Two Letters

of

THOMAS NYE

Relating to

A Journey from Montreal to Chicago

in 1837

 

 

EDITED BY

HUGH McLELLAN

 

 

 

CHAMPLAIN

Privately Printed at the Moorsfield Press

1931

 

 

 

Foreword

 

            THE TITLE may seem misleading to the reader of these Letters because no mention is found in them of Chicago, although Thomas Nye had undertaken the journey for the express purpose of visiting Ariel Bowman at Duncklee's Grove, Illinois, and of obtaining the hand of his daughter, Corinna.  The marriage was solemnized in Chicago on December 5, 1837, by Rev. Isaac T. Hinton.  The next day Thomas Nye and his bride left Chicago in the “stage mail waggon” for Detroit, and the trip to Montreal was continued by boat to Cleveland, and overland along the southern shore of Lake Erie to Buffalo — with an appropriate visit to Niagara Falls — and thence through Rochester, Sodus, Oswego, Pulaski, Watertown, Gouverneur and Ogdensburg.

 

            His visit to Chicago is, however, described in the “diary or journal of dates, expenses & some memorandums & remarks” of the journey, which has fortunately been preserved.  The Letters here presented will serve to supplement this Journal.

 

            Thomas Nye was the youngest son of Elias and Elizabeth (Bartlett) Nye.  He was born in Carver, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, August 23, 1801; graduated from the University of Vermont in 1822; took up the practice of law in Montreal, Que., after several years of study in the law-office of John Boston, a lawyer of some prominence in Montreal and Lower Canada.  Thomas Nye died May 15, 1877, in Montreal, and was buried in the family vault in Glenwood Cemetery, Champlain, New York.

 

            He was a man of considerable learning, a great reader and a close observer.  Occasionally, in the few letters which remain, mostly on his legal business, we find such comments and observations as the following:

 

From Montreal, May 12, 1825, to F. & B. Nye, Odell Town.

 

            I think I shall be able to make you a good visit after June Term is over; I want to go out very much indeed, tho I can't say but that I am becoming a little more naturalized and begin to feel myself a little more at home.  I don't believe there was ever a poor fellow who came out of College so much harassed by fears & expectations who had so little to lose or gain and occupied so little space as I — in fact I was a complete Visionary, or Moon Struck.  I knew something of the World thro Books but nothing in reality, every thing was System, and whenever any misdirected force came in contact with my Machinery I was out, I was non plussed, I was sick.  I am not entirely free yet, but I almost every day feel some of the old strings snap off, and Lord!  I feel as much relieved as John Bunyan's Christian did when he felt his Knapsack of Worldly Wisdom droping off, and I breathe free[e]r after it.  I think likely if I could have travelled about a little it would have done me a great deal of Good.

 

From Montreal, May 30, 1831, to Bartlett Nye, La Cole.

 

            I was at Quebec only about 3 days & am very glad I went.  The weather was rather rough & the season appeared much later towards Quebec.

 

            I liked the ways & manners of the people I saw much better than those of Montreal.  I should think them to be much plainer & more civil & polite as far as I saw.  I was in many Public Offices & attended the Court of Appeals & think I could perceive that business is very easily transacted at the Public Offices — the Fort and public works I didn't think any very great thing, perhaps the present times in the world influenced my mind — I hate the sight of any thing military, & mine I believe is getting to be the prevailing taste or vice versa.

 

            The Governor is here & to remain some 4 or 5 Weeks I understand.  The Bar went to make him their respects in a body at his Levee & I might have gone, but it seems to me a very empty & miserable ceremony not a word being said, but your name announced, a bow & scrape & make way for another — the very extremity & fag end of Aristocracy.

 

From Montreal, August 30, 1835, to F. & B. Nye, Lacole.

 

            I saw Sir Cha’s Edw'd Grey today (Sunday) he looks a big, robust, gruff appearing, Lump of a John Bull Grazier or Cattle Farmer, with broad Hat & exceeding plain (not too fine Cloathes; I thought Major Wingfield (of 32d) appeared delicate at toating along the Street with him.  He and some Officers of the 3 Vessels of War now at Quebec are gone up to Niagara.  I should not have said so much about them but there is so much talk about them.

