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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 41

This webpage reproduces part of
Fortescue Cuming's
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country

published in
Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. IV.

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 43
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[248] Vol. IV
Chapter XLII
Extortion of a countrywoman — Robins's ferry — Lusk's ferry — Cumberland river — Smithland — Tennessee river — Fort Massack — Wilkinsonville — Ship Rufus King — Enter the Mississippi.

Half a mile below the Rocking cave, we stopped at Perkins's finely situated farm, where we feasted on some good buttermilk, and bought some eggs, but on demanding the price, and being asked by Mrs. Perkins, with an unblushing face, four times as much as we had hitherto paid for the first article, and twice as much as had ever been demanded for the second, we left the eggs with her, and paid her for the buttermilk, not however without telling her, how  p274 much she ought to be ashamed to take such advantage of the necessities of travellers.

The right hand shore now consisted of bold projecting rocks, with openings at intervals, in all of [249]which are settlements, while the Kentucky side being low is more thinly inhabited.

After passing Hurricane island, we came to Robins's ferry on the right, from whence is a road one hundred and thirty miles to Kaskaskias on the Mississippi, and about two miles lower on the left, we observed one of the finest situations we had seen on the Ohio; it was a hill occupied by a house and farm, opposite to a rectangular bend of the river which forms a beautiful bason. Three miles further on the right, is a hill with a remarkable face to the river, of perpendicular rocks of a reddish colour, below which, is a settlement and a creek, from whence Cumberland river is twenty-five miles distant.

Four miles more brought us to Lusk's ferry on the right, now owned by one Ferguson from South Carolina, who has a very good house and fine farm, with Little Bay creek joining the Ohio just above. The main road from Kentucky to Kaskaskias crosses here — the latter distant one hundred and fifteen miles.

Having passed the Three Sisters' islands and Big Bay creek on the right, at eleven miles below Ferguson's, we rowed in to the right shore, and moored to some trees, where we had a heavy storm all night, with thunder, lightning, and hail as large as pigeons' eggs.

May 19th, proceeding at early dawn, we passed Stewart's island on the left, and the first of Cumberland islands on the right, just below which, we observed on the Indian shore, the fine settlement we had seen from Big Bay creek, nine miles.

With some difficulty and much rowing, we forced our  p275 boats into the narrow Kentucky channel of the second Cumberland island a mile below the first, as otherwise we should not have been able to have got into Cumberland river, which the second island overlaps. A mile more brought us to the entrance of [250]Cumberland river, across which we rowed, and moored at the little town of Smithland.

This town contains only ten or a dozen houses and cabins, including two stores, two taverns and a billiard table. There appears to be only about thirty acres of land, badly cleared and worse cultivated around it, though the soil seems very good, but as it is as yet only considered as a temporary landing to boats bound up and down Cumberland river, the inhabitants depend on what they can make by their intercourse with them, and are not solicitous to cultivate more land than will suffice to give them maize enough for themselves and their horses. They live chiefly on bacon, which comes down the two rivers, and corn, being too indolent to butcher or to fish, though they might raise any quantity of stock, and doubtless the Ohio and Cumberland both abound in fish. On the whole it is a miserable place, and a traveller will scarcely think himself repaid by a sight of the Cumberland, for stopping at Smithland.

There is an old Indian burying ground at the upper end of the town, where we found several human bones enclosed in thin flattish stone tombs close to the surface.

Cumberland river mixes its clear blue stream with the muddy Ohio at an embouchure of about three hundred yards wide. It is the principal river for business in the state of Tennessee, Nashville the capital, being situated on its banks, one hundred and eighty miles by water, and one hundred and thirty by land, above its conflux with the Ohio.181

 p276  May 20th, having parted with Mrs. Waters, her charming daughter, and the rest of her family, they being destined for Nashville, we cast off, and rowed out of Cumberland river against the back water of the Ohio, whose true current we took on turning the lower point of Cumberland.

[251]The first three miles brought us abreast of Lower Smithland, a settlement on the left — having passed all Cumberland islands, and after dropping four miles lower, the sea ran so high, from a strong wind up the river, that we judged it prudent to row in and moor under a low willow point on the left, where we remained all the rest of the day and night, and had a violent tornado at midnight, of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain.

May 21st, we proceeded early this morning and at five miles and a half passed the mouth of Tennessee river joining the Ohio on the left from the S. E. and nearly half a mile wide. There are two islands at its mouth, the second one of which has an abandoned settlement on it. In the next eleven miles we passed three small settlements on the right, being the first habitations we had seen below Lower Smithland, and at noon, a mile below the last, we rowed into the mouth of a creek at the bottom of a bay, which forming an eddy, makes a fine landing for boats of all sizes, on the right shore.

