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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 8

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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[72] Vol. IV
Chapter IX
Departure from Pittsburgh — The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers — Brunot's island — unfortunate death of two gentlemen — Baldwin's mill — Neville's island — Middletown — Logstown — Beaver creek — Beaver town — Fort M'Intosh.

On the 18th July, 1807, accompanied by my intelligent and valuable friend A–––––, I departed from Pittsburgh, in a batteau, or flat bottomed skiff, twenty feet long, very light, and the stern sheets roofed with very thin boards, high enough to sit under with ease, and long enough to shelter us when extended on the benches for repose, should we be benighted occasionally on the river, with a side curtain of tow cloth as a screen from either the sun or the night air. We had a pair of short oars, or rather long paddles, for one person to work both, and a broad paddle to steer with; and a mast, and a lug or square sail to set when the wind should favour us; we had a good stock of cold provisions and liquors. The river being neither flooded, nor very low, was just in that state, to promise a pleasant passage to its navigators. The current running between two and three miles an hour, allowed time to examine every thing worthy of curiosity, and the water was sufficiently high to prevent delays through grounding on any of the numerous flats, which impede the navigation of the first two hundred miles, during the principal part of the summer and fall, and yet not so high as to prevent our being able to see and remark all the shoals or rocks of any consequence, which gave us an opportunity [73]of proving Mr. Cramer's Navigator which we had with us, of correcting it in a few places, and of adding to it a sketch of the river, in its very winding course, between Pittsburgh and Limestone or Maysville, in Kentucky.43

In a quarter of an hour after embarking on the Monongahela we passed its confluence with the Allegheny, and entered the Ohio formed by the other two.

The Allegheny rises between two and three hundred miles following its different meanders, N. E. of Pittsburgh. Its current runs about three miles an hour except in floods, when it is sometimes impelled at the rate of six or seven. Its banks were uninhabited except by the aborigines, and a line of distant posts fortified by the French, to preserve the communication by this route between Canada and Louisiana, previous to the conquest of the former country by the British in 1759; also to prevent the extension of the Anglo American settlements to the westward of this river; and to command the friendship and trade of the Indians; and to prevent as much as possible the English from participating with them in those advantages. Within the last twenty years, the Indians disliking the extension of the American settlements into their neighbourhood, have abandoned this whole tract of country, and have retired to Sandusky, about three hundred miles further west, with the exception of a tribe under a celebrated chief called the Cornplanter, which has a town and settlement near the Allegheny about 120 miles from Pittsburgh,44 and which is gradually falling into an agricultural life.45

[74]The Europe-American settlements (as I call them from their consisting principally of emigrants from Britain, Ireland, and Germany, particularly the two latter) now extend not only to the banks of the Allegheny, but crossing that river, the country has become [75]populous, and many thriving towns have been erected throughout the whole country south of lake Erie, not only in Pennsylvania, but in the adjoining new state of Ohio, which latter has been settled in that tract, by emigrants from the state of Connecticut,46 to whom Pittsburgh is indebted for a good supply of cheese47 not inferior to English.

The navigation of the Allegheny is easy for boats called keels from fifty to seventy feet long, sharp at both ends, drawing little water, carrying a good burthen, and calculated to be set against the stream, so as to surmount it from eight to twenty miles a day in proportion to the strength of the current operating against them. The water of this river is uncommonly clear, occasioned by its gravelly bottom and the rapidity of its current; and the fish are harder, firmer, and more delicious, than those caught in the Monongahela, which rising in the Laurel mountain in Virginia, pursues a northern course about two hundred miles, (the last half of which is through a rich and populous country) until it unites with the Allegheny at Pittsburgh. Flowing generally through a more level country than the Allegheny, its current [76]is much more placid, but its waters are always muddy, from which circumstance it derives its name, which in the Indian dialect signifies muddy from the mouldering in of banks. Both it and the Alleghany abound in fish, of which the white salmon, the perch, the pike and the catfish are most esteemed; there are however several other species.48

Leaving the glass house on the left, we passed on the same hand Saw-mill run, a mill stream with a long wooden bridge crossing it to Elliot's mills, the bridge forming a handsome object in the view. Elliot has here a delightful spring, bubbling its cool pelucid water from the side of the rocky bason which receives it, from which it is conveyed by a pipe through his spring-house, the roof of which joins the shed which covers the spring.

