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From Vincennes, I turned to the left, in order to cross White River, below the junction of its two Forks, and proceed through Princetown and Harmony, to Birkbeck's English settlement at Albion.
The road, or rather path, to the ferry on White River, runs chiefly through low flat Barrens, with here and there a patch of Prairie. Upon arriving at the bank, I found the ice running so thick, and in such very large cakes, that the boat could not
Some men with a drove of hogs had already waited there two days, and the ferryman said that I had very little chance of being able to cross for a day or two, and perhaps not for a week. I therefore determined to cross the country, in a westerly direction, so as to meet the Wabash just above its junction with White River.
Upon inquiring of the ferrymen, if there were any house in the neighbourhood at which I could stop, they informed me that there was only one, which belonged to, a Scotch gentleman who had lately settled in this part of the country. “ But although,” said one of them, “ I am certain he does not keep open house, yet perhaps as you are a stranger, he will allow you to stay there tonight.”
As it was getting late I determined to lose no time, and accordingly, after a ride through the woods of about two miles, I found myself at the settlement.
The house, which was of a much better description than any I had lately seen, was situated on a gentle rise, overlooking the river, and surrounded with a large space of cleared land. I dismounted, and upon opening the door was delighted to see six or seven men in Highland bonnets, sitting round a blazing fire. I mentioned to the gentleman that I was a stranger, and should feel much obliged to him for a night's lodging for myself and my horse; upon which he immediately, with the genuine hospitality I have so often experienced in his native land, said that I was welcome to stay there, and to partake of whatever bis house afforded.
He had left Perthshire at the head of twenty of his countrymen, and had fixed himself on this spot; and although he had only been here eight months, had already put every thing into very good order.
My fare was sumptuous, compared to what it had been for some time past; and moreover I had a good bed to sleep in, with a pair of fine clean sheets.
I am particular in noticing this luxury, because it was only in two other places that I enjoyed it, during the whole of my travels, in the States of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. In general the beds were altogether without sheets; and the blankets had probably, since their manufacture, never experienced the renovating effects of a good washing. Sometimes indeed there would be one sheet, and occasionally two; but cleanliness in this particular I had almost despaired of.
Many of my countrymen, because they have not met with much comfort in these out of the way places, have, upon their return home, most unjustly and ridiculously imputed the same want of comfort to every part of the United States. But let us consider, that from Vincennes to Louisville is a distance of 120 miles, and that from thence to Washington, by the ordinary route up the Ohio river and through Wheeling is 731 miles : so that one of these delicate travellers would be equally entitled to abuse the whole of Great Britain, because he might meet with bad accommodation in the Orkneys. Moreover, woods are not cut down, and good inns established, in a day, nor even a year; and he who cannot put up with some inconvenience will do well to avoid travelling in a new country.*
This settlement is in a beautiful situation, surrounded by fertile land; but alas ! it has shared the fate of all the neighbourhood with regard to sickness; two of the emigrants having died, and several others being very ill. I went away in the morning, after receiving an invitation from my worthy host to repeat my visit if I should ever pass again in that direction.
* In many places where I have met with execrable accommodation, future travellers will find good inns: for the whole country is so rapidly improving, that what is true of the Backwoods one year ceases to be so the next.
The path from hence to the Wabash, lies through a thickly woooded country, abounding in game. I expected to have had much difficulty in crossing the river; for though there was a ferry boat, it had been drawn ashore and was frozen to the ground. Fortunately, however, I found a man going over in a flat boat with some cattle. The Wabash just above had closed up and frozen over, so that here, where the stream was very rapid, there was little or no floating ice. After crossing, I rode along the right bank to Palmyra. This most dirty, miserable little village was once the county town of Edward's County, Illinois; an honour which it lost, in consequence of the superior healthiness of Albion.
After stopping a night at Palmyra, I proceeded along a road which was in a very bad state, and which was very difficult to find. About two miles before arriving at the Bon-pas river is one of the largest and worst swamps I ever passed through: I can form no idea of its length; but it is full two miles broad where the road crosses it. At the Bon-pas, five miles from Albion, I found a wooden bridge, which is a great convenience to
travellers, as they would otherwise often have to swim the stream, both the banks of which are steep and slippery.
On arriving at the far-famed settlement of Albion, I found that it by no means merited all the abuse I had heard of it in England. The town is indeeed small; but has at any rate a very pleasing appearance, as contrasted with most of those in the Backwoods.
I was hospitably received by Mr. Birkbeck and Mr. Flowers. They both have large houses. That belonging to Mr. Flowers is a peculiarly good one, and is very well furnished. One room in particular was carpeted, and contained a nice assortment of books, and a pianoforte; all luxuries of great rarity in these remote districts. The inn is a well-built brick-house, and might have been made very comfortable; yet, although kept by an Englishman, it has none of the characteristics of an English inn; but, on the contrary, partakes largely of those of the Backwoods ; so much so indeed, as to be a subject of remark even to the Americans. I staid here several days without having clean sheets.
While at Albion I read all the books and reviews that had been written both for and against this settlement. One traveller describes it as an earthly paradise, another as a miserable unhealthy swamp; the truth is about midway between these extremes.