Henry Rogers, a miller and my great-great-great grandfather, along with his wife and her parents, took a wagon trip from Mount Pleasant, Ohio, to New York City and then back to Ohio in the summer and fall of 1838. This was a working vacation on which the party visited family, did some sightseeing, toured numerous mills to observe ways to improve their own milling business, and witnessed numerous ways in which the world they knew in Southwestern Ohio was changing. Henry, who was 32 years old at the time, is believed to have kept a daily journal of the entire trip, but only the portion of the journal covering the journey from Mount Pleasant to the arrival in New York City is known to have survived.
Early in his journal, Henry states that is intention “is…to mention all interesting subjects and things that come under my observation,” and, true to this statement, his record of the journey contains a rich diversity of observations of and thoughts about the natural and cultural landscapes through which he and his party passed. The long list of things that attracted his interest included landforms, waterways, and natural vegetation; soils, crops, livestock, barns, and other elements of the agricultural landscape; transportation facilities such as roads, canals, bridges, and railroads; inns, hotels, and other travelers’ services; growing towns and their evolving businesses and institutions; and the social, political, economic, and religious environment which made up large parts of Henry’s world. Expenses, illnesses of both the people and one of their horses, and visits with the many friends and family were also recorded.
In summary, Henry’s travelogue is a firsthand account of a literate businessman who travelled from the youthful Midwest frontier to the maturing heartland of the United States at a time that the innovations of the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions were bringing about rapid change in America.
The Journal and Me
In 1990, when I was researching my family’s history, my parents thought I’d enjoy reading Henry’s journal. They contacted my father’s Aunt Nonie and asked to borrow her typewritten transcript of the original document. She refused to lend it, fearing it would be lost if she put it in the mail. Undeterred, my parents loaded a photocopier in their car and drove from their home in Cincinnati to Elida, Ohio, to copy the journal at Aunt Nonie’s dining-room table. They surprised me with the copy of the journal that Christmas. It was a wonderful gift. Reading it then, and many times since, has inspired me to make my own journeys—of different sorts and at different times—following the same route taken by Henry and his family.
Traveling by horse and wagon, Henry’s party interacted with many people along the way. They asked questions about local commerce, crops, railroads, and mechanical innovations. Henry kept careful notes about everything he observed and learned. He also recorded the cost of meals, lodging, and other expenses, and even ruefully reported his tendency to fall asleep in church.
I had always planned to write a book, and after I read Henry’s journal a few times, I started thinking about ways to use his story in my own writing endeavors. I considered selecting details from the journal to use in a fiction piece, but I didn’t know enough about his world or his times to write about them accurately, so I started researching those places, events, and circumstances. Soon, this research became my focus. I was driven to learn about everything Henry described in his journal, partly because he was my ancestor, and partly because the information in the journal was so diverse, yet interrelated. I came to realize that his journal might be of value and interest to others, especially if it were published in its entirety. I decided to do just that and write a book focused on Henry’s journal, but I wanted to supplement that focus with some of the additional information I had collected in order to provide the reader with a greater understanding of what it might have been like to have lived in traveled in America in 1838.
I started my research using state archives, public libraries, and the primitive early Internet to explore broad topics related to the journal. I studied how water-powered mills work and toured several 19th Century mills in Ohio, and in doing so gained great respect for my ancestor’s mechanical and carpentry skills. Dress, travel, and medicine of the period were other subjects that aroused my interest. Because improving the country’s infrastructure was a matter of great public concern at the time, I acquainted myself with the need for, the importance of, and the politics behind the development of Ohio’s canal system and the National Road.
I consulted with the caretaker of a cemetery in rural eastern Pennsylvania because Henry seemed particularly moved by the plight of the Revolutionary soldiers buried there. I discussed milling terminology with a millwright in Garrettsville, Ohio. I dispatched my sister, who was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, to discover the name and service record of a ship that was under construction in the Philadelphia Navy Yard at the time of Henry’s visit, and which Henry had described in great detail. These discoveries and others made Henry’s journal, and his world, so real to me. To be sure, things had changed since 1838, but, as I came to realize, much of Henry’s world still existed in mine. Did he ever dream his writings would be read, examined, and studied with such pleasure and excitement more than 150 years after he created them?
A Plan Emerges
As I continued to delve into Henry’s journal and world, I increasingly wanted to tell his story—but I wasn’t sure how to do it. My study of the journal took a back seat for several years while I started a small business, then had a child. But when we moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1996, our home was three blocks south of the National Road, and that proximity to a road Henry had actually traveled on renewed my interest in the project. I worked on it when I could, but still I searched for a definitive way to tell the story. Several more years slipped by.
When I took Henry’s journal to the National Road Festival in Addison, Pennsylvania, in May, 2003, I had planned to make some notes about the area while my husband’s base ball team, the Ohio Village Muffins, played in a vintage base ball tournament—base ball was spelled as two words in the 19th Century. The weather was extremely cold and drizzly, so I spent a good portion of the weekend keeping warm in the village shops. I also toured the toll house on the old section of the National Road—and did so thoughtfully, knowing it was a tangible link to Henry and his story. In part because of this visit, I came to realize that I needed to see and explore the land that Henry traversed in a way that would allow me to parallel Henry’s experience.
