University of Virginia Library


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An aged man whose head some seventy years
Had snow'd on freely, led the caravan;—
His sons and sons' sons, and their families,
Tall youths and sunny maidens—a glad groupe
That glow'd in generous blood, and had no care,
And little thought of the future, follow'd him:—
Some perch'd on gallant steeds—others, more slow,
The infants and the matrons of the flock,
In coach and jersey—but all moving on
To the new land of promise, full of dreams
Of western riches, Mississippi mad!

Southern Literary Journal.

By this time we had overtaken the cavalcade, and
sure enough, it turned out as my companion had
conjectured. The wanderers were from one of the
poorest parts of North Carolina, bent to better their
condition in the western valleys, “full of dreams,”
and as one of our southern poets, whom I quote
above, energetically expresses it, “Mississippi mad.”
They consisted of several families, three or four in
number, all from the same neighbourhood, who
were thus making a colonising expedition of it; and
as they had all along formed a little world to themselves
before, now resolving with a spirit not less


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wise than amiable, to preserve the same social and
domestic relations in the new regions to which they
bent their steps. They thus carry with them the
morals and the manners to which they have been
accustomed, and find a natural home accordingly
wherever they go. But even this arrangement does
not supply their loss, and the social moralist may
well apprehend the deterioration of the graces of
society in every desertion by a people of their ancient
homes. Though men may lose nothing of
their fecundity by wandering, and in emigration to
the west from a sterile region like North Carolina,
must, most commonly, gain in their worldly goods,
their losses are yet incomputable. The delicacies of
society are most usually thrust from the sight of the
pioneers; the nicer harmonies of the moral world
become impaired; the sweeter cords of affection are
undone or rudely snapped asunder, and a rude indifference
to the claims of one's fellow, must follow
every breaking up of the old and stationary abodes.
The wandering habits of our people are the great
obstacles to their perfect civilisation. These habits
are encouraged by the cheapness of our public lands,
and their constant exposure for sale. The morals
not less than the manners of our people are diseased
by the license of the wilderness; and the remoteness
of the white settler from his former associates
approximate him to the savage feebleness of the Indian,


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who has been subjugated and expelled simply
because of his inferior morality.

We joined the wayfarers, and accommodating
our pace to the slow and weary movement of their
cavalcade, kept with them long enough to answer
and to ask an hundred questions. They were a
simple and hardy people, looking poor, but proud;
and though evidently neither enterprising nor adventurous,
yet, once abroad and in the tempest, sufficiently
strong and bold to endure and to defy its
buffetings. There was a venerable grandfather of
the flock, one of the finest heads I ever looked upon,
who mingled the smiling elasticity of youth, with
the garrulity of age. He spoke as sanguinely of his
future prospects in Mississippi, as if he were only
now about to commence the world; and while he
spoke, his eyes danced and twinkled with delight,
and his laugh rang through the forests, with such
fervour and life, that an irrepressible sympathy made
me laugh with him, and forget, for a moment, my
own dull misgivings, and heavy thoughts. His mirth
was infectious, and old and young shared in it, as
most probably they had done from childhood. We
rode off leaving them in a perfect gale of delighted
merriment, having their best wishes, and giving them
ours in return.

To one ignorant of the great West; to the dweller
in the Eastern cities—accustomed only to the dull


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unbroken routine of a life of trade, which is at best
only disturbed by some splendid forgery, or a methodical
and fortunate bankruptcy, which makes the
bankrupt rich at the expense of a cloud of confiding
creditors—the variety, and the vicissitudes of forest
life, form a series of interesting romances. The
very love of change, which is the marked characteristic
of our people in reference to their habitations,
is productive of constant adventures, to hear which,
the ears tingle, and the pulses bound. The mere
movement of the self-expatriated wanderer, with his
motley caravan, large or small, as it winds its way
through the circuitous forests, or along the buffalo
tracks, in the level prairies, is picturesque in the last
degree. And this picturesqueness is not a whit diminished
by the something of melancholy, which a
knowledge of the facts provokes necessarily in the
mind of the observer. Not that they who compose
the cavalcade, whether masters or men, women or
children, are troubled with any of this feeling. On
the contrary, they are usually joyful and light spirited
enough. It is in the thoughts and fancies of the
spectator only that gloom hangs over the path, and
clouds the fortune of the wayfarer. He thinks of the
deserted country which they have left—of the cottage
overgrown with weeds—of the young children carried
into wildernesses, where no Sabbath bell invites
them to a decorous service—where the schoolmaster


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is never seen, or is of little value—and where, if fortune
deigns to smile upon the desires of the cultivator,
the wealth which he gains, descends to a race,
uninformed in any of its duties, and, therefore,
wholly ignorant of its proper uses. Wealth, under
such circumstances, becomes a curse, and the miserable
possessor a victim to the saddest error that
ever tempted the weak mind, and derided it in its

