The following are quotes from the book The Leaven of Democracy: The Growth of the Democratic Spirit in the Time of Jackson; Book by Clement Eaton; G. Braziller, 1963
Charles Fenno Hoffman (1806-1884) (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) was an editor, poet and novelist. In October of 1833 he left New York City for a tour of the northwestern country on horseback. To defray the cost of the trip he wrote long letters to the American magazine Harper and Brothers , descriptive of the country and his experiences. There are several volumes of his work. I think that the following is in Volume I but at least five volumes were written.
This is taken from the articles in Volume II and is titled A Tennessee Hill Town. Both volumes of the articles by Charles Fenno Hoffman can be downloaded at INTERNET ARCHIVE, written in 1835. In 1835 you must remember that the main road to the west still ran through the Cumberland Gap and his travel to Kentucky can be read further down on April 17, 1834. It appear that Volume I can be purchase Tower Books for $17.99 and alibris books for $22.65 and reprints of both volumes on eBay for $24.25.
A Tennessee Hill Town
Tazewell, Tennessee, April 21, 1834.
I write to you from a small county town in Tennessee. It is composed of about a hundred wooden houses, scattered along a broad street, which traverses the side of a high hill or mountain slope, and which, though partly shut in by wooded elevations, still commands a wide view of cultivated country. This is the first day of court-week, and the village, which presents rather a desolate appearance, from the want of shrubbery or ornamental enclosures of any kind around the houses, is somewhat enlivened by the troops of country people moving to and fro. There is a group of the white beaver and hunting shirt gentry collected at this moment around a blood-horse, whose points a groom is showing off opposite to my window; and farther up the street, round the steps of the little unpainted wooden court-house, is a collection of old women, in scarlet cloaks or plaid wrappers, gossipping together.
I entered Tazewell about sunset, a day or two since. My horse had fallen lame within ten miles of the place; and taking the bridle in my hand, I trudged leisurely along, till I gained the inn, where I have established myself. The afternoon was perfectly still, and a herd of cows, which a mounted negro was urging homeward, were the only objects stirring in the town. I could discern, however, that it was inhabited, from seeing the village tailor and other dignitaries of the place lounging upon rush-bottom chairs in front of their dwellings, while the lazy vapour that curled from their pipes, in the evening air, bespoke a sort of indolent repose, such as whilom reigned in the drowsy region of Sleepy Hollow. I looked from my window in the morning, and there, at ten o'clock, sat the same set of luxurious worthies, a low chuckle or a short laugh, as some acknowledged wag doled out his good things, being the only sound of animation that met my ears. I looked when the heat of the noonday sun had made their position no longer tenable, and the industrious Tazewellites had retired within doors to their various avocations. Evening, with its shadows, brought them again, also; and, maugre the example of my attentive and stirring little landlord, I found that I had imbibed a portion of the indolence prevailing around me. I sauntered across the way, and lighted my cigar by the most accessible looking of the company; and dropping into an unoccupied chair, balanced it on two legs, with an air that at once made good my claim to a share in their gossip.
I had just got comfortably embarked with one of the seniors in a quiet dish of local politics, when an outcry, a few yards off, attracted our attention. Stepping up to the group of persons from which it arose, I saw a queer-looking little bantam figure, in an old straw hat and coarse shrunk-up hunting-shirt, who appeared to be in the highest paroxysm of rage. At one moment, he would vent his fury in a torrent of outrageous epithets, and then, gripping the shrunken skirt of his hunting-shirt with one hand, while the other was shaken angrily at the crowd, he would leap a yard in the air, turning round on his heel as he came down, and crowing like a game cock. In performing this evolution, I caught a sight of his face by the moonlight, and discovered that he had undergone a very common piece of western waggery, having had his face blacked, while lying asleep in a state of intoxication.
"Who has dared to make a n____ of me?" shouted the unfortunate votary of Bacchus, as I approached him, dilating his little pony-built person with great pomposity; "who dared treat little John like a brute? Let me but get at him, and I'll drink his blood. I'll eat his liver" (gnashing his teeth); "if God has breathed the breath of man into him, let him speak, and I'll knock it out. Little John is not the man to be walked over; little John never insulted anybody, but he knows how to mount them that don't treat him like a gentleman, -- wheugh, whoop, whoop! -- whe-ug-h! -- I'm a real screamer!" And here he bounced up, crowing in the air, as if he had springs in his heels.
