Smithfield Preston Foundation
Papers, 1784-1881, n.d., Ms1997-002
August 9, 1816 -- letter from William Cambell Preston at Major Preston's to Susan S. Preston McDowell in Abingdon, Virginia
My dear Susan
All the younger part of the family having left you to perform the sweet duties of ---- on Maria. I know there will now and then occur a moment when Im engaged with more serious or more pleasurable employments you will wish for the lighter amusements of a young society in which the spirit and gayety of your time of life might find vent. I do fill up one of theose gaps. I will give you from time to time a sketch of my travels. ---- travels for have I not been upon the banks of the Mississippi the father of streams and have I not seen where "---- ---- his world of woods." Few years ago such a trip was nearly unknown to the citizens of the eastern states and the adventurous might who peradventure may have accomplished it was visited on his return by his neighbors as one who must have seen strange sights and encountered much danger. You have no doubt ---- mastered that much travel uniformily creates a certain deference and respect resembing that which is usually shown to old age, and that the feelings excited by remoteness of place and remoteness of time are very analogous or rather the same, so that when I return with "news from all nations ---- at my back" I shall expect to be treated by my friends as if I had been suddenly decorated with an heavy brand and improved by long experience, but I promised to tell you what I have seen, and in doing so I sill give you a rapid sketch of my journey.
I left this on the 8d of july for St. Louis on the 8th. I crossed the Ohio at Shawnee town a few miles below the mouth of Wabash and stayed at the United States Salino. On the 9th I came to the first Prarie, which I look upon as the commencement of that lovely country on the banks of the Mississippi. As is usually the case there was an house in the cage of the prarie at which we put up for the night, but so novel and delightful was the prospect that I walked a mile or two into this vast natural meadow to enjoy the variety of beautiful scenery which it exhibited. "---- ----" laughed at me and told me I would be sick enough of praries before I got thro them, but he predicted incorrectly, for I never entered one with out an emotion of delight, and continued to gage with pleasure on the wide prospect of "living green", the fanciful arrangement of each shady grove or detached clumps of tres and the appearance of houses at a distance almost hid in the deep shade of the surrounding woods with their cornfields extending into the praries discoverable only by the difference of colour in the grass and corn, the fence being either hid in the grass or not seen on account of its great distance. Mr. Bates, the secretary of Missouri, was traveling with me and continually recommended to me to restrain my ---- until I could see the Maruells which he represented as a very beautiful prospect, 25-miles above St. Louis. Every one I met spoke of this place as worth going to see ---- so I set out from St. Charles with good company and on a pleasant evening to see what every body talked about. We went thro thick clone woods for several miles untill suddenly emerging from them we found ourselves upon an high naked point projected into the plain. We all stoped in perfect silence and for some minutes continued to gaze around without fixing the eye on any one or any assemblage of objects. The general impression from the almost boundless extent and inconceivable magnificence of the scene was so strong that no one could particularize. It was some time before we could note the many beautiful objects which were combined by "Natures own sweet and ---- hand" into this charming whole. We stood upon the point of land which terminates at the high grounds when the colours of Missouri and Mississippi unite 15 miles above the junction of the rivers. Immediately below us was a plain of an hundred and fifty thousand acres of land covered with ---- grass of a light green colour, this with the darker green of the trees ---- it, the still darker green of luxuriant cornfields brilliant yellow of small tracks from which the harvest had just been taken, the white bluff of ---- and ---- ---- of time stored rising to the perpendicular height of 200 feet covered with wood which in the distance resembled the blue tops of our mountains altogether exhibited a combination of colours ---- which nothing can be more strickingly beautiful. With a map before you, you will be able to fix upon the spot precisely. Upon the west bank of the Mississippi, and the north of Missouri three miles below St. Charles, 10 miles above ---- Sioux, and 6 miles below the ----. Our prospect was from the north east sound by the north to the north west, on the right was the Missouri whose banks were covered with a grove of heavy timber, pursuing his course with the eye you see on the opposite banks on high hill called the ---- or coal banbank a little farther on you ---- the ---- on which the fort La Belle Fontaine is built and below this point of junction between the two rivers. ---- tracing the course of the Mississippi to the north you prospect is bounded at the distance of 15 miles and continuing along the river for as mony move by white ragged cliffs which resemble the magnificent ruins of some great fortress, pursuing this cliff you see ---- the Illinois, coming from the northeast pays his mighty tribute to the father of streams. turning thence towards the west the view is bounded at a margin of a stream ---- half "hides and half reveals to view" an ---- plain which stretches beyond it up the Mississippi. The soil of this ---- is of inexhaustible fertility in ---- ---- it I could tie the grass over my grey home and along its western or rather southern margin fine limestone springs gush from the hill, here it was that in conjunction with Col. Benton and ---- I bought 400 acres of land at two dollars per acre. Col ---- builds on it immediately and perhaps when I turn my back upon the poor dear old dominion I may here terminate my wanderings.
I have been delighted with my trip beyond my most sanguine expectations in every part of it except the ---- neighborhood in which I am at present this neighborhood of Louisville. The situation is unhealthy the astmosphere moist and gloomy the people illitterate vulgar and sordid. To all this it is answered that the land is rich, and so the black heads are content to die here for the sake of being buried in rich land.
I must not forget to tell you that in returning from St. Louis to ---- I passed a tract of uninhabited country for upwards of an hundred miles. Before entering it I had laid in corn for my homes and meat and bread for ourselves. The first night that we camped out I was much fatigued and just at dark had laid down in a needily constructed tent when my Squire Charles, who like Sancho Danga generally has a ggood appetite, began to draw upon the provision bag. As ill luck would have it, at that moment some wolves began a most terrible howling quite near us. Charles dropt his provisions crawled under a buffaloe robe and heroically fasted until 12 oclock the next day. When I same to the first settlements I was nearly exhausted, but hungry, tired, and dirty the most common comforts appeared to me luxuries. The experience of difficulties is the best relief to the enjoyment of comfort. Privation is the parent of pleasure. I think amongst the most pleasant (tho certainly not the most exquisite) moments of my life have been thost which have succeeded to great beauty or mental labour.
The Majors Family are as yet well tho they all calculate on being sick. Henrietta is quite a woman in size matters and convention having aquired as much improvement as any give of her age that I know. Her knowledge of grammer and geography is admirable. The other daughters progress very well under the tuition of Scotchman whom the Major has in his house.
Aunt ---- has been quite unwell and her ---- has been succeeded by the indisposition of her daughter Sarah, a fine looking agreeable girl. The second daughter Lititia is a ---- -----. The most agreeable young lady I have seen is Miss Madison the daughter of George Madison in Frankfort. With sufficient personal charms and fine manners, she converses with out any ---- deficiency of understanding and has the reputation of being sensible.
I expect to leave this in a few days for the mouth of Kentucky, thence I go to Frankfort and Lexington. Thence the Lord knows where either to "Wild ---- ---- ----" or "Where the mighty Mohawk runs." Wherever I journey my affections are at home with you and our dear parents. Present them with a sons affection for me. Kiss Thomas and John and Charles and believe me you loving brother.
William C. Preston
August 9th 1816
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