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ON THE ROAD TO WISCONSIN
The most striking fact in the history of Wisconsin during its first quarter-century of organized existence was the inpouring of thousands of white settlers intent on improving their condition in life. In 1830 Wisconsin was practically an uninhabited wilderness. Ten years later there were thirty thousand souls in the new Territory, and ten years later still the number had increased to three hundred thousand. The single decade ending in 1850 witnessed a greater proportionate increase in population than has the entire seventy-two-year period from 1850 to the present time.
It is not our present purpose to dwell upon the consequences which followed in the train of this vast inrush of migration, but rather to suggest the significance of the documents which we are about to present. All of these thousands of early immigrants came into Wisconsin over a tedious and weary road. For the most part they came from the East—from the states of New York and New England, or from foreign countries. In 1850 one-third of the population of Wisconsin were of alien birth, and almost another third were natives of New York and New England. Whether of alien or native birth, they came to Wisconsin by much the same route, across New York and thence by water around the Lakes or by land along their southern side to Chicago and beyond. The extent of this westward migration amazed the contemporary beholder, as it amazes today the student of our early history. From Buffalo, wrote an intelligent observer, not less than eighty thousand embarked in the single year 1834. There could be no calculation of the tide that poured by land along the south shore of
1 A. A. Parker, Trip to the West and Texas in the Autumn and Winter of 1834-5 (Concord, N. H., 1835), 22–23.
Lake Erie, but one observer counted 250 wagons moving West in a single day.
Most of these travelers kept no journals of their experiences, and the knowledge of them, if preserved at all, is handed down by way of hazy family tradition. Now and then such a journal was kept, however, and, more fortunate still, the record has been preserved to posterity. The records which follow are both by pioneers who bore a leading part in the work of founding the Wisconsin commonwealth. Both were kept by men of more than ordinary ability and literary capacity. Both records deal only with events on the way, and stop before Wisconsin is reached. One deals mainly with the water route, the other wholly with a trip by land. Both were written with no thought of reaching the public eye, and in each case the writer has now been buried almost half a century.
Charles Minton Baker was a native of New York, but grew up in Vermont, and his life before coming West was chiefly identified with these two states. He practiced law several years and engaged for a time in mercantile business. In 1838 he came to Wisconsin and settled at Lake Geneva, becoming the first lawyer of Walworth County. He soon became prominent in civic affairs, serving in the territorial legislature, in the constitutional convention, and in other offices of trust and importance. In the convention he was chairman of the important committee on judiciary, and in 1848 he bore the principal part in the work of revising the statutes of the new state. His influence upon the constitutional and legal development of Wisconsin was thus most notable. After a long life of useful labor he died at his home in Lake Geneva, February 5, 1872.
George B. Smith, whose letters, written to a youthful friend, we present, was also a native of New York but grew to manhood in Ohio. In 1843, at the age of nineteen years, he came with his parents to Wisconsin. The next year
he settled in Madison, which remained his home until his death in 1879. He was elected to the convention of 1846, being the youngest member of that body. In later years he served as mayor of his city, representative of his district in the state legislature, attorney general of the state, and candidate of his party for the national Senate and House.
CHARLES MINTON BAKER'S JOURNAL FROM
Sept. 10, 1838, Left Hortonville loaded with the kindness of friends & neighbours & amidst their regrets & good wishes for Wisconsin. Arrived at Whitehall, that rocky, muddy, dirty, crooked, contracted, outlandish outlet of creation, tucked in between marshes & mountains, the abomination of all travellers & my especial abhorrence. Made arrangements for the shipment of my goods to Buffalo. Met with sundry little annoyances & vexations.
Started from W'hall with my bitterest blessings resting upon it, not caring a copper whether I ever see it again. The roads tho' dry & dusty were so rough for some distance as continually to remind me of that particular object of my antipathy, Whitehall. The day was fine, the roads dusty, but our ride on the whole was pleasant. Drove 27 miles & put up at a quiet, genteel country tavern on the sandy plains of Moreau. Passed thro' Fort Ann, Kingsbury, Sandy Hill & Glenns Falls. Felt as if I had fairly set forward on my journey for the far West.3
12. Today travelled 34 miles passing thro' Wilton, Greenfield, Galway, Broad Alban. Stopped for the night at Fundy's Bush Montgomery Co. The roads the greater part of the way very hilly but the country looked flourishing.
