September 28, 1847,
Left Duxbury at 10 o’clock AM. My birthplace; the town where I have always resided, left all friends, acquaintances, my home, to make my abode in the far West. There is a feeling upon leaving home which no pen can describe, “there is no place like home.”
Thus begins the journal of 15 year-old Duxbury native Amherst A. Alden (1832-1909) as he embarked on his journey to Illinois. At the time Amherst left Duxbury there was little to keep an educated young man at home. The decline of the town’s great shipbuilding era left scant employment other than the ill-paid and laborious work of shoemaking. Luckily the United States was full of places a man of ambition could make his mark. Many moved to Boston (see previous blog post about Eugene Sampson), some went to sea and others followed the country’s manifest destiny and went west.
Prior to leaving Duxbury in the fall of 1847, Amherst was presented a journal by his neighbor, Ann Thomas Porter, the wife of the local doctor, John Porter. His travels to the “far west” took him through western New England, down the Erie Canal, and eventually to Pekin, Illinois where he became employed as a teacher. He diligently recorded his day’s activities every evening until the book was complete on April 19, 1848. It is a wonderful look into daily life in Illinois during this period – names, places and events are recorded that would be of interest to anyone whose ancestors founded the towns of Pekin or Tremont. Also fascinating are his use of exclamations such as “Oh Scissors” and “My Conscience.”
After only a year in Illinois Amherst made his way back to Massachusetts. He became the private secretary to Daniel Webster and then a clerk in the Boston Post Office. In 1853 he married Georgina Cook, the daughter of a shipwright. They had one child, Jennie. The family split their time between Duxbury (366 Washington Street) and Boston. Amherst A. Alden died in 1909 and is buried in Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury.
The following is the complete transcription of his diary:
Sept. 28, 1847
I left Duxbury at 10 o’clock AM My birthplace; the town where I have always lived, left all friends, acquaintances, my home to make my abode in the far West. There is a feeling upon leaving home which no pen can describe. “There’s no place like home.” Home, it is the paradise of infancy, the refuge of old age. What associations, what recollections cluster around it? But to go on. I arrive at Quincy at 12 N. Remained there one night.Sept. 29, 1847
Sept. 29, 1847
Beautiful morning. Left Quincy for Boston at 12. I stopped in Boston until 4 PM. Took the cars for Springfield, and arrived there at 8 o’clock PM. Stopped there until next morning. Springfield is fast growing to become a city, it has an enterprising population consisting of about 9,000 souls. It is situated about 70 miles West from Boston.
Sept. 30, 1847
Very little rain in the morning. Left Springfield at 8 1/2 AM and arrived at Greenbush opposite Albany at 2 PM. Left there immediately for Troy, arrived there in 1/2 hour. Troy is a fine place containing about 20,000 inhabitants. Streets are rather muddy, and to add to their pleasantness hogs are constantly running about. The streets are not very wide but are regularly layed out. Left Troy for Schenectady at 6 1/2 PM. Arrived there at 7 3/4. Schenectady is a beautiful place: wide streets, regularly layed out. I did not have a chance to view the place as I wished as I immediately left for Rochester by canal. Travelled all night, rather slow travelling.
Oct. 1, 1847
Stormy day. We pass through a beautiful country, splendid scenery. Think of old Duxbury occasionally. Get somewhat acquainted with a gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Francis H. Bond, formerly from Massachusetts. PM – very pleasant traveling; pass some very handsome places. Arrive at Utica at 6 PM. Exchange boats. Rather better accommodations, larger boat; travel alright.
Oct. 2, 1847
Beautiful morning. Pass through a delightful portion of the country. Do not feel quite so homesick as I did yesterday. Arrive at Syracuse at 9 3/4 AM. Change boats. Smaller boat. Syracuse is a very handsome place, pop. 11,000. At 10 1/2 o’clock I stood upon the border of the Lake Oneida. One of the most beautiful sheets of water I ever beheld. There it lay, calm, pure, serene, as it’s Maker. PM Tired to death of traveling on a canal boat. Feel unwell. Wish I was at home. 5 o’clock, pass through Montezuma. Had a jolly time there. Saturday night, well here I am still on this dismal canal boat. Women make such a hurrah by their confounded nonsense that it is hard to tell whether you are in a civilized country or not.
Oct. 3, 1847
Sunday. Pleasant morning. Heavy frost last night. Still on board the canal boat. Pass through the village of Buston [?]: handsome buildings, country, level. Arrive at Rochester at 10 AM. Large flouring establishments. 3 PM pass through the pleasant town of Brockport. There is a large academy in this place. Arrive at Holley at 4 1/2 PM. Now at my uncle’s.
