely able to sit in my chair or walk across the room with the greatest effort and no one to do anything for me. I made up my mind under all these circumstances that in all probability I should never again set my foot in Massachusetts, never again embrace my family and friends but that I must deposit my earthly remains in Indiana. Still my courage or resolution did not forsake me. I resolved to overcome all if possible. I was my own nurse while I stayed and after 4 days although very little better I resolved to leave that place and take the stage for St. Louis—180 miles—live or die, as I felt I must die where I was and could do no more on the road. I took the stage at 12 at noon and made 20 miles, stayed at a log house and was called at 4 in the morning,  but I bribed the driver to keep his eyes shut till 6… The 3rd night I stopped in Vandalia, the seat of government for Illinois and fared well.

Vandalia was the capital of Illinois from 1820-1839

(The stage goes here about 35 or 40 miles per day, one half before morning, the next in the fore noon and the last leg in the afternoon. The 4th night we stayed at a farm house upon the prairie (Log house of course with 11 of us stowed into a small room with a roaring fire all night) I (illegible) which routed me at 2 o’clock. The rain pouring down in torrents, I obliged to leave that afternoon and expose myself to the storm—exposure was inevitable although it seemed to me if it did not prove fatal it would be a miracle.

I however escaped [death] and the next day riding all day in the storm in a poor [open] carriage (they have no other in that country) I arrived at sunset at St Louis and put up at the same house where Lyman and his wife board—[about] as well as I left Terre Haute, but unable to sit up all day or walk a quarter mile without being completely exhausted, my tongue still coated all over, my neck stiff, my limbs paining me and no appetite. But I felt in a new world. I had got among civilized people and among some of my friends. My companions came to congratulate me on my arrival but they met with a cold reception and I gave them to understand that I considered their conduct in leaving me barbarous, little better than savage and an act which I could never overlook or forget. Their own conscience smote them and I think they did not feel very comfortable.

I stayed at St. Louis 11 days before I so far recovered as to dare to start home and even then, was unable to walk more than for a mile without exhaustion, so reduced was I on my arrival and so slow in my recovery. St. Louis is a beautiful location and a place of great business and fine advantages and when they root out the old French houses will be a charming place….

TO BE CONTINUED

The Intrepid Colonel Fay Takes a Trip to St. Louis, Autumn 1836, Part I

The first page of Fay’s account. The letter spans 12 pages written over the period of about a week on the return journey.

Among the Fay correspondence the Society is publishing for the first time ever this winter, we found a remarkable letter that chronicles the almost superhuman effort it took to travel by land before the railroad system linked the continent in the 1860s and 70s.  Although not stated in the account, it seems fairly clear that Fay took on this arduous 1836 journey from Boston to St. Louis to act as a business agent, looking for profitable investment opportunities for wealthy Boston clients.

In this first installment, our hero Colonel Francis B. Fay, late of Southborough, finds himself ill-housed, ill-used, battered about, and eventually, submerged in Lake Erie….

On board the steamboat Dayton, on the Ohio River between Mariette Ohio and Pittsburgh

November 2nd 1836

Dear Lori,

The time passing rather tedious—being penned up in a steamboat for 8 or 10 days without any relief, I made up my mind to give you a little history of my journey and adventures, although it is not very easy to write on a steamboat constantly shaking and trembling under the tremendous power of the engine and you may find some difficulty in deciphering all the [illegible} of the scroll.

I left Boston, as you know, September 12 at 1 PM and arrived at Providence at 4. [Presumably by the brand-new Boston and Providence Railroad, just finished the year before]. Went on board steamboat Massachusetts, had fog all the way through the [Long Island] sound which retarded out passage, arrived at New York the 13th at 7 AM, too late for the morning boat up the North [Hudson] River. Stayed in New York till five PM, took a boat for Albany and arrived there 6 AM; left there and arrived at Utica at 1 PM. 482 miles in 48 hours from home, having stopped 8 hours in Utica and 2 in Albany.

[This was breath-taking speed for 1836 and would have been a thing of wonder. Compare this to daily sums later in the letter.]

I there took a canal boat for Syracuse—61 miles where we arrived at 6 AM on the 15th. We there left the canal and took stage for Canandaigua passing through Auburn, Waterloo, and Geneva, and other beautiful towns to arrive at Canandaigua. Quarreled the stage agent for imposition, [unclear what this means, though presumably a disagreement about the fare] left that route and took the stage for Rochester and from there took stage for Buffalo through Lenox and Batavia, the last notorious for the scene of the Morgan abduction.

The route taken westbound by Francis Fay. Because there was as yet no train connection between Boston and Albany, the fastest route was by train and boat via Providence and New York. Incidentally, this poor connection to the interior, which would last another 20 years, was one of the principal reasons New York gained prominence over Boston.

