DEPARTURE FROM DETROIT.
IT was on a dark, rainy evening in the month of September, 1830, that we went on board the steamer "Henry Clay," to take passage for Green Bay. All our friends in Detroit had congratulated us upon our good fortune in being spared the voyage in one of the little schooners, which at this time afforded the ordinary means of communication with the few and distant settlements on Lakes Huron and Michigan.
Each one had some experience to relate of his own or of his friends' mischances in these precarious journeys -- long detentions on the St. Clair flats -- furious head winds off Thunder Bay, or interminable calms at Mackinac or the Manitous. That which most enhanced our sense of peculiar good-luck, was the true story of one of our relatives having left Detroit in the month of June, and reached Chicago in the September following, having been actually three months in performing what is sometimes accomplished by even a sail-vessel in four days.
But the certainty of encountering similar misadventures would have weighed little with me. I was now to visit, nay more, to become a resident of that land which had, for long years, been to me a region of romance. Since the time when, as a child, my highest delight had been in the letters of a dear relative, describing to me his home and mode of life in the "Indian country," and still later, in his felicitous narration of a tour with General Cass, in 1820, to the sources of the Mississippi -- nay, even earlier, in the days when I stood at my teacher's knee, and spelled out the long word Mich-i-li-mack-i-nac, that distant land, with its vast lakes, its boundless prairies, and its mighty forests, had possessed a wonderful charm for my imagination. Now I was to see it ! -- it was to be my home!
Our ride to the quay, through the dark by-ways, in a cart, the only vehicle which at that day could navigate the muddy, unpaved streets of Detroit, was a theme for much merriment, and not less so, our descent of the narrow, perpendicular stair-way by which we reached the little apartment called the Ladies' Cabin. We were highly delighted with the accommodations, which, by comparison, seemed the very climax of comfort and convenience; more especially as the occupants of the cabin consisted, beside myself; of but a lady and two little girls.
Nothing could exceed the pleasantness of our trip for the first twenty-four hours. There were some officers, old friends, among the passengers. We had plenty of books. The gentlemen read aloud occasionally, admired the solitary magnificence of the scenery around us, the primeval woods, or the vast expanse of water unenlivened by a single sail, and then betook themselves to their cigar, or their game of eucre, to while away the hours.
For a time the passage over Thunder Bay was delightful, but alas! it was not destined, in our favor, to belie its name. A storm came on, fast and furious -- what was worse, it was of long duration. The pitching and rolling of the little boat, the closeness, and even the sea-sickness, we bore as became us. They were what we had expected, and were prepared for. But a new feature of discomfort appeared, which almost upset our philosophy.
The rain, which fell in torrents, soon made its way through every seam and pore of deck or moulding. Down the stair-way, through the joints and crevices, it came, saturating first the carpet, then the bedding, until, finally, we were completely driven, "by stress of weather," into the Gentlemen's Cabin. Way was made for us very gallantly, and every provision resorted to for our comfort, and we were congratulating ourselves on having found a haven in our distress, when lo! the seams above opened, and down upon our devoted heads poured such a flood, that even umbrellas were an insufficient protection. There was nothing left for the ladies and children but to betake ourselves to the berths, which, in this apartment, fortunately remained dry; and here we continued ensconced the live-long day. Our dinner was served up to us on our pillows. The gentlemen chose the dryest spots, raised their umbrellas, and sat under them, telling amusing anecdotes, and saying funny things to cheer us, until the rain ceased, and at nine o'clock in the evening we were gladdened by the intelligence that we had reached the pier at Mackinac.
We were received with the most affectionate cordiality by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stuart, at whose hospitable mansion we had been for some days expected.
The repose and comfort of an asylum like this, can be best appreciated by those who have reached it after a tossing and drenching such as ours had been. A bright, warm fire, and countenances beaming with kindest interest, dispelled all sensations of fatigue or annoyance.
After a season of pleasant conversation, the servants were assembled, the chapter of God's word was solemnly read, the hymn chanted, the prayer of praise and thanksgiving offered, and we were conducted to our place of repose.
It is not my purpose here to attempt a portrait of those noble friends whom I thus met for the first time.
To an abler pen than mine, should be assigned the honor of writing the biography of Robert Stuart. All who have enjoyed the happiness of his acquaintance or still more, a sojourn under his hospitable roof; will carry with them, to their latest hour, the impression of his noble bearing, his genial humor, his untiring benevolence, his upright, uncompromising adherence to principle, his ardent philanthropy, his noble disinterestedness. Irving in his "Astoria," and Franchere in his "Narrative" give many striking traits of his early character, together with events of his history of a thrilling and romantic interest, but both have left the most valuable portion unsaid, his after-life, namely, as a Christian gentleman.
Of his beloved partner; who still survives him, mourning on her bereaved and solitary pilgrimage, yet cheered by the recollection of her long and useful course as a "Mother in Israel," we will say no more than to offer the incense of loving hearts, and prayers for the best blessings from her Father in Heaven.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 13-17.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.