We passed Robinson's point on the right with a fine level, or bottom, as I shall in future according to [77]the language of the country call all the flats between the hills and the banks of the river. This bottom well settled and cultivated, extends to about four miles below Pittsburgh, having Brunot's island opposite its lower extremity. This island contains near three hundred acres of a most luxuriant soil, about half of which has been cleared by Dr. Brunot, a native of France, who adds hospitality and sociality to the abundance which he derives from his well cultivated farm.50 He has judiciously left the timber standing on the end of the island nearest Pittsburgh, through which, and a beautiful locust grove of about twelve acres, an avenue from his upper landing is led with taste and judgement about half a mile to his house, which is a good two story cottage, with large barns, and other appropriate offices near it, and an excellent garden and nursery. He has fenced the farm in such a way, as to leave a delightful promenade all round it, between the fences, and the margin of the river, which he has purposely left fringed with the native wood about sixty yards wide, except where occasional openings are made either for landings, or views, the latter of which are very fine, particularly that of M'Kee's romantick rocks opposite, impending over the narrow rapid which separates them from the island. M'Kee's fine farm between the rocks and the mouth of Chartier creek, and the creek itself, which meanders through a great part of the rich and plentiful county of Washington, affording also fine subjects for the landscape painter.51

On entering the channel to the right of Brunot's island, I could not avoid a sensation of melancholy, from its reminding me of the death of my valued friend George Cochran, esq. of Natchez, who about three years ago was drowned here together with a Mr. M'Farlane of Elizabethtown, by the skiff, in which they were going from the shore to a brig belonging to the latter, being carried by the current [78]against the brig's cable, and overset. In his death, his friends had cause to lament the loss of a warm hearted, benevolent, generous, and properly conducted man in every sense of the word, and the world was deprived of one of those characters, which is occasionally but rarely allowed it, to prevent that general obloquy to which it would otherwise be subjected from the natural depravity of mankind.

I was not acquainted with Mr. M'Farlane, but from the manner in which I have heard him spoken of by those who were, he merited a longer enjoyment of this probationary life. They were found two days after, a few miles below, brought to Pittsburgh, and interred in two adjoining graves, in the burying ground of the new Presbyterian meeting-house.

Passing his garden, we gave and received an adieu from Dr. Brunot, and the recollection of a social and agreeable day, which I enjoyed with a party at his house on the 4th of this month, when he had a few friends to commemorate that anniversary of a new era in the annals of history, the Independence of the United States of America , aided to dispel those gloomy, selfish ideas, which we who remain behind can seldom avoid indulging, when we think on our being for ever deprived of society which was dear to us — even though we have every reason to be certain that they were prepared for whatever fate may await them in futurity, and though we know that longer continuance here, might have subjected the subject of our regret to some of those casualties in the affairs of men, which might have embittered their future life.

The course of the river is generally about N. N. W. from Pittsburgh to Beaver, about twenty-eight miles. We continued to descend it, our attention occupied by frequent changes of prospect, caused by its winding course. From the point below Brunot's island, is a fine vista of the river with hills on the right and [79]a bottom on the left; a very high hill in front cultivated on the top, Baldwin's mill on the right three miles distant, reflected by the water to double its size; the well frequented road to Beaver on the same hand, and farms and farm houses in view of each other; the scenery enlivened by multitudes of fish sporting near the surface of the glassy element. Baldwin's mill-house is well built of stone over a dam in the river, which conveys the water to the wheel, from whence it runs out under the arch which supports the house.

We had passed a small island of about three acres, called Cow island, separated from Neville's or Long island by a channel of one hundred and fifty yards. This latter takes its name of Long from its extending six miles down the river from opposite Baldwin's mill, it is narrow, but its soil being of the first quality, it might be divided into several good farms; there is however but one on it as yet, cultivated for the proprietor, major Craig of Pittsburgh, who has on the middle of the island a large but very plain wooden farm house of two stories, and about sixty feet long.52

We here overtook a covered flat, with two families of the name of Frazey, migrating from the neighbourhood of Elizabethtown in New Jersey, to Cincinnatti in Ohio. They had embarked at Redstone on the Monongahela.53 The father of one of the families was dangerously ill with a nervous fever and deranged in his intellects.

Hog island on the left just below Neville's island, is very small, and immediately below it also on the left we passed Middletown, lately laid out, containing ten houses including barns, and opposite to it, a Mr. White's finely situated house.

From a point two miles below Middletown, the river opening gradually into a long reach, has a fine effect to the eye. A little below the point, a charmingly situated farm on the right exciting our inquiry, [80]we were informed that it was squire Ways. The squire however, was badly lodged, if he had no better house than the small log hovel we saw on the bank. Deadman's island a little below is small, covered with aquatick shrubs and plants, and so low, that it must always be inundated in moderate risings of the river, which is not here more than a hundred and fifty yards wide, and in general not exceeding two hundred. The banks on each side abound with partridges whose responsive calls are continually heard, interrupted by the buzz of multitudes of large horse flies, which probably attracted by the odour of our provisions, seemed much more pleased with our boat than we were with them.

