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Recollections of life in Missouri in the 1840s

Excerpts from the Diary of I.J. Harvey


A one-of-a-kind glass image of I. J. Harvey  (ambrotype) (circa 1853).

A one-of-a-kind glass image of I. J. Harvey  (ambrotype) (circa 1853).

Isaac Julian Harvey was born in Wayne County Indiana in 1816.  His parents had emigrated to Indiana and joined other members of their family in the Blue River Valley near New Castle, Indiana.  At the age of 20, Isaac married Sarah Mellett.  Sarah’s family had emigrated from Virginia and settled 5 miles from the Harvey clan.  During the 1820s and 30s, the children of the two clans played together


After their marriage in 1836, Absalom Harvey gave the young couple a farm of 200 acres, and they began a life of farming.  But one day of plowing the Indiana soil was enough.  Isaac hired the neighbor boy at 25 cents per day, borrowed $66 from his father and invested in steers.  He traded all summer and by the next season had made $650. 


Isaac and Sarah moved west to Missouri, and Isaac began a successful career as trader and businessman.  At various times over the next 10 years, he was owner and operator of a store, farm, and flat bottom boats on the “great river”[1].  He invested in prairie and timberland.  Isaac also had a successful career in government.  He was Justice of the Peace and County Judge, and took on a number of civic duties, founding the town of Edinburg, Missouri and, in 1841, helping to organize Grundy County. 


His “Recollections” of life in Missouri in the 1840’s (UCB Bancroft, BANMC MSS C-D 5091) and early picture shows an observant man with a good sense of humor and appreciation of education; his picture of this period shows his confidence, all qualities needed for his next journey to California in 1850.  One story of those “Recollections” follows,


[1] I believe this would be the Missouri River, which he refers in the next excerpt.

Turkey Pot Pie


Grand River College, Edinburg, Missouri, opened in 1850.  The first college in Missouri to admit woman on equal terms.

As we went up Grand River from Leytesville one day, before we got home in the afternoon, we got into a drove of wild turkeys.  I killed a fine hen and Sary sat in the Wagon and picked it nicely.  That evening, we reached “Knavestown” about 20 miles from home.  No hotel, only a small store, blacksmith shop, whiskey mill and a sort of a hatter shop.  The only place we could get in was the hatter’s house.  He was about half drunk but took us to his cabin.  It was a square room, about 20 feet each way, fireplace across one side.  Punchen floor, very rough one bedstead in one corner – holes bored in the logs for the bed and two posts for the foot.  They were good, strong posts bored with a 2-inch auger.


The fat, good-natured woman did everything to make us comfortable.  She took her few bed clothing off of her bedstead and piled them in one corner and made your grandma put her own bedding on the bedstead.  I soon got the bedding in and a place for the baby to play and steep.  All the provisions in the house were cornmeal and pork.  We had plenty of everything to eat in out wagon and the big, fat turkey also. 

Well, our good-natured, fat, greasy landlady was jolly and doing all she could for us.  Made up a good fire and all kinds of excuses for not having anything in the house for us to eat.  Your grandma asked her if she had a pot or something she could cook the turkey in.  Said she had a big iron pot that held about 5 gallons so I got out the turkey and our grub box and we had the grandest supper ever eaten in Knavestown up to that time.  That’s what our landlady said.


Turkey potpie, full of dumplings, something unknown in that neighborhood, as there was not a flour mill for 100 miles.  Flour bread was unknown.  We gave them a good supper, dried fruits of al kinds.  It does me good every time I think of seeing the landlady and her 8 or 6 dirty, healthy children  eat supper after we had ours.  She would not eat until we finished and insisted on them eating.  Well, they went for the pot pie and everything.  We finished the turkey at breakfast.  We had a good bed.  The lady placed her quilts on the floor in front of the fireplace and as the children came in, she placed them down


About 12:00 or 1:00 o’clock her husband came in, not in a very good humor, drunk.  He had been gambling and claimed he had been cheated.  He was quite noisy at first but the wife soon quieted him down by telling him he would disturb the strangers.  She laid him down before the fire and he was soon snoring.  Next morning, he was all politeness and the good woman would not take any pay.  Next day, we arrived home as I had built the house your mama saw in the spring before.


We had a very quiet time.  I had nothing to do, only hunt deer, turkey and prairie chickens.  We had plenty of everything to eat as I planted potatoes, cabbage and had ordered turnips sowed and everything grew.  I knew how to bury potatoes, etc., to keep all winter so we had plenty.

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