However, this Tyrone Power is not the subject of our blog post today. And our subject won't be his father, film and stage actor Tyrone Power, Sr. [1869-1931], either. No, our subject will actually be his grandfather, Irish actor and comedian Tyrone Power [1797-1841]. Let's examine how he got to Alabama.
He was born in County Waterford, Ireland, in November 1797 and named William Grattan Tyrone Power. His family was landed gentry; his parents were Maria Maxwell and --wait for it-- Tyrone Power. His son, our Tyrone, became well-known as an actor in plays with Irish themes and toured with them around the world. He had a number of descendants who became actors or theatrical managers. Power died along with 135 others in March 1841 when the passenger ship SS President sank without a trace in the north Atlantic.
In 1836 Power published Impressions of America in two volumes that chronicled his visit through much of New England and the South during 1833, 1834 and 1835. He reached Alabama in late December 1834 after a journey from Charleston to Savannah and then Columbus. Power and two New York friends along on the journey boarded a mail stage which soon picked up two more passengers, a "gentleman and his lady,--Anglice, a gambler and his mistress." They continued through the dark and hard rain until reaching Fort Mitchell near daybreak.
Much of Power's Alabama account covers the ninety-mile trip from Fort Mitchell to Montgomery which they made in thirty-two hours through much darkness, rain and mud. The mail coach had left the fort without his party, and they were forced to ride in "the Box", a fir plank construction eight feet long, three feet wide and two feet deep and fixed to coach axles. Their luggage was loaded first, and then passengers--uncovered--road atop the pile.
"At Montgomery we found a wretched inn," Power wrote, "with no possiblity of procuring anything save liquor." As their luck would have it, the steamboat Carolina was leaving in a couple of hours for Mobile. That journey down the Alabama River, "this noble stream," took four days and nights in mostly "clear weather" except for occasional fog. Drifting timbers in the river slowed them down in some spots. At various stops more cotton was loaded aboard; most of the passengers were planters making the journey with their goods. At Claiborne the last cotton was loaded, putting some thousand bales on board. Water was up to the gunwales for the last 150 miles of the trip.
On Tuesday, December 30, Power arrived in Mobile where he was welcomed by friends. He left for New Orleans on January 2. Below you can read Power's entire account of his time in Alabama. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I imagine the entire two volumes make for interesting reading. Power makes many observations about the countryside, and the people--including a particular Native American--and is especially impressed by the glorious flora of south Alabama in the middle of winter. As befitting an Irish comedian, his account is also full of droll humor about what he saw and experienced.
Digital versions of both volumes describing Power's U.S. trip can be found at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. The Alabama portion is on pages 140-167 of volume 2.
Power noted that when he arrived at Fort Mitchell in December 1835, the fort was deserted. The Encyclopedia of Alabama entry on the fort says it was abandoned in 1840. The town of Claiborne [spelled Clairborne by Power] was an important cotton port in Monroe County until after the Civil War. In April 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette visited there during his time in Alabama.
Benton, Jeffrey C., comp. The Very Worst Road: Travelers' Accounts of Crossing Alabama's Old Creek Indian Territory, 1820-1847 
Benton, Jeffrey C., comp. Through Others' Eyes: Published Accounts of Antebellum Montgomery, Alabama 
Frazer, Mell A. "Early History of Steamboats in Alabama." Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies 3 (1) 1-31, 1907 [Nothing on the Carolina but lots of fascinating info on the topic]
Tyrone Power [1914-1958]
Tyrone Power, Sr. [1869-1931]
Tyrone Power [1797-1841]
Source: Internet Archive
A little before midnight, my two New York compagnons du voyage and myself took our seats in the mail for Montgomery, on the Alabama river. We found ourselves the sole occupants of the vehicle, and were congratulating each other on the chance, when we heard directions given to the driver to halt at Sodom, for the purpose of taking up a gentleman and his lady,—Anglice, a gambler and his mistress.
It was dark as pitch and raining hard when we set out: a few minutes found us rumbling along the enclosed bridge, amidst the mingled roar of the rain, our wheels, and the neighbouring falls: the flood passing below us had in the course of the last ten hours risen nearly twenty feet; its rush was awful.
