Tuesday, May 13, 2014

They will serve excellently well as scarecrows...

Letter from Franklinton after the surrender of Detroit and the relief of Fort Wayne from Thomas Backus to William Woodbridge (future Secretary of the Michigan Territory, probably at Marietta at the time.) From the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections volume 32 (1902), "Woodbridge Papers."

Some notes here: Thomas Backus was a farmer and owner of lands on the site of the future capital. Doubtless some of the expensive high rise apartments and office complexes going up today sit on his old stake on "Wolf Ridge". Thomas Backus  (1785-1825) was the son of Elijah Backus (1759-?), receiver of public monies and lawyer at the capital of the Illinois Territory, had apparently died. Elijah is said to have operated the first printing press west of the Appalachian Mountains. Based on his dates we can only say that he would have been around at the right time.

 Back then, as Ohio was the western frontier, Illinois was considered to be on the very edge of civilization. The soldiers that Backus refers to are the mounted Ohio and Kentucky volunteers encamped at Franklinton. Most of them would ride west with Col. Campbell's expedition against the Mississinewa Indian towns in December. We don't hear a lot about African Americans in primary sources, but we know they were important players in the frontier. Why Backus doesn't trust a "manumitted slave" is unclear, but perhaps such a person could be expected to move on, seeking work or land elsewhere. 

Backus is building a mill, and talks a great deal about his note or loan from a bank in Marietta. It's a great time to be a farmer and miller in the Central Ohio area, because the war effort will suck up all the grain and fodder farmers can produce. The Federal Government didn't issue paper money at this time; instead, paper notes called "shin-plasters" were issued by regional banks. In theory, one could take a note to the bank and exchange it for gold or silver dollars. In practice, these wildcat banks often went under, making the notes worth about as much as a shin-plaster! There was a general lack of hard currency in the west, and most of the available money was Spanish silver traded through New Orleans. When government operations literally drained all the available currency from the banks in 1813, coinage had to be shipped over the mountains by the wagon load. 

Lastly, I wonder which proprietors of the "New Jerusalem" he is speaking of. I imagine one was Lucas Sullivant, who had a hand in most things going on in Franklinton and also had a religious bent...
Franklinton October 25, 1812
My dear Sir--Baker will start for Marietta sometime this week and I take the leisure of Sunday to write by him. As to my note, I leave it with you to do as you think best. I have not heard from Mr. McWheat and of consequence do not know that I can pay up the note here very little on what conditions the note is renewed but I would like to have the road open for another renewal if I should want it. This however is not material. My chance is I think good not to stand in need of bank favors a great while and I look forward to the realizing of this hope with a joy bordering on the religious, for in all my calculations on this subject their collection is present that my father lies unmonumented on the plains of Kaskaskia and my trust that his grave not be defaced, rests only on the fidelity of a manumitted slave. Ere I select a sepulcher I want some reasonable assurance that the fortunes of this world will not pass away its peace to some other protector. We have a considerable concourse of soldiers in town. They will serve excellently well I think as scarecrows but too many of them ride mares to make solid warfare.I think we shall have several thousand quartered in this neighborhood through the winter for provisions cannot it seems to me be transported across the swamps of the north to support an army on the lake. I hope they may not come as it will considerably endanger our frontier. The Indians will muster in front of the army-at any rate, murdering parties will hover about it. General Harrison is here--ostentatiously plain. Meigs is becoming quite notable for intemperance. He spoke of fixing his headquarters here for the winter. I hate to tell news. I have my mill secure against the fall floods and shall have it complete before long. I shall have a substantial and excellent one. I am offered the amount it costs me for one years' rent. I very well know that I ought to accept this offer, but my engagements to the proprietors of our New Jerusalem are such that I cannot with propriety do it...