Page images
PDF
EPUB

their effects into the new lands soon to come under American control.

“Prompted by these actual observations," he said in a letter describing the journey, “I could not help taking more comprehensive and extensive views of the vast inland navigation of these United States, from maps and the information of others, and could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and importance of it, and with the goodness of that Providence which has dealt her favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them.”2

Although the Revolution had postponed the overrunning of interior New York and Pennsylvania, it resulted in the advance of a large number of people to those districts after the struggle was ended. Many men from New England and lower Pennsylvania had moved through the regions with Arnold, Sullivan, Clinton and other generals, and had observed the pleasant nature of the country. On their return to their homes after the war they spread a knowledge of what they had seen, and in that way the emigration was given its new impetus. Settlers who had been driven out also prepared to return. The ensuing stampede assumed large proportions in the year of 1785, and grew steadily bigger for years thereafter. Those who moved into interior New York from the lower part of the state and from New Jersey made their way up the Hudson in sailing boats and thence pushed farther inland along the Mohawk River in batteaux, carrying their worldly possessions with them. Pennsylvania people destined for the same country or for the northern sections of their own state went up the

1 Written to the Marquis de Chastelleux.

? Within two years from the writing of the wish so earnestly expressed in this letter, Fitch laid his plan for steam pavigation before the General, who rejected it.

[graphic]

THE FIRST AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE,

Or, Evans's Erucior Ainphibolis." 92.—Oliver Eyans' steamboat of 1804, built at Philadelphia for use as a river

dredge. It was not a land locomotive. He placed wheels under the hull and ran it through the streets to demonstrate that steam vehicles could be run on land as well as on water.

Susquehanna in the way others had done years before. New England emigrants marched overland along the existing trails and roads.

The condition of the present beautiful, fertile and densely populated interior of New York state, as it appeared in 1785, has been preserved in letters written by one of the earliest pioneers who journeyed into that lonesome part of the country after the years of warfare had ceased. The writer says: “In 1785 I visited the rough and hilly country of Otsego, where there existed not an inhabitant nor any trace of a road. I was alone, 300 miles from home, without bread, meat, or food of any kind. Fire and fishing tackle were my only means of subsistence. I caught trout in the brook and roasted them in the ashes. My horse fed on the grass that grew by the edge of the waters. I laid me down to sleep in my watch-coat, nothing but the melancholy wilderness around me. In this way I explored the country, formed my plans of future settlement, and meditated upon the spot where a place of trade or a village should afterward be established."1

1 William Cooper, father of the novelist, James Fenimore Cooper. His letters were gathered together in a little volume published in Dublin in 1810 under the title: “A Guide to the Wilderness: Letters to William Sampson."

After his first trip, here mentioned, William Cooper returned home and organized a party to proceed to the district he had explored and settle there. Later letters describe the journey of the overland emigrants. “Not one in 20 had a horse,” he declares. “The way lay through rapid streams, across swamps, or over bogs. They had neither provisions to take with them nor money to purchase them; nor if they had, were any to be found on the way.” The travellers got their food in the country they traversed, as the narrator himself had done, by hunting and fishing. After the party had reached the selected spot they built themselves cabin homes and set about raising crops and opening the country. Cooper also tells of the people's trouble in establishing roads by which they might get into touch with the outside world. In the first year or two they found winter to be the best time for their journeys, and the writer goes on to say, “they travelled sometimes by partial roads in sleighs and sometimes over the ice.... I had not funds of my own sufficient for the opening of new roads, but I collected the people at convenient seasons, and by joint efforts we were able to throw bridges over the deep streams, and to make, in the cheapest manner, such roads as suited our then humble purposes.” Similar pioneer work was going on during the same years along the shores of numerous other streams and lakes in New York state, and in that way the forest was gradually penetrated by many paths which in time connected the different settlements and linked them with the older communities toward the east and south.

1 William Cooper's letters reveal in what manner his more famous but perhaps not more gifted son acquired his love of the wilderness and the excellence with which he de scribed its features.

Yet the process of creating easy and rapid communication throughout all the extensive region that lay between the Hudson and the Ohio, and extended from Philadelphia on the south to Lakes Erie and Ontario was a very slow one. Until about the year 1800 the only established and frequented travel routes in it were the Mohawk and Susquehanna Rivers, the road extending westward through the southern part of Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, and the trail stretching from the Hudson at Catskill to the upper Susquehanna. At the commencement of the nineteenth century scarcely an impression had been made on the all-pervading woods in the territory here defined, nor had there been appreciable decrease in the difficulty with which a journey through them was accomplished. The people still moved about on horseback or their own legs, drifted with the currents of the rivers or pushed themselves up-stream in the same old way. Ten years after William Cooper first penetrated to Otsego Lake, the Genessee region of New York state was visited by the Frenchman Talleyrand,' who later penned a description of his trip. His narrative discloses the impression which American backwoods life and travel made on a man accustomed to all the conveniences civilization could then afford.

[graphic]

SCREW PROPELLER, BEING THE FIRST FERRY-BOAT

RUN FROM HOBOKEN TO NEW YORK-BUILT BY
JOHN STEVENS, 1804.

93.—John Stevens' screw propeller steamboat of 1804. Stevens had undertaken

the building of steamboats as a result of Fitch's work. He and his friends used the craft in New York Bay and on the Hudson River, but it was not intended as a public ferry. The machinery, in a reconstructed hull, is in possession of the Stevens Institute.

“I was struck with astonishment,” the foreign visitor wrote. “At less than 154 miles distance from the capital? all trace of men's presence disappeared. Nature, in all her primeval vigor, confronted us; forests as old as the world itself; decayed plants and trees covering the very ground where they once grew in luxuriance; thick and intricate bushes that often barred our progress. In the face of these immense solitudes we gave free vent to our imaginations; our minds built cities, villages and hamlets.. To be riding through a large wild forest, to lose one's way in it in the middle of the night, and to call to one's companion in order to ascertain that you are not missing each other; all this gives impressions im

1 Then residing in America because of inclement political conditions at home.

? In his “Memoirs." Talleyrand went northward from Philadelphia on horseback with a friend, and returned down the Susquehanna in a batteau. 5 Philadelphia was then the capital.

« PreviousContinue »