On fastening the boat, a corporal from Fort Massack just above the landing, came on board, and took a memorandum of our destination, &c. We landed, and approaching the fort, we were met by lieutenant Johnston, who very politely showed us the barracks, and his own quarters within the fort, in front of which is a beautiful esplanade, with a row of Lombardy poplars in front, from whence is a view upward to Tennessee river, downwards about two miles, and the opposite shore which is one mile and a quarter distant — the Ohio being now so wide.

 p277  The fort is formed of pickets, and is a square, with a small bastion at each angle. The surrounding plain is cleared to an extent of about sixty acres, to serve for exercising the garrison in military evolutions, and also to prevent surprise from an enemy. On the esplanade is a small brass howitzer, and a [252]brass caronade two pounder, both mounted on field carriages, and a centinel is always kept here on guard. The garrison consists of about fifty men. Some recruits were exercising. They were clean, and tolerably well clothed, and were marched in to the barrack yard preceded by two good drums and as many fifes. The house of captain Bissel the commandant, is without the pickets.

Though the situation of Massack is pleasant and apparently healthy, it is a station which will only suit such officers as are fond of retirement, as there is no kind of society out of the garrison, and there are only a few settlements in the neighbourhood, which supply it with fresh stock.

This was one of the chain of posts which the French occupied between Detroit and Orleans, when that nation possessed Canada and Louisiana. It had fallen into ruin, but it has been reconstructed by the United States' government. It keeps its original name, which it derived from a massacre of the French garrison by the Indians.182

At one o'clock we proceeded on our voyage, and in half a mile turning a little to the right with the river, we entered a very long reach in a W. N. W. direction, and at three miles passed a new settlement on the right where the river  p278 is two miles wide, with a very gentle current. The current carried us twelve miles and a half farther, without our perceiving any signs of inhabitants on either shore, we then rowed in to Cedar Bluffs or Wilkinsonville, where we found an eddy making a fine harbour, and an ascent up a low cliff by sixty-two steps of squared logs, to a beautiful savannah or prairie of about one hundred acres, with well frequented paths through and across it in every direction. We observed on it, the ruins of the house of the commandant, and the barracks which were occupied by a small United States' garrison, until a few years ago, when it was removed [253]to Fort Massack; some time after which, about two years ago, the buildings were destroyed by the Indians.

Though our harbour here was a good one, yet we did not spend the night with perfect ease of mind, from the apprehension of an unwelcome visit from the original lords of this country, recent vestiges of whom we had seen in the prairie above us.

May 22nd, at day break we gladly cast off, and at a mile below Wilkinsonville, turned to the left into a long reach in a S. W. by S. direction, where in nine miles farther, the river gradually narrows to half a mile wide, and the current is one fourth stronger than above. Three miles lower we saw a cabin and small clearing on the right shore, apparently abandoned, five miles below which we landed in the skiff, and purchased some fowls, eggs, and milk, at a solitary but pleasant settlement on the right just below Cash island. It is occupied by one Petit with his family, who stopped here to make a crop or two previous to his descending the Mississippi, according to his intention on some future day.

Two miles and a half from hence we left Cash river, a fine harbour for boats about thirty yards wide at its mouth, on the right, and from hence we had a pleasant and cheerful  p279 view down the river, in a S. S. E. direction five miles to the Mississippi.

First on the right just below the mouth of the Cash river, M'Mullin's pleasant settlement, and a little lower a cabin occupied by a tenant who labours for him. A ship at anchor close to the right shore, three miles lower down, enlivened the view, which was closed below by colonel Bird's flourishing settlement on the south bank of the Mississippi.183

We soon passed and spoke the ship, which was the Rufus King, captain Clarke, receiving a cargo of tobacco, &c. by boats down the river from Kentucky, and intended to proceed in about a week, on a voyage [254]to Baltimore. It was now a year since she was built at Marietta, and she had got no farther yet.

At noon we entered the Mississippi flowing from E. above, to E. by S. below the conflux of the Ohio, which differs considerably from its general course of from north to south.

The Editor's Notes:

181 For the early history of Nashville, see Michaux's Travels, vol. III of this series, p61, note 103. — Ed.

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182 On the history of Fort Massac, and the origin of its name, see Michaux's Travels, vol. III of this series, p73, note 139.

Captain Daniel Bissell, the commandant at this point, had welcomed Burr on his descent of the Ohio two years before Cuming. Bissell joined the army from Connecticut as lieutenant, in 1794, but made captain in 1799. During the War of 1812‑15, he became brigadier-general and served on the northern frontier, winning a slight skirmish at Lyons Creek. He resigned from the army in 1821, and died in 1833. — Ed.

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183 The Missouri point opposite Cairo was acquired by an American from the Spanish government, but no settlement seems to have been made thereon until 1808, when Abraham Bird, who had several years previous removed from Virginia to Cairo, crossed over and built a home at this place, thereafter known as Bird's Point. This property was in the hands of the Birds for three generations. — Ed.

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