Oct. 4, 1847
Monday. Beautiful morning. Remain in Holley. Glad to get on shore again where I can turn around. Took a walk in to the village. Holley is quite a pleasant little village situated abut 25 miles east from Buffalo. Most of it’s inhabitants are moving farther West. Attend a singing school in the evening kept by a Mr. Marsh. One of the best singers & performers on the violin that I ever heard. Heard the songs: The tomb of Washington, & My Ocean Home. Splendid pieces of music. Singing held in the Orthodox church. Not much regard paid to religion here. All kinds of liquors sold here on the Sabbath.
Oct. 5, 1847
Tuesday. Remain in Holley still. Today I was strongly solicited to drink a glass of wine, which I of course refused. And immediately gave him who offered it a STRONG SPEECH on the evil tendencies of spiritous liquors upon such susceptible youths as him and myself.
Oct. 6, 1847
Still in Holley. May cousin very unwell. Think of leaving soon for Buffalo.
Oct. 7, 1847
Cloudy in morning, looks like rain. Tomorrow I leave Holley for my destined port of Pekin.
Oct. 8, 1847
Left Holley with a heavy heart. Left my friends, my sick cousin whom I never expect to see again on earth. Now I am among strangers, no familiar faces present themselves, no friend speaks to me. I am getting farther every day from the scenes of my childhood.
Oct. 9, 1847
We have got on the slowest old horses that can be imagined. Going at the astonishing rate of 2 miles an hour. If this isn’t discouraging. I should like to send these horses home to be used in some of our Duxbury funeral processions. They might be too slow for that use however. Travelled about 4 miles last night. Getting on surprisingly. I am rather ? whether or no we shan’t get to Buffalo before we know it. Railroads are not a circumstance nor never was. Arrive at Medina at 10 AM. Very pleasant day. Arrive at Lockport at 3 PM. Very pretty place. 7000 inhabitants. Here the canal descends by 5 locks something like a hundred feet. Find buildings, wide streets but muddy. Hogs in abundance running about.
“How pleasant is Saturday night when I’ve tried all the week to be good;
not spoken a word that was bad, but obliged every one that I could.” [poem written by Nancy Denis Sproat (1766-1826)].
Oct. 10, 1847 Sunday
Arrive at Buffalo at daylight much to he gratification of myself and other passengers. I immediately went on board the steamer James Madison which was to leave for Chicago yesterday but owing to the heavy gales did not. We had all kinds of people on board. Yankees, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans & worse than all, confounded Dutchmen. We had a piano on board. I hear as I sit a brass band playing the familiar tunes of Old hundred, The Lord is my Shepherd, Lucy Neil, etc. It recalls to my mind recollections of home. But, Alas! I am far, far from home & will endeavor to drown all thoughts of it. It does not seem like Sunday here. All confusion, stores open, bowling saloons in operation, drunkenness, cursing, swearing going on. Lake Erie is very rough. We sail from Buffalo at 1 PM. I am very seasick as well as most of the other passengers. Find day. Cool upon the lake. Pop. of Buffalo 22,000.
October 11, 1847 Monday AM
I did not sleep much last night on account that a number of bed bugs had taken possession of my stateroom before me. I was greatly annoyed by one large one who made such an outrageous noise by clattering of his hoofs when running about over my head that is was impossible to think of wrapping myself in profound slumber. Accordingly this morning we got a tackle fall rigged to the engine and by means equal to 150 horse power succeeded in getting on to the deck where he was knocked in the head by the carpenter (he being the bravest man on board) and one of the hind quarters sent to James K Polk as a token of old acquaintance. It weighed 225 lbs. I trust that to night I shall sleep sound. Helen Mary Blaine sung and played by a young lady on board this morning. Sounded natural. Arrived at Erie (Penn) at 3 o’clock. Stayed here some time. Erie is finely situated on an emergence of about 5 feet above the Lake. Well built, etc. etc. Left here at 1 PM Lake not quite so rough as it was yesterday. Not sick today. Arrive at Grand River at the town of Fairport at 9 1/2 PM. Went on shore. Went into quite a number of Groceries, tried to find some fruit, none to be had.