 

                                                                                    HUGH McLELLAN

Champlain, N. Y., November 11, 1931.

 

 

 

Two Letters of Thomas Nye

 

Relating to a journey from Montreal to Chicago

in 1837

 

 

I

 

 

                                    Pointe Du Chene or City of Algonac, Michigan,

                                                11 Novr 1837 8 ock P. M.

                                    On Board Constellation Stm. Bt from Buffalo.

 

Dr Brothers,[1]

 

            Just out of Lake St Clair entering St Clair River, Cabin Passengers all playing Cards in Fine Cabin on Deck, Moonlight & Schooner along side about to leave for Detroit.  I am going round the Lakes Huron & Michigan being considered far better than over Michigan by Waggons & Stage & bad Roads; pay $30 & found from Buffalo.  I have not time to say much, was rather wind bound & waited this Boat at Buffalo 4 days, have had pretty nice weather except great Blow crossing from Oswego to Toronto, & Sunday Buffalo Docks were flooded by a great blow.

 

            I was highly pleased with Cleaveland, high & dry like Burlington, saw George Tuttle there & Captn Warner, had most pleasing accounts of Ohio, Geo. & Alex’r Warner are doing finely 6o Miles thence at Manhattan O. he says Ohio is beyond comparison the finest State in the U. S. & from all accounts I should think so certainly, the weather seemed as Warm and fine as August or 1st Septr; Buffalo is evidently over-Built on most splendid Scale but may come up to it.  I saw Prentis Law's[2] Tavern a little way out of City well furnished & he much improved & called smart very comfortably situated with his wife, boy & Father.

 

            At Detroit met J. Hobart, the Town is quite finely built with Brick & I like it very much.  Saw the Legislature then in Session & Young Governor Mason,[3] a Kentuckian of a Virginia family, very young looking apparently 23, black hair & fine strong teeth & middling size, a Lawyer appearing about like Averill[4] but much shorter, & smarter eyes, quite prominent or Beetle like, anxiously waiting & cannon firing expecting his reelection, but supposed his majority will be very small if elected.

 

            12th, Sunday Morning approaching Palmer, Co. T. St. Clair County, looks well, shores low on both sides since Detroit, & St Clair Lake is shallow with Grass or Weeds growing far into the water in some parts, appears almost as wide as L. Champlain, they threw the Lead very frequently.  The Canad'n side is considered rather before Michigan side in soil but does not appear near so well built, the Boat touches no where on the C. side, the soil appears excellent both sides.

 

            Saw the Steam Bt “Thames” coming in through Lake St Clair from out the River Thames from Chatham I believe.  There are two extra (old) Captains, Blake & Wagstaff taken on board at Detroit engaged by Mr. Holt a Proprietor who comes to Fort Gratiot, to assist the Voyage round, in case of need.  Took 700 bshls Coal at Cleveland at 14 cts & an immensity of Wood at Algonac, taking all night.

 

            Just saw 4 Wigwams & Lots of Indians & papooses on Michigan side, also on C. side, but ran closer the M. side.  They are shooting Ducks wh abound in the River, with Rifles, will soon be at F't. Gratiot abt 85 Miles from Detroit, Mr. Holt will land there & then the Boat proceeds to Mackinac.

 

            Young Mr Livingston a Clerk in A. Fur Co. formerly Clerk at Gates & Co[5]. recognized me & calls me by name from knowing F. &  B. Nye he comes from N. York, belongs & is stationed at Sault Ste. Marie on Ste Marie River coming out of Lake Superior into Huron, where Gabriel Franchere the Agent is & I may see him at Mackinac.  I know him well, boarded with his Sister, an uncommonly fine man & Successor to Matthews, went round to Oregon, Astoria, by Cape Horn.[6]

 

            It is impossible to write legibly, but you may pick out some part & it is a Letter with a date if nothing more.

 

            The weather has been surprisingly fine to me, & they dont seem to think it at all unusual, but thro Lake Huron comes the Tug & then Lake Michigan, they & L. Superior are all 900 ft deep.  I probably will see something Curious at Mackinac.