[Fay’s reference to the “Morgan abduction” refers to one William Morgan,  a resident of Batavia, New York, whose disappearance and presumed murder in 1826 ignited a powerful movement against the Freemasons, a fraternal society that had become influential in the United States. After Morgan announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry’s secrets, he was arrested on trumped-up charges. He disappeared soon after, and was believed to have been kidnapped and killed by Masons from western New York. The allegations surrounding Morgan’s disappearance and presumed death sparked a public outcry.]

An early Great Lakes steamboat. Travel by steamboat was fraught with danger: Poor (or no) maps of underwater hazards, no indoor sanitation, and engine machinery that was liable to explode.

Arrived at Buffalo on Saturday noon Sept 17th and remained there over Sunday and Monday. At 10 AM started in the steamboat General Porter up Lake Erie. Went for 45 miles, [before we] struck a rock near Dunkirk and stove a hole through her bottom, ran her into the harbor where she sank a few feet from the wharf with 3 feet of water in her cabin, and 700 passengers on board, men, women and children of all sorts of sizes, ages, conditions making one little world by ourselves. What may seem incredible too is that boats leave daily from Buffalo with an average of 700 or 800 passengers, mostly immigrants moving to the west. Here we were—700 of us—shipwrecked in a little village of some 30 to 50 houses. Our company consisted of 7 men on shore while the others got out our baggage near up the wharf. [We] chartered a wagon to carry us 3 miles to the stage road at Fredonia. We got there and chartered the only stage there for $20 to take us to Erie PA—50 miles. Before our stage was ready, swarms of passengers arrived from the boat wanting conveyance but they arrived “just in season to be too late.” We went on to Erie and from there by stage to Cleveland Ohio, about 110 miles. We there got on board the steamboat Thomas Jefferson and arrived at Detroit Michigan in about 24 hours. We there breakfasted and took another boat, came back down the Detroit River across the westerly shore of Lake Erie to Toledo at the mouth of the Maumee River. Again took a steamboat and went 8 miles up the Maumee to Perrysburg, the head of navigation on that river. This was Friday evening.

On Saturday we purchased horses, saddles, bridles, portmanteaus, leggings etc and on Sunday at 2 PM commenced our tour up the Maumee River through the woods on horseback to Fort Defiance at the conjunction of the St. Josephs River and the Auglaize River, whose junction forms the Maumee. We made 18 miles and put up at a house (a tavern it could not be called) kept by a man, half-French, half-Indian. We had a comical supper and were put to bed in a chamber— 8 beds, or more properly, substitutes for beds, where we stowed away, 18 of us men women and children, windows with more than half the glass out, and we had to put in our hats and coats to fill in the gaps. The next day we reached Ft. Defiance after a 38 miles ride through mud & ravines almost perpendicular—down and up through mud sloughs, fording rivers, etc. etc.

Fort Defiance

There is a little village at Defiance and a tolerable tavern where we fared comfortably. Fort Defiance is well named, it’s situation is most commanding being directly up the point where the two rivers meet, with the guns so arranged as to point down the Maumee and up the St. Joseph and Auglaize, with a high embankement and a deep ditch in the rear from river to river. I think troops stationed there might well defy an enemy. The village is situated directly in the rear of the fort and is very pleasant.

In leaving Ft. Defiance we commenced a journey of 50 miles through the forest where there was no road but for a path for man and horse through swamps [and] deep ravines. We would descend 50-75 feet almost perpendicular, the horses sometimes sliding from top to bottom unable to keep a foothold. At the bottom there were mud sloughs and water up to our horses bellies and immediately afterwards we would ascend almost perpendicular, obliged to hold onto the horses’ manes and let our horse keep prone step to step and with the greatest effort reach the top. The first night we put up at a log cabin of two rooms (about half a dozen of which were all the inhabitants there were between Ft Defiance and Ft Wayne—50 miles)

 

The Ohio and Indiana portions of Fay’s journey.

We had a supper I believe such as never before ate—meat that had been cooked some 8 or 10 times and fish which was not cooked without salt or butter. We were sent to bed under the roof (if roof it might be called) by a flight of stairs outside with no door and the logs so far apart that it appeared more of a cob house than a dwelling, stowed in with corn, oats, boxes, herbs, etc with 4 (what were called) beds. We stayed there till morning during a raging[?] night and had the same provision for breakfast and it was again set before 5 others travelers who came up just as we left.

The next day we passed Fort Wayne, a small little town, and commenced descending the Wabash River on a tow path of the Wabash Canal. That night we put up at a log house and had a splendid entertainment [the word here means “food and lodging”] as good as could be had in Boston. The next night we put up at another log house and fared comfortably. The owner was formerly from Massachusetts.