October 12, 1847 Tuesday
Arrive at Cleaveland at 12 o’clock. Rather rough, very bad storm. 11 o’clock in sights of the Canadian shore, quite smooth. Enter Detroit River at 1 1/2 PM. Rain. Beautiful prospect on shore. View at the fort and garrison of the British. See a horse race. Arrive at Detroit at 4 PM. Flourishing city. Neat public buildings, wide streets. Visited a music store, came across a splendid violin. Had quite a jolly time here. Layed here all the evening. Got some apples, peaches, grapes & have quite a number of passengers get off here. My friends Paul & Crofts among others.
October 13, 1847 Wednesday
AM Cool. Pass up St. Clair River and Lake. Squally. Beautiful prospect. Put in at a port on the river. Stop some time. The Niagara arrives. A most scandalous array comes off here. Went on board the Niagara. Splendid boat, highly finished. Snow squall. PM wind rises. Cold rain & hail. Enter Lake Huron at 4, quite smooth. Make great progress on Huron, until midnight when we are obliged to put back 40 miles into Port Sarnia Canada.
October 14, 1847 Thursday
Very cold morning. Heavy front last night. Well here we are in Canada again. See a company of indians. Went on shore into a number of stores. Left here (Port Sarnia) at 10 AM. Try to get a brig off that was washed ashore last night in the gale. Very rough, high wind. Got my violin out of my trunk had some music and mirth. I’ll bet Our R? officer pretty well conned last night.
October 15, 1847 Friday
AM Quite cool. Now crossing Lake Huron. Out of sight of land for the first time in my life. Wind rises. Feel as if I should to be at home. Grows cold. Quite an army of babies on board. Plenty of liquor. 12 N Close in to Thunder Bay Island. Beautiful scenery on shore shore. Very pleasant. 8 PM Pass the Manitou light house. Arrive at Mackanaw at 9 1/2. Go on shore. The in dans assemble here annually to receive the pay from government. Pop 700. Pass up the straits of Mackanaw into Lake Michigan.
October 16, 1847 Saturday
AM Very rough. Not well. Homesick. Most of the passengers sick. 2PM arrive at North Manitouline. This island consists about 6 dwelling houses, 1 store. It is the most dreary, lonely & inhospitable places I ever been or read of. The indians have a religious superstition in regard to this Island. The word Great Spirit comes from Manitou. The steamer Empire arrived also a propeller. Lake Michigan very rough so that no boat could live upon it. Evening. Not very well. Saturday night comes round again. O! dear. Well “How pleasant is Saturday night” comes into my mind. Tired to death of steamboat life. Never like to get to Chicago. More passengers get on board here. Confounded squalling of young ones enough to take a fellows head off. Fairly disgusted with the sight of spirituous liquors. Our R? officer get off last night.
October 17, 1847 Sunday
Leave Manitouline early in the AM. Very rough with head winds. Got some more informal outlandish men on board. Troubled with the tooth ache. Feel savage as a meat axe. Sunday comes again bringing with it strong recollections of home. Evening. Very rough. Heavy gale all hands sick. I wish some of my Duxbury friends were here to see the men, women & chairs tumbling about, rolling over the floor. We are now in one of the heaviest gales ever experienced by man. Tonight we retire not knowing whether we shall wake up in the morning & find ourselves at the bottom of the Lake or safe on board. 12 midnight. We are obliged to anchor on account of some accident in the machinery.
October 18, 1847 Monday
8 AM arrive at Sheboygan one of the most beautiful places I have seen since I left home. Situated on an eminence overlooking the harbor. Pop 1500. PM arrive at Milmarik at 4. Large city pop 12,000. Evening. Very pleasant now. Here as I sit on the taffrail of the steamer I look on the placid waters of the lake Michigan not a ruffle disturbs its calm bosom. The moon rising in the far East is reflected back by the waters. I am alone. Around me all is confusion. I hear the distant voice of a sailor in a brig afar on the Lake. I know not scarcely what is passing around me. My thoughts are far far away. The Niagara comes into port. She comes proudly around. Lord of the lakes as she is. My chum Mr. Allen S. Harris left here. I feel lonesome now, I am much interested in him.
October 19, 1847
Arrive at Racine at 2 AM. As I was wrapted in slumber, I did not have a chance to visit this place.
Arrive at Chicago at 8 1/2 AM much to the gratification of myself & others. Chicago. Fine city, regularly laid out, wide streets, muddy as fury. Dirty hogs running about the streets. Stop at the City Hotel. Chicago bigs fain to become one of the most important cities in our country. It has a country back of it that cannot be surpassed by any in the world. Find mu friend Wilson to whom I have a letter of introduction. Also saw a young man who has been a pupil of Mr. Fuller my former teacher we had a jolly old time. Museum in evening. Heard an organ. A person tried to grind something she called music out of it. I had much rather hear a wheelbarrow that wants greasing. The one that Geo Whitney carried a young lady to ride in for instance. Well I retire early as I have to get to get up tomorrow morning at 3 o’clock & ride all day in the stage for my comfort. Is not this high life? “Speak ye who best can tell.”