Sept. 13. Stopped for the night at a Dutch tavern in Manheim on the Mohawk. Sheets & pillows so dirty that Mrs. B. would not sleep on them. Called at a Dutch tavern in the morning & the landlord a true Hollander "vondered vy we
2 In northern Washington County, New York.
'The author had this day crossed Saratoga County from northeast to southwest.
vent so far for." In afternoon called at another Dutch inn & could get nothing but sour milk altho' it was milked in the morning & it has been a cool day. Have passed thro' Mayfield, Johnstown, Palatine, St. Johnsville, (late Oppenheim) & Meridan into Manheim. Rained last night but was rather an advantage than a hindrance as it laid the dust. Country good & even excellent most of the way. Day rather fine & ride pleasant.
Today have had a most delightful ride up the beautiful valley of the Mohawk with its broad & quiet stream, now presenting a long & silvery sheet clear as a mirror & now rippling over its pebbly bed. Here winds the canal thronged with boats laden with goods, emigrants & the produce of the interior, there stretches the turnpike over hill & dale or along the banks of the river, & beyond runs the railroad with its naked iron track lonely & deserted except now & then when the long train of cars come whirling & thundering along in sublime array & anon vanish in the distance. We saw all of these in full operation & to the best advantage today. Stopped at Utica about 11⁄2 hours. She is indeed exceedingly beautiful & well deserves the title of queen of the valley. Had my pail stolen from my waggon. Drove on six miles beyond Utica to New Hartford & put up for the night. When I pass Utica I always feel as if I had just struck off upon the mighty West, upon a country vast, rich, fertile & filled with unbounded resources & the most untiring enterprise. Have travelled 32 miles. Passed thro' Herkimer, Frankfort & Utica. Sept. 15. Weather dry & warm & roads exceedingly dusty. Travelled 35 miles & put up for the Sabbath at Fayetteville a pleasant & flourishing village in Onondaga Co. Passed thro' Westmoreland, Verona, Durhamville, (leaving Canastota to the right) Lenox & Sullivan & Chittenango. At the latter place the Camel Leopards 15 feet high & carried on a waggon 20 ft. high were being exhibited. Ctgo. is a flourishing little village lying in a narrow valley among the hills. Its inhabitants appear to be plain, industrious & hospitable.
Sept. 16. Attended meeting at the Presbyterian Church in the forenoon. Found a little to my surprise one of my old class
mates was pastor. He was formerly an exceedingly dull scholar & makes rather a dull preacher. His discourse was regular & properly divided, but it was rather heavy & commonplace. Thought how many a blockhead is honored & reverenced in the world who if their real talents & knowledge were known would be despised.
In P. M. Attended the Baptist Church which appears to be flourishing. 12 individuals were recd. into the church. Attended the celebration of our Lord's Supper. But O how unworthy of so high a privilege. Blessed Jesus purify this heart & make it wholly thine.
Sept. 17. Took an early start from F'ville & drove to Syracuse 8 miles where we breakfasted. A flourishing, active, business place. Took the road for Auburn over Onondaga Hill. Passed thro' Marcellus & Sennett leaving Skaneatiles to the left & Elbridge to the right. The country very hilly, but fertile & well cultivated. Soil rich loam, as indeed it has been most of the way since we left Saratoga Co. Travelled 33 miles,-25 to [from] Syracuse. Have found quarters in Auburn in a very neat, genteel, quiet house, which is more than can be said of many taverns we have found on the way. Auburn is a splendid village surpassing any thing as a village that I have ever seen. It must contain much public spirit & enterprise as well as wealth & taste. Has improved some since I was here last.
Sept. 18. Drove to Seneca Falls by the way of the Free Bridge about 15 miles passing thro' Ments & Tyre. Found S. Falls but little improved since last here-looks dirty & raggedbut little neat or tasty about it. Was warmly welcomed by many friends & very hospitably entertained. Found brother T. well & glad to see us. Did some business but the individuals I most wanted to see were absent. The population I found greatly changed-much more alteration in the inhabitants than in the place.
19. Left about 4 P. M. & drove 10 miles & put up for the night at Mr. Wests, a private house in the Western part of Waterloo. 'Here the author had practiced law from 1829 to 1834.