"I'm the man, John," cried one of the crowd, throwing off his coat. "You, you, indeed!" answered the little champion, without stirring from the spot; "Why, Bill, you know you lie! You wouldn't dare to play such a trick on me; but only let me catch the real fellow." -- "It's a shame, a shame, to treat John so," cried half a dozen voices around. -- "No, no, it's no shame; it's only a shame, that the black villain should hide himself after he did it; thank God, John can take care of himself" -- (here he flapped his arms, and crowed defiance). "I'm as good a bit of man's flesh as skin ever covered" (here he crowed again). "I'm the first-born of my mother, and knock under to no white man. 'John,' says she, 'you are a true one,' -- and so I am. My mother knows I am as good a little fellow as ever mother brought forth: she said I was a screamer the moment she saw me; 'John,' says she, 'you're a real out-and-outer;' and am I not?" (crowing:) "who says little John was ever afraid of man or beast? Come out here, any ten of you, and I'll mount you one after another."
The rapidity with which these whimsical expressions of wrath, and thrice as many more, were poured upon each other, was perfectly astonishing; and the mad antics with which the valorous little fellow accompanied them were irresistibly ludicrous. At length his rage appeared nearly to have spent itself, and he listened with some composure to the wicked wags who, collecting around him, pretended to sympathize in his wrongs. One of them even undertook to wash his face for him; but smearing it over with oil as his patient bent over the basin, the inky dye became so fixed in the pores that the office of eradicating it must have been no sinecure. It was then proposed to bring him a looking-glass; which I presume was done, for, pausing a moment on the steps, ere I entered my lodgings, in expectation of another explosion, I heard the merrymakers shouting with peals of laughter, while poor little John seemed to have retired, completely done up.
I could not help reflecting, while retiring for the night, that the subject of all this village uproar, -- who, in language and manners, was an exact impersonation of the western character, as it is generally portrayed, -was anything but a fair specimen of the western population; for, though you meet with some such extravagant character in almost every hamlet, you might as well form your idea of the New England yeomanry from the Yankee pedlers that prowl through the western states, as conceive that the mass of the population over the mountains are of this "half-horse and half-alligator" species. I had a long conversation this morning with a middle-aged country lawyer, upon western life and character, in which I gave my sentiments with great freedom; and though, like our countrymen in every part of the Union, he was sufficiently exacting of the praise of strangers, he did not seem to take offence at some of my observations, which were not altogether palatable.
"Well, sir," he began, after bidding me good morning, "what do you think of our country?"
"It is a rich and beautiful one, sir."
"There's no two ways about that, sir; but aren't you surprised to see such a fine population?"
"You have certainly a fine-looking set of men, with good manners, and a great deal of natural intelligence."
"But their knowledge of things, sir, and the way in which they live don't you think our plain country people live in a very superior way, sir?"
"Have you ever been in the northern or eastern states, sir? -- New York or New England?" I replied. While answering negatively, he gave a look of utter amazement at the idea of comparing those districts with that in which he lived.
I then -- while doing justice to the many attractive points in the character of these mountaineers, their hardihood and frank courtesy to strangers, their easy address, and that terseness of expression and command of language which often strikes and interests you in the conversation of men who actually cannot read, -- explained to him the superiority which greater industry and acquired knowledge of useful facts gives the northern man, of the same class, in providing comforts and conveniences for himself and family, and living in a style that approaches that of the independent planter of the West. But, countryman as he was, I could not persuade one who had probably, in western phrase, been "raised on hog and hominy," and kept all his life on "bacon and greens," of the advantages of a thoroughly cultivated garden, a well-kept dairy, and flourishing poultry-yard; much less could I make him understand the charm which lay in neat enclosures, and a sheltered porch or piazza, with shrubbery clustering around it. He only replied, when I commented upon the fields, which I sometimes saw, that had run out from indolence or bad tillage, that "there was land enough to make new ones;" and added, as we placed ourselves at the breakfast-table, "that if the people did not live up to other people's ideas, they lived as well as they wanted to. They didn't want to make slaves of themselves; they were contented with living as their fathers lived before them."
I remember, while passing him an old-fashioned salt-cellar over our frugal table, that he had Horace on his side, and could not but acknowledge that contentment was the all in all.
Hoffman's 1834 Travels End At Cumberland Gap
The Kentucky Explorer
Editor's Note: During the winter of 1833 and spring of 1834, Charles F. Hoffman, an editor, poet, and novelist of New York, spent several months traveling mostly alone by horseback through what was then the western United States. He recorded highlights of his journey through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky in letters. During his travels he mailed the letters to the New York American magazine for publication. Because of the popularity of his letters, they were later published in two volumes entitled "A Winter In The West By A New Yorker." This is the eighth of Mr. Hoffman's letters featured in our magazine, written while he was traveling through Kentucky 166 years ago. Each letter gives an interesting look at a much younger Kentucky. In the following letter Mr. Hoffman writes from Cumberland Gap on April 17, 1834.
