In 1842 my father and family moved from Baltimore to St. Francisville, Missouri. He had twelve children, nine living at one time, John L., Leonard, William H., Leonora, (named after one of the ships on which he sailed) Edmund Orville, Mary, Isabel, Flora, and Geo. Bernard. The last two were born in Missouri, the others in Baltimore. His family being large, it was difficult to find a house roomy enough, so he leased the only hotel in the place for a home. It was built of large hewn walnut logs, with two stories and an attic, and, with the back building, covered quite a space.
I remember well when we first arrived, we were looked upon as aristocrats, as we boys were wearing “boiled” and starched shirts, and the girls, dresses such as they wore in Baltimore.
To my father’s house was attached an acre of ground which I cultivated as a flower and vegetable garden. When he moved, I traded my garden for a cow and a calf, for which I got ten dollars, a good price at that time. This was the first money I earned, except by selling some suspenders, which I bought at an auction sale while in Baltimore.
Previous to our removal from Baltimore, my father sent my brother, John, in 1837, to visit our uncles at St. Francisville. At that time there were many Indians either living in the country, or moving about. One day, an old brave accosted my brother, patting his hand on his breast, as was their custom, and introduced himself as “Black Hawk.” In 1838-9, after my brother’s return, I paid my uncles a visit of a year; then returned to Baltimore. One Sunday there came down the Des Moines River, in forty canoes, a company of Sac and Fox Indians; among them was the squaw of Keokuk. For our entertainment, they gave a war dance in the public square. I remember one of the “braves” had his back bared to show that it was covered with a lot of ghastly scars, seemingly proud of them, although on his back! He was beating a drum made of a whiskey keg covered with sheep skin. On one occasion, while at a dinner, at the St. Louis Club, I was telling the above story, when the late Daniel M. Houser, proprietor of the St. Louis Globe Democrat, observed: “Matthews, I was there and saw it.”
When I left Baltimore in 1838, we started from the Pratt Street Depot of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in cars drawn by horses to the outskirts of the City, where the locomotive was hitched on and we went flying westward at the unprecedented rate of twenty miles an hour! The B. and O. had been completed, I think, only about sixty miles. The rails were strap iron, 2 ½ to 3 inches wide, half inch thick, nailed to girders, running fore and aft, properly tied to prevent spreading. It was not unusual for rails to become loose, curling up and running through the car floor, occasionally killing passengers. The noise from striking the spike heads, and the not too-closely laid rails, was terrific.
On the way to the outskirts we passed the “Green Tree Tavern;” nearly all the hotels were known as “taverns” at that time. I was told that General Jackson rode up one day and asked if he could have a room. Being told the house was full, he went to another tavern, and secured a bed. When the proprietor of the “Green Tree” was asked if he knew whom he had turned away, he said – “No.” Then he was told it was the President of the United States.
In those days, as a rule, men of distinction were very plain in their dress and habits, although a few wore ruffled shirt bosoms and cuffs. Many times “angels” were entertained unaware. One instance of this kind I will tell. A dapper-looking scion of a good family, puffed with pride on alighting from a stage coach at Richmond, Va., saw a plain-looking man whom he asked to carry his valise. The man took it and walked deferentially behind. On arrival at his house the young man handed him a “levy” or “bit” (12½c) which he graciously accepted. Bidding “Goodbye,” the “porter” observed to the young fop, “Young man, the next time you wish anything toted, call on Chief Justice Marshall, and I will be glad to carry it for you,” at the same time handing him his card: This same Chief Justice was the uncle of Dr. Alexander, who married your great aunt, Alice Levering.