of a


Tour in Ohio and Kentucky.


IN 1805.

[map of westward travel]



June 30, 1805. Left Bedford [PA] and, passing through Somerset, Greensburgh, Pittsburgh, Canonsburg, Washington and Charleston, I arrived at Wheeling [WV] on the

11th July, where I remained three days in company with my friend, Mr. James Reynolds, awaiting his boat, the building of which was not yet finished. On Monday, the

15th July, sailed at noon in the keel-boat Mary, commanded by Capt. James Reynolds, and on the

25th July, landed at Columbia, where I bade farewell to Mr. Reynolds with regret, feeling myself much indebted to him for his politeness and hospitality during the voyage. Next day, I set off for my brother Thomas', who resided about seventeen miles up the Little Miami river, where I arrived on the

26th July, in the evening, not having seen him or any of his family for about eleven years. I recognized, instantly, both him and his lady, but to them I appeared a perfect stranger. I immediately made myself known, and our meeting was joyful and interesting. He has a family of nine children, viz: Mary (lately married to Mr. John Kibby), Anna, Josiah, William, Betsy, Nancy, Sally, Thomas and James. Within about a half a mile lives my brother David, whom I had not seen for about seventeen years, when we were both children. I found him married to a person of the name of Dorcas Keene, by whom he has two children—Polly and James. On the

27th July, I unexpectedly, and to my great joy, met with my brother Hugh, at Thomas', where he arrived on a visit from Indiana territory. We had not seen each other for about fourteen years, and, consequently, found ourselves perfect strangers; but, from sympathy or congeniality, we became immediately intimate, and agreed not to separate until I had finished my tour through the western country. I found him, unfortunately,  like myself, yet unmarried. On the

6th August, I arrived at sister Martha's, (married long since I had last seen her to a Mr. James Mitchell), with whom my aged mother now lives, neither or whom I had seen for about seventeen years.

My brothers, Thomas, Hugh and David, accompanied me to witness the anxious meeting. It was exquisitely joyful and tender, mingled with feelings somewhat painful, for my mother had lost all recollection of her son's countenance and features, and it was with difficulty that she could permit herself to be assured that I was really hers, although the tears of affection and joy, which flowed from every eye around her, assured her of the fact. When fully convinced, she literally wept over me for near half an hour, in such an extacy [sic] of joy that she sunk nearly exhausted and helpless, and I felt for the first time (such was the excitement occasioned in me by this interesting scene), that extreme joy has all the effects and nearly all the anguish of extreme sorrow.

Mr. Mitchell resides on the Little Miami, about forty-five miles from its mouth. He has a fine family of children, considering they have been raised in the wilderness. Their names are Margaret, David, Eliza, Anna, Maria and James Espy.

During my stay at Mr. Mitchell's, our happiness was, in a great measure, destroyed, by the indisposition of my brother Hugh, who, on the day I first met him at Thomas Espy's, complained of a slight attack of the rheumatism in his left knee. Here it became painful almost to distraction. On the first intermission of the pain, and as soon as we could with safety, we started for the Yellow Springs, about sixteen miles higher up the country, where we arrived on the

21st August. These are the most celebrated mineral waters in Ohio, and beginning to be much frequented. They are situated about seventy miles north of Cincinnati, and about a mile and a half west of the Little Miami. The country around them is more hilly, and less fertile than is usual in that state, but it may be considered as pretty well calculated for wheat.

The Yellow Spring is a beautiful, bold and limpid water, issuing out of nearly the top of a hill, about eighty or ninety feet high; the country back of the spring being nearly on a level with the ground at the top of the hill, out of which the spring issues.

Down the face of this hill the water flows in rapid descent to a beautiful brook below, leaving a sediment, or deposit, nearly the color of half-burnt brick, which has accumulated to an amazing size. It is, indeed, the greatest curiosity in the neighborhood. The face of the hill, .or projection, composed entirely of this deposit, is from fifty to eighty perches [1] in circumference, and is, in its center, from appearance, thirty to forty feet deep.

