John Woods


August 20, 1820. In the afternoon, we reached the town of Maysville, in Kentucky; it is frequently called Limestones, from a small creek of that name the empties itself into the Ohio.  Maysville is a considerable place, and enjoys a good trade with the back country.  It lies high; but part of it is subject to floods from the creek.  Much good building going forward.  A large ferry-boat, worked by horses, plies between Maysville and a small town opposite; it takes over passengers, horses, carriages, and stock; as a road on the opposite side takes most of the land-travelers through the state of Ohio, that cross so low down as this place.

We sent a letter from here that reached Godalming, in Surrey, in fifty-seven days; but letters from England are usually three months in reaching the Prairies, and sometimes much longer.  This day, twenty miles; the weather Sultry, with much thunder, but no rain.  The river is falling very fast.

Rural Campbell County

August 22, 1820. This day we only made thirteen of fourteen miles, and anchored on the Kentucky side.  The weather much colder.  After we got to bed, two men and a boy came close to use, and began fishing, by torch-light, striking the fish with a gif, or grig, like a dung-prong, with barbed points: I believe they had also some hooks and lines over the sides of their canoe, and went on ashore and made a fire to dry themselves; then spreading some small boughs under a tree, they laid down till daylight.

At dawn the fishers offered us some cat-fish, of between thirty and forty pounds weight each, for 25 cents a piece, but as we had a store of provisions we did not purchase any.  They then started for Cincinnati with their fish.

Newport & Covington

August 23, 1820 There is a fort at Newport, with an arsenal of arms, and a magazine for gun-powder; and a garrison of the states’ troops are kept here in case of a war with Indians, as Indian territories are within 100 miles to the North.  We saw some of these troops. They were good looking; their uniform blue.

Newport contains some good houses, and near it there is a large building, in the castle style, belonging to General Taylor, the proprietor of the town.  Coverly [Covington – he just messed up the name] is newly laid out, the building but just begin; these two towns may contain about 100 houses.

Warsaw / Vevay / Carrollton

August 27, 1820   The country less cultivated.  About none we land at Fredericksburg, in Kentucky, a place of about forty log houses; we purchased some butter at eighteen cents per pound. 

At dark we passed Vevay and New Switzerland, and soon after got stuck on a sand bank, some of us got in the water and turned the ark round, and then we floated off again, and about midnight anchored.  This day, twenty-five miles.  I regretted passing Vevay until it was dark, as I much wished to land to inspect the vineyards belonging to a Swiss colony settled there, who cultivate the vine on a considerable scale, in the manner of their native country.  In the twilight, we had a glimpse of their vineyards, but too far off to see much of them.  I have since learnt that a few Swiss emigrants settled at New Switzerland in 1805, and in 1810 they eight acres planted with vines, and in full bearing, and from which they made two thousand four hundred gallons of wine, then said to be very good.  Since that time their vineyards are considerable extended but their wine of an inferior quality. They also cultivate wheat, Indian corn, hemp, and flax.  They are represented to be a sober, industrious people, and much respected in the country.  They speak the French language, most of them having come from the frontiers adjoining France.

We landed in Port William, Kentucky, a small place, and procured some very excellent bread.  As we proceeded slowly, I landed on the Indiana side, and went to two or three cottages; at one of them I got a peck of fine peaches, for which the inhabitants would not take any money.  They were hardly ripe, but made very good puddings; as the settlements were new, none of the trees were six years old.  At one cabin a man showed me a tree on which there was then growing at least a bushel of peaches; he had planted the stone from which this tree sprung in the spring of 1816.


These are a brief excerpt from John Woods’ Two Years’ Residence in the Settlement on the English Prairie in the Illinois Country, United States, as he took a boat down the Ohio on his way to Illinois.  It’s from 1820, and you can find the entire work on line at the US Archives site, here.  It’s in the Travel Narratives Collection. Search for Woods and “Illinois Country”