At one of the first houses in the redoubtable[Pg 141] border village the stage halted, and a couple of trunks were added to our load; next, a female was handed into the coach, followed by her protector. The proportions of neither could at this time be more than guessed at; and not one syllable was exchanged by any of the parties. In a few minutes we were again under weigh, and plunging through the forest.
We reached Fort-Mitchell about daylight, where formerly a considerable garrison was kept up: the post is now, however, abandoned. Here an unanticipated treat awaited us, for we were compelled to leave our, by this time, tolerably warm stage, for one fairly saturated with the rain that had fallen during the night. Our luggage was pitched into the mud by the coachman, who had only one assistant; so we were fain to lend a hand, instead of standing shivering by, until the trunks were fished out, and disposed of on the new stage. A delay here of an hour and a half enabled me, however, to stroll back, and take a look at the deserted barrack. By this time too the day was well out; the sky broke with a more cheerful look than for some days back had favoured us, and was hailed by us all with great pleasure.
I prepared my 'baccy, and climbed on to the box by the driver, resolute to hold on there as long as possible. For five hours we got along at the rate of four miles an hour, through a forest of pine growing out of a sandy soil, without any undergrowth whatever,—the trees of the noblest height, and just so far apart that horsemen might have galloped in any direction without difficulty. Our driver was a lively intelligent young fellow, having a civil word of inquiry or of greeting for every Indian we encountered: these were by no means numerous however, and they seldom replied by more than a monosyllable, hardly appearing to notice our passage.
The country was in general slightly undulating, but now and then we came to places where I considered us fairly pounded, so abrupt were the declivities and so deep the mud. There are few persons certainly called on for a more frequent display of pluck and coolness than these drivers; I should like some of our flash dragsmen to see one or two bits we got through on this road; not that any mile of it would be considered passable by Pickford's vans, in the condition it was at this season.
We halted for a late breakfast at a solitary[Pg 143] log-tavern kept by Americans, where we were received with infinite civility, and where the lady of the auberge was inclined to be amiable and communicative,—not an every-day rencontre in these parts. She informed me that the means they could command for the mere necessaries of living were very limited; that butcher's meat was only attainable at Columbus, and that any attempt to rear a stock of poultry was ridiculous, as the Indians of the country invariably stole every feather.
I congratulated her upon the late arrangements of Government, which afforded her the prospect of speedily being rid of these neighbours; but she seemed to think the day of departure was still far distant, not over five hundred having as yet availed themselves of the offers held out to them, although the greater number of those remaining in the country had already disposed of their allotments to speculators and dissipated the money they had received for their land; having neglected to plant an ear of corn, or prepare the least provision for the present winter,—an improvidence of character peculiar to the natives, and which it was, she said, impossible to guard against without depriving[Pg 144] them of all free-agency. Many, as she assured me, of these wretched people were at this time suffering from extreme want, and thousands were fast hastening to the like condition, when, unless aided by Government, they must steal or starve.
This poor couple had, as they told me, dwelt in the Indian nation for the last seven years: they seemed decent, industrious folk, yet their habitation bore few marks of growing comfort; the interstices between the logs were unfilled, through these the wind and rain had both free ingress. Their hope, I imagine, was to secure a good allotment of land amongst the improvident sales made by the Indians: they said the place was a good one, and tolerably healthy, excepting in spring and fall; judging by the looks of the family, I should, however, take their estimation of health to be a very low one.
After breakfast the driver made his appearance, and desired us to come down to the stable and fix ourselves as well as we could on the Box. Conceiving he alluded to me, I asked if the stage was ready, but received for reply an assurance that it was not intended the stage should be any longer employed on the service; but that, by the agent's order, the Box was to[Pg 145] be taken on from this point, and that those that liked might go on with it, and those that did not might stay behind.
This was pleasant, but all appeared desirous of trying the Box. I confess that a mail conveyance bearing a name so novel excited my curiosity; so, sallying forth, I walked down to the starting-place, where, ready-harnessed and loaded, stood literally the Box, made of rough fir plank, eight feet long by three feet wide, with sides two feet deep: it was fixed firmly on an ordinary coach-axle, with pole, &c. The mails and luggage filled the box to overflowing, and on the top of all we were left to, as the driver said, "fix our four quarters in as leetle time as possible."