October 20, 1847 Wednesday
AM Very cold. Leave Chicago at 3 o’clock. Get into a small, cold, uncomfortable stage coach with nine inside passengers crowded almost to suffocation. We rod 10 miles before breakfast. Change horses. Like to froze to death. Arrive at the small town of Summit. Get some breakfast, hungry enough. If I did not walk into the affections of a beaf steak & Indian cake, then don’t talk to me of methodist preachers. My Friend Mr. E. Herrick, a fellow passenger. Arrive at xxxx at 9 1/2 change horses. Not much of a place. Put in steam again & arrive at xxx at 4 PM. Quite a place 1500 inhabitants. My friend Herrick gets off here. Arrive at xxx at 7 cold, stormy. Change horses. Arrive at Ottowa at midnight, change horses.
October 21, 1847
Arrive at Peru, the last place at 8 AM. Get some breakfast. Go on board a small steam boat for Pekin after almost being killed by riding 8 hours in stage. Stop at small places not worthy of note. The Illinois is a beautiful river. The most splendid scenery I ever saw on its banks. Ducks and geese in abundance. This is the most pleasant part of my journey. Feel rather unwell. Last night my eyes were feasted with the rich sights of a prairie on fire lighting up the country for miles around while the moon coming up from another quarter gave sufficient light too read. Became acquainted with a Mr. Edwin W. Somers of New York bound to Mississippi, a school teacher. Arrive at Chllicothe at 7 1/2 PM. Get to Peoria at 11. Remain here all night. Very pretty place bids fair to become an important place, pop 2500.
October 22, 1847 Friday
Monday. Cloudy day, feels like a storm. Cold. Boarding at Mr. McLean this week. “Pity the sorrows of a poor old man.”Jan. 11, 1848
Tuesday. Warmer day than it was yesterday. Northing new to day. Plymouth bay “The race is not forever got” “Bitterly by him.”Jan. 12, 1848
Wednesday. Find day. Preaching this evening in my schoolhouse. I can smell the brimstone in mere expectation of it. Confounded Baptists. I hope they’ll succeed. “Tis pure religion I confessed.”
Thursday. Foggy. Looks like rain. Warm. Got two papers from Duxbury last night. “Lo the poor Indian whose untutored mind.” Went to meeting last night. My conscience.
Friday. Foggy. Warm. Feels like rain. Got a letter from Duxbury last night. From friend James Weston. Expect another tonight. I think I adjust the boy to be on hand for that spree which is coming off next week. Cider is the staff of life. Twill be tonight I’ll bet, for what saith the poet “There is nothing like cider. Especially in such foggy weather.”
January 15, Saturday
Foggy raining. Clears off finally in the afternoon. Muddy as fury. Go to Tremont court house. See Mr. Bush, Dr. Cromwell, etc. etc. Party at Dr. Perkin’s next Wednesday. Last evening at Mr. Leonard got most horribly beaten in playing backgammon. Miss Richmond on hand for frolic.
January 16, Sunday
Fine day. Go to Pekin. Go to church, Dutch Reformed. Harry of a sermon. Murderous traveling, rough in the morning & muddy in the evening. O! is not his high life.
January 17, Monday
Fine day. Warm. Nothing new today. Boarding at Mr. Buckley’s this way. Have a ciphering school tonight. Beautiful evening. Get a letter from ?. First rate. Glad to hear from home again. Quite a long letter fro her I must confess.
January 18, Tuesday
Another fine day break, its highly upon us. Beautiful weather for the season. Have a spelling school in the evening. Cloudy, looks like rain or snow. What fine weather we we have for winter. What a horrid & gloomy hole old Duxbury must be. Snow over the tops of fences. My conscience. Fine times time they have I guess.
January 19, Wednesday
Fine day for my business. Think of going to Tremont to night to that party at Dr. Perkins. My conscience. Party. “Lemonade walks” What a beautiful country is this Western country. I long to see it clothed in all its beauty of lovely spring & summer. What can be a more lovely sight that to see the prairies clothed in their dress of spring. How must the heart and mind be transported by him above who rules over this beautiful & intensive domain.