 

            The Boat expected to have met the Indians from Washington at or above Detroit but they have not arrived, I believe, so far.

 

            For curiosity I may send a Letter to R. or Eliza.[7]  I shan't get back by 4th Decr, the Witness days, but make up my mind to it, to make the most of it.

 

            If things continue so fine in appearance I am afraid I shall want to come to the Country to live after pushing at the bar for a year or two longer, but must secure land before.  I always fancied Indiana & should think that or Ohio most desirable, the Rock River Country in Illinois & Ouisconsin stands foremost now in that direction.  It does appear that people get their living easily & those who have been East on business are delighted to return & say they would, knowing what they do, abandon their Eastern properties without compensation rather than be prevented from emigrating & these are hale, sensible, right kind of men; they say they were astonished & would often stand amazed at the facilities in farming.  All excellent for farmers, but the state of Society & things must long be unpleasant in a New Country.  But strange, everything is as convenient so far in travelling as on Lake Champlain or Hudson River, appears almost as well established on a larger Scale.  It is pleasant travelling however I suppose everywhere with money.

 

            They have excellent Horses in Ohio & some Young men coming up from out of Cleveland talking of Hunting & shooting Black & Grey Squirrels reminded me of old times & would please Bartlett.

 

            The effort of travelling so far is nothing, but in returning, if I do over land thro. Michigan will be tough work & possibly all the way home.  I suffered more to Lachine & through the infernal Roads from Cascades to Coteau du Lac & Long Sault & seeing the naked stony & Hemlock vicinity of Cornwall than I know can be suffered any where on Land.  It was enough to make one cut his throat some would say.  And now to think of your Black ground & Sherington Country & the fine hard wood lands in view affords a wonderful contrast besides the difference in Climate which I think must be considerable.

 

            Now we arrive at Fort Gratiot 1 o'ck P. M. no troops here, the Col. McNeil, was here short time since, not a soldier, but the American Flag flying looks fine; I have not seen it I think for 20 years.  The Fort is said to be in Beautiful order & it looks well at a little distance. 

                                                                        Yours,

                                                                                    T. Nye

 

Black River & Village are just before coming to the Fort.

____________________


 

 

            In the second Letter, written after his return to Montreal, Thomas Nye takes up the story of his trip at Fort Gratiot.  He does not mention his marriage.  Nor does he write anything about Chicago, which seems surprising until we remember that on March 4, 1837, when it became a city — and nine months before Mr. Nye's visit — Chicago had but 4479 inhabitants.  It is also curious that no mention is made of the so-called Papineau Rebellion, except in the allusion in the following letter to Dr. Nelson's "political course".

 

II

 

                                                                 Montreal, 10th Jany.  1838.

Dear Brothers,[8]

 

            I returned on the 28th Decr after just 2 months absence and should have written you, but waited a little to learn the state of things and was told by Mr. Burroughs that you were said by Mr. Hubbell to be expected in a few days.

 

            I cannot now write you a full account of my journey but was so highly gratified that I shall wish you to go with me and have a thorough tour through all the Western & South-Western States.  Had I been something earlier & had a little more money, or as late as it was the more healthy, I should have run down thro. the Ohio & Missisippi Country.  The region is splendid for the poor and the rich farmers to go to & those who have trades probably also, but the comfortably thriving in any traffic, or trades, should remain where they are.  The advantageous change to my fancy is South of what in Ohio is the ridge or high land cutting off the Lake & Northerly Winds which are very piercing & sweep with terrible power over the prairies in Indiana & Illinois particularly and wherever there is exposure.  I suffered worse a few days than in our Coldest Winter days, but South of their reach I do believe you may bask in the Sun upon a rich Soil.  The Soil is always as fine as can be conceived after 30 or 40 miles above Buffalo every where South and West & the Climate as to warmth can be the only consideration.