Now this fixing, in any other part of the globe, would have been deemed an impossibility by persons who were paying for a mail conveyance; but in this spot we knew redress was out of the question—the choice lay between the Box and the forest. We, however, enjoyed the travellers' privilege,—grumbled loudly, cursed all scoundrel stage-agents, who "keep the word of promise to the ear and break it to the hope:" we next laughed at our unavailing ill-humour,[Pg 146] which the driver bore with the calmness of a stoic, and finally disposed of our persons as we best could; not the least care having been taken in the disposition of the luggage, our sole care, in fact, was to guard against being jolted off by the movement of the machine; any disposition in favour of ease or comfort was quite out of the question.
During the change, our female companion and her proprietor had walked on; and these were yet to be provided for; however, the sun shone brightly; and we found a subject for congratulation in the fact that rain was not likely to be superadded to our miseries. Short-sighted rogues that we are! What a blessing is it, a knowledge of the evils to come is not permitted to cloud our enjoyments in possession! Crack went the whip. "Hold on with your claws and teeth!" cried the driver; the latter, we found, were only to be kept in the jaws by compression: for the former, we had immediate occasion; our first movement unshipped a trunk and carpetbag, together with the band-box of our fair passenger—the latter was crushed flat beneath the trunk, and its contents scattered about the way: exposed to the gaze of the profane, lay the whole materiel of the toilet of this fair maiden[Pg 147] of Sodom. We gathered up a lace cap; ditto of cambric; six love epistles, directed to the lady in as many different hands; a musk-box, and several other indescribable articles; together with an ivory-hilted dagger, of formidable proportions, a little sullied, like the maiden's honour, but sharp as a needle. Of the articles enumerated we made a bundle, leaving the shattered band-box on the road. I took the precaution to roll the several billets up in the cambric cap, "guessing" they were not intended for the Colonel's eyes; for so was our male companion styled by the driver.
When we overtook the pair, we made every exertion to dispose of the poor girl, at least securely; who, in truth, merited our cares by the cheerful and uncomplaining spirit she evinced under circumstances full of peril, and ill to bear for the hardiest frame.
Wherever the way permitted a quicker pace than a walk, our condition was really pénible to a degree; luckily, this did not arrive often, or last long: to crawl at a snail-pace through the mud was now a relief, since one could retain one's seat without straining every muscle to hold on.
Thus we progressed till the evening advanced, when the clouds gathered thick, and then began to roll towards the north-west in dark threatening masses, right in the teeth of a brisk, fitful breeze.
"We'll get it presently," observed our driver, eyeing the drift; "hot as mush, and 'most as thick, by the looks on 't."
All at once the wind lulled; then it shifted round to the south-east, and blew out in heavy gusts that bent the tall pines together like rushes: upon this change, lightning quickly followed, playing in the distance about the edge of the darkening horizon. For about two hours we were favoured with these premonitory symptoms, and thus allowed ample time for conjecture as to the probable violence of the storm in active preparation.
Some of our Box crew decided as they desired, that it would pass away in threatenings only; others, that all this heralding would be followed by a violent storm, or perhaps by a hurricane. It now occurred to me that, in moments of enthusiasm, encouraged by security, I had expressed myself desirous of witnessing the wild charge of a furious hurricane on the thick ranks[Pg 149] of the forest. I confess, however, that, having within the last twenty-four hours witnessed its effects, this desire was considerably abated. With the probable approach of the event, my ardour, like Acres's courage, "oozed away;" and the prospect of such a visitation, whilst exposed on the Box, became the reverse of pleasant.
In this uncertainty I resolved to consult our driver's experience; so, coming boldly to the point, demanded,
"I say, driver, do you calculate that we shall be caught in a hurricane?"
"I'll tell you how that'll be exact," replied our oracle: "If the rain comes down pretty, we shan't have no hurricane; if it holds up dry, why, we shall."
