Margaret Van Horn Dwight Takes A Journey to Ohio in 1810

Four days into her 600-mile wagon journey to Ohio, Margaret Van Horn Dwight was glad to have survived the night in a small dirty tavern filled with drunken fellows.Margaret Van Horn Dwight

She was 19 years old and on her way to stay with cousins in Warren, Oihio, after a lifetime of shuttling among relatives.

Margaret Van Horn Dwight was born Dec. 29, 1790 into a famous family she was the great-granddaughter of theologian Jonathan Edwards, and the niece of Timothy Dwight, president of Yale.

Her father, a doctor, died in 1796. When her mother remarried, Margaret was sent to live with her grandmother in Northampton, Mass. Margaret’s grandmother died when she was 16, and she went to live with an aunt in New Haven, Conn.

On Oct. 22, 1810, Margaret Van Horn Dwight set out to join cousins in Connecticut’s Western Reserve – later known as Ohio.

In Warren, Ohio, she met and married William Bell, an Irish-born wholesale merchant. They lived most of their lives in Pittsburgh, where there home was a center of hospitality. She was remembered as vivacious, a lady of remarkable sweetness and excellence, and devotedly religious.

Margaret died on Oct. 9, 1834, shortly after the birth of her 13th child.

 Westward, Ho!

She traveled to Ohio in a wagon with a frugal deacon named Wolcott, his wife and daughter Susan. The six-week, 600 mile journey was slow and difficult: the roads were barely passable, the mountains steep, the taverns dirty and disgusting. She learned how to eat raw pork and drink whiskey.

Margaret Van Horn Dwight kept a travel diary, which she sent to a cousin. It was handed down in her family. In 1912 it was published as A Journey to Ohio in 1810.

They set out from Milford, Conn., on Oct. 19, 1810. By May 22, they reached West Chester, Pa., where they stayed at Cook’s inn. That night, Margaret wrote, “I never will go to New Connecticut with a Deacon again, for we put up at every byeplace in the country to save expence,” she wrote. “It is very grating to my pride to go into a tavern & furnish & cook my own provision -- to ride in a wagon &c &c -- but that I can possibly get along with--but to be obliged to pass the night in such a place as we are now in, just because it is a little cheaper, is more than I am willing to do.”

The small, dirty house served as a tavern, a store and, she imagined, a hog’s pen and stable. At night the house was filled with noisy drunken men. The landlady was fat, dirty, ugly and suspicious.

Margaret worried Miss Wolcott’s trunk was in the barroom unlocked because they key broke. It contained a bag of her father’s money, but she couldn’t persuade him to bring it upstairs. Margaret was so uneasy in the house she couldn’t sleep and stayed up writing in her journal.

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, Margaret wrote:

I went to bed last nigh with fear & trembling, & feel truly glad to wake up & find myself alive & well--if our property is all safe, we shall have double cause to be thankful--The old woman kept walking about after i was in bed, & then I heard her in close confab with her husband a long time--Our room is just large enough to contain a bed a chair & a very small stand-- our bed has one brown sheet & one pillow--the sheet however appear'd to be clean, which was more than we got at Nash's--there we were all obliged to sleep in the same room without curtains or any other screen--& our sheets there were so dirty I felt afraid to sleep in them-- We were not much in favor at our first arrival there; but before we left them, they appear'd quite to like us--& I don't know why they should not, for we were all very clever, notwithstanding we rode in a wagon-- Mrs. Nash said she should reckon on't to see us again (Miss W & me) so I told her that in 3 years she might expect to see me--She said I should never come back alone, that I would certainly be married in a little while--but I am now more than ever determined not to oblige myself to spend my days there, by marrying should I even have an opport’y-- I am obliged to write every way so you must not wonder at the badness of the writing-- I am now in bed & writing in my lap-- Susan has gone to see if our baggage is in order -- I heard the old woman's voice talking to the good deacon-- & an "I beg your pardon" coming out at every breath almost-- Oh I cannot bear to see her again she is such a disgusting object-- The men have been swearing & laughing in the store under me this hour -- & the air of my room is so intolerable, that I must quit my writing to go in search of some that is breathable-- I don't know how far I shall be obliged to go for it--but there is none very near I am certain-- Having a few moments more to spare before we set out, with my book still in my lap, I hasten to tell you we found everything perfectly safe, & I believe I wrong'd them all by suspicions--The house by day light looks worse than ever--every kind of thing in the room where they live-- a chicken half pick'd hangs over the door-- & pots, kettles, dirty dishes, potato barrels-- & everything else --& the old woman--it is beyond my power to describe her--but she & her husband & both very kind & obliging-- it is as much as a body's life is worth to go near them--The air has already had a medicinal effect upon me--I feel as if I had taken an emetic-- & should stay till night I most certainly should be olbig'd to take my bed, & that would be certain death--I did not think I could eat in the house -- but I did not dare refuse -- the good deacon nor his wife did not mind it, so I thought I must not--The old creature sits by eating, & we are just going to my great joy so good bye, good bye till to night--



  1. Ashley Adams

    October 24, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    A fascinating peek at the migration many made from New England to the Midwest, and beyond, at the beginning of the 19th century. My only complaint is that whoever wrote this piece needs to brush up on their grammar, spelling and editing skills — there were several mistakes.

  2. Nancy Markey Gleason

    Nancy Markey Gleason

    October 25, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Diaries are one of our best sources of history. Christa McCauliff was chosen to take the Challanger flight based upon her plan to keep a diary. I have a grammar school classmate who kept a diary. She shares excerpts from it with our class, allowing us all a true glimpse into our activities in the late 40’s through the 50’s.

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