William Campbell’s Journal…upon entering Kentucky….wrote…
Had great difficultly ferrying the mouth of Big Sandy. The ferry and ford filled with quick sands and the banks almost impassable for heavy loaded wagons. We here left the state of Virginia, and entered Greenup Co, Kentucky. Went down the river, roads excessively bad, had a heavy gust of rain in the evening. Passed a large steam Iron Furnace just erected and encamped at Powell’s 16 miles. Greenup is a rough broken country. Lands poor, except a few bottoms.*
Imagine yourself hundreds of miles from home, and the only thing you have to rely on is the kindness of strangers and a map. This map from the Library of Congress was first used in 1828, and cost $1. William Campbell most likely was following the map because he is staying on a road that is “laid out” on the map. As roads were blazed in the 1820s they were referred to as “the road to…” and you knew your destination… and followed that road. They were platted by a surveyor, adopted by the counties that they traversed, and often had certain destinations in mind – usually the county Courthouse. This was the most prominent town, and the seat for all business, used by all the locals as well.
It was quite common for the locals to petition for the road to pass their property, so they could benefit with an inn or a mill. This was the forerunner of steamboat stops and railroad stations. There was also a cost to this as you were mandated to blaze which meant to cut down all trees wide enough for the travelers and maintain the road that was your “stretch of the road”. Counties could fine you if you failed to do this. There were no State Highway systems.
Travelers relied on the surveyors and their notes, maps like this one, and published travel diaries often published in the newspapers, to make their journey. Routes followed rivers for watering their cattle and horses, and breaks in the mountainsides, which were called a “pass” meaning you could get through, certain months of the year. There were no GPS, smartphones, or WAZE to alert these travelers to the difficulties that would lay in their pathway. There were no roadside rest stops, or fast food stops for sugar free tea. Every traveler experienced the same heat, hill to climb and hard ground at night. As travelers they were “ALMOST” equal. There were 55 people, of which 25 were enslaved, in this caravan.
This map is located in the Library of Congress, and dates before the beginning of the State of West Virginia (June 20, 1863) . We would like to thank Seth Goodheart with the Library and Archives at Washington and Lee University for sharing this map with us. It was a tremendous resource, as even though we had platted our destinations on a modern day Google Map, we were able to see what they saw with this map. Having an actual map of that day enabled us to better understand their journey. Today, many travelers use Interstate 64, and are able to cut hours of travel time. We highly recommend using what today may be referred to the backroads and see history close up.
*This is the journal of William Campbell (1805-1849) leading four families from Lexington, in Rockbridge County, Virginia to St. Charles County Missouri, written in 1829. There are 55 people in this caravan, 25 of which are enslaved. Among the enslaved is Archer Alexander.\This journal is located in the collections of the Leyburn Library, Special Collections and Archives, located at the Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, and for which we are deeply indebted to Lisa McCown. Editor and author is Dorris Keeven-Franke.
Archer was born enslaved by the Alexander family in Rockbridge County Virginia in 1806. In 1829, the Alexander family moved from Virginia to Dardenne Prairie in Saint Charles County, in Missouri. He lived there enslaved for over thirty years, working first in the brickyards of St. Louis, and then as a carpenter. By 1844, he had been sold to David Pitman, while his wife Louisa lived a few miles away. In the winter of 1863, Archer would risk his life to inform the Union Army that his owner had sabotaged the nearby railroad bridge. With his owner and a lynch mob in pursuit, he used a well known route of the Underground Railroad, to make his way to St. Louis. There he was taken in by William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister, founder of Washington University, and a member of the Western Sanitary Commission. When Eliot’s close friend James Yeatman shared Charlotte Scott’s dream for a memorial to Lincoln in 1865, it would be another American hero Archer Alexander seen rising from his broken shackles alongside Lincoln on the Emancipation Monument in 1876. Today, the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park is in danger of being removed. This Federal Monument, was paid for entirely by the former enslaved people, as a memorial to President Lincoln. To sign the petition to keep it in place see https://www.change.org/EmancipationMonumentDC
The next entry is September 11th…. https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/2020/09/11/11-september-1829/