Henceforth never did ducks pray more devoutly for rain than did the crew of the Box, although without hope or thought of shelter; but, on the contrary, with every possible chance of a break-down or upset, which would have made the forest our bed, but stripped of the "Leaves so green, O!" about which your ballad-mongers love to sing, with their toes over the fender, and the hail pattering melodiously upon the pantiles. At last, our prayers were heard;[Pg 150] and we all, I believe, breathed more freely as the gates of the sky opened, and the falling flood subdued and stilled the hot wind whose heavy gusts rushing among the pines had been the reverse of musical.
The thunder-clouds, hitherto confined to the southern horizon, now closed down upon the forest, deepening its already darkness: at a snail's pace we still proceeded, and luckily found an Indian party encamped close by a sort of bridge lying across a swamp it would have been impossible, as the driver assured us, to have crossed without a good light.
From this party we not only procured a large supply of excellent light-wood, but one of the men heartily volunteered to carry a bundle of it, and act as guide; the squaw of the good fellow was in a violent rage with her man for this courtesy, but he bore her ridicule and reviling with perfect composure. Each of our party carried in his hand a large sliver of this invaluable wood; and, thus prepared, marched in front of the Box across this bridge, almost as ticklish as the single hair leading to Mahomet's heaven: it was a quarter of a mile in length, unguarded by a rail or bulwark of the slightest kind, but generally[Pg 151] overhung by the rank growth of the jungle through which it was laid.
My New York companions and I had out-walked the Box; but when about half-way across, the rain extinguished our torches, which were rather too slight for the service, when, as we had perceived in our course that many of the planks were unshipped or full of holes, we thought it best to halt for the coming up of our baggage.
I can never forget the effect produced by the blaze of the huge bundle of light-wood borne aloft by our Creek guide: I entirely lost sight of the discomfort of our condition in the pleasure I derived from the whole scene.
Let the reader imagine a figure dressed in a deep-yellow shirt reaching barely to the knees, the legs naked; a belt of scarlet wampum about the loins, and a crimson and dark-blue shawl twisted turban-fashion round the head; with locks of black coarse hair streaming from under this, and falling loose over the neck or face: fancy one half of such a figure lighted up by a very strong blaze, marking the nimble tread, the swart cold features, sparkling eye, and outstretched muscular arms of the red-man,—the other half, meantime, being in the blackest [Pg 152]possible shadow: whilst following close behind, just perceptible through wreaths of thick smoke, moved the heads of the leading horses; and, over all, flashed at frequent intervals red vivid lightning; one moment breaking forth in a wide sheet, as though an overcharged cloud had burst at once asunder; the next, descending in zigzag lines, or darting through amongst the tall pines and cypress trees; whilst the quick patter of the horses' hoofs were for a time heard loudly rattling over the loose hollow planks, and then again drowned wholly by the crash of near thunder.
Never in my life have I looked upon a scene which holds so vivid a place within my memory: the savage solitude of the jungle, the violence of the storm, together with the pictorial accessories by which the whole picture was kept in movement, fixed the attention, and can never, I think, be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
Having cleared the swamp, we took our places on the Box, still lighted by our friendly Creek; and in about half an hour gained the log-house where the mail agent to whose considerate order we owed our change of vehicle, and consequent added discomfort, dwelt: here, [Pg 153]however, a clean comfortable meal of tea, chops, fowls, and hot bread of every denomination, awaited us.
My first movement on jumping off the Box was to lay hands on the Indian guide, and to proffer to him a flask of cognac, which had proved of singular comfort to the party: to my great surprise, he at once declined tasting it; smiling and pointing his finger to his forehead, he gravely repeated half a dozen words, which a by-stander of the nation readily translated to mean,—"Whisky water make man not eat,—bad for sore head."
I agreed with this as a general rule, but at the same time begged my Creek to look on old brandy as an exception, when used medicinally; this being duly interpreted, the Indian laughed heartily, but abided by his rejection of the consolation. During our parley he took the red and blue shawl from off his head, wrung it as dry as possible, refolded it, and then adjusted his turban with infinite care, preparing forthwith to be gone: he did not depart without a slight gratuity, and took with him our best wishes. This was a fine open-countenanced fellow, middle-sized, and firmly built; he was, in fact, one of the few[Pg 154] really good-looking aborigines I have met. As he was departing from the house, I asked if he did not require a bundle of light-wood to show him his road home; he laughed, and replied, "No, he was no waggon; no fear of him falling into the swamp."