The next day we came to Logansport, a fine town in Indiana at the junction of the Wabash and Eel Rivers. In the meantime, I saw plenty of Indians and among them the head chief of the Miami Tribe who dresses and appears like a gentleman. He is said to be the richest man in Indiana, supposed to be worth $400,000. There was a collection of 11,000 Indians near Logansport to receive their pensions from government. But a quarrel ensued between them, and the whites and the militia [were] call out and two or three [Indians] killed before order was restored. We saw the troops just returning as we entered Logansport.

We left Logansport in the afternoon and went 6 miles to a small tavern on the banks of the Wabash and here my scene of troubles began….

TO BE CONTINUED….

 

 

An Election Year Message for 2020 from Southborough, 1830

Francis B. Fay while a member of Congress, 1852

Happy New Year, History Friends!

This winter we will be researching and digitizing the unpublished papers of Francis B. Fay in our collection, another SHS first.

This name may be familiar to you as the founder of our library (the second oldest public library in the nation, btw) but the industrious Col. Fay did more than that single good deed. Born at Southborough in 1793, this remarkable self-made man with little formal education was Southborough Postmaster, Colonel of the Militia, a drover, and a successful merchant, roughly in that order. Seeing an opportunity in what was then the entirely undeveloped area of Chelsea, he acquired the ferry rights from Boston, and was one of the earlier settlers of that area. There he founded a bank, became Chelsea’s first mayor, served in both the state legislature and Congress, and late in life became interested in education for women, helping found one of the first modern reform schools in Lancaster as an alternative to prison, all the while keeping an eye on events of his beloved Southborough.

To give some measure of the man, we present a fascinating letter Fay sent to Jubal Harrington of Worcester while still in Southborough. Harrington’s original letter to Fay is not in our collection, but we can get a pretty good sense of what it might have contained thanks to a fascinating piece in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, detailing a 1850 bombing of Worcester city officials, of which Harrington was later accused:

Harrington was a lawyer, a former Worcester postmaster, a former state representative and a dedicated foe of the prohibition – temperance movement. He also had a newspaper career. He wrote for Liberty of the Press, a strongly anti-temperance sheet, and edited a weekly, The Worcester Republican, for a while. It was a supporter of Andrew Jackson.

During his term as postmaster, he was embroiled in a counterfeiting scheme, and disappeared from Worcester for a few years. Harrington also was opposed to the anti-slavery, Abolitionist movement that was centered in Worcester, where Eli Thayer was organizing the New England Emigrant Aid Society. It enlisted free men to go to the newly opened territory of Kansas and settle it as a free state in opposition to the slaveholders pouring in from the South.”

So given Harrington’s predilections and subsequent actions, it’s pretty safe to assume that Harrington had probably sent a fiery letter to Fay, trying to rally his fellow postmaster to the Jacksonian cause. Here is Fay’s reply:

Southborough January 30th 1830

Dear Sir,

Your esteemed favor the 22nd inst. came safe to hand and contents noticed.

(This is 19th-century speak for “your letter of the 22nd of this month duly received and read; “inst.” is an abbreviation for the Latin instante mense, meaning a date of the current month.)

It may be somewhat difficult for me in a few words to communicate to you my views upon the subject of your letter without being liable to be misunderstood or supposed to be laid under obligations express or implied which were not intended. But as I am at all times ready to give my opinion upon any subject within my comprehension freely and undisguised, I will endeavor to communicate to you my views and feelings upon the subject before us.

First, I am no partisan. I never have, nor do I yet think it my duty to attach myself to any party, religious, political, Masonic, anti-Masonic, so far as to approve measures because they belong to my party. I know no party but the nation, or any policy but national policy which I am bound to support. Thus if I belong to any party that must be named, that name must be American. Again, I am no “Fence Man.” My opinion upon any measure I am free to express. But one virtuous act of a man does not satisfy me that he cannot do wrong; neither does one error induce me to reject him altogether. Upon this principle I believe Adams and Jackson both have many virtues and both some vices, but either [is] qualified to discharge the duties of the office of the President of the United States.

(The election of 1828 had pitted Andrew Jackson against John Quincy Adams—essentially a repeat of the election of 1824, in which no candidate had received a majority of the electoral votes. Therefore the election was decided for Adams by the House of Representatives, according to the 12th Amendment. In 1828, after a bitterly fought rematch, Jackson clearly won the popular and electoral vote, to the disgust of the Federalists.)

The opening page of Fay’s letter to Harrington. This document is marked by Fay as a “copy of the letter sent to Harrington”, and given the numerous scratch-outs and revisions, is probably the first draft, with a far neater version the final product.

In short,  both are “more sinned against than sinner” and I am decidedly opposed to the violent measures frequently adopted to subserve the interests of men rather than the good of the nation. I understand that the remark of the illustrious Jefferson is yet good that “we are all Federalists, all Republicans.”

