The Cooley Family © 1985
Issue: June, 1985
The following is an excerpt from a journal kept by Elizabeth Cooley McClure of Carroll County, Virginia from 1842 (she was 17 then) until her death in 1848. Her journal not only reflects the day to day world she and her family lived in, but a young girl's hopes and expectations for the future.
The Journal follows Elizabeth and her new husband, James McClure, as they leave the Blue Ridge and head to Texas by wagon only to be turned back by the Mexican War. She and James then head upriver to Missouri. The details of their travels portray the sheer grit of mountain people.
A special thanks to the Cooley family for sharing it with us.
May 15, 1846. Arkansas on the right, Mississippi on the left.. Had a nasty strumpet on board.. set her off this morning at the Grand Gulf. We passed some of the most splendid farms I ever saw on the river. Corn here now most ready to tassel.
Sunday 17th. Very warm indeed. The old boat going rushing, sputtering, blowing, belching along.. I on deck, cook stove in the middle covered over high joist berths, thick from the top to the bottom on each side…Trunks setting along and baggage. Some 7 or 8 persons in here now…some very rough and savage men…some gentlemen-like polite men. It is called 629 miles from Memphis to Orleans. The most fashionable men here wear pleated pants and no gallowses, long narrow colored vests, coats very long and full in the skirts. It is very sultry warm here now. War in Texas, and I fear too warm.
May 17th, 1846 [The following is in a different handwriting] Weather very warm and sultry. See large plantation, negroes, farms on the river bank. Got the headache… got too much to study about to not have the headache give me trouble. My wife is little and pretty…love her…she loves me too. Going to Texas…don't expect to like, feel badly; the going I think to do well after while and make money plenty...McClure,J.
May 18th. Now about 120 miles from Orleans, mending boat wheels.
May 18th. Mississippi in 80 [miles] Orleans. I went up on top the boat, saw 75 volunteers come on board going to Texas to fight. They marched around in single file and up on top the boat, the ladies standing on the banks and such cheering and clapping of hands, waving hats and handkerchiefs, I never did see. I then walked in the drawing room through the cabin. Proud, haughty scornful people, not even speaking to a poor deck passenger.
May 19th. Oh! What a desperation! What agonizing grief, what painful reflections. Now in Orleans, thousands of vessels here, grand and noble scenes here on deck and few persons throng the room. Mr. McClure has just written a desperate letter to Grandmother. While I do sincerely wish I had not started to Texas but gone to Missouri, but Alas! the dye is cast for it is miserable whichever way we go. I have a very bad cold…Mc. is sick too. Have eat some oranges, some pineapples. I do not know what we had better do. I fear to go to Texas, dread to go back - hope we will like it.
May 22nd. Saturday. We left Orleans Thursday just at sun down and I looked back with more contempt on no place whatever. We proceeded slowly, and that night the water bursted the door to the wheel house open and come rushing in on deck, and of all the screaming and hollowing I've never seen, each woman gathering her own children and running every way in wild confusion, the water coming in waves 2 feet deep in the door and on the guards; the little babies right dripping wet. But they fastened up the hole all right. I was dry and not much alarmed; my things dry too, but it was an awful scene for a beholder. Then yesterday, the 21st, was bad - it was till most night. Grief had worn itself out. My spirits arose and I felt alive again. In the evening felt right.
When it come bed time we had a general burst up with our Missouri clan. The Mississippi friends told the Captain's mate how crooked they were. They had their beds and their boxes all strewed over the deck. The mate and the watchman came down, gave them a cursing, moved their things to one side, said we all had equal rights and privileges and for us to take them. Such good folks as the Mississippians I never saw - they just sat and laughed. Old black Dutch Missouri woman cursed as big, said that cradle was hers and defied man or woman to go near it. Her French husband tried to settle her. She told him she would say what she pleased, he was a d--mned coward or he would too. They told them they did not want to touch it. A little Mississippi boy is very sick - sent for the doctor - the cabin gentlemen come down and frequently talks with us but never with them. I cant hear my own voice for the noise of the engines and the perpetual crying of children!