By Charles Fenno Hoffman - 1834
(Part Eight: Final Installment)
Cumberland Gap on April 17, 1834
The morning mist was yet hanging over the upland on the day that I left Manchester; as L. and I, after receiving the hearty farewell of our jovial host, Uncle Tommy, crossed the little brook that flowed near our quarters, and proceeded on our separate journeys.
Our roads parted at the base of a steep, wooded hill or mountain, and long after our last adieux were exchanged, as we wound around its shaggy side in opposite directions, our horses manifested the strong mutual friendship they had contracted, by continuing to echo each other's neighs till the sound of their hoofs had died in the distance. The interchange of regretful feeling could sooth their ears no more. My sympathy for my bereaved Bucephalus was, however, I will confess, almost swallowed up in concern for myself. I felt how much I should miss my late accomplished companion among the wild and grand scenes I was about to visit.
I had then a most romantic ride of 17 miles along the most unromantically-named "Goose Creek;" which, it must be acknowledged, keeps its way as heroically and gracefully among the savage cliffs and soft meadows, that by turns, scowl upon or dally with its waters, as if it had been happier in its godfathers. But you know, one sometimes finds a Snooks with the soul of a Marion, and sees the ankles of a Vestris supporting a Higginbottom.
In the course of this ride, I saw several establishments for the manufacture of salt, in rather a flourishing condition; but the cottagers along my bridle-path, for the road was but little more, seemed as poorly off in this world's goods as most of those in this district, whom I have had occasion to mention.
At last, coming out upon the state road, a very tolerable inn greeted my eyes. There was a white man reading a newspaper on the piazza in front, and a Negro groom at the porch to take my horse. These being the first indigenous reader and hostler I had seen for some time, I could not but congratulate myself upon the promising aspect of things. My expectations were realized in a capital breakfast, which was soon set before me; during which, while chatting with the good woman of the house, as she poured out my coffee, and pressed me now to take another egg, and now to try a little more of the smoked venison. I learned that the family had been driven from Lexington last summer by cholera, after losing 11 out of their number.
The rest of that day's ride, though not a week has yet intervened, is now, from the rapid succession of the various beautiful scenes that opened upon me, too confused in memory for me to attempt particular description. I have before given you the general features of the scenery in this region, and I must leave you to imagine those sharp conical hills, or miniature mountains, I have so often lately spoken of; gradually swelling in magnitude until they insensibly deserve the name of mountains, and so attaching themselves by degrees to the Cumberland chain, that they at last become almost embodied with it and claim kindred with the majestic Alleghanies.
That there is some distinction still kept up, however, in their ranges, you may gather from the reply of a countryman of whom I asked the road, when somewhat puzzled once among the various defiles, "I reckon you don't go this road very often, stranger, for it is as plain as the first sight on a rifle. Well, now, you know where Major Douglas's barn is? That's it across the road. You just take that on your left hand, and go ahead about 200 rods. I allow, then, you may take yonder knob on your right shoulder, and carry it till it joins the ridge about two miles from here. You may then keep the ridge in the same place (videlicet, on my right shoulder) till it slaps into the mountain yonder."
This idea of carrying a knob or hill on one's shoulder till it becomes a mountain, no doubt, is borrowed from the worthy Cretan, who carried a calf till it became a bull. Milo's task was, however, mere boys' play to mine. You may fancy, as it was growing late, how I whipped up the major's barn in my left hand, and flirted it aside like a feather after going the 200 rods. Conceive me then curling my fingers in the shaggy pines on the top of the hill designated, and wrenching it from its roots, as a Lilliputian would a peanut.
I swung the growing thing over my right shoulder, till in a portage of two miles, it swelled into a mountainous ridge, nor dropped my burthen till it could stand alone a full-grown mountain.
I was now riding along the banks of the Cumberland River, and the moonbeams had already begun to silver the cliffs that bend over its beautiful waters. I reached the celebrated ford whose romantic banks have been so well described in one of Judge Hall's Western legends. The stream looked broad and deep, and advancing into its full current, where the moon, touching a slight ripple, indicated, as I thought, a zigzag pathway. My saddle was thoroughly wetted before I heard a warning voice on the opposite side, directing me to head the stream, and push for another point than that which I had immediately in view.