Eight miles below Middletown, we passed Logstown on the left: This is a scattering hamlet, of four or five log cabins, in the neighbourhood of which, on the opposite side of the river, a considerable tribe of Indians resided, until after the reduction of Fort Du Quesne, now Pittsburgh, by general Forbes in 1758.54

From Logstown a mile and a half to Crow's island which is small, the banks are very pleasant, rising gradually from the water's edge, and having a fine bottom on the right. Here we met two large keel boats loaded with cotton in bales, from Nashville in Tennessee bound to Pittsburgh, out twenty-six days. They had nine men in each — one steering, six poling, and two resting.

Half a mile from hence on the right, is a good log house with a sign of a white horse, kept by James Knox; in passing, it, a young woman answered several questions we asked her very civilly; which I mention as a rare circumstance, as the inhabitants of the banks of the Ohio, have too generally acquired a habit, of either not deigning an answer to the interrogatories of the numerous river travellers, or of giving them a short and boorish one, or of turning [81]their questions into ridicule; which proceeds from the impertinent manner in which they are generally hailed and addressed by the people in the boats.

Two miles lower we passed a good house and a saw-mill in a beautiful rural situation on the left bank, and here we met a decent looking man, polling a skiff against the current: He was going to Pittsburgh and had come upwards of twenty miles since morning.

At half past four in the afternoon we were abreast of Big Beaver creek or river on the right, five miles below the saw mill. It empties through a level, and is about fifty yards wide at its mouth, with a gentle current.

Some boys on the beach mischievously misinformed us respecting the proper landing, to the town of Beaver, which is but a little way beyond the creek, instead of which we rowed a mile lower down, and then had to set our skiff across a bar, which extends above a mile in front of the right bank. After landing, we had to climb a precipice to a log cabin, on the top and edge of the cliff, near two hundred feet above the surface of the river: Here we got directions for our path, and after a walk of half a mile, we reached the town of Beaver.

It stands on a stony plain on the top of the high cliff which conceals it from the river, and contains about thirty indifferent houses, much scattered, on three parallel streets. There is a stone gaol not quite finished, which was the only publick building we noticed.55 The inhabitants not finding water at a convenient depth, have, in preference to digging very deep wells, led it by wooden pipes from a hill near a mile from the town, and have placed publick wooden fountains in the streets at convenient distances.

[82]We were shewn the scite of Fort M'Intosh, of which no vestige remains except the hearth of the officers' fire place: It is on the edge of the cliff commanding the river. Altogether, Beaver seems to be very badly situated on the high plain, when it ought to have been placed at the confluence of Beaver creek with the Ohio, where there is a bottom with room enough for a town, and an excellent landing, and where are now two good looking houses with tavern signs. The neighbouring high situation notwithstanding its inconveniences, was probably preferred, on account of the superior salubrity of the air.56

On entering Beaver, we refreshed ourselves with six cents worth of whiskey and water at general Lacock's tavern. He is one of the representatives in the assembly of the state, and has both considerable influence and abilities. I had heard him in the house of representatives when I was at Lancaster in the winter, and was much entertained by the wit and humour he displayed in the course of a debate on fixing a permanent seat of government.57 We had not the pleasure of seeing the general now, and proceeded from his house to Mr. Wilson's, one of the best in the place, conformably to a promise I had given him in Pittsburgh. Mrs. Wilson, a very pretty woman, told us that her husband was absent in Philadelphia: — We left our names, walked across the street to Hemphill's tavern, got some information respecting the country; and then returned to our boat, meeting on our way the constable crying at publick sale, a poor horse attached for debt, for which the last bid was thirteen dollars twenty-five cents. It is seven years since Beaver was laid out for a town.

The Editor's Notes:

43 The Navigator or Trader's useful Guide to Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was published by Zadok Cramer at Pittsburg — the same house that produced Cuming's Western Tour. Cuming doubtless had the fifth edition, issued in 1806. The work was useful and popular, and ran through twelve editions. — Ed.

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44 The former villages of the Shawnees and Delawares in the vicinity of Pittsburg were removed at the close of the French and Indian War to the neighborhood of the Muskingum.

