The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Elizabeth's Journal - Part 12 of 18

The Cooley Family © 1985

Issue: September, 1985

Read Intro About Elizabeth's Journal

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.

June 10th. [1846] Day before yesterday we came aboard the [unreadable], a large boat, 300 feet long, met some English people. Yesterday felt miserable hopeless and hungry. Today put on clean clothes, had mutton for breakfast, hemmed my shawl. Feel better and happier than I have for weeks. The boat is starting. We have all kinds of people on deck, finer than I have seen on deck before - people from every quarter of the globe. I hear the fiddle beating time and the accordion. Just now seen them beat for volunteers to go to fight in Texas. We have got types for both of us — have seen 3 turtles lying out in the yards weighing 100 each. There are two cages and 4 mockingbirds which sing gayly. Take it all in all, we have a variety of all things and great many passengers. I feel very satisfied today.

June 12th. Night before last they had a splendid fight on board, fought about 5 minutes, whipped one and sent him ashore. It is very warm here.

June 13th, Sunday. Still on this hateful boat. It is very disagreeable here. I have wished and wanted until I am almost out of hope of getting a home and satisfaction, can't see any end to our traveling. I scarcely know how to act on this boat, there are so many trifling men about here. The little Italian girl Magdalen Signomo gave me three plain hair pins. She is simple, but always been in good company - proud, tells everything, gives anything. All is noise here.

Monday June 15th. Still warm. I want a drink out of Father's spring worse than ever. I got ice water last night. Mc. is better and better to me. He does as much as half the cooking or more, but I dread living as we are both poor and tender…but I want a home, I want to see my old home and spring. We passed Memphis yesterday and Point Pleasant today.

June 16th. Most to St. Louis. The scenery on the river banks is delightful. There are some men here deserving the penitentiary or the gallows. They disturb innocent women in the night. I hate them so much.

June 17th. We come off the Maria this morning. [We are] in the end cabin of the Missouri Mail, had a fine dinner. No female passenger but one old lady who is now asleep. There is no person up here but myself. I am in the ladies parlor, a room 20 feet long and red, white and crimson carpet woven in the most flourishing flowers. Small stove in this room, 2 looking glasses opposite each other, dressing table with flowered woolen covers under them, 6 white Windsor chairs. From this extends the gentlemen's parlor and the dining room, cabins on each side just as long as a bed, and looking glass, bowl and white pitcher. Mc. is gone out in town. I am in clean green calico. The boat will not start till tomorrow. We are spending money, but I have remained on deck long enough—We can live any way. I have been reading and writing. I fear I will never get over leaving home. Mc. looks white and tender (I think pretty). We enjoy each other's company better than ever before. I believe I will like Missouri.

June 18th. Dressed in black silk. Been in St. Louis viewing its lofty houses, narrow streets. Went into the Catholic church and saw the most grand and awful scenes I ever did see - saw the image of Christ full size nailed to the cross and crown of thorns on His head, the tears trickling down His cheeks, blood streaming from His hands…feet…side.. Mary weeping standing by Him, the disciples back behind, angels carved out full size out of marble, high above Him all in tears…the green and crimson curtains on each side the image of Jesus and a demon like looking man with a glittering knife cutting his bleeding side. It was 9 A.M. when we were in there. One dim lamp above the cross, one old lady, one lone man, just sitting there. One man cleaning the seats, not a sound above a whisper. Such lofty columns, gilded arches, large rooms, all combined was awful feeling. Oh! I can't begin to describe it. My unwielding pen shrinks from the task.

This morning there came 4 ladies up here, proud, conceited, dressed very fine. I am in the world now and as mute as a mouse, say nothing to them.