From the small quantity which this spring deposits in one year, compared with the immense size of the mound, the-man of science will find it difficult to reconcile the Scriptural account of the time of creation (according to common computation), with the number of ages it must have taken to produce this little mountain of mineral earth. To me it is another evidence of the great age of the world, and that Biblical chronology not rightly been computed heretofore. The face of the hill, on which this sediment has been deposited, appears incapable of producing much vegetation—a little shrubbery and red cedar are the chief which grow on it. I do not know whether any experiments have been made to ascertain the quality of this deposit, but, judging from its appearance, I should suppose a good paint, something in the nature of Spanish brown or yellow ochre, might be made out of it, in such quantities as would be sufficient to supply the whole western world.

The water of the spring is intensely cold. It has not yet been analyzed, but it is supposed to be strongly impregnated with iron (some think copper), and calcareous earth, and I have observed on its surface a dark oily substance in small quantities. Considering the intense coldness of the water, and apparent hardness, it is surprising what quantities may be drank with perfect safety—it usually operating as a diuretic, sometimes as a cathartic.

It is now most used in rheumatisms and eruptions of the skin, and with great efficacy.

The situation around it (yet nearly in a state of nature) is capable of the highest improvement, the beauty and convenience of the adjacent ground being almost unequaled. At present the only convenient irnprovement that appears is two excellent shower baths, which are much used.

My brother and I remained at the springs only three days, during which time he felt himself better; but on the day after he left there the pain of his knee became excruciating, and he was again confined at the house of an old friend of our father's, of the name of David Mitchell, about four miles from the springs, who humanely prescribed some poultices from the neighboring wood for his relief. These were composed of the pepper root that grows spontaneously here, which, being wetted with vinegar, and applied to the affected knee, produced a most violent external inflammation in a few hours. This inflammation grew more angry for three or four days, eating away the flesh, until it became necessary to apply healing poultices to extract the poison and fire. From that moment the rheumatic pains began to abate, and he again set off for James Mitchell's, where we arrived on the

27th August. On the same day I rode over to Dayton, a country town situated on the Great Miami, at the mouth of Mad river. This town is laid out by Mr. Cooper [2] (who also resides in it) on a very liberal scale. The streets are from five to eight perches wide, and the lots proportionably large. The situation is level, perhaps to a fault; for I observed more sickly faces there than I had yet seen in Ohio.

Considering the flatness of the country, I was greatly astonished at observing the impetuosity of Mad river. It is one continued foaming rapid; and although waters were then generally low, I found it ran nearly across the Miami river at its mouth in a limpid torrent, discharging more water than the Great Miami, which received it, although not more than one-third its breadth.

The lands on both the Miamis, and between them, are generally of the first-rate quality, and are beautifully situated; when well cultivated, no country can appear to greater advantage. It is also generally well watered and well timbered, and, except at certain spots on the rivers, and adjoining the large prairies, it is quite healthy.

I returned to Mr. Mitchell's on the

30th August, finding my brother Hugh still unable to ride. I therefore concluded to go on to Kentucky without him, under the expectation of his being able to meet me in that state before I should leave it for Indiana, where he himself resided. Under this hope, I parted with him, and left the Little Miami on the

2nd September, and arrived at Cincinnati on the

4th September, where I remained two days.

Cincinnati is a remarkably sprightly, thriving town, on the north-west bank of the Ohio river, opposite the mouth of the river Licking, and containing, from appearance, about two hundred dwelling-houses—many of these elegant brick buildings. The site of the town embraces both the first and second banks of the river, the second bank being, I suppose, about two hundred feet above the level of the water. On the

7th September, I crossed over into Kentucky, and arrived in Lexington on the 9th of September. Lexington is the largest and most wealthy town in Kentucky, or indeed west of the Alleghany mountains. I have been in Lancaster, Pa., and in Frederick Town, Md.; but in neither of those places was there the same bustle or appearance of business. In fact, the Main street of Lexington has all the appearance of Market street in Philadelphia on a busy day.

I would suppose it contains about five hundred dwelling-houses, many of them elegant and three stories high. About thirty brick buildings were then raising, and I have little doubt but that in a few years it will rival not only in wealth, but population, the most populous inland town in the Atlantic states.

The country around Lexington, for many miles in every direction, is equal in beauty and fertility to anything the imagination can paint, and is already in a high state of cultivation. It has, however, one fault, and, to a Pennsylvanian, an intolerable one—it is very badly watered.

