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Rev. John M. Peck's First Journey
Through Kentucky in 1817

The Christain Repository, 1859
Edited by Samuel H. Ford

     The contrast between the facilities for traveling, or the removal of families from one remote portion of our country to another, which are now enjoyed, compared with what they were forty years since, are among the marvelous things which it is useful to review. Now it is very easy in three or four days to remove a family, with all their substance, from the Connecticut to the western banks of the Mississippi. Then it required more than as many months of time, with not a little of toil, exposure, and even peril.

     Messrs. Peck and Welch were appointed by the Board of the Triennial Baptist Convention to a mission at St. Louis, and its vicinity, in May, 1817. In July following, Mr. Peck, with his wife and three children, set out in a covered one-horse wagon from his native Litchfield, Conn., on their removal to St. Louis, which occupied them till the end of the year. Rev. Mr. Welch and wife had preceded them to his father's, in Kentucky, where Peck and family overtook them. We are enabled to give in the Repository the five weeks' journal, condensed as much as possible without diminishing its real value, of their passage through a portion of Kentucky, which will be found interesting to the lovers of the Olden Times. - Samuel H. Ford

     Thursday, Oct 2d, 1817. About 9 o'clock crossed the Ohio for the second time. Here it forms a large and beautiful river, with high land rising almost immediately from the water. Reaching the opposite bank, we set foot, for the first time, in Kentucky. Here is a pleasant village, called Maysville - formerly Limestone.


     The state of religion is rather low. The Methodists are the prevailing denomination. The Baptists, in the parts I passed through, are quite in the background. An intelligent Christian brother, who has resided several years in one of the principal villages, told me, that of the ministers of his acquaintance, scarcely one was able to teach a common English school. They appear equally deficient in theological knowledge. This ought, by no means, to be said of all. There are some scattered through the State, men of talents and piety, who sigh for the barrenness of the land. I could hear of but few revivals of religion in the churches. Many parts of the State present promising fields for missionary in supporting their pastors; and like backwardness in missionary contributions. On the whole, things appear to be growing better, and as the country improves, I hope the evils mentioned will be done away. As to morals, barring those not religious, there is nothing to boast of. In some parts, the people appear sober and industrious. In other places, idleness, counterfeiting, and whisky-drinking are principal characteristics. In the middle part of the State, counterfeiting and swindling are openly connived at. A respectable gentleman told me, that in many places in the interior it was difficult to try a man in court for counterfeiting, for the want of an uncorrupted jury - so much are the public morals debased. I saw in Chillicothe, an advertisement in the public paper directed to counterfeiters, in which was unblushingly offered for sale a complete set of engraving tools, all fitted for that business.

      The land, in many places, is good, though in general scarcely equal to my expectations. But the people appear to lack a spirit of improvement. But few good houses, thrifty orchards, and well-regulated farms are to be met with on the road I passed. Now and then the appearance of a farm marks out its possessor as a man of industry and good management. Education, too, even for a new country, is quite in the background. I expect that the North-eastern and the South-western parts of the State are in all respects much better off than the portions I have passed through.1


      In Maysville I found it requisite to have my wagon repaired and my horse shod, which hindered us till 12 o'clock. Coming out of the town, there is a very bad hill to ascend, covered at this time with deep mud. The road was the heaviest we have traveled. The clay soil and the late heavy rains have made the traveling excessively bad. The country here begins to present the aspect of higher cultivation, and forms a striking contrast with the dark woods or log cottages of Ohio. Four miles on, we passed a beautiful town, called Washington, county seat of Mason county. In twelve miles reached the pleasant village of May's Lick, where we were kindly received by a brother of the name of Morris, to whom we had been recommended by Mr. Welch.

     Friday, 3d. In the morning we started from our hospitable friend Mr. Morris, and pursued our way through the mud. For twelve or fifteen miles, through a rough part of the country called "the Knobs," we expected to find the road excessively bad. True, the way was rough and hilly, with many bad mud-holes, but not half as difficult as we had anticipated. Stopped to feed our horses at a place called the Blue Licks. Here is a stream of considerable size, called Licking, which we forded. About sunset arrived at a public house, kept by Mr. Arnett, a Baptist, where we were hospitality entertained.