A glance at the foaming rifts over my right shoulder gave me, I confess, every disposition to act upon the advice with all alacrity. Soon gaining shallow water, I was much provoked to learn from my friendly cautioner, as he approached the bank to receive me; that I might have escaped a partial ducking by availing myself of a ferry within a mile of the place where I had crossed the stream. A Western man never thinks of directing a mounted traveller to such a convenience, unless the stream be otherwise impassable.
I passed the night at a capital inn within a few yards of the water's edge; and the morrow's dawn still carried my route along the picturesque Cumberland. The advance of the season had become rapidly apparent as I proceeded southwardly. The foliage was richer and of a deeper hue. As the morning light shot athwart the crags above me, and glanced on the glossy magnolias that fringed the river's brink, nothing could be more beautiful than the contrast of shades; which the deep green of the towering hemlocks and the light leaves of the buckeye and paw-paw afforded.
I began soon to ascend a mountain, and there, too, the deep woods afforded other objects of interest. The squirrels pranked it away among the leafy boughs, as pertly near me as if wholly free from fear. The timid rabbit made the last year's leaves rustle, as affrighted by the sound of my horse's hoofs, he darted beneath his bushy covert. The redbird and gold-winged woodpecker played fearlessly about my path, while the wood doves alighted like tame pigeons in the road, or fluttered for miles along it.
Emerging from this forest, where many a tree would throw a column of a 90-foot shaft above thickets, rich with the white blossom of the dogwood and the deep verdure of the mayapple, a ride of a mile or two through a beautiful undulating amphitheater brought me to the base of the Cumberland Mountains. Their unbroken chain extended far away on either side, to the northeast and southwest, from "The Gap" in front of me; which is, I believe, the only defile by which they are passed.
This notch in the rocky ridge, though its sides are so steep as to appear as if worn away by the action of water, is still so elevated above the adjacent country as to afford a prospect of the grandest description. Whichever way the eye turns, its view is terminated by wooded summits. The Cumberland chain itself is so narrow that you can almost see the base on either side, while the intermediate distances between it and the detached heights around are filled with meadows, orchards, bright streams, and craggy promontories, blended together in the most picturesque confusion.
It was my last look at beautiful Kentucky. I lingered on the magnificent landscape as the breeze of day became hushed upon the hillside, till the growing twilight shut it from my view. It was my last look at beautiful Kentucky and I could not but recall, while slowly turning my horse's head from the setting sun, the emotions which the patriarch Boone has recorded; when that bold adventurer first pushed beyond the mountains, and at the same golden hour, and perhaps from the very height where I was then standing, looked down upon the wilderness of tufted blossoms before him.
Boone wrote (From The Narrative of Colonel Daniel Boone, his first arrival in Kentucky, 1769 to 1782):
After a long and fatiguing journey through a mountainous wilderness, in a westward direction, I at last, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful land of Kentucky. . .
It was in June; and at the close of day the gentle gales retired, and left the place to the disposal of a profound calm. Not a breeze shook the most tremulous leaf. I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge, and looking round with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains and beauteous tracts below. . .
Nature was here a series of wonders and a fund of delight. Here she displayed her ingenuity and industry in a variety of flowers and fruits, beautifully colored, elegantly shaped, and charmingly flavored. I was diverted with innumerable animals presenting themselves continually before my view. . .
The buffaloes were more frequent than I have seen cattle in the settlements, browsing on the leaves of the cane, or cropping the herbage on these extensive plains, fearless because ignorant of man.
The whippoorwill was already beginning to call from the hillside, when I reached the little inn from which I write, at the foot of the mountain. The smooth cascade that glides over a tall cliff in the rear of the house shone amid the dusky cedars, like a pillar of light beneath the uprising moon.
Such a spot is not to be met with every day of one's life, and I determined, as soon as I found I could be accommodated in the inn, to spend some time in looking around me. I have been amply repaid by passing a day in exploring the finest cavern I have ever beheld, but as it is worthy of a letter by itself, I will endeavour to describe it in my next..
Further information regarding Under the strain of work, he went insane in 1849, supposedly after a servant used his manuscripts to start a fire. He was hospitalized and released in April 1849 and accepted a position with the Department of State in Washington, D.C. By autumn, however, he was declared permanently insane. He spent the last 35 years of his life in the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, (now part of Columbia University) and then a state asylum in Pennsylvania. It was at this state hospital in Harrisburg Pa that Hoffman died on June 7, 1884.
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