 

            The Voyage after leaving Fort Gratiot tossing over Lake Huron a little rough for 100 Miles or so, stopping at Presque Isle, spending part of a day at Michillimacinac Fort & Post within 14. miles of Lake Superior in sight of Drummond's Island, beautiful trout 25 to 30 lbs for 50 cts, water as clear as the air to a great depth, fine Sunny weather, passing through the Straits, landing on Manitou Islands, passed the Light-Ship stationed in the Strait & the beautifully white Sleeping-Bear Bank even as a Canal Slope 600 feet high, out of sight of land nearly a day at a time in both Lakes, & passing close to the Shore of Ouisconsin touching at Manitouwauk & down apparently in the Sun's face thro. Lake Michigan; all that was delightful.

 

            I have some Stones, & canes cut at some points, & a diary or journal of dates, expenses & some memorandums & remarks.  It would be too tedious to write you all; perhaps it is nothing of pecuniary value, but it has been a great treat to me, and I do hope you will not lose another year, if there be anything pleasant in the world and I am convinced there is [a] inconceivably much, which we are losing hourly while so stationary.

 

            I shall continue to lodge at Mr. Whinfield's for a time, till I can locate myself in some snug apartments.  Nothing worth remembering of an unpleasant nature occurred to me while gone, & no business has suffered at home as nothing has been done in the Courts in my absence.

 

            The Butter last brought was not sold as you left no price & forbid Mr W. to sell till you should see to it & although much sought for at a good price, 10 or 11 pence, I believe is now down to 8d, but may rise again.  I shall use my judgment when to sell, it is in a good state & Mr W. has taken a cask or two of it.  The old is become bad, 3 or 4 Casks remaining, McQueen could not sell the last & will return it.  I shall endeavor to at tend to it strictly in future as I understand it I think now as well as any one, & shall trust to no one's opinion entirely but my own & not wait for yours any more.

 

                                                          Yours                          T. Nye

 

P. S.  Should you meet Doct Nelson[9] in Champlain, be as useful & polite as you can to him; he was a particular friend of Mr Bowman's[10] & of Corinna, who corresponded with Mrs Nelson a Very learned & highly accomplished Lady & schollar who has seen the world & Doctr N. is perhaps the most accomplished Schollar & intelligent & profitable acquaintance that you will ever see in the course of your lives, a great loss had he not been so unfortunate in his political course.                        T.N.

 

            He knows me pretty well & I think will feel somewhat interested on Mrs Nelson's & Corinna's account, or would, were he not so situated, they were expecting to be very intimate in Montreal.


 

 

Fifty-eight copies of these Letters were printed in December, 1931,

at the Moorsfield Press, Champlain, New York, being

its nineteenth production.  No. ___



[1]  Freeman and Bartlett Nye.  This letter is addressed: “Messrs F. & B. Nye of Lacole, L. C. Champlain Post-Office N. Y.

[2]  Prentiss Law was proprietor of the City Hotel, Montreal, in 1833.

[3]  Stevens. T. Mason, first Governor of Michigan, 1836-1840.

[4]  Probably Calvin K. Averill, an attorney at Rouses Point, N. Y.

[5]  Horatio Gates & Co., commission merchants in Montreal.  Issued printed Prices Current from 1823 to 1834.

[6]  In 1810, in the “Tonquin”, while in the employ of John Jacob Astor.

[7]  His sisters, Ruth Shurtleff Nye and Elizabeth Bartlett (Nye) Hoyle.

[8]  Freeman and Bartlett Nye.  This letter is addressed: “Messrs F. & B. Nye Lacole, L. C. fav’d by Mr Geo. Hoyle.”

[9]  Dr. Wolfred Nelson, (1792-1863), served as a surgeon in War of 1812; a leader of the insurgents in the Papineau Rebellion, 1837‑38; banished to Bermuda by Lord Durham, released and lived in Plattsburgh, N. Y., until the general amnesty of 1842, when he returned to Montreal.  Mayor of Montreal, Inspector of Prisons, and head of the Lower Canada College of Physicians and Surgeons.

[10]  Ariel Bowman, a publisher, bookseller and binder of Montreal.  Moved to Duncklee's Grove, Ill., and in 1840 to Chicago, where, with his partner, Hugh Ross, he was the earliest book-binder.  He died July 3, 1844, aged 58.

