"Memories of Early Days"
Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,
Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 07/17/2014
The Journey From Home
I was born in the town of Augusta, county of Oneida and state of New York, and had always lived there until I was twenty-four years old [Editor's Note: She was born February 25, 1813 in Augusta, Oneida, New York, and died October 24, 1886, daughter of DANIEL WARREN.]. My husband was born in England, and lived there until he was twenty-two. After our marriage he often had a touch of the Western fever, (as the phrase was in those days), but it did not meet my mind exactly to leave the old place with all the comforts and conveniences, and high privileges that we enjoyed, neither could I make up my mind to leave my parents, brothers and sisters and many other relatives and friends, until the summer of 1836, when we had a flattering account of Wisconsin, and particularly on Milwaukee, sent to us by a brother-in-law [David Bonham] of my husband who went to Milwaukee from our place in the spring, he seemed to think he had found the right place in the spring, just the place for young people to commence life in earnest, and make homes for themselves and families.
That part of the territory that he had been to look at, and where he had made his claim, was situated about eighteen miles west of Milwaukee. Was very pleasant, just rolling enough to be healthy, plenty of wood, some prairie and openings, so that it would be very easy to clear a farm, and large marshes where grass grew in abundance, that would supply both green feed and hay, to feed such animals as would be necessary for people to have on the land; in fact, it seemed to him an earthly paradise, and he seemed to think it would be best for us, and all of our family that he was connected with, to sell what we could not take with us conveniently, and come to this fair haven, the land of promise and rest. The western fever again began to manifest in the mind of my husband and also of one of my brother. My husband made up his mind almost immediately to settle his affairs and make ready as fast as possible to move, and to try the "far west" as it was then called. I then began to think seriously on the subject, and we began to talk about it thoughtfully and seriously, and finally concluded that as we had no home of our own, as we lived on a hired farm, that perhaps we had better try to make us a home in a new county, and when our brother [Editor's note: James, brother of John Weaver] knew what we had made up our minds to do, told us he was in the same mind himself if he could only be satisfied that he should like the new country as well as his brother-in-law appeared to, but he had a large family and did not like to risk pulling up stakes and going so far, until he could have more than one person's opinion and advice on the subject, and was anxious that his own relatives should go first and if they liked it and thought we would stay, he would if possible, come to us in the spring, but if we did not like it and thought it best to come back in the spring, which we could not do until the opening of navigation, that he would pay our expenses back, as he said it would be an advantage to him to do this rather than to go with his large family and then perhaps not be satisfied and think best to go back, and if we would go ahead he would do all he could to help us get ready, so that we might start early enough to get through before the closing of navigation, as we had to sail up the chain of lakes from Buffalo to Milwaukee, and where we had a good deal to do to get ready for the journey.
We only allowed ourselves one month to sell off what we had to sell, and to make ready for the start. My husband sold his crops on then ground, except wheat and barley, which were harvested. There were potatoes, hops, and corn not harvested, besides a good, large and fine vegetable garden and some fruit. He also has a yoke of oxen and one horse and a number of cows, a flock of sheep, a number of swine and farming utensils, which all sold to good advantage. We sold some of our household furniture and some we saved to bring with us. My husband thought of doing as his-brother-in-law (Editor's note: David Bonham) did, that was to sell all our furniture to save the trouble and expense of moving it so far, but I would not consent to that, for I thought that what we did take with us of household goods, that it was almost certain we should have to do without for several years, and that it would be less trouble in the end and more convenient for us if we took some furniture, it if was but a few pieces, than to leave all behind, and not be able to replace it when we got to housekeeping again, which surely would have been the case, for we did not see the time for several years that we felt able to buy anything but the barest necessities of life for ourselves and children, and oftentimes had to make up our minds to go without many things that we could wish to have and felt the need of.
Well, after all this preamble, and it might be thought unnecessary and not a very interesting introduction, perhaps, to say so much as to the narrator and him who participated together in all these events of our early life, but it is interesting for us to look back for nearly forty years and think and talk over our troubles and trials that we passes through at times, and the comforts and pleasures that we experienced at other times likewise mercies and blessings, which we acknowledge and fell thankful for, as coming from the hand of our Heavenly Father, whose loving kindness and condescending goodness we always felt it our duty and privilege to acknowledge, and after all this, as I have said, I feel like relating some of the particulars of our journey, which to me are very interesting, as I had never been over forty miles from my native town.