Cornplanter, the chief of a large band of Senecas, was for many years a much dreaded hostile. He is known to have been with the French at Braddock's defeat; later, influenced by the British agents, he took part in the massacre at Wyoming and in many border raids. Brodhead led out an expedition in 1779, which burned the towns of this chieftain; and at the close of the Revolution, becoming impressed with the growing power of the Americans, the wily warrior professed peace, assisted in securing the treaties of Fort Stanwix (1784) and Fort Harmar (1789), and had an interview with Washington in 1790. His professions secured him a large reservation in the present county of Warren, Pennsylvania, where he lived quietly until his death in 1836. — Ed.

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45 In 1798, the Quakers of Philadelphia sent out a committee of three or five, men and women, among the Cornplanters Indians, with implements of husbandry, to instruct the poor natives in the arts of agriculture and comfortable living. In these, with much good example, industry, and perseverance, they have succeeded wonderfully in bringing their red brethren to a considerable advanced state of civilization, to a knowledge of agriculture, the mechanick arts, and a practice of the social virtues. I had the pleasure of conversing with Joel Swain, one of the members of the committee not long since, who observed, that the farms of the natives extended several miles on both banks of the Allegheny river, well stocked with cattle, horses, and hogs. That one or two of the Indians had already learnt how to make their own plough-irons, axes, hoes, &c. while others were learning to make tubs and buckets, and that he expected to learn an ingenuous boy to make spinning wheels the ensuing year, for which he was then hunting irons. That a tanyard was about to be sunk for the purpose of learning them the art of tanning. That the Indian women had spun and wove about seventy yards of flaxen linen that year, 1808, and was able to knit their own stockings. That they, the committee, had got both men and women to quit the habit of drinking whiskey, or any other kind of ardent spirits, either at home or abroad — This circumstance has been frequently witnessed among those who came down to Pittsburgh with skins, trading, and who uniformly refuse whiskey when offered to them by those to whom they sell their skins, shaking their heads, saying, too scos, too scos, meaning, not good, repeating in broken English, "may be scos, good, for white man, but too scos, bad, for Indian."

The Quakers of Baltimore, under the same Christian, and highly laudable spirit, sent out in 1805, a deputation among the Shawaneese, Delawares, and Wyandots, and such other tribes as they could find it practicable to visit, to see what might be wanting to forward the interests and happiness of the natives, to some of whose tribes they had forwarded a few articles of farming utensils in 1798, particularly to those situated on the banks of the Tuskarowas river; since which, ploughs, hoes, axes, &c. have been forwarded to Fort Wayne as presents to the Indians on the Wabash, where considerable clearings and improvements have been made under the particular direction of Philip Dennis, agent of the Friends' society.

The Western Missionary society are also laudably engaged in this Christian like work, and we hope and flatter ourselves, that much good will be done, and the poor natives be advanced to a state of rational life. The Rev. Joseph Badger resides on the Sandusky, where no doubt his indefatigable industry will be turned to the best advantage for the welfare of the Indians in that quarter. He has one farm already stocked with cattle, &c. a tolerable crop was raised last year — and a school is kept to teach the children the English language. Divine service is also held among them frequently, where men, women, and children attend, to receive the instruction of their worthy pastor. Mr. Badger was among us not long ago, and he gives a flattering account of the aptness of the Indian children, and their willingness and desire for learning, and states that they do not want for capacity. — This subject opens a wide field for the humane and philosophick citizen, and we hope the minds of many will be drawn to pay it that attention it so richly merits. — Cramer.

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46 This refers to the Western Reserve, often called New Connecticut. By the terms of her charter, Connecticut claimed the land west of her boundaries to the Mississippi; upon her cession of this claim to Congress (1786), she reserved a tract of 3,250,000 acres on the shores of Lake Erie, in which settlement was begun (1796) at Cleveland. In 1800 this reserve was surrendered to the United States, and finally incorporated in the state of Ohio. — Ed.

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47 It is not an uncommon thing for some of our New Connecticut farmers to make from two to three tons of good cheese in one season, for which they generally get at our market twelve cents per pound. — Cramer.

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48 Such as the sucker, sturgeon, buffaloe, missouri, eel, herring, and sometimes the flat soft shelled turtle are caught — The branches of the Allegheny, especially French creek, abound in fine trout. — Cramer.

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49 Cuming is following the Navigator in his signification of the term "Ohio," which in its turn quotes from Brackenridge's Gazette Publications (Carlisle, 1806). Both are incorrect, as philologists now agree that the word Ohio signifies "beautiful stream." — Ed.

