This letter was written by Matthew Brown, Jr., the son of Matthew Brown, Sr. and Lucy Huntington (1773-18xx). From the stationary heading and the contents of the letter, we learn that Matthew Brown was in partnership with H. H. Treat working as agents for the Ohio & Indiana line on the Wabash & Erie Canal and on the Erie Canal with an office in Toledo, Ohio.
Brown wrote the letter to his Uncle Henry Huntington (1766-1846). Henry was elected as assessor and school commissioner in Rome, New York, in 1800, and 1803—7 was chosen supervisor. In 1804 he was elected to the State Senate, the first one in Rome. In 1806 he was a member of the Council of Appointment, and 1808 and 1812 was presidential elector. In 1816-17 he was elected to the Assembly, and in June, 1821, was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention. He ran twice for lieutenant-governor, 1822 and 1826, but was defeated on both occasions. The Bank of Utica was started in 1812 and in the following year Mr. Huntington was elected as its second president and held the position until a short time before his death, a period of thirty two years. He died in Rome in October, 1846. Henry Huntington was married to Catharine M. Havens.
Readers will find a remarkable description of northern Indiana by Brown who made a trip from Toledo to Lafayette by horseback in March 1843 to witness first-hand the meat and grain production markets of that region.
Addressed to Henry Huntington, Esqr., Rome, Oneida Co., New York
March 31st 1843
The above card will show in some measure what demonstrations I have been making in the way of business. As for prospects ahead, I am not very sanguine but I think I have made such arrangements that I shall stand a fair chance of success. The gentlemen who have agreed to furnish us with business are among the most substantial & best established houses on the Erie Canal and although death has taken away one of the number since I left Buffalo (Robert Hunter of Albany) get I am advised that the business is to be carried on as heretofore. I have made such arrangements here that if the business should be small, the expenses will be correspondingly light.
I left here on horse back about the 1st of March and have just returned from a journey to Lafayette [Indiana] — the present termination of the Wabash & Erie Canal 223 miles from here. The country is as I expected to find it; quite new until I arrived at Logansport [Indiana] and but little business is expected for the present excepting from the western termination of the canal.
The soil so far as I am capable of judging is unsurpassed in fertility — the corn crop particularly hardly ever being a failure. It is estimated that one man with a horse & plough will tend 40 acres and with the slight care it receives the yield will be 60 to 70 bushels the acre. I have travelled by large fields of it of several hundred acres where it was left standing on the stalk and I am told that it is never harvested excepting in the winter & often then this job is done by the hogs. The stalk is sufficiently strong to hold the ear which points downward, the husk being an effectual protection against the weather. It seemed strange to me on my return from a country which abounded in corn standing in the field & for which there was no cash price, to find the cattle in the vicinity & through the state of Michigan starving for the want of it & the article selling by those who are so fortunate as to hold it at 37½ cts.
It was my intention & of those connected with me to go into the purchase of a considerable quantity if it could be delivered aboard the boats at 12½ cents and those who are acquainted with the country informed me that they thought it could be done at from 12 to 15 cts. — the principle obstacle in the way being the transportation of it to the canal. The present scarcity, however, will probably create a speculative demand which make it a dangerous article to meddle with. The man told me he had 3000 bushels of his own raising which he would be glad to sell at 10 cts. delivered on his farm.
I think Lafayette [Indiana] will be next to Cincinnati the greatest pork market in the U.S. There has been slaughtered there the last winter about 32,000 hogs and along the line of the canal 40 miles east of Lafayette & down the Wabash 50 miles south it is estimated that there has been 75,000 hogs put up. It has been the custom to ship the pork down the Wabash to New Orleans on the first rise of the river, but in consequence of the extreme backwardness of the season, the usual rise has not taken place & as it is dangerous to ship through New Orleans when the weather is hot, the greater part of it will come this way. When once the people of that district of country will have become acquainted with the route, pretty much the whole of their trade will take the lake route. At present, all their habits & proclivities are Southern. The fertility of Indiana is not ____ to the corn & hog trade. The crops of wheat are most abundant and of the best quality. The prairies are well calculated for wheat or corn.
The canal is now in progress from Lafayette to Terre Haute — a distance of 90 miles. They are doing the work with an issue of state scrip worth about 40 to 45 cts [to] the dollar. The State of Oho have passed a law to issue $300,000 [in] State Bonds to complete the canal from Cincinnati to this place. The contractors will take the Bonds & do the work & the law insures the completion of the canal (30 miles) in the course of the season of 1844. The distance from this to Cincinnati by this canal is about 240 miles. The currency of Indiana consists (besides various issues of State scrip) mostly of notes of the State Bank — New York State being looked on with jealousy.
On the whole, although I have had a very cold ride, yet I have been highly gratified with my visit to the western country. I have seen a great many people & made a good many business acquaintances and I hope I have got in a way of building up a handsome business in the course of a short time.
I have inflicted on you a rather long & tedious letter but I have supposed that you might be pleased with some account of the new region of country which is now to be opened upon us. As cousin Ben has some taste in the matter of farms, if he will go up into that country about the month of June, I think I can show him some as handsome farms or rather land to make frame as ever lay out of doors.
Be pleased to remember me to my friends in ROme & believe me to be affectionately yours. — M. Brown, Jr.