Look Back: Recalling a journey westward

Historical newspaper excerpts from the Wood County Historical Society

Photo Provided It may have been on a steamship as seen above that in 1853 John Stephenson and his family departed from “the Point” at Parkersburg, bound for the Oregon frontier.

The oldest inhabitant

This is the first of a three-part item that chronicles part of the journey from Parkersburg to the frontier land of Oregon by the John Stephenson family. Mr. Stephenson was born in 1797, just one year before his father, also John Stephenson, settled at “the Point” at what would become Parkersburg. The young John Stephenson, along with many others of the Stephenson family, became integral parts of Parkersburg, Wood County and eventually the State of West Virginia.

However, in 1853, at the age of 56, the call of the Oregon frontier beckoned John Stephenson. In March of that year he and his family departed from “the Point.” In his writings, “Sketches of North-Western Virginia,” S.C. Shaw describes the departure: “Many were the sad faces on that bright sunny morning of the 19th of March, 1853, when he stood upon the upper deck of the steamer and waved a final adieu to Parkersburg, for that far distant country.” John Stephenson had promised to write his good friend, A.M. “Mack” Sterrett, editor of the Parkersburg Gazette, keeping him informed of their journey. The letter that follows appeared in the June 18, 1853 edition of the Parkersburg Gazette. Mr. Sterrett titled the item, “The Oldest Inhabitant.”

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Dear Mack:

I feel bound to fulfill my promise by writing before we embark upon the savage lands of Nebraska. We left Parkersburg on board the Hondorus on the 19th March and landed at St. Louis on the 25th. St. Louis, I venture to say, excels any place in the U.S. in the amount of business transacted on her wharf within any given time. I looked upon it with wonder and astonishment. We lay there five days, during which time I unfortunately made a purchase of 12 yoke of oxen, to be delivered at St. Joe from the 15th to 20th of April. I also bought my stores at St. Louis, with the exception of flour and meal, which laid in at the border. There too, I bought three horses and a pair of matched mules.

Our stock of provisions consist of 1,000 lbs. of flour, 500 lbs. corn meal, 500 lbs. hard bread, 1,000 lbs. bacon, 100 lbs. dried beef, 100 lbs venison, 400 lbs. crushed sugar, 100 lbs. brown sugar, 8 gallons molasses, 8 gals. pickles, 3 bush. beans, 3 bush. dried apples, 2 bush. dried peaches, 40 lbs. lard, 12 lbs. cream tarter, 6 lbs. soda, 156 lbs. coffee, 16 lbs. tea, 60 lbs. rice, 60 lbs. soap, 10 gal. whisky, 4 gal. brandy, 12 bottles alcohol for cooking and everything necessary, with a good tent and fixtures.

Mrs. S. was quite sick from the time we struck the Mississippi waters until some time after we landed at St. Joe. All the rest of the company continues in good health — Diana never enjoyed as good health in her life as she has had on this journey. We rented a house in St. Joe and there remained until the 5th [of April] — just waiting for the oxen I bought at St. Louis.

To be continued…

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Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical Society. Would you like to help preserve our past for future generations? The society offers informative monthly meetings and an interesting, 20-page quarterly newsletter. Dues are just $15./year. Send to: WCHPS, P.O. Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.

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