     Saturday, 4th. Weather delightfully pleasant. We are now about twenty-seven miles from David's Fork, where bro. Welch is, but have little prospect of reaching there till late to-morrow. Our road to Paris quite muddy, especially the first part of the way. Here we leave the main road to the right, and take what the people call the Cleveland road. This road proved much better than we anticipated, and we were enabled a little after dark to reach Troutman's Mills, where we spent the night.

     Lord's Day, 5th. As we were but a short distance from the meeting, we started early, and after much difficulty, reached a Bro. Adam's, where we took breakfast and prepared ourselves for meeting. At 11 o'clock had the satisfaction to meet Bro. And Sister Welch, in company with whom we hope to perform the remainder of our journey. Our meeting was in circumstances which forbade ceremony. The congregation was waiting. Bro. Welch first addressed the assembly, from Romans 6:22. I followed, with an appeal in behalf of Missions, from Isaiah 6:22; collection $18. After meeting, rode home with Bro. Welch to his father's, where we were kindly received.

     Monday, 6th. Very rainy. Spent the day in reading, adjusting my accounts, etc.

     Tuesday, 7th. In company with Bro. Welch, rode to Lexington on business. Dined with Mr. Norral. Called on Mr. Stout, to whom I had letters of introduction from Dr. Stoughton. Returned at night.

     Wednesday, 8th. Weather very pleasant. In the forenoon rode several miles on business. Afternoon attended meeting at the house of Mr. Darnaby. Preached from John, 21:17. Unwell in the evening, and took medicine.

     Thursday, 9th. Though still unwell, as I had an appointment to preach in the University in Lexington, rode there in company with Bro. Welch. Became much worse on the road, scarcely able to sit on my horse, and had to go to bed on arriving at Bro. Stout's. My appointment had to be filled by Bro. Welch.

     Friday, 10th. On returning, by going a little out of our way, through Brain's Station, we had the pleasure of calling on Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, with whom we dined. Mr. V. is a famous preacher in these parts, much admired by many, and whose labors appear successful. Reached Mr. Welch's towards sunset. My health is much improved, though some bilious symptoms still trouble me.

     Saturday, 11th. The weather is fine this morning, but a white frost is seen covering the meadows. I much regret that we are not quite prepared to set forth on our journey again this fine weather. We set off before breakfast to visit a church fifteen miles off, called Providence. Breakfasted with a Bro. Hays, and reached the church near 2 o'clock, while they were transacting business. Afterward I attempted to preach, from Psalm 85:10, but with no great freedom. Spent the night at a brother of Mr. Welch's.

     Lord's Day, 12th. Morning cloudy, with some rain. At 11 o'clock the people assembled in pretty large numbers, to whom I preached a missionary sermon, from Mark 16:15. Collection $25.17. Bro. Welch tarried to preach a second sermon, and Bro. Vardeman to administer the Communion, while I accompanied Mrs. Peck and Mrs. Welch home by way of Lexington.

     Monday, 13th. The day chiefly spent in making preparations for our departure. Towards evening, Mr. Welch and myself went to the house of Mr. Rush, four miles from Winchester, and in the evening both preached. I took for text 2 Thessalonians 2:13; and he, John, 18:36. Though the evening was dark and stormy, a good number was present.

     Tuesday, 14th. Afternoon, the people having assembled at Mr. Welch's house, I first addressed them, in reference to our departure for our missionary field, from Exodus, 33:15: "If they presence go not with us, carry us not up hence." Bro. W. followed, with an appropriate address from Acts, 20:32. Rev. Mr. Vardeman closed by a short address, then kneeled down and fervently prayed for our welfare.

     Wednesday, 15th. The day was spent in packing up our boxes and making arrangements to set off as soon as possible.

