Mr Birkbeck’s Settlement
A small pamphlet has lately been published, consisting of letters and extracts of letters from Mr Birkbeck, of which we have been procured a copy. The author’s object appears chiefly to have been to counteract the misrepresentations circulated on the subject of the settlement by Cobbett. We read Cobbett’s remarks when they were first transmitted to this country, and certainly did not think them worthy of the notice here bestowed upon them. His objections to the new settlement, helped out as they were misquotation and misconstruction, were of very little weight, except in so far as they applied to all emigration whatever ; and they had really nothing to render them worth reading, but the sarcasm and caustic humour which accompanied them. We should, therefore, have been better pleased had Mr Birkbeck allowed this restless controversist to wallow in the mire of his own endless contradiction, and rather given us some more details regarding the settlement. The Americans are every year pushing forward into the wilderness ; but it is a new thing for a body of our countrymen, when withdrawing from a society richly provided with all the accomodations which wants of civilized life render necessary to pass through the settled and cultivated parts of the New World and to retire to the untrodden waste a thousand miles from the sea Though the activity of commerce carries many of the convenienes and even luxuries of life to this remote place, still the settlers must find such a difference in their situation as must subject them to go many privations ; and some details, shewing how the colonists got over their difficulties, how their various wants were supplied, and how the feelings and habits of civilized life accommodated themselves to the woods and the wilderness, would have been much more interesting than a reply to Cobbett’s captious objections. One of the most trying privations of the colony seems to be a want of wives, an evil which happily does not affect the mother country, amidst all her other sufferings. The evil has probably been aggravated by some of the colonists forgetting to take their wives with them. If matters don’t get better in this particular, we may expect to hear of some of the adjoining American towns suffering a Sabine spoliation. A cargo of young ladies would evidently be one of the best mercantile speculations ; and as our own city had surplus of ten or twelve thousand females at the last census, we have no doubt that some of our enterprising export traders will take the hint, and, by scouring the boarding-schools, complete a choice assortment, adapted to the Illinois market.
The following extracts the only parts that appear to have any general interest.
” English Prairie, July 13. 1819. “My Friends and Countrymen,–For your service I exhibited, in two publications, an outline of the process of emigration, from its commencement up to the final settlement.
“My first opinion of this, the spot of our choice, and the reasoning on which that choice was grounded, are before you ; and sufficient time has elapsed to try those opinnions by the test of experience, by which they are confirmed in every important particular. I showed you my own tract through the gloomy forest into a delightful country, better prepared for an abode by the hand of nature than the heavy woods by half a century of labour. I built me a cabin, and “belayed a road to it;” for it was my ambition to be surrounded by my old friends and neighbours. In this, too, I am gratified ; and we are contented with out allotment, both as to our present state and future prospects.
“This small district, which two years ago was nearly without inhabitants, contains a thriving population of from six to seven hundred persons. We have been blessed with health most unusual for a new settlement, or for any settlement of equal numbers in any country ; and no doubt is entertained by us, or by any judicious observer, of its salubrity. We have several wells of excellent water, and many more are in progress. Our soil is fertile beyond my own expectation ; but our exertions have hitherto been chiefly directed to the permanent objects of building and fencing, of which much has already been done. We have, however, collected a stock of hogs and cattle ; and I think acres of corn are now growing than there are individuals in the settlement.”
“With regard to pecuniary success, the capitalist is commencing his operations, or looking around him undecided as to the course he shall pursue ; but the labourer has made an establishment. It is not with him as with the capitalist, a state of hope merely, from good prospects, but of enjoyment, from good possessions. Numbers of this class, and of mechanics, have already realized their little freeholds, and are building cabins for themselves. The fruits of their labour are not squandered in dissipation and excess, because they have highr objects ; and, considering their former depressed condition, it is astonishing to me, as it is honourable to them, that they betry no arrogance in their to independence.”
“In the statements I have published, I see little to correct, as far as my observation and experience have now proceeded, excepting that, in my view of the profits of cultivation to early settlers, I have not made sufficient allowance in time for the innumerable delays and disappointments inseparable from new undertakings in a new country. A year of preparatory and unproductive exertion should be added to the debtor-side of the account at the outset.”
Citation: Scotsman (Edinburgh, United Kingdom), 29 January 1820, available at the Scissors and Paste Database, http://www.scissorsandpaste.net/160.