- Historic Sites
Louis Philippe In America
The future French king asked Washington for directions and got an arduous tour of a new nation’s wilderness
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
A rather pretty girl, whom we knew to be unmarried, got into it; that also seemed very natural. A stalwart young man of twenty or twenty-two arrived soon afterward, as we were rolling up in our blankets, and without ceremony got into the girl’s bed. Although this was certainly very natural, it caused us some surprise. It had no such effect on the captain, who, to repose himself from his day’s labors, began a conversation of which we were the subject. He thought we were very queer folk, to leave our home and endure all the fatigues of a hard journey in order to see wildernesses, savages and a thousand other things which he had good reason to find unworthy of such efforts. The familiar behavior of the young man with the girl did not seem to upset him. His other daughter blew out the candle and got into the young people’s bed, so that the youth was between the two girls. That seemed fairly extraordinary to us, but the matrimonial conversation went on without a pause.
Riding through pouring rain, fording swollen rivers, suffering often from hunger, the princes reached Hodgenville, Kentucky, and according to local tradition were well entertained by the proprietor, Mr. Hodgen. (In a cabin a few miles away Abraham Lincoln would be born twelve years later.)
Thus they came to Bardstown, a metropolis of a hundred and fifty houses. Louis Philippe was ill; he asked the landlady for some special attentions. These were refused, for an Irishman in a clown costume was parading the town and announcing a puppet show. There had never before been any public amusement in Bardstown, and the entire staff of the inn would attend the show. The hostess took all her children, “so that when they are old they will be able to say they have seen it.”
The Bardstown Catholic church, once a cathedral, still proudly displays a collection of paintings, allegedly by Murillo, Rubens, van Eyck, Van Dyck, etc., said to have been given later by King Louis Philippe in gratitude for his warm reception in the village. It is hardly necessary to remark that Louis Philippe would not have given anyone a million dollars’ worth of art, and least of all would he have bestowed it on Bardstown. There is, however, some reason to suppose that the church clock was his gift.
It was in Bardstown that he wrote (on May 21) the last entry in his journal, summing up his impression of the Kentuckians:
What makes a journey in this region absolutely unendurable is the character of the new settlers. They are the lowest sort of men I have ever seen. In general they are the scum of Ireland and the United States. They are coarse, idle, and inhospitable to the utmost degree. Nothing is more disgusting than to see such people continually. I must admit that, despite my prejudice against the Irish settlers, I have always found them more hospitable and less disagreeable than the American settlers. Altogether, I don’t think that in any corner of Europe one could find such a degraded lot.
This opinion is supported by the Englishman Thomas Ashe, who visited Bardstown in 1806. “Of the inhabitants I have already said enough to make humanity shudder. They trample on all the advantages spread before them by nature, and live in a brutal ignorance of the charms and luxuries which surround them.” Poor Mr. Ashe was particularly revolted by the Kentuckians’ diet. “They eat salt meat three times a day, seldom or never have any vegetable, and drink ardent spirits from morning till night. They have not only an aversion to fresh meat, but a vulgar prejudice that it is unwholesome. The truth is, their stomachs are depraved by burning liquors, and they have no appetite for anything but what is highly flavored and strongly impregnated with salt.”
(In our glorification of the bold pioneers we forget that they were commonly regarded as outcasts of civilization, too indolent and incompetent to survive in the settled country. O pioneers! There were heroes among you; there were also derelicts and outlaws.)
Now the road turned east, to Lexington, the trading center of the Kentucky country. Somewhere on the way Louis Philippe must have paused to tend his illness, for the stage of the journey from Bardstown to Pittsburgh, something over three hundred miles, occupied a month. The road was the main access to the Kentucky country from the northeastern states and was relatively good. The princes crossed the Ohio River at Maysville. In Chillicothe, Ohio, Louis Philippe intervened in a barroom brawl and rescued the landlord. His role was always to be that of a peacemaker. In Zanesville he lodged in the cabin of John Mclntire, who is remembered in Muskingum County as “of a pleasant disposition except when insulted, when he would instantly knock the offender down, and go off about his business.” Thence the travellers headed east, through Wheeling, and arrived in Pittsburgh on June 20.