     Thursday, 16th. Weather pleasant, though cool. Still making the necessary preparations for journeying. In the evening wrote a long letter to the Board, making full returns of receipts and expenditures, and giving a detail of my proceedings up to October 10th.

     Friday, 17th. A severe frost again last night, but weather pleasant. Attending meeting at David's Fork, and heard Rev. Mr. Vardeman preach from John 8:56: "Abraham rejoiced to see my day," &c. After sermon, two colored people related their experience, and were baptized, with one white woman. The examination of candidates is not half as strict as in the northern States.

     Saturday, 18th. Weather very fine, and begins to assume a smoky cast. This appearance, I hope, presages a continuance of good weather. In the forenoon, Bro. Welch and I rode to Winchester, Clarke county. Called on Rev. Mr. Martin, a Presbyterian clergyman, who received us with all affection due to fellow-laborers in the Lord's vineyard. With him we arranged to have a missionary sermon on the morrow in his congregation. At a little distance from the village of Winchester is a Baptist Church, called Friendship. As it was their Monthly Meeting, we repaired thither to exert ourselves in the mission cause. This we felt to be the more necessary from the fact that this church, with several others in the North District Association, had withdrawn from correspondence with the Board. It was our desire to preach a sermon, and get a collection on the morrow. Accordingly we entered the meeting. Three persons presented themselves for admission. After slight examination they were received. The Moderator, a neighboring minister, was an enemy to all missionary efforts, and of course exerted his influence to prevent our design. But, as a gracious providence would have it, several of the church felt heartily to favor our object, and exerted themselves in our behalf. The opposition was strong, and perfectly unreasonable; but the cause of truth and of missions at last prevailed. We obtained the privilege of a collection. I had seen brethren oppose the particular efforts of our Board of Missions, as unwise in manner, but on quite different grounds from what were here set forth. Here, all the subtlety and malignity of the serpent appeared in full view. I was pained to the heart to hear men, professing the religion of Jesus Christ, openly declare that they hoped they should never hear more of missionaries, and wanted no collections for such purposes. This opposition would not have been carried to such an extent but for the course of the minister presiding, Mr. Kindred. He professes to act under the commission of our Lord, and that he is solemnly bound to do all he can to advance, not impede, the kingdom of the Son of God. Alas! alas! From the meeting Bro. Welch returned, and I accompanied Bro. Brooking to his house in Winchester, where I spent the night. Evening, I preached to a small, but attentive assembly, in the Presbyterian meeting-house, from 1 Peter, 3:18. Enjoyed a pleasant season.

     Lord's Day, 19th. A solemn work this day lies before me. I have to preach in defence of the missionary cause - the cause of Christ - amidst a host of opposers, whose eyes are blinded by prejudice, whose hearts are become unfeeling and regardless of their perishing fellow-men in darkness. Yet I hope some of those who oppose are the dear children of God. I desire, if possible, to remove some prejudices from their minds, and for this purpose, after much prayerful consideration, I chose the words in Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." The Lord stood by me; the assembly was affected; even some of my opposes shed tears, and the collection amounted to $8.55. I trust the grand object was secured. The opposition was silenced, and the missionary standard I hope, is now permanently erected in this quarter. Following the collection, was the Communion, from which it was my intention to have quietly retired; but several of the brethren pressed me to stay, and at last I yielded. To my sorrow, Mr. Kindred, the administrator - who is a strange man - while speaking at the table, wrought himself up to a frenzied state of mind, and began to rant and rave at a shocking rate. Every spark of seriousness and solemnity was instantly extinguished. The poor ignorant Africans, with some of the white females, began to make a hideous outcry, uttering inarticulate screams, and crying out at a strange rate. My heart was filled with pain. I wished to leave the place. I felt guilty in remaining, as it looked like giving countenance to such proceedings. After the Communion, and the closing hymn had been sung, another scene, equally painful and humiliating, commenced. The same preacher began to call for sinners to come around, and he would pray for them. It has become fashionable in these parts for some ministers to shake hands at the close of such seasons, and in a passionate, ranting manner, entreat sinners, who may feel any serious alarm, to come forward, kneel down, and prayers are offered for them. The grand objection to this practice is, that immoral souls are in danger of deception from such a course. The mind, from passionate hortatory addresses, becomes tumultuous. Scarcely knowing the cause, from the agitation of feelings, they come forward to be prayed for, and perhaps, by some soothing language of the speaker, get a false notion that their sins are pardoned, thus settle down on a false hope, and are forever deceived. I could endure the scene no longer, and deliberately took my hat and walked off, while a number of the brethren, whose minds were quite disgusted with these religious fanatical practices, followed my example. At 3 o'clock, Bro. Welch preached in the Presbyterian house, and received a handsome collection. Rode home after meeting to prepare for a start on the morrow.