As an officer of the government (Fay was at the time the Soutborough Postmaster) I consider it my duty to support that government in all its “Republican Measures” tending to the welfare and happiness of the nation. With the policy of the present Administration (so far as I understand it) I am disposed generally (though not interminably) to cooperate.

The message of the President is the best I have seen—and the views and principles therein expressed are my own—with some few exceptions—and so long as the government is administered conformably to the principles there developed, I shall be “Friendly to the present Administration,” but whenever I may have occasion to disapprove any act of this or any other Administration, I reserve the right to express my disapprobation openly and decidedly though at all times respectfully and dispassionately.

I have thus hastily endeavored to give you some idea of my political creed— the polar star of which is: “measures are not men.”

In haste, I am respectfully your obedient servant

Francis B Fay

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be inspired by Colonel Fay’s advice, and do what’s best for the country regardless of party in this election year?

Who knows—miracles can happen.

Happy New Year Everyone, and please don’t forget to contribute to our annual appeal if you haven’t already.




 

Newly Discovered Treasures from the Basement


So yesterday, as I was moving a pile of  boxes in the basement, still struggling to produce some semblance of order after our forced removal last year, I spied an uncatalogued carton labelled “School Papers.”

I eyed it dubiously, wondering if I should stop to look inside. It is SO easy to get sidetracked here for hours, and I was on a tight schedule.

But curiosity got the better of me, so I cleared off a spot on the basement table, and pulled up a chair. Amidst crumpled notices of 1950s Fay/Peter’s  graduation exercises and an early brochure for Algonquin Regional, I pulled out two cloth bound-books,  ledger shaped, roughly 6″ x 14″. At first I thought they were more store account-books (of which we have many) but then I opened one and began to read the flowing script on the front cover:

“The diffusion of moral intelligence and scientific research upon the exalted principles of Philanthropy is, or ought to be, the anxious desire of every heart devoted to wisdom…”

No ledger this!

Instead,  as I read further (and became totally sidetracked as I had feared) it turned out to be the meeting record of a group formed on New Year’s Day, 1828: the Southborough Franklin Society, with the soon to be famous Col. Francis B. Fay (the future founder of our town library) its first president.

So what was the nature of this club? Intrigued, I continued reading the spidery cursive. HOLY SMOKES!!  It was a debating society! Like Oxford, England, but here in Southborough!

It seems the  the group assembled twice a month to debate a chosen topic. Members were assigned to argue for and against, and then after both sides had made their cases,  the assembly voted yea or nay.  On the page I’ve chosen to illustrate above, the question for January 18, 1829, was: “Is the intelligence of man superior to that of woman?”

Hmmm. We’ll get back to that in a moment, But first, why all these exclamation points in my description?

I cannot begin to describe to you what a valuable social history document  this book is!!!!

Instead of just dry old financial figures, or land deeds, it contains the well reasoned thoughts and opinions of  actual inhabitants of 1820s Southborough! And, as it turns out, these people were hugely sophisticated thinkers at a very cosmopolitan level — all the more surprising  for a remote farming village that at the time that was a  grueling day’s travel from  anywhere of consequence.

Just read some of the debate topics:

  • Would an equal distribution of property have a tendency to increase the happiness of mankind? (Voted: yes)
  • Is a savage (Indian) or civilized life more happy? (Voted: civilized)
  • Would an increase on duties of domestic or foreign spirits have a tendency to avert the evils of intemperance?  (Voted: yes; then the group voted to ban “ardent spirits” from their meetings, but then voted to hold their next meeting at Mr Winchesters tavern. Go figure!)
  • Do mankind ever perform an act of disinterested benevolence? (Voted: no)
  • Are mankind by nature more prone to vice than virtue? (Voted, after two two-hour meetings: vice)
  • Would a railroad passing through this town from Boston to Albany be advantageous to this vicinity? (A prescient majority delcared yes, but the railroad would be another 9 years in the future.)
  • Are mankind free agents? (Split vote.)
  • Are capital punishments right, just or salutary? (No decision)
  • Ought the dissection of human subjects be sanctioned by law? (Tabled after an hour-long discussion)
  • Would the abolishment of all laws for the collection of debts be salutary? (Voted: no)

Wow! Wow! WOW! This is the equivalent of receiving a time-warp message from an 1828 focus group!!!!

So enough exclamations: I’m sure you now share my excitement at finding such a rare piece of Southborough history.  But to return to the beginning: what do you think was the answer to the first question, the one about the superiority of man or woman?

Well, it turns out the men of 1820s Southborough were truly savvy: having invited  guests of the gentler sex to that particular meeting (not their normal practice), they very wisely opted to let the women present decide. Result?

The women decided by ballot that the intelligence of woman is equal to that of man.

You heard it here first: women equal to men, Southborough 1829!

Oh, by the way. I earlier mentioned TWO books….

Stay tuned. It gets even better…