Away he dashed into the mud at a quick trot, with bent knees and folded arms, anxious, I fancied, to appease his squaw; since it was contrary to her desire that he had ventured on this service, and not, as the coachman assured us, without receiving much abuse for his foolishness, as his "gentle ladye" termed this courtesy.
Here we learned that the mail preceding us had been overturned into a stream from off the bridge we had next to pass, and lay there yet; luckily no passenger was in it at the time: our new driver added, that he had no expectations of getting the coach through, but he was bound to try. So wearied were we, that any or all of the party would have been well contented to stay here; but no place could be given us to sleep in, and until the next coach passed, no means could be procured to forward us to Montgomery; we had no choice therefore but to push on with the mail and meet our fortune.
From this hour, midnight, until daylight, we were generally on foot; the driver in one or two instances refusing to advance until even the poor girl got out, assuring us that he would not hazard the young woman's life, however hard it was for her to face the night and the roads, frequently over knee-deep.
We had a plentiful supply of fire-wood: we were able, and, I will add, willing men; and by dint of great personal exertion, added to an excellent team, and a judicious driver, we brought the coach through all difficulties, arriving at Montgomery at six in the morning: thus completing a journey of ninety miles in thirty-two hours; and having paid well to be permitted to assist in getting the mail-bag through roads which, for the next few days, remained, I believe, utterly impassable, even under the circumstances I have here attempted to describe.
At Montgomery we found a wretched inn, with no possibility of procuring anything save liquor; but we had the good luck to learn that in a couple of hours a steam-boat was departing for Mobile, down the Alabama: we gave up the stage therefore, and sallied out of this den of a hotel for the steamer Carolina. This movement was[Pg 156] lucky, as the stage-route to Mobile was, as I afterwards learned, as bad as the worst we had come through; all the late coaches had met with accidents, and the added rain of the last twenty-four hours would, it was presumed, render it impassable.
I was so wearied that I saw little of this place but a muddy river, whose banks were strewn with bales of cotton awaiting the means of transport. I could hardly keep my eyes open till I had swallowed my breakfast: a clean-looking berth was assigned me, and, turning in, I remained oblivious to the world and its cares until after noon of the following day, when I awoke fresh as a bird and hungry as an ostrich. I was told several attempts had been made to rouse me, but they were unavailing; I answered, but slept on: for my own part, of this twenty-four hours of life I protest utter unconsciousness. I found that I had slept faster than the boat had progressed, for we were but fifty miles off our starting-place, having a certain portion of freight to take in at each plantation, according to previous engagements.
Down this noble stream we journeyed for four days and nights; in clear weather making [Pg 157]tolerably good way, but often compelled by thick fogs and drift timber to lay our ship alongside the forest, and make fast to some large tree. Occasionally the stream would cant our head suddenly, and, before the helm could be shifted, rush we went right stem on into the nearest grove of willows, with such a crashing and rattling as made one wonder at first what the deuce was the row. In one instance, whilst at dinner, a huge branch burst open a side door, and nearly impaled a French conjurer of celebrity on his way to New Orleans. We were nearly a hundred souls on board, and each day our limits grew more and more circumscribed; for the side galleries were filled in with bales of cotton, the windows blocked up, at last the very doorways, all but one: lights were burned in the cabin day and night: the Carolina became, in fact, a floating mass of cotton, which, had the season been dry, one unlucky spark might have set in a blaze—an accident by no means unknown; luckily, the rain continued to fall more or less daily, as is usual at this season.
Our passengers were principally composed of the planters whose cotton had already been shipped; they were a rough but merry set of fellows, and many of them exceedingly intelligent;[Pg 158] kinder or better-disposed men I never met: for their own health's sake I could have desired to see the bar less prosperous; their visits to that quarter were over frequent: not that an instance of inebriety occurred on board, but the stimulant, together with the quantity of tobacco they use, must, I am sure, be ruinous to both health and enjoyment. I found most of them complaining of dyspepsia, but had much difficulty to induce them to admit the possibility of their own habits being at least as much the cause as the climate.