     Monday, 20th. At 9 o'clock, Mr. Welch took leave of his parents, and we set out on our way. At Lexington we dined with Bro. Stout, then rode to the Great Crossings, and put up at the hospitable mansion of Col. James Johnson. The lameness of my horses causes me some uneasiness.

     Tuesday, 21th. Rode to Frankfort, and put up at the house of his Excellency, Gov. Slauter, where we were cordially received and entertained. This is a pleasant, flourishing town on the Kentucky river, and is the seat of government for the State. In the evening I preached from Matt. 6:10, and endeavored to plead the cause of missions. Collected $15.93. The Lord be praised!

     Wednesday, 22d. At 9 o'clock we left the hospitable house of the Governor, and pursued our way towards Bardstown. For nine miles our path was on the Louisville road. We then took to the left, passed through the woods over Beach-bottom. At 7 1/2 o'clock, arrived at the house of Mr. Darnaby, and were pleased to find a meeting in the house. A Bro. Scott was exhorting, and Bro. Welch joined by offering some remarks on the duty of watchfulness and prayer. Spent the evening quite agreeably.

     Thursday, 23d. To-day our route lay over some broken land, and across a considerable stream, called Salt River. After dark we arrived at Bardstown, and called at the house of Gen. Joseph Lewis, where we were hospitably received. The country through which we have passed is exceedingly fertile. The road, most of the way, is tolerably good, much better, indeed, then we had expected.

     Friday, 24th. Weather rainy. Traveling unpleasant. Rode only fifteen miles. We met with many rugged hills, though none of great magnitude. After passing several small creeks, we came to a stream of considerable magnitude, called Rolling Fork. By this time it was near night, but by the favor of kind providence, we safely reached the opposite shore by means of a boat, as the stream was too deep for our carriages to ford.

     Saturday, 25th. A powerful rain last night for several hours. To-day cloudy, but no rain. My horse appears sick - quite over-done - and occasions me much solicitude. After traveling a mile and a half, we stopped at a public house, which proved to be kept by a Baptist professor. We inquired as to the practicability of getting a meeting in Elizabeth, a town about eight miles distant. He pressingly invited us to spend the Sabbath with him, as there was to be a meeting at his house. The condition of my horse induced me to stay, while Bro. Welch went to Elizabeth.

     Lord's Day, 26th. Weather unpleasant - most of the day rainy. At 12 o'clock a few people assembled. Rev. Mr. Anderson addressed them from Matthew 18:10, 11. A plain, practical preacher of modest abilities. After him, I preached from 2 Corinthians 4:17. Reference was had to this family's loss of a darling child a few weeks since. Some of the people were solemn and attentive, while others appeared quite indifferent. The family, though the man is a professor, and the wife decidedly pious, have no Bible, only a Testament. Many families of the better class in this region are thus destitute. Criminal neglect! when at Bardstown, only sixteen miles distant, Bibles for the destitute may be had gratis.

     Monday, 27th. After a rainy night and a wet, forbidding morning, set forth at 11 o'clock, my horse being better, and drove to Elizabeth, where I found Bro. Welch at the house of Bro. Helm. Here we spent the night, and I wrote letters to my parents, to Dr. Stoughton, and others.

