Eight Months in Illinois
On September 7th 1842 William Oliver, an Englishman, and his companion journeyed from New York to Illinois and back. He wrote about his travels and published his book Eight Months in Illinois in 1843 as a guide for what it was like to move and live here for emigrants. It is a very interesting travelogue of what it was like to move here and live during that time. It is of a time that has long been forgotten and overlooked by those of us who live in these areas today. His opinion of our then county seat, Ewington, was somewhat less than favorable; you may read it for yourself below
Towards evening we arrived at Ewington, on the Little Wabash river, and by the advice of a person with whom we fell in by the way, we passed through it, to take our chance of getting a nights lodging at a squires about a mile beyond.
Ewington is a sorry-looking place, situated on a high clay bank of the Little Wabash, which is here an inconsiderable stream, deeply cut into the surface of the country, and jammed full of driftwood. It would have been quite impassable at this place for horses, had it not been for a primitive and rickety wood bridge, erected across the chasm.
Before we got to the squires abode, the night was as dark as pitch, and as the road was full of ruts and other impediments, our progress was very slow. A horse with use of his eyes will seldom tumble into a hole, however dark the night may be; but, in going among trees, he estimates the practicability of a passage between the trunks, or below limbs, merely in reference to his own bulk, without taking into account the legs or body of his rider; so that the knees sometimes get awkward thumps, and there is some risk of being swept off by a branch.
The squire was unwilling to admit us, saying he had two guests already, which were as many as he had beds for; besides, his old woman was sick, and could not again be troubled with preparing supper. In reply to these objections we told him that we would sit by the fire, or lie on the floor, and would not trouble the old woman with making any supper. In the end he relented and took us in; and, though we did lie on the floor, the old woman was kind enough on her own accord to relieve us of the additional penalty of being supperless.
The squire was an intelligent man; his forte, however, seemed to be the mechanism of the mills, and he detailed to us several projected improvements in sawmills. The Americans are decidedly a mechanical people-a people of shifts and expedients, which may be the offspring of that fruitful mother of invention, necessity.
Of the other two strangers, one was the driver of the stage between Vandalia and Terre Haute; no sinecure on such detestable roads. There had been an overturn of the stage that very day, and at the time it took place the driver was slowly leading the horses by the heads, whilst another person was doing his best, by pulling at the upper side, to keep the vehicle on its wheels. The driver spoke of the affair as a good joke.
the squires at sunrise next morning, and through the day traveled over some
extensive prairies. The population was very
thin, and the grass was growing rank and tall in many places, without a single trail in
it. Snakes were abundant, and, judging from
the trails of these reptiles on the dusty track, some of them must have been large. 1
1Eight Months in Illinois:With information to Immigrants,William Oliver, Walter M. Hill, Chicago, 1924 pp190-192