On the way home, I said to my husband, “I need to drive the entire distance, like Henry did.” To his credit, he immediately said, “Of course you do.” I would travel with Keri, our eight-year-old daughter. Henry’s story could be our story! I had new resolve, new direction; I began planning our trip.
To prepare for my and Keri’s journey, I re-read Henry’s journal and made lists of every place he mentioned in the first half of the journal, wondering if—perhaps even hoping that—I would find some of them unchanged. I packed reproductions of maps from the 1830s and 40s as well as a current road atlas so I could make comparisons among them and choose the routes that best seemed to follow Henry’s path. I planned to stop at county courthouses, cemeteries, and historical societies to undertake even more field research. I hoped most of all to find personal details about the people mentioned in Henry’s journal.
Even though I was determined to maximize my efficiency, I left one detail unplanned: I did not book any hotels in advance. I wanted us to be free to travel with flexibility.
Later that summer of 2003, Keri and I traveled from Mount Healthy, formerly Henry’s Mount Pleasant, Ohio, to Leitersburg, Maryland, in air-conditioned comfort, armed with maps, notebooks, and camera. In August, 2004, we picked up where we had left off in Leitersburg and drove the rest of the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In May, 2009, I flew to Philadelphia and spent additional time there and across the Delaware River in the family’s hometown of Trenton, New Jersey.
A Note on the Authenticity of the Journal
Henry’s original, handwritten journal is lost to the ages. I tried to track it down, but to no avail, and I shudder to think that someone in the family who didn’t realize its value discarded it. Without the original document being available, the typewritten copy of Henry’s journal was, to some degree, suspect. At best, I realized it might contain transcription errors or omissions, and at worst, it could be a complete fabrication.
As I studied and researched the people and places Henry mentioned in the journal, however, almost all the details clearly fit together with the geographical and historical record of the time and place covered by the document. I quickly became convinced that the journal really was a product of the journey it described. I noted some misspellings, but it was unclear whether the misspellings were Henry’s, or if the typist had misread his handwriting. The less-obvious misspellings complicated my fact checking. For example, one of Henry’s journal entries had been transcribed to read:
From hence to Norristown and thence to the Sign of the Broadacre
Tavern 6 miles from Norristown kept by Mrs. Cuff. There we put up
for the night.
Unable to confirm the existence of a tavern by that name, I sought help from Rose Brown of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who responded to my query:
Dear Mrs. Lawson:
I believe the BROADACRE refers to the Broad Axe Tavern and it is still located at Skippack & Butler Pikes, in Whitpain Township outside Norristown. I have been searching for Mrs. Cuff of 1838, without results. There are no Cuffs listed in the 1840 Census for PA.
Then, ten days later, Rose emailed again:
I finally had a breakthrough. After Cuff’s did not show up in the 1840 Census, I checked Cuffs through the deeds without luck. I read all I could find about the Broad Axe Tavern trying to trace the deeds through that information without luck. Then I looked at Whitpain Township tax records for 1838, and while reading every name I found Ann ACUFF, Inkeeper, with the caption under her name “& John Rex, est.” Ann is listed in the spring and fall of 1838 and also in 1839.
Rose’s research, which confirmed that Ann Acuff was an innkeeper in Whitpain Township in 1838 and 1839, was sufficient to validate and correct Henry’s journal entry.
As I continued to research and resolve similar questions, I became confident that the information in the journal was accurate, except for occasional spelling errors. The text of the journal printed herein retains the spelling that appears in the typed copy with which I worked, except when proper names or names of places were misspelled. When I tried but could not substantiate a detail in the journal, I have provided an endnote indicating that no corroborating information was found.
Roadmap for the Reader
When I was done retracing Henry’s journey, it was time to weave our stories together. Henry’s journal is presented in its known entirety in Section I of this book. The first mentions of people, towns, and significant sites along the journey appear in boldface type. On a few occasions, I have inserted supplemental information in brackets to clarify the meaning of a word or words in the journal or other documents that might be unclear. Sidebars to the journal elaborate on unfamiliar terms and create a deeper awareness of what it was like to live in America in the early Victorian era. Vintage postcards and photographs help set the scene, even though they are all from a later period, and therefore cannot fully and accurately depict what Henry saw on his trip. That said, the landforms and waterways across which Henry journeyed are still where they were in 1838, and some of the same structures remain that Henry visited, while others have been replaced by more modern structures that fulfill the same purpose their predecessors did in Henry’s day.
In the Expansions part of Section I, I present a more in-depth look at topics related to Henry’s time and experience, including flour mills, politics, fashion, and folk medicine. Section II contains recollections of, and reflections upon, my three trips. Appendix I is a record of Henry’s reported expenses, and Appendix II lists all family members mentioned in Henry’s journal, their relationship to him, and their birth, death, and marriage data when available.