 



TWO
                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
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                      LETTERS OF THOMAS NYE RELATING TO A JOURNEY FROM
                      MONTREAL TO CHICAGO IN 1837


Elias Nye of Burlington, Vermont


    
Elias Nye was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1752, and was the son of Isaac Nye.  He married Elizabeth Bartlett and is buried with her in the Elmwood Cemetery in Burlington, Vermont.  The following is written in the book Genealogy of the Nye Family:

 

            His name appears in the list of Revolutionary soldiers both as Elias Nie and Elias Nye.  He served as a private in Captain Isaac Gray's company, Jonathan Brewer's regiment; muster roll dated August 1, 1755; enlisted May 1, 1775; service three months eight days; residence Hardwick.  Also, same company and regiment; order for bounty coat or its equivalent in money due for the eight months service in 1775, dated Prospect Hill, November 4, 1775, payable to Lieutenant Thomas Willington; private, Captain Isaac Gray's company, Colonel Jona.  Brewer's (7th) regiment; residence Plympton; company returned, dated Prospect Hill, October 6, 1775.  He married (1st) Ruth Shurtleff.  He married (2nd) in 1786, Elizabeth Bartlett, of Plymouth.  She was born October 21, 1758, and died May 17, 1825.  He resided in Plympton, Carver, Boston, and again in Plympton and later removed to Burlington, Vermont, where he died December 17, 1838.

 

            Elias and Elizabeth's children were:

 

            Ruth Shurtleff Nye (April 5, 1787 - October 15, 1880) - unmarried, lived in Champlain

            Margaret Nye (Dec 1, 1788 - ?) - born in Carver, died young

            Freeman Nye (November 2, 1791 - November 13, 1877) – married, no children, lived in Lacolle, Quebec/Champlain

            Elizabeth (Eliza) Bartlett Nye (Sept 27, 1793 - Sept 24, 1864) – married Hoyle, had children

            Isaac Nye (November 1,1796 - April 27, 1871) - unmarried, lived in Burlington, Vermont

         * Bartlett Nye (Jan 8, 1799 - Dec 1, 1857) – married Matilda and Laura Moore, eight children, lived in Champlain

            Thomas Nye (November 23, 1801 - May 15, 1877) – married Corinna Bowman, no children, lived in Montreal

 

            A letter written on June 21, 189(?) to Charles Freeman Nye shows the inscriptions on the gravestones in Burlington, Vermont.  A Sexton of the Unitarian Church wrote it.  They might be buried in Elmwood Cemetery.


Thomas Nye of Montreal (son)

            Thomas Nye was born in Carver, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, on August 23, 1801, and died on May 15, 1877, at the age of 75.  He married Corinna Bowman but had no children.  He was a lawyer in Montreal.  Elizabeth Matilda Nye later made mention of Thomas when she visited him in Montreal as a teenager. 

 

            Thomas was also active in civic affairs.  A University of Vermont Commencement Announcement dated August 14, 1822, showed that he was the speaker for the English Oration titled “Scenic Representations.”  The commencement announcement had been owned by Ellen Rose Nye in 1918.  Also speaking was Pliny Moore Corbin (1801-1874) who did an English Oration entitled “Intellectual Superiority”.  Pliny was the son of Royal Corbin.  Royal was the brother of Martha (Corbin) Moore who had married Judge Pliny Moore. 


            Thomas Nye kept a journal on his trip from Montreal to Chicago when he went to marry his girlfriend, Corinna Bowman, in 1837.  Thomas had known Corinna and her family when they lived in Montreal.  After the Bowman’s moved to Illinois, Thomas probably corresponded with Corinna and decided to ask for her hand in marriage after traveling to visit her.  Thomas would have been 36 years of age.

 

            Thomas traveled from Montreal to Chicago in a journey that lasted about 18 days over land and water.  The trip was very cold and exhausting, especially since some transportation left at 4:00 a.m.  Thomas recorded each days events and the localities that he passed through.  Thomas married Corinna on December 5 and the two then traveled back to Montreal and arrived there on December 28.



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