1818: James Noble to Nehemiah Noble

This fascinating letter was written by James Noble (1795-1842), the son of Capt. Nehemiah Noble (1756-1826)—a veteran of the Revolutionary War—and his wife Sabra Skinner (1754-1831) of Bethel, Windsor county, Vermont. James mentions his brother Perez Bradford Noble (1793-1889) in the letter. Perez married Abigail Williams (1810-1902) and resided in Chautaugua county, New York.

We learn from the letter that 23 year-old James has left his home in Vermont to look for a place to settle in the West. Traveling by boat down the Scioto river through central Ohio to Portsmouth, and by flatboat down the Ohio river to Evansville, James makes a side trip to Mount Carmel, IL, and Vincennes, IN, before returning to the Ohio river. At Shawneetown, Illinois, he again left the Ohio river and crossed overland on horseback to Kaskasia and eventually to St. Louis—a journey of 78 days duration.


Addressed to Nehemiah Noble, Esq., Bethel, Windsor county, Vermont
Postmarked St. Louis

St. Louis
September 12, 1818

Honored Sir,

I arrived at this place the 4th Inst. 78 days after leaving home. I should have written before but did not know the time of departure for the mail until it was too late to write you by the last, which left here on Sunday the 6th & it being some distance from where I last wrote you will account of the time which will elapse before you receive this.

My health has been uncommonly good—particularly since I left the Scioto [river], from which place I came in a family boat to the falls (Louisville) and enjoyed the passage having nothing to do, a good bed & company, and every luxury the country afforded. Called at the Swiss settlement at Vevay [Indiana] and drank of their wine. They made last year 5 m gallons which they sell for $1.50 per gal. ¹

27 miles by land or 47 by water below Cincinnati we come to the Big Bone Lick [Boone county, KY]. Saw many of the mammoth bones. Drank of the water which is something like Saratoga with the addition of sulphur.

At Louisville, got in another boat and came to Evansville, 75 miles above the Wabash [river]. Here left the river & traveled on foot 44 miles to Mount Carmel on the Wabash opposite the mouth of the White & Patoka rivers which empty within one mile of each other directly in front of the town—both navigable streams. From the description I got of this town at Chillicothe [Ohio] I thought it would meet my wishes and as I obtained a letter of introduction to Mr. Beauchamp ² —the agent, I thought it would be to my interest to see him. I found it too new for me. Neither do I like that part of the country very ell. The land is too low and overflowed by the Wabash and the settlers generally agree the land on the banks of the river is unhealthy.

From Mount Carmel I walked 25 miles to Vincennes—a dirty French, Indian, English, and American settlement situated on low, level, rich, handsome and fruitful land, but I had no desire to make this my abiding home. Found 300 Indians here come from the vicinity of Fort Harrison to receive their supplies furnished by the government.

From Vincennes to this place (St. Louis) is 200 miles which road I should have come had I not left my baggage at Evansville. Therefore, having an opportunity, got in a wagon and rode back in a direct course about 60 miles to the [Ohio] river. I am very glad I took the journeys up both the Scioto and Wabash as they are the principal rivers spoken of and I am now tolerably satisfied so much so that those who may hereafter speak of it in raptures can never raise a wish in me to live there.

The next port I made was Shawneetown, nine miles below the mouth of the Wabash. There [I] determined to go by land and to that, and in company with an Englishman, bought a horse &c. for $30 and started for Kaskaskia (110 miles)—a small town on the Mississippi [river] 65 miles below St. Louis where the Convention was then sitting to form a constitution for the now state of Illinois. This was not our nearest route but we preferred it as having the best accommodations. 15 miles from Shawneetown, passed the U. S. Saline where great quantities of salt are made and sold at the works at 75.65 per bushel. 40 miles further [we] came to a prairie 3 miles in width and perhaps 6 or 7 in length. [We] crossed many others—some 9 miles across—but I must omit my remarks till my next.

9712abd4-9c1b-49f2-8d8a-c7d18435636dWhen I first came here I engaged my board for $7 per week for myself & 4.50 for my horse in a private family in which time I sold my horse, saddle, 2 blankets, and bridle for $17.50. [I] enquired out Esqr. [Pascal Paoli] Enos ³ who appears to have some interest in my welfare and acts to that end. I have not as yet found employment but think I shall  soon or have some found for me. Esqr. Enos gave me the offer of boarding with him and I have accepted it—24 hours ago—and am to pay him $5 per week which is cheap for decent board here. Found Mr. [Gaius] Paddock & family are well except [his son] Sproat who frequently has epileptic fits so that he is not able to be of much assistance. They keep a boarding house $6 per week pay—$360 a year rent—but they make money. Have bought land and not one wishes to return.

I have not received any line from home as yet but I shall expect (if not before) that on the receipt of this you will without delay let me hear from you and of any information you may have received from [my brother] Perez. I am told it generally takes 30 days for letters to pass from here to Vermont so that in 60 or 70 [days] you will be able to get word to me.

I am confident after reading the above & forgoing that you would regret paying the postage of such stuff did it not tell you where I am, and of my health, but it is the best  I can do at present or until I get settled. I remain — James Noble

¹ In his book, Indiana Wine: A History, author James J. Butler wrote that the Swiss colony at Veyay was founded in 1802 and reached a resident population of 1800 people by 1815. In the “bountiful year of 1818,” he wrote, “7,000 gallons of wine were produced” and at that time “no other region on the United States could claim such a successful wine industry.”

² Most likely Rev. William Beauchamp who was a respected early-day Methodist Episcopal clergyman whose name was connected with the village of Mount Carmel, Illinois. He died in 1824.

³ Pascal Paoli Enos was born at Windsor, Connecticut in 1870. He married Salome (1791-1877), the daughter of Gaius Paddock, at Woodstock, Vermont in 1815 and shortly after moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. In the spring of 1817, they moved to St. Louis where they remained until the fall of 1821 when they moved to Madison county, Illinois. In 1823, Enos was appointed by President Monroe to be the Receiver in the newly created Land Office at Springfield, though it was not yet laid out as a town and was originally named “Calhoun.”


Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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