- 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
“just behind us we see coming two boats lashed together. Tha go to shore. We go out to see them. They ware all Duch people. Thare was six famalyes—forty people in the hope—but one that could talk inglesh. So we com home again. We set of and overtook a boat that had lay by for the wind. Tha ware Jarsey people. Tha had four in the family. Tha had three horses in it. We tasked to them and went on all day together. The other duch boat, all the women went into the water—went to washing in the river. Pulled up thair Close above thair nees—all of us looking at them and tha cared nothing for it. We went on till after sunset. Made fast. In about an hour the two boats com along that we left a Sabaday in Monongahela. We called to them to com ashore. Tha asked if we were the deserters that left them. Tha com up—made fast, and we had quite a Nabourhood.”
Next day: “We went on till in the evening some time and heard a man on the shore. He said that we had better put up for thare was rocks in the river. Our strainger that was with us said that thare was robbers in the shore and that tha wanted us to put up so that tha could com upon us. We didnot believe him. We put to shore and found no difficulty.”
We are getting less credulous.
On Thursday we float past Charlestown. Just before it we saw, I think, a vision of what we hope to build in the new life. Of Charlestown itself:
I really am quite struck by the way my three-times-great granny has withheld expressing her animosity until the stranger is gone.
“The houses is on the bank of the river in plain sight. It tis a very hansom town—large houses painted red and white—some brick. The town makes a hansom appearance in the water. We see little children in the water a swimming. About halfway between Steubeville and Charlestown was the hansomest place I see in all these parts for a farm. There was two very Elegant houses on the bank—very level land—frute trees and shade tree set out.”
A parenthetical recollection intrudes:
“One thing I forgot to mention—that is whare we put up night before last and our stranger was afraid of the Robbers—there was a bullfrog that called out all night saying ‘Keep off the shore—Keep off the shore.’) Nite coming on the men concluded to go by moonlight. We were lashed together to another famaly boat and sailled together for the sake of company.”
The vision expands now, with a foreshadowing of good neighbors:
“Friday the 7th of June. Foggy morning. I walked out on the bank and see a hansom improvement. I called to our people to bring some money and a vesil and I would go and git some milk. I walked a little peece—see a fine improvment—a hansom peach orchard. In it a log house—but nobody living thare. 1 went on further—met an old woman and a boy. I asked them where I could git som milk. Tha said keep on that way a little way, I should come to a house and thare I should git som. I walked fast. The horn blue for me to com before I got thare. I went and asked them for milk. The black woman said she would go to her mistress. She went. I followed hir. She got me two quarts. I offered hir money. She said she would not take it and that I was welkom to it. She said she never sold any milk in hir life and she gave to all that asked hir.”
Now a reunion:
“We was nine days going from Redstone to Wheeling. Mr. Sampson and Billy and his sun stood on the bank at Wheeling looking for us. Sampson swong his hat and hollowed. Marvin swong his and we was glad to meet again. Tha had been thare two days waiting. Billy was took with the plurasy jest before tha got to Wheeling but got into town—sent for the doctor—was bled and blistered and got about before we got there. Sampson said that he was a mind to go by land—a boat cost so much. So he come into the boat and staid with us all nisht. In the morning he took out his things and we laid in our store of bred and butter—ham—fresh beef—unions—horsefeed—took our horses aboard—”
I’m watching the shopping list for more wesky or wisky, but remember that handsome orchard?
“sold our oxen and took peach brandy for them—took it in the boat—bought two chairs—made us a good table and set out at tenn o’clock in the morning, a satterday the 8th day of June.”
We will have a last meeting with Mr. Sampson, but first some very nice news:
“My baby is a grate deal better today than he has been in two weeks. While we lay by for the wind this morning, Sampson see us. He had a pewter plate in his wagon of ours. He com and brought it to us. He left a scythe in the boat and got it. He says he wishes he was afloat with us. Whare he is going to settle he knows not.”
There are nine more days to go before what I have of the diary breaks off. These nine days offer only occasional variety. On one of them: