Nathan Brown

In 1858, I started from Jamestown, N.Y., and descended the Allegheny with a fleet of Yankee Notion boats, designed for Pittsburgh and the south.  We started the boats in pairs, the first going in early April with my brother Nelson as supercargo, their destination being Evansville and Paducah, the names of these cities being painted on the sides.  Nelson had instructions to land at given points where we had agencies established. 

The first one in Kentucky was fifty miles below Cincinnati at the mouth of Sugar Creek where we dealt with Jonathan Howe.  While moored there a gentleman on horseback appeared, a Mr. Dawley, who was building a mansion some miles above and back of the river.  Mr. Dawley was vouched for by Jonathan Howe, so Nelson sold him a considerable bill on credit with the understanding that I would call at the mansion, next visit and collect.

Several weeks later I followed down, stopping my boat at North Bend, Lawrenceburg, Rising Sun, and Patriot, and then proceeded to Jackson's Landing (in the head of Sugar Creek Bend - ed.), where I inquired for Mr. Dawley's plantation and we were taken out four miles back, on Big Bone Creek, to his new house.  I learned that Mr. Dawley had gone with some of his slaves farther up the creek to cradle some oats, so I went there to find a fine looking Kentucky planter.  He invited me to to return with him to his house and in the course of the walk we we mutually pleased to discover we both were members of the lodge whose principles are 'Friendship, Love and Truth."

I was introduced to Mrs. Dawley, a matronly lady, and to their family of three, one a blonde daughter of 15.  Mrs. Dawley invited me to dinner and what a delightful dinner it was: chicken pot pie well enriched with gilt-edged butter dumplings, snow-white biscuit and splendid coffee.  Mr. Dawley invited me to go up and see his new house built to his wife plans.  The joiners were just fitting the windows and hanging the doors, and the Louisville builders were putting up a good job.

The grays were harnessed, and my host brought out his well-filled pocketbook and counted out one hundred and twenty dollars in crisp Louisville bills, and the invoices were receipted.  As Mr. Dawley bade me goodbye she added hospitably that I must never pass without visiting them.  John, the colored driver, knew how to handle the grays and in short time we reached the landing where Mr. Dawley noticed the name Yankee Notion on the boat and remarked that it was appropriate.  The boat was in good condition to put on dress parade and he came aboard to order some blinds, hinges, and green paint, for which I offered to allow him to pay next year.  This seemed to gratify him and he placed the goods in his light spring wagon and bade me goodbye.

The following July, in 1859, I again visited the Dawleys and the new house was finished and nicely furnished.  It was done in southern style with the house placed several rods back from the road on a mound shaped plot.  There was a picket fence in front and a narrow board fence on the sides and back, all painted white to match the house.  The driveways were coated with clean Ohio River gravel with evergreens and shade trees on each side. Rose bushes and ornamental shrubbery were dotted about the lawn.  I was invited to dinner by Mrs. Dawley, and accepted, after which Mr. Dawley inquired inquired if he could purchase a rather large bill of goods for slave quarters he had under construction.  I offered the same terms as before, to collect the following year, and he paid me for prior invoices.

In 1860 I showed up as usual and at dinner at the Dawley home was a Frankfort lawyer.  The conversation indicated too clearly a dislike for the 'Yanks' although I held my peace, being in the south to collect outstanding bills and sell goods and not to voice opinions on politics.  This visit proved to be the last one I made there, although at the time I had no indication of it.  We parted on the usual friendly terms, following the usual purchases by Mr. Dawley for which I was to collect in 1861.

Another year rolled by and I again tied up at Jackson's Landing, Ky. I started up the bank with the intention of walking to the Dawley plantation but was some surprised to see a troop of uniformed horsemen approaching, done up in gray, so I retreated back to my boat.  They came to the river, dismounted, and boarded.  Foremost was my friend, Mr. Dawley, now a Captain in the Confederate Army.  'Brother Brown,' he said as he grasped my hand, 'it is not safe for you here, leave as soon as you can.'   I was introduced to his lieutenant, who was also an Odd Fellow, and who advised me to paint out the name YANKEE NOTION from my boat at once, which I did as quickly as possible, and never again used it.  Thereafter, all my boats were labeled N. Brown.

We dropped our boat down to Sugar Creek and got tied down there just in time to withstand a severe thunderstorm accompanied with high wind.  I went up to Mr. Howe's store and found it vacated, so continued to their house where I found Mrs. Howe with her two younger children.  Her husband had removed all his goods in a flatboat across the Ohio to Indiana and with a team had towed the boat to Patriot, where he unloaded and took everything back to a place called the "Bark Works," and put them in an empty store.  Mrs. Howe was greatly agitated and pled with me to leave immediately lest my boat be burned.  She had had word of an imminent raid in prospect.

The waves were rolling like Lake Erie and it was highly unsafe to try such a crossing until the wind lay, which it showed no prospect of doing, and I was forced to remain at Sugar Creek that evening. Late that night one of Howe's men came aboard and pled with me to set him across to Indiana in a yawl so he could get to Warsaw ferry and alert a Union force of the expected raid on Howe's property.  One of my crewman, William Johnson, volunteered, and they set out using two pairs of oars.  Johnson accomplished the mission and all but swamped the boat.  He got back with the waves lashing high as ever.

My stateroom was on the shore side and I had a lamp burning on the table.  About eleven o'clock a man rode down the bank and into the river opposite my window.  He made three distinct raps with his knuckles on the guard, quickly followed with three kicks on the side. I called "Who goes there?"  The response came: "A friend, up and go, if you wish to avoid approaching danger." It was Brother Dawley's voice.  In this last kind and fraternal act I knew he meant business.

Fortunately the wind had abated some.  We untied as quickly as possible, and using our fifty-foot steering oar and forty-foot sweeps we strained across the river and landed in Indiana a few hundred yards above the spot where the steamers UNITED STATES and AMERICA collided some years later.  We spent the day there peacefully enough and in the evening dropped down to Warsaw, Ky., and tied in at the foot of Mill Street.  Walking up town we discovered tents on Main Street.

Warsaw was in a considerable uproar, and we lingered long enough only to learn that the raid on the Howe place at Sugar Creek did come off as expected, although there was not much left to plunder.  Our boat surely would have been burned had we remained tied there.  My friend Captain Dawley, CSA, ultimately lost his life at Vicksburg in one of those interminable trenches and was buried unidentified.  I had occasion several years after the war to visit in the vicinity of the Dawley plantation and went to visit.  The place was in ruin, a renter in residence, the fences down.  Mrs. Dawley had been taken to Lexington in poor health and it is said she died there of a broken heart.

As for "Uncle Jonathan," as Mr. Howe of Sugar Creek was called, he moved back after 1865, full of ire.  He had a Cincinnati artist paint on the ceiling of his dining room a huge American flag several feet in width and extending over his dining table.  I first met the Howes in 1865 and there was no better family in the valley.  Both passed away before I quit the river and Marian, the youngest son, continued the business.  The last visit I made with him I noticed that repeated whitewash and calcimine had blotted out all trace of Uncle Jonathan's flag.


from the writings of Nathan Brown, who ran a fleet of 156 merchandise boats, and reprinted in the S & D Reflector in September, 1969.