- Description: Inside cover of volume has stationer's ticket for Thomas Dobson.
- Though less well known than their peers Lewis and Clark, William Dunbar and George Hunter played an important role in the early scientific exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. While the original goal of organizing a southern counterpart to the Corps of Discovery proved overly ambitious, Dunbar and Hunter provided important geographic information for future explorations and gave the first scientific description of the Hot Springs of Arkansas and Ouachita Mountains. While Lewis and Clark were being fitted out to explore the northern and western reaches of the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson conceived of carrying a parallel expedition to the south, aiming not only to substantiate the American claim to the territory and better define the boundaries, but to survey the plants, animals, and minerals, the soil and climate, and to assess the situation with respect to Indians and Indian trade. To lead the expedition, Jefferson turned to his fellow member of the American Philosophical Society, William Dunbar, a resident of West Florida since before the Revolution and one of the most respected scientific figures in the Old Southwest. The decision of whom to name as second in command was more difficult, however, and was resolved only when George Hunter entered the picture. Like Dunbar, Hunter was a Scot by birth and a scientist by reputation. At sixteen, he had been sent to work with a noted druggist in Edinburgh, a trade he continued and after his remove to Philadelphia in 1774. After working with the druggists Christopher and Charles Marshall for a brief period and serving in the militia during the Revolution, Hunter set out on his own, developing a successful wholesale trade in pharmaceuticals and probably, a retail trade as well. The Dunbar-Hunter expedition has suffered by comparison with that of Lewis and Clark both for its lack of epic scale and for the lack of literary polish of its writers. Nevertheless, the four surviving journals of George Hunter provide engaging accounts of travel in the Ohio and Mississippi Valley in 1796, 1802, and 1809, and include the most interesting record of the expedition to the Hot Springs of Arkansas in 1804-1805. Hunter's journals for 1796 and 1802 cover his journeys to St. Louis, Mo., and Lexington, Ky., respectively. Literate but not exactly literary, Hunter's terse observations on a region in the midst of almost sixty years of continuous warfare are effective at conveying a sense of the difficulty of travel, the excitement of the frontier, and the possibilities he felt that the future held for the west. In his 1796 journal, Hunter provides an impression of a difficult life in a lawless and often violent region and of the fluidity of intercultural encounters with Indians of various tribes, with fur traders, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Americans, and people of mixed race. The Ohio Valley itself seemed scarred by the protracted warfare, with the banks of the river littered with abandoned villages despite an abundance of food and good land. In many passages, Hunter hints at the sense of violence hanging over the region, whether epitomized by an Indian woman whose nose was cut off by her husband for infidelity or by an elderly alcoholic Indian left with only one wife after two others were murdered by family members. By 1802, Hunter found that travel in Kentucky had improved little, and his interests in the mineral resources of the region seem to have sharpened. The journal includes a fine account of the overland trip across Pennsylvania (through Carlisle, Shippensburg, and Berlin), but Hunter devotes far more space to a visit to a cave in Kentucky, and to discussions of salt production at Blue Lick, saltpeter, potash, lime, and iron, silver, and lead deposits, and more generally to the geology of the region, suggesting that he may once again have been investigating purchasing (or speculating in) western lands. His references to the potential profitability of the ginseng trade may signal one of the purposes for the trip. The last two journals document the expedition to the Hot Springs, commencing from time of the departure from St. Catharine's Landing on October 16, 1804, until their return to Natchez in January 1805. Intended for official perusal, the journal includes a separate, highly detailed record of geographic position, with brief references to weather and other conditions of the journey, as well as the longer narrative of the journey. The journal entries for the 1805 expedition (vol. 2) are very brief and cover only the beginning stages of the journey. The journals have been published in their entirety in John Francis McDermott, "The Western Journals of Dr. George Hunter, 1796-1805," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 53 (1963).
AMDigital Reference: Mss.B.H912.
- Original Version:
- Reproduction of: Journal of an Excursion from Natchez on the Mississippi..., part 2 1 Jan 1805-27 Mar 1805.
- Location of Originals:
- American Philosophical Society
- Copyright Note:
- American Philosophical Society
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