     Tuesday, 28th. Sharp frost, but pleasant weather. At 9 o'clock we left the hospitable home of Bro. Helm, on our way to Hardensburg. Our course lay North-west, over a tract of country called the Barrens. This part of Kentucky is a light, thin soil, covered with small oaks and other shrubs, with here and there a solitary dwelling to cheer the way of the lonely traveler. The traveling was delightful, as the porous soil disposed of the recent abundant rains without being muddy. Passed the night at a public house kept by Mr. Harris, near which is a spring of remarkable magnitude.

     Wednesday, 29th. This morning icicles were seen pending, fifteen inches long. Our course was variable, but in the main nearly West. Reached Hardensburg a little before night. I spent the night with my family at Bro. Harden's, while Bro. Welch and his wife tarried at another place. On the brief notice, people enough assembled to fill a large room. I discoursed to them from 1 Timothy1:15, with considerable freedom. Good attention was given. Retired to rest quite weary, and disposed to ask - When will the weary pilgrim sleep in Jesus?

     Thursday, 30th. After breakfast we pursued our journey, our course being rather North of West. Roads better than we had expected. Few, and far between, are the houses of entertainment - some of which are good, and some poor. Frequently there is great lack of that neatness and industry, so indispensable to comfortable living. Found good accommodations at a house kept by Mr. Pate. Our progress is rather slow, but we have abundant cause for thankfulness.

     Friday, 31st. A wet day, and traveling consequently unpleasant. The roads more muddy, and our progress much impeded. At night we were obliged to stop at a new, unoccupied house, but partly finished, into which the new settlers had not yet removed. But even this is much better than camping in the woods, with no shelter, as do many of the pioneer families whom we pass every day. The accounts, almost every day met from St. Louis, of the high price of living there, have exerted some depressing influence on my mind for some days past. But why do I fear? If God be for us, who can be against us? This is my birth-day. Twenty-eight years of my life are gone. Let me devote myself anew to Thee, O my Redeemer!

     Saturday, Nov. 1st. On settling with our host for shelter and housekeeping, found his charge only 25 cents, and as he had no Bible, we gave him one. Traveling wet and heavy. In six miles we reached the "Yellow Bank." Here the Ohio opened to our view through the forest trees, rolling its majestic waters towards the Mississippi. Yellow Bank is a town newly laid out, the seat of a new county, called Davis, in honor of an officer of that name, who fell at the battle of Tippecanoe. Though promising future growth, it now contains but twenty or thirty log houses, many of them not first rate. The public house, kept by a pious lady, Mrs. Adams, furnished us tolerable accommodations for the Sabbath; and we went through a hamlet to notify a meeting. Found a poor, distressed widow, who had just buried her husband, and appeared anxious for the salvation of her soul. Conversed and prayed with her, and promised to bring her a Bible to-morrow. Evening, held a meeting at the house where we put up, and preached from Acts, 11:14: "Who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all they house shall be saved.?"

     Lord's Day, 2d. In the morning called again on the poor bereaved family. Read Job, seventh chapter, and Psalm forty-sixth, and prayed with them, giving them a Bible, and the best advice in our power. At 12 o'clock, a goodly number assembled, and Bro. Welch preached to them in a very impressive manner on the subject of Death, from 2 Samuel, 14:14. I followed, with a discourse on The Future Judgment, from Heb., 9:27. The people were solemn and attentive. We then went five miles to a Baptist Bro. Allen's, and passed the night.

     Monday, 3d. After breakfast, we again resumed our journey; Bro. Welch complaining that he felt unwell. At 11 o'clock we reached Green River, which is here a large stream, over which we were ferried. Our course lay nearly West. At night called at a house of entertainment, and were delighted to find it kept by a generous Baptist brother.

     Tuesday, 4th. Weather still pleasant, but Bro. Welch too unwell to start until a late hour. Reached Robinson's Lick at night, and found tolerable accommodations, for this country.

