I stumbled across a small, hand-written diary in an antique store in May, 1988. I’d never run across an old diary for sale before, and had no idea what this one was about. All I knew is what it said on the tag: “1835 handwritten trip journal.”
The diary was expensive (or so I thought at the time): $25.00. I circled around the shop for a while, but kept coming back to look at the diary. I felt like it was calling me, though I had no idea why.
The pencil lettering was smudged, and the handwriting was poor. I could make out a few words here and there, but it was hard to know what kind of story it contained. The lady who owned the antique shop couldn’t tell me much about it, either, except that she’d acquired the diary from a seller in Rhode Island.
“You’ll never find another one like it,” my companion shrugged, as I stroked the cover but continued to balk at the price.
It was a “pig in a poke.” But I bought it.
The handwriting and spelling proved worse than I’d imagined. But bit by bit, I was able to figure out most of it. I mapped out the route of his journey, and began accumulating a few odds and ends of trivia about the year 1835. (Did you know the fountain pen hadn’t been invented yet? Well, that helped explain why it had been written in pencil!)
It was summer, 1835 when the writer set off with friends from his home in New England, seeking land and opportunity in the “west” – today’s Midwest. Luckily for us, he recorded the details of his adventurous journey. Stepping off the Erie Canal at Buffalo, New York, he’d ventured west through Ohio and Michigan; made a southerly loop through Illinois and Missouri; then veered east again through Kentucky, Indiana, (West) Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, before returning at last to New York.
Journeying by steamboat, canal boat, on horseback and by foot, the diary writer had encountered muddy roads, rough lodgings, and foul-tongued steamboat captains. His penciled entries captured his adventurous trip along a newly-completed network of canals and early railroads, and described the fresh new settlements he passed – some recently afflicted with cholera; others bursting with opportunity.
Among other amazing tidbits, this 1835 writer paid a visit to the constitutional Convention in Detroit, while Michigan was hoping to become a state. His crossed Lake Erie with a hundred other passengers, “tumbled in the hold of the ship, without bed or blanket.” He spotted a Potawatomi war chief, standing beside a river as his steamboat cruised by. An engineering marvel known as the Portage Railroad later lifted his canal boat up and over the Allegheny mountains. And at New Jersey, he secured a ride in a rail car pulled by the early (and famous) John Bull engine, today the oldest surviving locomotive in the country.
Someday, I kept promising myself. Someday, I’d do something with this tiny treasure. Although just what that “something” would be, I still had no idea. And then . . . life intervened. A series of moves and career changes, big and small, pushed this project to the back burner. But everywhere I went, this little diary came with me. And nagged at me from the bookshelf.
Years rolled by. And while they may or may not have brought me wisdom, they did bring me book-making skills.
This spring, it felt like the time had finally arrived to “do something” with this lovely diary. It had been thirty-three years since I strolled into that antique store. Thirty-three years to begin to understand what this little diary really represented, and just how special it was. Thirty-three years to assemble the skills necessary to turn it into a book.
Luckily, too, during those same thirty-three years, the internet had blossomed. Doing the research for this book would have been astronomically more difficult in pre-internet days. And so, at long last, this little diary is ready to be shared, in book form. It’s a fascinating first-hand account of the pre-Civil War years, and a rare glimpse of America in 1835.
Now nearing two centuries old, this humble diary preserves the experiences of the 1835 traveler in his own words. I’ve added annotations, maps, and period illustrations to help explain each entry. I hope it brings you the same joy and sense of adventure that it has brought to me.
Like to read an excerpt FREE? Just click here! And if you’d like to read the whole amazing story, you can find it on Amazon.com (AmazonAssociate link): https://amzn.to/3mhKYHQ