The cotton-grounds along the whole cultivated line of this river are rich beyond conception; fields of a mile square were here just picked, and yet white as snow from the after-growth. Many of them would have been worth re-picking had hands been procurable; on every side fresh clearings are going on, and the produce next season will be greatly increased in consequence of the stimulus derived from the high prices of this year.
A night scene, whilst lying beneath some of the noble bluffs towering above the river, was often worthy the delay we paid for it. One or two of these heights were two hundred feet [Pg 159]perpendicular, or nearly so: from the summit there is laid down in a slanting direction a slide or trough of timber, wide enough to admit of the passage of a cotton bale; at the bottom of the bluff this slide rests upon a platform of loose planks, alongside of which the boat is moored; the cotton-bag is guided into the slide at top, and thence, being launched, is left to find its own way to the bottom; if it keeps the slide until it strikes the platform, communicating with the vessel by a plane inclined according to circumstances, it is carried on board by its own impetus and the spring of the planks; but it often chances that through meeting a slight inequality on the slide, or from some unknown cause, the bale bounces off in its passage, either sticking amongst the trees by the way, or rolling headlong into the river. At any jutting intermediate stand of the precipice, negroes are stationed to keep up the huge fires which afford light for the operation, as well as to forward such bales as may stick by the run: these black half-naked devils, suspended in midair as it were, laughing, yelling, or giving to each other confused directions, make the forest ring to the water's edge; whilst through this occasional din swells the wild chorus of the men upon the[Pg 160] summit, who are regularly engaged rolling the bales from the near barn to the slide.
Add to all, the hissing sound of the spare steam, the blaze of the great fires, and the crackling of the trees which feed them, with the many strange figures presented on all sides,—and a wilder grouping imagination cannot well conceive.
At Clairborne, an elevation rising boldly from the river at least three hundred feet, we took in the last bale of cotton the Carolina could stow: the water was now level with her gunwale; indeed, amidships it was flowing over. We had still one hundred and fifty miles to perform of our journey in darkness, with upwards of a thousand bales of cotton on board: such a strange motley scene as our cabin presented at bed-time it would be hard to describe; our provisions held out pretty well however, and all were disposed good-humouredly to bear our lot with Christian patience.
Tuesday, Dec. 30th.—We reached Mobile, having come five hundred miles down the Alabama since Christmas-day. Upon inquiry for our mail, I found it was still due, as well as the two immediately preceding it; I had, therefore, lost no time by making choice of the Carolina,[Pg 161] and had possibly escaped broken bones: the distance by land, I ought to observe, is from Montgomery only about one hundred miles.
I here was received by my friends, H——n and M——e; and on this day, at the house of the latter gentleman, once more sat down to a truly comfortable dinner, in company with our worthy Consul, and a few other gentlemen. I was detained here for two days, there being no steamer going across the lake to New Orleans: these two days were passed most delightfully, driving Mr. H——n about the beautiful forest paths which surround this city; the weather was divine, and flowers of great beauty yet in abundance.
The evening of the 31st I passed with Mrs. B——r, where in a glass of good poteen we drank a good bye to the year 1834, and a welcome to the stranger.
January 1st, 1835.—Still detained at Mobile: the sun shines powerfully, and the sky is pure and clear. After breakfast lounged about the very clean streets of this pretty city; then procured a neat turn-out, and drove Mr. H——n, he acting as pilot, as far as Choctaw Point, whence we had an extensive view of the Bay of Mobile with the south-west coast of Florida. Our way lay through a forest of pine and oak; many little rivulets crossed our path, the sides of which were decked by a hundred different shrubs and plants, from the magnificent grandiflora, here growing eighteen and twenty feet high, to the lowly rose: the vegetation is rich, winter though it is; the beauty of the spring amongst these noble woods I can only imagine at present, but hope, before I again look northward, to know more of that season.
