DOWN THE OHIO BY BOAT FROM PITTSBURGHPAST BLENNERHASSETT'S ISLAND|
BY HENRY M. BRECKENRIDGE1
With the reader's permission, I will now change the scene to the banks of the Monongahela at Pittsburghtime, a fine morning in April. The shore is lined with the various kinds of keels, flat bottoms, or arks, of all the sizes and forms used in the growing trade of the West, and a bustling set of people playing different parts; but no leviathan steamboats are seen proudly asserting their conquest over the western waters. The object to which our attention will be more immediately attracted, is a keel about ten or fifteen tons burden with a sort of deck at each end, affording a cabin sufficiently roomy for two men to lie under by coiling themselves up. Both bow and stern were pointed alike, and distinguished only by the bowrope on the one, and the long tail of a steering oar on the other. The open space amidships was occupied by barrels, bales and castings, part on freight, and part owned by the captain, as he of the steering oar is usually denominated. . . .
The river was in fine order for navigation; the sky unclouded blue; winter had passed off, and "recalled his ruffian blasts," yet the forests still appeared naked and leafless. As we glided swiftly along, my companion, to whom everything was new and striking, amused me by his remarks, while I endeavored to catch some recollection of my first voyage; but excepting Legionville, the camp of General Wayne in 1792, I saw nothing I could remember. In place of the interminable wilderness, cultivated spots, cottages and farms, pleasantly situated, frequently attracted our attention. Not thinking it prudent, in this part of the river, to float during the night, it was resolved to encamp; which was accordingly done, and fire kindled in order to prepare our evening meal. . . .
Before the dawn of day the boat was again adrift, and before evening we reached the town of Wheeling. The intermediate space between this place and Pittsburgh will long continue to be the wildest and rudest part of the Ohio. The hills are high and steep, the river bottom comparatively narrow, and the river itself rapid and tortuous. . . .
The borders of the river had already put on the livery of Robin Hood before we arrived at Marietta, a pretty town, situated on a point at the mouth of the Muskingum; and at this time one of the most important on the Ohio. It was a handsome town when I first saw it, but it had much improved both in the style and number of its buildings. Some ten or twelve miles below this we came in sight of the island of Blennerhassett. There was a blue mist upon the waters and on the land, softening the scene into the most mellow, landscape, but either bank of the river was destitute of any striking natural objects, there being neither rocks nor hills: the giant sycamore and sugar trees may be considered exceptions to my remark.
The island and its embellishments were seen to the greatest advantage. The clean, naked, pebbly beach divided the stream in nearly equal parts; and beyond it the elegant mansion, painted white, was half hidden among the trees, partly native, which had submitted to the hand of art, and partly exotic, such as the Lombardy poplar and weeping willow. The large gateway and the tasteful shrubbery heightened the scene, looking like what the islands of the Ohio may be a century hence. It looked more like a vision of the future than a real landscape in the yet infant west. Such improvements are too far in advance of the state of society; they are costly to the owner, because they add nothing to the intrinsic value, and wealth is yet too scarce to pay so high for the gratifications of taste and the love of elegance. The fifty thousand dollars expended on this property would not have produced more than two or three thousand on the sale of it, unless by mere accident some other person of wealth happened to come, who was possest of the same fancy, and was equally regardless of calculation. . . .
It was a joyful moment when we took leave of the Wabash, and were again on the bosom of the majestic Ohio, now occupying a broad expanse; the banks lined with unbroken forests; the trees occupying ground perfectly level; and their tops as even as a clipt hedgebut such a hedge as might be looked for in the country of the Brobdignags. Our captain now made known his intention to settle at New Madrid, and open a store or shop; and became all at once exceedingly desirous to save us the trouble of preparing our food; which duty he took entirely on himself. Under this pretense he took possession of the provisions; and, instead of tea and coffee, thenceforth gave us nothing but insipid cakes of Indian meal, fried with a little fat bacon. When we ventured to murmur, he showed us his teeth and his pistols. The remainder of the voyage, which was fortunately not long, proved very uncomfortable. . . . The despicable meanness and low cunning of our commander put an end to all conversation between us; and when we reached New Madrid, Greaves and I instantly leapt on shore.
1 From Breckenridge's "Recollections." Published in Philadelphia in 1834. Breckenridge was a lawyer who served many years as judge, local as well as Federal, in Louisiana and Florida. This account is printed in Hart's "American History Told by Contemporaries."
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FULTON'S SUCCESS WITH HIS STEAMBOAT
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