My soul O God to thee I raise
To thee for they protection call
O I ever sing thee praise
Till death (stearn monarch) sinks us all
January 20, Thursday
Fine day. Warm. My Conscience what winter weather. Snow is 40 feet deep in Duxbury. Last night I went to a spree in Tremont at Dr. Perkin’s. Had a first rate time. All the belles of Tasewell were there my conscience what a time I did have.
January 21, Friday
Splendid day. Warm and mild as spring. Tonight there is a large party at Mr. Lenard’s. I shall endeavor to be on hand. I shall have to sleep all day tomorrow in order to be on hand for Sunday. Tomorrow I will answer ??’s letter which I can do. My conscience wonder if they think I am fool enough to come home next summer. They don’t catch me in D in two years I’ll bet. Pity the sorrows of a poor old horse.
January 22, Saturday
Had a fine party last night. Music & mirth. Wine & whiskey, etc.
January 23, Sunday
Today I go to Tremont & worship with the Baptists. Fine day. Write to Sodom.
Lecture in the evening. Mr. Blockreve lectured at the Baptist church. My conscience what a time. Write to “Sodom.”
January 25, Tuesday
Warm rainy. Boarding at Parson Merriam’s. Music on the melodian. Mr. Ladd’s party comes off to night. Tomorrow night Mr. Wright’s arty come off. I shall endeavor to be there.
January 26, Wednesday
Cloudy & foggy. Warm. Muddy as fury. Harry of a time for the party to night. My conscience.
January 27, Thursday
Fine day. Spree last night at Parson Wright’s. Muddy and dark as fury. First rate time. Hot as fury. Dark as thunder. “My conscience” Pity the sorrows of a poor old horse.
January 28, Friday
Fine day for my business. Cooler. Evening school to night. Savage to day as a meat axe. Parson Merriam on hand. “Whither now are fled those dreams of greatness, those longings after joy: those unsullied hopes.” Fine evening for spelling. “My conscience.” “Another weeks work done.” According to the words of the poet, Vis. [unknown grouping of symbols or code] “Another 6 days works is done”
January 29, Saturday
Fine day. Go to Tremont. Nothing new in town to day. Get Mr. C Payton’s speech from Washington. Very able document. Most equal to Mr. Calhoun. “My conscience.” See Mr. Caswell of Dellyvan.
January 30, Sunday
Rainy day. Can’t get to church to day. Go to Tremont. Folks sick. Who did a certain Gentleman carry to ride in a wheelbarrow?
“Tell my brothers and companions when they meet ??? crowd
To hear my mournful story in the pleasant vineyard ground
That we fought the battle bravely & when the day was done,
Fall many a curse lay ghastly pale beneath the setting sun”
January 31, Monday
Thus endeth January. How time flies. O! How important is every passing moment. Tomorrow another month comes in and how quick will that pass away. Years roll on unheeded. “We take no note of time but from its loss to give it then a tongue.”
February 1, Tuesday
Grows warmer. Fine day. School very thin to day. Today another month comes in. Old winter’s icy hand has stayed his course. Poor mortal man what thy destiny? Get into a row with the Baptists. What foolish people make up this world. O vanity all is vanity. “Lo the poor Indians whose untutored mind” Safely! Lightly!
February 2, Wednesday
Splendid day. Warm. Feels like spring. Musical rory-tory this evening at Mr. Buckley’s. No letters now for a fortnight. Well who cares – I don’t! I hope they’ll get snow enough in Duxbury this winter. Wonder what the Baptists are going to do with me? My Conscience.
February 3, Thursday
Another fine day. Warm. Wonder what the Baptists think of me now. I don’t know nor care one whit. Quarterly meeting next Saturday in the Grove. On hand for them. Mr. Ladd. My conscience what a fellow. I am almost tempted to sip out something that they don’t like.
February 4, Friday
Thus endeth the 11 week. Receive two letters from home. Highly edifying to me. This eve I must go Mr. McLean’s. Cold & snow squalls to day.
February 5, Saturday
Very cold with snow squalls. Nothing new only the jail was burned up last night my conscience now I can’t get my lodgings there next summer.
February 6, Sunday
Fine cold day. Don’t go to church to day. It is too cold. Go to Tremont. Lecture in the evening. Temperance meeting. Give them some music that they hadn’t heard for some time. Melodian. Stay in all night. Write to William’s wife. feels like rain. Weasles thick as mustard seed.
February 7, Monday
Walk up from Tremont in the A.M. Cloudy looks like a storm. Going to Mrs. Platt’s this week. She’s got a handsome daughter my conscience. Who did the Baptists get mad with is the question in the West.