Here I met with my youngest brother, James, [3] whom I had not seen since he was an infant. I found him at the University, where he has made considerable progress in the dead languages and in general science. He discovers an ardent desire after knowledge, and promises to be intelligent and useful. On the

10th September, being the next day, I started for Mount Sterling, the residence of my sister Anna. I was accompanied by my brother James; and passing through the village of Winchester, a country town, we arrived there on the same evening. Here I was introduced, for the first time, to my brother-in-law, Mr. Joseph Simpson, who had married my sister some twelve or fifteen years ago, by whom she had five children—Eliza, Jane, Maria, Martha Mitchell and James Wilkinson.

A few days after I arrived at Mr. Simpson's, I was again joined by Hugh, who had so far recruited his strength as to ride without much pain. The three brothers remained with their sister a few days longer, enjoying much social pleasure and amusement, and making a very agreeable acquaintance with the ladies and gentlemen of the place. From the novelty of the situation, however, and a disposition to get more intimately acquainted with each other's peculiar traits of character, the pleasure arising from each other's society was found to be the most interesting, and they were constantly together. One source of their amusement was in forming every afternoon a debating society, in which they alternately set one as president and the other two as speakers, pro and con. Another great source of their amusement was detailing the several events of their lives, which were altogether new to each other. My youngest brother James was particularly interested in the accounts which I gave of the Atlantic states and cities, and of the history of my own life, which to him appeared very eventful. Thus we passed three or four very happy days in all the simplicity of genuine affection and brotherly love, each successive day becoming more delightsome than the preceding.

Mount Sterling is handsomely situated in a country rather more hilly than that around Lexington, but equally rich and fertile. It lies nearly east from Lexington, about thirty miles distant, and on the great road to the Olympic Springs. Within the town is a remarkable Indian mound (from which it derives part of its name), of the height of about twenty-five feet, and almost one hundred and twenty-five feet in diameter at the base, and perfectly circular. It is evidently formed by human art, but when, or by whom, it is altogether unknown, and most probably will always remain so. Large trees are now growing on it. [4]

During my stay at this place my brother James's horse and my own both strayed away. This circumstance detained me longer than I intended remaining at my sister's. After diligent search in the neighborhood, I concluded they had strayed a considerable distance. I was, therefore, obliged to borrow from my friend Simpson one of his horses to accompany my brother Hugh to Indiana, where he resided. We, therefore (accompanied by my brother James as far as Lexington), on the

18th September, set out from Mount Sterling; and passing through Lexington and Frankfort, the seat of government of the state of Kentucky, we arrived at Shelbyville, the county town of Shelby county, where we stopped at the house of an old acquaintance from Bedford, Pa., John McGaughy, who had resided for some years in Shelbyville  as a tavern keeper. He received us with great friendship and hospitality. We crossed the Ohio at the mouth of Harrod's creek, about eight miles above the Falls, and arrived at Springville, a little town in Clark's grant, in the Indiana territory, on the

22d September. Here my brother Hugh at present resides, with whom I remained about a week, exploring the adjoining country, which is now settling rapidly by emigrants from Kentucky and the middle states. The soil of this bank of the river for about five or six miles back is remarkably rich. A Pennsylvanian, however, in the first instance would doubt this, as it is one continued grove of beech, intermixed occasionally with poplar, walnut, wild cherry, buckeye and honey locust. The beech in this neighborhood grow uncommonly large; I measured one of a number, which was fifteen feet in circumference four or five feet from the ground. In this settlement and all around the falls of Ohio, on both sides of the river, cotton and indigo flourish by careful cultivation. On the

30th September, I rode into Jeffersonville, a flourishing village at the head of the rapids opposite Louisville. Here it is proposed to take out the water of the river for the contemplated canal. On the

2nd October, I took a view of the magnificent falls of the Ohio. The rapids appear to be about a mile long. On the Indiana side, where the great body of the river runs at low water, I could not discover any perpendicular falls. It was not so in the middle and south-east channels, in both of which the extent of the rapids were in a great degree contracted to two nearly perpendicular shoots of about seven feet each, over rocks on which the water has but little effect. At some anterior period the channel on the north-west side, I am induced to believe, was nearly similar; but the great body of water that has been for ages pouring down has gradually worn away the rocks above, thereby increasing the length of the rapid on that side, and diminishing their perpendicular fall. I have no doubt but that the first break of the water here is now much higher up the river than it was originally.