The first day of September, 1836, we left our parents, brothers and sisters and many other relatives, friends and neighbors, and bid good bye to our old home, and to all the was near and dear to us, and with our small children, a son and daughter, we started on our journey. Slow and tedious was the way of traveling in those days, compared with the faster and much more comfortable way of the present, when we have railroads on which we ride in comfortable carriages, drawn by the steam engine, or the iron horse, as it is often called and can get over as much land in two days as in three weeks at that time, and when we started from our old home we had to go fourteen miles to a place called Lenox Basin [Madison County, New York], and then go on a canal boat to Buffalo. Two teams conveyed us, with our luggage to Lennox, where we waited two hours for a boat, and so anxious were we to be on the way that we went on board the first boat that came along, and so slow did we travel or move along, that we were from Thursday noon until the next Tuesday morning at two o'clock going to Buffalo. The time seemed long for the Captain had told us that he expected to get here in three days. We had to go on the steamboat Monroe at eight o'clock that morning, a boat that only ran to and from Buffalo to Detroit, and just as our goods were being moved from one boat to the other, we were told that if we had Eastern bills we must exchange them for Western money, for Eastern money would not pass when we went farther west, so my husband left me to see that the goods were put on the boat all right, and be ready with the children to go on board with him when he returned, and went to change his money with three other men who were on the boat at the same time. There was a bell to ring three times before the boat should start, and there was to be fifteen minutes between the first and second bell, and then fifteen again between the second and third, and then in five minutes the boat was to start, and as the second bell was ringing there were three young men, and took my children and the other led me on a long single plank, right over the deep water to the steamboat. I was worried about my husband for fear that the boat would be off before he came back, and I did not know how I should manage to get along with my little ones, but when the third and last bell began to ring, he came, but only just in time not to be left. He changed his money, but he might as well have saved himself the trouble, for when we got to Milwaukee, the Eastern money was considered the best. We were fortunate, however, and did not lose ours.
We were hoping to get to Detroit in time to start from there on a boat that was advertised to go out on Wednesday evening, and bound for Milwaukee, but were from eight o'clock Tuesday morning until two o'clock Thursday afternoon before landing, and the steamboat had gone the evening before, and we could neither see nor hear of any vessel that was going out for a week, so we went to a hotel expecting to have to wait a week, but there came up a heavy thunder storm just at night, the rain seemed to fairly pour, and the water ran like a river down the streets, the wind blowing fearfully, and about midnight there was a schooner driven into the harbor. It had come from Sackett's Harbor, up through the Welland Canal, and was bound for Chicago, laden with goods for that place and Milwaukee, but was to be sold there and not taken back that fall, and as we were anxious to go along, we made up our minds to Chicago on this schooner, Alleghan she was called, and from there take some vessel to Milwaukee. We went on board about noon on Friday, expecting to go immediately, but after all we did not go out until Saturday at 4 o'clock. The wind being in the right direct and brisk, we expected to get of the point off Huron about nine o'clock. The Captain went to bed early so as to take his turn on the watch at midnight, and gave orders to the sailors to lay anchor, when we got to this point, until morning, but we got there sooner than we expected, and the first we knew we had run on a sand bar and stuck fast, and had to lay there still until morning.
As soon as it was day light the men went to work to get the vessel off the sand bar so that she could sail again, as the weather was fair and the wind favorable to take us along on our way; but it was three o'clock in the afternoon before the vessel was liberated, and we sailed only about an hour before the wind went down, and we had to lay there still until the next day at three o'clock when a steamboat came puffing along and took our schooner on one side and the brig Illinois on the other, and towed both vessels about six miles, around a point called Fiddler's Elbow, where the wind was all right to take us along again. The Illinois was a large brig, and lay about a half mile from us in the same predicament that we were in, and could not sail for want of wind. It was quite a novelty to some of us passengers that had never been on the lake before, to be helped along in that style, but very convenient when we had no other way of moving on the face of the deep, and were anxious to be on our way. When we had turned the point our two captains paid the captain of the steamboat forty dollars each for his services, and then he bade us good-bye, wheeled around and went in another direction, and left us, being soon out of sight. The brig sailed faster than we did and was nearly lost to our view before dark.
As for our little vessel, she sailed only about two hours when the wind again ceased and left us still again on the bosom of the lake, where we had to lay again for twenty-four hours before there was any wind to move us at all, and that was as much headway as we made all the way from Detroit to Milwaukee, and even more than we made some of the way, for we lay three days in one place by the shore of the Manitou Islands and within a mile of the shore. There were five families of us, besides the captain, his mates, men, cook and assistant, and a dozen or more of young single people. The most of them went ashore in the course of time that we lay here all but an old lady seventy years old, another lady who was sick, and myself and my two children. I did not care to go to the island in the jolly boat.
We made such poor headway that we all became discouraged. The captain told us when we had only been two or three days from Detroit that as we had never seen Milwaukee, and would like to see it, and as he found that he had about a dozen passengers that were going there, and that if the wind and weather was favorable, he would try and land us there and not take us to Chicago. We were all pleased with that idea but so slow did we move that we almost despaired of getting to our journey's end before navigation would close for the season. When we first started from Detroit the captain told us that if we had good weather and favorable wind, and didn't get taken by pirates, he hoped to get us to Chicago in a week. We all thought he was joking about the pirates, but he said that it was no joke at all, for there had been a pirate vessel on the lakes that summer, and that vessel had been taken by authority and the men arrested and tired, but as nothing could be fairly proved against them they were set free, but had been closely watched, and be verily believed that they were pirates, but he hoped that he should be able to keep out of their way.