These thoughts force themselves upon you as you
behold the patient industry of the travellers while
they slowly make their way through the tedious
forests. Their equipage, their arrangements, the evidence
of the wear and tear inevitable in a long journey,
and conspicuous in shattered vehicle and bandaged
harness, the string of wagons of all shapes, sorts
and sizes, the mud-bespattered carriages, once finely
varnished, in which the lady and the children ride,
the fiery horse of the son in his teens, the chunky
poney of the no less daring boy, the wriggling Jersey—the
go-cart with the little negro children; and
the noisy whoop of blacks of both sexes, mounted and
afoot, and taking it by turns to ride or walk—however
cheering all these may seem at a first sight, as
a novelty, removing the sense of loneliness which
you may have felt before, cannot but impress upon
you a sentiment of gloom, which will not be lessened
as you watch their progress. Their very lightheartedness—so


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full of hope and confidence as it denotes
them to be, is a subject of doubtful reflection.
Will their hopes be confirmed? Will the dreams so
seducing to them now, be realized? Will they find
the fortune which tempted them to new homes and
new dangers? Will they even be secure of health,
without which wealth is a woful mockery. These
are doubts which may well make the thoughtful
sad, and the doubtful despondent.

And yet the wayfarers themselves feel but little
of this. Their daily progress, and the new objects
of interest that now and then present themselves,
divert them from troublous thoughts. The lands,
the woods, the waters, that attract the eye of the
planter on every side, serve to fix his attention
and keep it in constant exercise and play. They
travel slowly, but twelve or fifteen miles a day, and
by night they encamp upon the road side, hew down
a tree, clear the brush, and build up fires that illuminate
the woods for miles round. Strange, fantastic
forms dance in the mazes which the light makes
among the receding trees; and the boisterous song of
the woodman, and the unmeasured laugh of the negro,
as he rends the bacon with his teeth and fingers,
and hearkens to the ready joke of his companion
the while, convey no faint idea of those German
stories of the wild men, or demons of the Hartz
Mountains or the Black Forests, which we cannot


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but admire, however uncouth, grotesque and disproportioned,
for their felicitous and playful ingenuity.
The watch-dog takes his place under the wagon by
night; sometimes he sleeps within it, and upon the
baggage. The men crouch by the fire, while rude
and temporary couches of bush and blanket are
made for the women and the children of the party.
These arrangements necessarily undergo change according
to circumstances. The summer tempests
compel a more compact disposition of their force;
the sudden storm by night drives the more weak
and timid to the deserted house, or if there be none
in the neighbourhood, to the bottom of the wagon
where they are sheltered by skins or blankets, with
both of which the accustomed traveller is usually
well provided. Before the dawn of day they are
prepared to renew their journey, with such thoughts
as their dreams or their slumbers of the night have
rendered most active in their imaginations. The
old are usually thoughtful when they rise, the
young hopeful. Some few of both are sad, as an
obtrusive memory haunts them with threatening or
imploring shadows. Others again, and not the smaller
number, cheerily set forth singing, the first day
being safely passed—singing some country ditty; and
when they meet with travellers like themselves—
an event, which, in our western woods, may be
likened to a “sail” at sea—cracking with them some


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hearty joke upon their prospects, trim and caparison,
with a glee that would startle the nerves and astound
the measured sensibilities of the quiet occupant of
more civilised abodes. The negroes are particularly
famous for the lightheartedness of their habit while
journeying in this manner. You will sometimes
see ten or twenty of them surrounding a Jersey
wagon, listening to the rude harmony of some
cracked violin in the hands of the driver, and dancing
and singing as they keep time with his instrument,
and pace with his horse. The grin of their
mouths, the white teeth shining through the glossy
black of their faces, is absolutely irresistible; while
he, perched, as I have often seen him, upon the foreseat,
the reins loosely flung over his left arm, in the
hand of which is grasped the soiled and shattered
instrument, the seams and cracks of which are carefully
stopped with tar or pine gum; while the bow
in his right hand, scrapes away unmercifully until it
extorts from the reluctant strings the quantity of
melody necessary to satisfy the amateur who performs,
or the self taught connoisseurs that hearken
to and depend upon him. Sometimes the whites
hover nigh, not less delighted than their slaves, and
partaking, though with a less ostentatious show of
interest, in the pleasure and excitement which such
an exhibition, under such circumstances, is so well
calculated to inspire. Sometimes the grinning


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Momus of the group is something more than a mere
mechanician, and adds the interest of improvvisation
to the doubtful music of his violin. I have heard
one of these performers sing as he went, verses
suited to the scene around him, in very tolerable
rhythm, which were evidently flung off as he went.
The verses were full of a rough humour which is a
characteristic of all inferior people. In these he
satirized his companions without mercy, ridiculed
the country which he left, no less than that to which
he was going, and did not spare his own master,
whom he compared to a squirrel that had lived upon
good corn so long, that he now hungered for bad,
in his desire of change. This was a native figure, by
which his fruitless and unprofitable discontent with
what was good in his previous condition, was clearly
bodied forth. The worthy owner heard the satire,
with which he was not less pleased than the other
hearers, who were so much less interested in it.
Enough of episode. We will now resume our