The presence of the ghostly-looking cedar,[Pg 163] with its funereal draperies of unwholesome moss, so common throughout Carolina and Georgia, is here unknown; the forest is a series of regular avenues pillared by the loftiest pines; and there is no undergrowth, except in little dingles through which a brook may creep its way: the rides in this vicinity are therefore most attractive. At one point during our ramble we suddenly came to an abrupt sandy hill, at whose foot ran a sparkling little rivulet, in the midst of which one of the aborigines stood in a state of nature, raising water in the hollow of a gourd, and laving with it his coal-black shining hair. As we descended, he stood erect and looked towards us, but without exhibiting the least symptom of either surprise or embarrassment: his form was light but perfectly proportioned, with small thorough-bred knees and feet; he looked like a new bronze cast from the antique: the graceful repose of the attitude he maintained during our approach was perfect. Mr. H——n asked him if he was Choctaw; he replied to the question by a slow nod of the head and a brief 'yah!'
Continuing our ride along the sea-bank, we arrived at a large establishment where oil is extracted from the seed of the cotton-plant: this is[Pg 164] a recent discovery, and likely to prove a most profitable one to the proprietors of this mill.
In the afternoon, accompanied Mr. H——n to the northern extremity of the city, where we found broad streets already marked out: plunging deep into the forest, many scattered houses of brick were springing up on sites where barely trees enough had been cut down to afford elbow-room for the builders.
January 2nd.—Quitted Mobile on the box of the mail for Portersville: our way lay over Spring Hill and through the Pine-barren; the road was a track cleared by the woodman's axe; the stumps were not as yet macadamized by time, still the horses picked their way amongst them at a very fair pace. At a single log-house, situated about mid-way, we pulled up to change horses; here too I perceived, by the array of a table placed in the open hall, dinner was provided. On my asking the landlord, who was a countryman, how soon dinner would be ready, he replied with a friendly confidential air, "Almost immediately, but unless you're cruel sharp-set, I'd recommend you not to mind it, sir."
I took the hint thus disinterestedly given, and walked forward, passing over one of the [Pg 165]primitive bridges common in this section of the country, where swamps and watercourses are frequent; these are commonly overlaid also, as far as may be necessary, by a back-wood railway; that is, by trunks of trees packed closely side by side, over which the machine is dragged at a trot: in Canada this sort of road is termed a corduroy.
Half an hour's start of our mail, whose pace was not over five or six miles per hour, enabled me to prolong my walk as far as I chose, and I enjoyed my freedom greatly; the perfect solitude of the scene; the absence of all trace of man, excepting the one narrow and seemingly interminable track, whose unvarying line might be traced as far as eye could reach; not a sound could be heard, only the low sighing of the breeze as it swept over the ocean of graceful pines whose spiry heads appeared to kiss the sky. In ten minutes after quitting the log-hut where the coach rested, I was in fact plunged in a solitude as complete as it was beguiling.
If you by any chance turned about to look back upon the line you had trod, or muse upon the scene, the only remembrance of your true course was the sun; and indeed more than once,[Pg 166] as time wore on, did I halt struck with a sudden apprehension that I might have turned upon my steps, and it required some moments of consideration to reassure me. At length, seating myself upon a fallen pine within the shadow of a tall magnolia, I resolved to abide with patience the coming up of the coach.
Resting here, strange fancies connected with the forest and its savage denizens came thronging upon my mind. Here, within a very few years, the Choctaw alone had wandered, and the only path was the scarce traceable line leading to the village of his tribe. Where are these hunters now? gone swiftly away, borne like autumn's leaves, upon the irrepressible flood of enterprise and intelligence which is taming the wilderness with a rapidity Europe has yet no adequate appreciation of. The hunter and his prey have alike been scattered or rooted wholly out; the forest still remains to witness for their existence, and, although assailed in every quarter, the woodman's axe ringing from east to west, from north to south, it yet appears to defy the activity of its assailants.
So rapid is vegetation in this climate, so prompt is Nature to repair any waste in this[Pg 167] favoured domain of hers, that even where places have been completely bared by the axe or by the whirlwind, a very few years of repose clothes them once more, a luxuriant growth of forest, vigorous and healthful, spreads rapidly over the waste, asserting its ancient claim, and eagerly repossessing itself of its heritage.
We reached Portersville at four o'clock, having been just six hours coming thirty-two miles: here we found the Government steamer, the Watchman, and five passengers, who had left Mobile on the 31st ultimo. They had been detained here two days, living in a log-house; their only amusement watching the ducks and snipe whirling in search of fresh feeding-ground over the dreary waters of Lac Pontchartrain.