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50 Dr. Felix Brunot was a foster brother of Lafayette. Embarking in the latter's enterprise to aid the American colonists, he served efficiently in the Revolution, especially at the battle of Brandywine. At the close of the war he settled at Annapolis, Maryland; but in 1797 removed to Pittsburg, where he developed the island estate which Cuming describes. Dr. Brunot died in 1838; his descendants have been equally public-spirited — his grandson, Felix Brunot, being an eminent Pittsburg philanthropist. — Ed.

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51 The original owner of the farm from which McKee's Rocks took their name was the notorious Tory Indian agent, Alexander McKee. This tract he bought of Bouquet in 1764, and lived upon his property until the outbreak of the Revolution. McKee had (1772) been appointed by Sir William Johnson, deputy for Indian affairs, and was listed by Lord Dunmore (1775) as one whose loyalty to the British could be relied upon. He became, therefore, an object of suspicion to his neighbors, and General Hand, commandant at Fort Pitt, placed him upon parole. The night of March 2, 1778, McKee with Matthew Elliot and Simon Girty, broke his parole and fled to the British at Detroit. There he was rewarded with a captaincy, and employed in leading Indian raiding parties against the American settlements. After Hamilton's capture (1778) he was made Indian agent for the Western department, and throughout the Revolution, and the entire period of Indian wars, his influence with the savages was exerted to maintain their enmity to the Americans. After the battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), Wayne burned the store-house and goods of McKee at the Maumee Rapids, the renegade having himself retired to Detroit, where he received a letter of commendation from the governor-general of Canada, and promotion in the British service. When the latter evacuated Detroit (1796), McKee retired to Sandwich, where he continued his official duties until his death (January 1, 1799). His services had been rewarded by large grants of land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, upon which his descendants established themselves. His Pittsburg property passed into the hands of a brother, whose descendants were living thereon in 1847. — Ed.

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52 Major Isaac Craig was one of the most prominent of the early citizens of Pittsburg. Coming from Ireland to America in 1766, he settled at Philadelphia as a carpenter, and being commissioned first lieutenant of marines (1775) took part in the expedition to the West Indies. His command was later transferred to the infantry and then to the artillery branch of the service, wherein Craig was wounded at Brandywine, and performed gallant services in Sullivan's Indian Campaign. Having taken command of Fort Pitt in 1780, he was ordered the next year to reinforce George Rogers Clark with stores and artillery for an expedition to Detroit. This proving abortive, Craig continued at Pittsburg, strengthening its defenses, and securing it against attack. In 1783, he bought the first land sold within the city of Pittsburg, and shortly formed a partner­ship for general business with Colonel Bayard, a Revolutionary officer. During the Indian campaigns Craig acted as military storekeeper, forwarding provisions to Wayne, and erecting defensive works at Pittsburg (Fort Fayette), Wheeling, and Presqu' Isle; but as a noted Federalist he was removed (1802) by Jefferson from official position. Major Craig also aided in preparations for the War of 1812‑15, but at its close retired to Neville's Island (his wife's property) and resided thereon until his death in 1826. — Ed.

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53 For a sketch of Redstone, see Michaux's Travels, vol. III of this series, p158, note 23. — Ed.

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54 For a sketch of Logstown, see Weiser's Journal, vol. I of this series, p24, note 17. — Ed.

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55 A small brick market-house has been since built, and after many trials, a well sunk from which the inhabitants are supplied with water. — Cramer.

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56 With regard to the Indian towns at the mouth of the Big Beaver, see Weiser's Journal, vol. I of this series, p26, note 22.

The present town of Beaver was laid out in 1792, and eight years later made the county town for the newly-erected Beaver County. Fort McIntosh was a Revolutionary post erected (1778) by General Lachlin McIntosh, who had been chosen to succeed General Hand at Fort Pitt. It was the first military post in the Indian territory beyond the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. An important Indian treaty was held at this place in 1784; but four years later the fort was demolished, the erection of lower posts on the Ohio having rendered it superfluous. — Ed.

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57 The career of General Abner Lacock is illustrative of the ability and force of character that rendered so many pioneers eminent. Of Virginia birth, he had but slight education, migrating to Washington County, Pennsylvania, at an early age. When the town of Beaver was erected he bought some of the first lots, and served as justice of the peace as well as tavern-keeper. His entry into general politics was signalized (1801) by election to the Pennsylvania assembly, and in 1808 he was chosen state senator. National affairs claimed him when elected United States Senator (1813), in which position he championed internal improvements and popular education. Having incurred the resentment of Jackson by his services on the committee to investigate the Seminole War, his retirement ensued; whereupon he returned to Beaver, whose citizen he remained until his death in 1837. — Ed.

Page updated: 20 Mar 17