Wisky For The Men


The third day on the river is about as hazardous as things get. I’ll quote in full without interruption, but it may take a couple of careful readings (it did me) to understand just what happened.

“Fore o’clock in the afternoon we com to riffles. We see som boys on shore. Ask them whare to go. Tha said, Close to shore and that there was a a keel boat fast. The boat that sit off with us from Redstone went on furst. In the middle of the river stuck fast. We went the other side of the keel boat and got fast. Then thare was a large boat hevy loaded a coming on behind. The water run very rapid, The keel boat called to hem to go ashore or make fast to a log—but all impossible. Their boat large and hevy-loaded come on like a harry Cane. The keel boat was the first to it loaded. If it com against that, the boatman said that the keel boat would a run threw it. If the large boat had come against us, it would a stove us. But Providence ordained it otherways. The men that belong to the boats was out at work to pry loose. The keel boat men run to the large boat, pushing off and hollowing ‘keep off—put their serving ore against the large boat, it snapped like a thread—nocked down one man and com very near going over him. If it had it would have killed him in a minute. Marvin made a fire in our boat and made a good fire on land for the men to dry themselves. But just before we all got fast our boat run on a rock and stuck fast. The large boat run against us—broke our oar—stove in a side above—Raked our roof. Tha chained and nailed it so that tha thought it would do.”

Sunday came four times and is called Sundy, Sunday, Sabaday, and Sabeday. The third of these was June 2:

“We set off pirty arely. Com on about three ours and come to McKeesport. There the men went ashore. Got some butter, wisky. While we were there the keel boat come in sight and stuck fast. The men went back to pry her loose, Tha stid a good while Marvin said it would not answer to wait for her, for she run so deep in the water that she would be fast often.”

That’s very much my own feeling about that wretched keelboat, and I’m pleased that my male ancestor seems to be taking firm stands and showing himself competent on this stretch of the trip. This emigration seems to be what he needed.

“This,” writes his wife, in a sudden, sweet non sequitur, “is a very pretty river.” And goes on:

“A river puts into this at MCkeesport. This is called the Monongahela. We left all our company behind—come on well. At sunset we put up to shore—got some wate—made our tee. Eat our suppers. All very still—only toods—tha made the greatest singing heard for them in my life. The

poeple told us it was five miles from Pittsburg. We are nearer than we thought, for we all went to bed in a good hart thinking to see Pittsburg in the forenoon the next day.”

A cheerful water race with the neighbor boats is going on, but there is still one grave worry: “My baby keeps a very bad cough. Has a fevous every day.”

Next morning the race goes on:

“Our nabour boats come on in the night allmost to us. Put up in sight. We see them—called to them and pushed off. Tha followed after. We got to Pittsburg about ten o’clock. Our people went into town—got bread, unions, radishes, apples, greens, a vial of parrigorrick—give half a dollar for it.”

On to a second Middletown, where we take on staples: “Marvin went into town—got milk and wisky. The children got fire and water—we got our tee and then got over som ham to byle and went to bed. This town had three houses in it. Two was taverns.”

Next morning we fall for a hitchhiker’s yarn, but things turn out pleasantly:

“Got a few yards off shore. A man called to us—said there was a very bad riffle a little lower in the river, he would pilate them threw. They went with the canue and brought him. The man said that thare had been a grate many people drowned there. But we found out that the man was drunk and that he new nether about the river. He took whare the water was so shallow that our boat run on the gravil and stone raked it and rumbled like thunder. We then see another boat made fast. We went to it. It was a marchant boat. We all went into his boat and he had shelves all around his boat all full of goods of all kinds that you wished for, and as cheap as at Dover. We bought one loaf sugar 2 and 6 pence per pound—one pound of green tea two dollars—a looking glass 4 and 6—one bottle snuff—six shillings and some brown sugar.”

We are about to have another encounter with some of the outlandish Dutch, but because of the episode that runs in counterpart to it, 1 withdraw my charge of prejudice. I think what generates my great-great-great-grandmother’s raised brow and pursed lips is better called clannishness: