- Historic Sites
Wisky For The Men
A novelist joins his ancestor on a trip West and discovers in her daily travails an intimate view of a tremendous national migration
April 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 2
There is another family traveling with us, the Sampsons.
“May 16 Thursday night. We got up this morning, all well, but one of Mr. Sampson’s children, he had a sore throat, we feered he gitting the quinsy, but he is better tonight.”
What’s not better tonight are the accommodations:
“the poorest place that we have got into at any time, thare all duch, and very ill bred people. The house is cold and durty, no fire to boyl our teacittle—nobody to make one. We set our boys to making fire. The girls, little and big run and laugh after the boys, look into windows. Such behavior I have not seen before. The lanlord and lanlady ses little but dus less.”
“Satterday the 18th (May), we came to the suskannah river. It tis one mile wide. It runs quite smooth. I went over in a boat with two waggons and seven horses and oxon and a good many people. We have crossed five ferris. Delaware river the first—Lahy the next—Skilkill Next—Sweet Arrah next—Sucannah next.”
She keeps working away on the spelling. The meal that begins the day is “breckfirst,” for example, in the next entry, which also includes my favorite moment:
“then come on to Shippeburd. got thare at sundown, Just at the entering in of the town we heard a terrible Noys. What is as I could not tell. Marvin stopped the teem, and it was men, women and childfen. Tha was Methados, preaching, praying, slapping thir hands, hollowing glory. I thought tha was children crying, cats fighting, but the dreadfulest Noys I ever heard.”
Bad roads, rains, rising of mountains continue, with an occasional lucky purchase (“I got a lofe of bread and a very good one”), gentling of the way, or rough turn of events, “at the top of this hill is a tavern which we have put up at—a very disagreeable place. The people of the house appear clever enough—but the house is full of travellers—teamsters, irishmen, and we have all to be together in the evening. But at bedtime the teamsters take another room, so we make our beds on the floor and lay down. Mama sometimes has a bed in the house to sleep on, but in a common way she chuses to lay down with me—for her loging has been poor when she called for it. I brought butter enough from home to last till tonight and meet till we git to the water, I think.”
I wonder how the butter has been kept for two weeks, and the meat so that it will last even longer.
“Mama” was Grace Kitchell (Mrs. Samuel) Ford, and all I know of her, this four-times-great grandmother, is in the next entry. She seems to have been a widow of some refinement:
“We put up nine miles this side of Bedford at a private house—a very clever man—his wife died last April. The people is very jinteel—sit a nice table and here met with one—Anderson a minister that lived at persipany with Mr. Benedick. He is very glad to see Mama. He come here upon a visit. Tha git tee for him. He gave Mama and me a invatation to drink tee with him. We had been to tee and refused. The old gentleman and his daughter insisted that we should drink tee. We drank tee. He sit and talked a long time, 1 mended billes pantaloons. It tis late. Anderson read a chapter in the bible—went to prare and we all went to bed.”
As one of the people who sleep outdoors in the wagon, I am spared discomforts like this one, next evening, at the tavern of “one Bowers—a loose place. We make our beds in the kitchen to get cleer of the company in the barroom. My bed was made before the fire. There was more fire on the hearth than I wished when I went to bed, I thought it would be covered up soon, so I said nothing. But not long after I went to bed, the landlady com and put on a dry small wood—made up a good fire. I told her it was very warm to lay thare by the fire, she said it was one mile to the house and that she must keep fire/The landlord was groggy so that he said or did but little. Marvin bought some hay of the landlord for the team. Tha told him whare to put his team, and in the evening thare came some men and had thare horses put up. So tha turned out our oxon from the hay—put thare horses to it.”
It was the 1804 equivalent of gas siphoning.
“In the morning Marvin told the lanlord what was done and he said, I am glad the boy has cheated you.”
Great-great-great-grandfather doesn’t seem to have been very forceful. I should note, since his wife never uses it, that his first name was Robert.
As we continue west, through the land of the Dutch, the roads are getting worse:
“Tha are stoney but not so bad on that account. But tha are very much cut to pieces with wagons. Stopped at a Duch tavern. Bred and mild for dinner. The lanlord was not home. His wife could not understand anything we said. I watched her when she milked her kows and made sins for some and got some. At some places we by bred and rusk, butter, cider, beer, unions, and whatever we want, we git for our comfort on the road.”