The beach and whole bed of the river for two or three miles here is one continued body of limestone and petrifactions. The infinite variety of the latter are equally elegant and astonishing. All kinds of roots, flowers, shells, bones, buffalo horns, buffalo dung, yellow-jacket's nests, etc., are promiscuously seen in every direction on the extensive beach at low water, in perfect form. [5] I discovered and brought to my lodgings a completely-formed petrified wasp's nest, with the young in it, as natural as when alive. The entire comb is preserved.

At the lower end of the falls is the deserted village of Clarksburgh, [6] in which General Clark himself resides. I had the pleasure of seeing this celebrated warrior, at his lonely cottage seated on Clark's point. This point is situated at the upper end of the village and opposite the lower rapid, commanding a full and delightful view of the falls, particularly the zigzag channel which is only navigated at low water. The General has not taken much pains to improve this commanding and beautiful spot, having only raised a small cabin, but it is capable of being made one of the handsomest seats in the world.

General Clark has now become frail and rather helpless, but there are the remains of great dignity and manliness in his countenance, person and deportment, and I was struck on seeing him with (perhaps) a fancied likeness to the great and immortal Washington.

Immediately above Clark's point it is said the canal is to return to the river, making a distance of about two miles.

There appears to be no doubt but that this canal will be opened. At the late session of the legislature of Indiana a company was incorporated for this purpose on the most liberal scale. Books were opened for subscription while I was there, which were filling rapidly. Shares to the amount of about $120,000 were already subscribed by men of the first standing in the Union.

When the canal is finished the company intend erecting all kinds of water works, for which they say the place is highly calculated. From these it is expected that more wealth will flow in to the coffers of the company than from the passage of vessels up and down the river. If these expectations should be realized, there remains but little doubt the falls of the Ohio will become the centre of wealth of the Western World.  On

3rd October, in the evening, I turned my face towards home, crossing the Ohio above the falls, and entering the town of Louisville (accompanied by my brother Hugh), where I remained all night.

Louisville is one of the oldest towns of the state of Kentucky, and is certainly beautifully as well as advantageously situated on the bank of the river immediately above the falls; but on account of prevalence of fever and ague during the autumnal months, it has not risen to that wealth and population which might have been expected. It contains about 200 dwelling houses, chiefly wooden. However, since the legislature of Kentucky have incorporated a company for opening a canal around the fall on this side of the river also, this place has taken a temporary start, and some large and elegant buildings are now erecting of brick and stone; and it is to be presumed that its great natural advantages will finally get the  better of the prejudices now existing against it on account of its being so sickly, and that it will yet at no very distant day become a great and flourishing town. Two ship yards are now seen here, the one above and the other immediately below the town, but are yet in their infancy.

Whether the Kentuckians seriously intend opening their canal, or whether it is only intended to impede the process of opening one on the other side, is uncertain, but it is generally supposed that the situation is not as eligible for that purpose, as the one on the opposite shore. [7]

[next] [Espy home pag] [Patphil home]

[1] A linear or square rod.

[2] Daniel C. Cooper (1773-1818) surveyor, farmer, miller and political leader. See for more information.

[3] James Pollard Espy (1786-1860) meteorologist, known as "The Storm King." His Philosophy of Storms was published in 1841. His portrait hangs in the Smithsonian, of which he was a coregent.

[4] "The mound, which gave name to Mount Sterling was cut down during the year 1846. Many curious things were found, interspersed with human bones. Among them were a copper and two white queensware breastplates, about the size of a man's hand; a great number of large beads, some of copper and others of ivory; bracelet of copper, etc. Thirty years ago there were trees on this mound as large as those in the neighboring forest. —Collins's Historical Sketches of Kentucky, p. 469.

[5] It needs but little imagination on the part of one not versed in palĉontology to convert the beautiful corals and other fossils found so abundantly at the Falls into the objects named by Mr. Espy.

[6] Now Clarksville, IN, named after General George Rogers Clark (1752-1818), American Revolutionary War hero, conqueror of the Northwest Territory, and brother of William Clark, one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

[7] Nothing was done by this company beyond making surveys. In January, 1825, the legislature incorporated the Louisville and Portland Canal Company. Contracts were made in December of that year, and the canal was opened for navigation on the 5th of December, 1830. The project for a canal on the Indiana side failed.