One morning not long after this conversation, the captain was on deck just as it was light enough to see plainly, and he discovered a strange looking vessel laying quite still in a little nook or bay, close up to a bank that lay about a quarter of a mile to the left of us, and he called the attention of his mates and men to it. Very soon the passengers were all astir and gazing at it. The captain did not like the looks of it. He said that he had a list and description of every vessel that had gone on before him for the last month, but had not the description of any such vessel as that.
When we passed it there was no sail to be seen, nor smoke, nor the least sign of life. The captain kept watch of it, and so did the passengers. We had not got more than half a mile past it, when all at once we saw smoke, and in a shorter space of time than it takes me to write it, sails went up, the vessel whirled around, headed toward us and sailed along in our track as if it were chasing us, and kept right along in that course until three o'clock in the afternoon, when very soon after we lost sight of her. The captain, however, kept close watch, and when he went to his meals one of his mates watched. Sometimes we sailed so fast as to leave her so far in the distance as to look like a mere speck on the water, and then at times she gained upon us. And came so near that we could see her very plainly. About noon the captain ordered his men to clew and load all the guns belonging to the vessel, and have them ready for use in case that it might be necessary, and likewise requested the passengers who had guns with them to do the same. When they were loading the guns the captain saw that some of the ladies as well as some of the gentlemen showed signs of being timid and somewhat frightened, he laughed at their fears, and pretended that he did not feel in the least alarmed, and only gave those orders just to see what effect it would have on the men, and professed to be very sorry that he had alarmed the ladies. But I watched him and could see that he did not feel very easy; on the contrary, he seemed to be very much concerned, and instead of going to rest at his usual early hour to be ready for his turn on his night watch, as he did every night, he stayed upon deck and watched all night. But we never heard any more of the pirate vessel.
The time passed about as it usually had since the commencement of our journey, sometimes sailing along quite fast, but oftener laying still, until the twenty-fifth of the month. We had been laying still for nearly two days when on the twenty-fourth a fine breeze blew up and sent us on our way rejoicing - for a few hours only. About four o'clock in the afternoon it began to be foggy and in a few minutes the fog was so thick and heavy that we could see nothing but fog. This was rather discouraging, as something had happened to the captain's compass that day so that it was of no use to him. The wind was strong enough as yet to allow us to sail along finely, and the captain had thought that we might see Milwaukee the next morning, and for fear of getting out of his way he concluded not to go ahead any further until the fog cleared away, so they kept shifting the sails and sailing around all night, so as keep about in the same place, hoping that it would be clear in the morning. But when morning came it was still very foggy, but not quite as thick as it had been the night before. We could see only a few rods from the vessel. As soon as it was fairly day light the captain had his jolly boat lowered, and he took his gun and stepped into it, paddled off to explore, as he said, for he sounded with lead line, and thought that he was not far from land. The first mate objected to his going alone, or going at all, before the fog had cleared away. The captain only laughed at him and paddled off and the fog soon hid him from our sight. He was gone three hours, and the fog had cleared a little more than when he started. The mate had become alarmed, and fired a gun three times before he got an answer, when soon after the captain appeared in sight and three men in the boat with him.
The seventy-year old lady and myself were on deck looking over the side when he came, looking and seeing that the old lady seemed very much surprised, he put on a very sober face and said, "Well mother, I have taken three pirates this morning, and we are going to have a hanging bee as soon as I have had my breakfast." The nervous old lady was quite alarmed at this, but soon got over it when the captain came on board and told us that when about a mile from the vessel he had run in to the mouth of a river, and when he had rowed about a mile up the stream, he came to a saw mill and a small settlement, who near the mill he saw three men with packs upon their backs, and were just about to start for Milwaukee on foot. He asked them the name of the place. They told him it was Sheboygan and that it was the Sheboygan River that he had run his boat in to. He asked then if they had ever been on the lake to Milwaukee. They said they had, and then he wanted to know if they could pilot him to Milwaukee. They seemed to think they could, and he invited them to come on board of his boat. The old lady was pleased to think that there would be no hanging bee after all. These men were surveyors. They said that it was about sixty miles to Milwaukee by land - they did not know the exact distance by water, but when the fog cleared away a short time after, they seemed to think that if we were favored with fair wind all day as we were then, that we might reach Milwaukee by evening, but about two hours later the wind went down again and so we made no more headway for two days. On the 27th we were again favored with a fine breeze and about twelve o'clock, midnight, we were within a mile of Milwaukee.