Father writes to son and business partner as he explores the lands and cities along the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers

Date Written

Aug. 6, 1838

John McAllister, Jr. was 52 years old when this was written.
The recipient, William Young McAllister, was 26 when it was received.

John McAllister, Jr. died 39 years, 4 months, 11 days after writing this.
It was written 180 years, 11 months, 13 days ago.
It was a Monday.

St. Louis, Missouri
Monday, August 6, 1838

Dear William,

I wrote to you on the 3rd inst. and mailed the letter that evening at Smithland [Kentucky], mouth of Cumberland River. At the time of writing we were aground on the ruins of a dam erected by Captain Shreve from the head of Cumberland Island to the Illinois shore and there seemed then little hope of getting off. The captain, however, went to Smithland and hired a steamboat then idle there to come up to the place. The Rolla, about the same time, was coming down the river. Hawsers were put out to both boats and they dropped us off into deep water below the overfall. We then went down by Cumberland Island to its fort and turned up to Smithland which we reached about 10 o’clock. I ran ashore to put the letter into the mail but the Post Office was so far that I was apprehensive the bell would ring and did not add a postscript as I should have done saying that we were off the bar. We lay by that night at Fort Massac. Next morning at 10 a.m. we entered the Mississippi. The contrast between the clear water of the Ohio and the muddy rolling current of the Mississippi was surprising. Although I had often heard of it and read about it, I did not expect to find the contrast so great.

We arrived here last night about 10 o’clock. The moon shone brightly on the steamers ranged along the landing and on the white stone stores. The appearance was quite imposing. We remained on board until after breakfast this morning. We have put up at the National Hotel where we have a pretty good chamber — not over cleanly, however, and we are not without apprehensions lest we have too many creeping companions tonight. The situation is too far in the southern part of the city. I do not know the names of the streets at the corner of which it stands. It is, however, about the fourth from the river and the first north of Walnut.

The Elections begin today and will continue three days. The excitement is very great — greater they say than was ever known. Carriages are continually going about — some labelled “Benton and Democracy” with 2 hickory brooms projecting from the front — others with Whig labels. The stores are closed. There is a strong feeling against Benton. The Whig candidates for the legislature are pledged if elected to vote against him. Should a majority of the members chosen be Bentonites, the Whigs expect to induce a portion of the Van Buren party — to whom Benton is known to be odious — to take up some other person of their party and if so, the Whigs will unite with them. Anything or anybody, they say, but Benton. Draw black lines around him, they say.
What a warm summer we have! My calculation was that the intensity of warmth had spent itself before I came away and that a change was to be looked for — but it has continued and our confined situation night and day — neighbors to steam boilers, or rather living in the same house with them — has added to the intensity. We have had but one moderate day since we left home which was on the first Saturday. Every day, that excepted, has been one of constant beaming sunshine. Now and then the promise of a gust, but it was only a promise — no rain at all.

St. Louis is truly a fine city — so I should think from the very little I have seen. I had no idea before I came how much its situation makes it the key of the Great North West. But what a wilderness of cotton trees must we come through before we reach it. The greater part of the land on the shores from a little below this to the mouth of the Ohio can never be inhabited except by woodcutters. From this place north & west, there is near the great rivers Mississippi and Missouri superior land and a good business may be expected.

Today we propose resting. Mr. Cohen is, however, to take us to his house this evening so that we cannot be quite at rest. The weather is altogether too warm for walking or riding. We may perhaps talk a walk very early tomorrow morning. We would fain turn homeward as our absence will necessarily be protracted much beyond our first ideas. We have got to make a little excursion to Louisville so as to see something of Kentucky — to spend one day at least in Cincinnati — travel by land over some part of Ohio and to pass a few days in Pittsburg — and then in order to accomplish my original object in the journey, I must take the slow conveyance by canal from Pittsburg. We ought while here to visit Alton so as to be at the mouth of the Missouri. We ought allow to make an excursion of some 20 miles into Illinois — that way we may have some idea of prairies and the mixture of forest land with meadows of great extent. For these, two days at least will be required.
The Election here shows us a great stir but does not give an idea of the business bustle. We must judge of that from other circumstances. We can know nothing further about home until we get to Louisville whither Mr. Conelin was to send our letter, We hope all is doing well, but we would like to know many things. How did they enjoy Cape May? Did sister Julia derive benefit from it? Did Sarah return with her Uncle and Aunt? How does Frances get along, &c. &c. &c.

Missouri water — how it is praised here though with it you must drink or swallow mud and sand from the Rocky Mountains and from all the region through which the river flows. When aboard the steamer, we could not expect it to be clear but the reservoir at the water works here ought to be sufficiently capacious to admit of it being thoroughly settled. It is not so, however. When I see it in the tumbler, I think of the emptyings of our grindstone troughs. Good water indeed. Let them praise it who cannot get Schuylkill water.
I see by the register at this hotel that some Philadelphians have arrived here within the last two days — among them W. Henry Bacon — a Mr. Wiltbank — a Mr. Wood — I forget their first names. Elisa and one other are the only ladies at dinner. Three came up and sat beside me — a gentleman whom a side glance or two enabled me to recognize as Mr. or Captain or Major Matthias for whom we made gold side glass spectacles with Pebbles. Mr. Dick will remember him. Towards the close of dinner, he spoke to me observing that he ought to know me — my face seemed so familiar. I mentioned my name and pronounced his — there was hearty shaking of hands. In passing along the street this morning, I thought I saw Jennings who was at Mount Airy with you. I saw J. C. Dennis’ store this morning. He is not closed. I shall call tomorrow on him and head over to Wm. Ranken.

Scans of Letter