     Wednesday, 5th. After some difficulty and delay, we obtained some breakfast of venison, and proceeded on our journey. Our road [was] bad in many places, deep ruts, bad stumps, and mud holes. Tried in vain to get refreshments at a place called Sulphur Springs, and were obliged to go on through the mud and rain to the county seat of Union, called Morganfield. Reached it a little before night, and put up at the sign of the Seven Stars. Bro. Welch had a chill to-day, and is quite poorly, while our accounts of the badness of the traveling before us are quite discouraging. O Lord, direct and sustain us!

     Thursday, 6th. Leaving Morganfield, we pursued our way through bad roads for nine miles, and within two of our crossing-place out of Kentucky. Our fare for some time has been rather rough, but we are obliged to be content. The customs as to living in these parts, and indeed through Kentucky, are far inferior to those of the northern States. Corn bread, or, as I have been accustomed to hear it called, "Johnny cake," is almost universally eaten as a substitute for bread; or a kind of inferior biscuit, called light bread, is baked before the fire for each meal. Nor do the manners of the people, in general, indicate the refinement and agreeableness of the North. The state of morals and religion is equally low. This more particularly applies to the lower part of the State. Profane swearing appears a common vice. In Morganfield there is occasional preaching, though the want of a well-regulated Christian society is severely felt. Schools appear to be established in most places, though the scattered state of the inhabitants in this country makes it very difficult to give their children the education desired.

     About five miles from where we crossed the Ohio, we found a place of extensively bad traveling. The water from the river set back over the road to a considerable depth. A bridge was broken up and floating, and our progress was difficult and dangerous. As we came upon the banks of the Ohio, however, the prospect was grand and beautiful. For several miles, either way, the noble river presented a picturesque appearance. We rode on the bank four miles, which brought us opposite the village of Shawneetown, to which the ferry-boat floated us in safety. At present the river is very high, and continues to rise. It is now more than 20 feet above low water mark. Scarcely ever was it known to rise to this height in the fall season.

     Our arrival was late, and little could be learned in regard to this wretchedly appearing village. Here the glad tidings of salvation are but seldom heard. We are now properly on missionary ground, which, from its location and destitute state, must belong to our field.

     [Note by S. H. F.: This was, indeed, their first entrance into Illinois - then a territory - in which Mr. Peck and family were destined to spend the greater part of their long and useful lives. How full of morally sublime interest, now that we can look back upon the whole history, was this entrance on his field. Not Caesar and his legions crossing the Rubicon involved interests so vast and blessed as the humble transit of that little covered wagon, with its precious contents, over the swollen flood of the beautiful Ohio on the evening of that dark November day. To the eye of sense, how insignificant! But faith invests the scene and its results with new and hallowed attractions.]

     Friday, 7th. Weather cloudy, with some rain. We are now at the public house kept by Dr. H. Oldham, where we are lying on expense, waiting for a turn of weather in our favor. Gentlemen lately from St. Louis and Kaskaskia, represent the roads for fifty miles as extremely bad; but as almost every kind of carriage is passing, we apprehend no insuperable difficulty. O Lord, preserve us from harm! Met with Mr. Paine, my brother-in-law, who has been waiting here for us nearly three weeks. He is designing to accompany us to St. Louis.

     The waters in the Ohio are still rising rapidly. Should the banks become full, this village must be overflowed. Immense quantities of drift-wood are floating down the river, rendering the crossing very difficult.

     In the evening I preached at the house where we lodge to a goodly number of people, from Acts, 13:26, last clause. A decent and solemn attention was given. Oh, that the word of salvation may be sent with power to the people of this village!



     1 It should be remembered that this was Mr. Peck's first experience in one of the new western States; that he had spent but three weeks in transversing one little corner of it. After a life-long labor as an explorer, and a better opportunity to judge by fair comparison, he would have generalized more cautiously and wisely. The remarks above, though correct in the main, indicate a very common disposition to indulge empirical generalizations.


[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, April, 1859, pp. 257-267. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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