September 9, 2008 - We commenced our journey with an 8:30 a.m. time of remembrance and contemplation at the Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church, located in Lincoln State Park in Spencer County, Indiana, where Lincoln’s father, mother and sister were members, although Abraham Lincoln was not. I was accompanied by my mother, Margaret A. Drake, my wife Carolyn C. Drake, and fifteen months old twin daughters, Dawn Agnew Drake and Autumn Agnew Drake. Dawn insisted that I hold her during my entire presentation. My mother led the group in singing “Amazing Grace”, the song sung by Little Pigeon Church congregants at the funeral of my father, Elder Mervin E. Drake.
We then went to a launch ceremony at the bluff along the Ohio River at Rockport. There we heard a presentation by the Treasurer of Indiana. We also were honored by the presence of former governor, Ed Whitcomb, a heroic survivor of Japanese imprisonment during World War II. Indiana’s First Lady, Ms. Mitch Daniels, also attended, and accompanied us on the first leg of the journey. The Mayor of Rockport also accompanied us.
We were received by many Owensboro residents who came out to see us dock. The boat performed well powered by the two large Mercury inboard engines.
September 10 - The flatboat departed Owensboro, Kentucky, in route to Evansville, Indiana. While in route to Evansville, we came upon two deer swimming across the Ohio River. They were on a collision course with a long string of barges underway. The deer barely escaped being run down by a barge string. Nature and industry in conflict.
We had some difficulty docking in Evansville. Carolyn injured her ankle when she fell while disembarking with Dawn in her arms. I had Autumn and thrust her into a surprised by-stander’s arms, while I rescued Dawn and helped Carolyn. We do not yet know the extent of Carolyn’s injuries. Dawn appears to be uninjured, although she landed on the dock under Carolyn I took Carolyn, Dawn and Autumn back to DC, arriving just before midnight. A difficult day. In the rush to return to DC, my car keys were left behind, which triggered more complications. An eventful day.
September 11 - I returned early morning and boarded the flatboat to participate in the welcoming ceremonies at Evansville. We were at the same dock, but different location. There we were welcomed by he Mayor, a county commissioner, and others. We had lunch there at the dock before casting off for Henderson, Kentucky. We arrived mid-afternoon and again were met by many viewers. A kind gentleman and his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Scott Bush, were generous enough to take me to UPS, where I sent the car key back to DC. Weather hot and humid. Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Bush. Sleeping on boat for first time tonight. Last report is that Dawn is ok. Still nothing definitive for Carolyn.
September 12 -We arrived early at Mt Vernon. They had a Riverfest in full swing, with all kinds of food stands. We received a presentation from the Mayor, and were entertained by a musical group. I especially enjoyed the homemade ice cream.
I went to the American Legion where we had purchased our flag on the last trip. The same people were not there, but the waitress was quite kind and allowed us to film there. We were joined by my friend Joe Wise and family, who rode the next leg of the trip.
We departed there early and went on to Old Shawnee Town. The restaurant there agreed to remain open past 7p so that all could eat. The waitress was informative about the town’s history. We saw the bank where long ago the village of Chicago had been refused a loan for $100000.00. Reason for rejection – Chicago was not on a river and would not grow. The bank is gone, only the historical building remains, and Old Shawnee Town has come upon hard times.
September 13 - We were joined by Hugh Oxendine (who helped build the boat) and his wife and son. We put in at Cave-in-Rock, heard stories of pirates and ruffians who once waylaid flatboaters, and explored the cave. We then went on to Elizabethtown and once again viewed the promontory and gazebo built there.
We rushed to Jonesboro for the reenactment of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate, only to learn that we were one hour late. The debaters kindly did about a 15 minute segment for us so that we could tape. We then returned to E-town.
That evening, the Rose Bed and Breakfast provided a BBQ dinner on their grounds. Later entertainment included a showing of the film “Davy Crockett” One of the scenes included a view of Cave-in-Rock.
September 14 - The wind came up early. We decided to cast off early to remove the boat from the dock that had been so generously made available to us by the local restaurant owner. I feared the boat would wreck the dock if the wind increased. We had to rush everyone on board so that several left their breakfast half eaten .
As we entered the channel the wind picked up, the waves rose, and the boat was in a struggle for its life. It was bad, with the waves routinely sweeping over the bow, and on occasion nearly reaching the wheelhouse. Nola Gentry was driving the chase boat. On several occasions I thought they would capsize. It appeared our boat must surely break up. But we made it to safe harbor. We all gathered at the bow, held hands, and gave thanks for our deliverance. A kind couple at the marina where we sheltered took the crew to their home to clean up, eat and rest I stayed with the boat. Such kindness on the river.
After the storm quieted, we decided to make a run for Paducah, where we would have a more stable dock, and where we could make our repairs. We arrived at .Paducah without incident. Our deck and cabin were battered, but repairs would await the morrow.
September 15 -Today was a layover day in Paducah, Kentucky. We repaired and strengthened the boat with timbers from back home on the family farm of my great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Thompson. We went to a small private ceremony at the River museum, where we discussed Lincoln. John Cooper and I were made honorary Kentucky Colonels.
September 16 -We departed Paducah, Kentucky at about 8 a.m. today in calm weather, with Spencer County Flatboat Committee member Jeff Lindsey and his three sons on board. We locked through and arrived at Ft. Massac State Park in Metropolis, Illinois at about noon. We were welcomed by officials. There were then several activities, including a presentation about the history of flatboats and their utilization during the early to mid-1800s.
As an update, Carolyn's doctor determined that her ankle was broken by her fall at Evansville. We have also concluded that during the fall Carolyn apparently cradled Dawn in such a manner that protected Dawn so that she did not strike the concrete with her head.
The crew decided to accept the Fort's offer to stay the night in the troop barracks. I stayed aboard.
September 17 - This morning we found that the river had raised four feet, thus leaving the dock ramp nearly twenty feet in the water. The park personnel used built-in wenches to pull the ramp, dock and boat in to shore. We cast off at about 8:30a in route to Cairo. We arrived at about 2p. We docked at the same ramp as we did in 2006. This is where my father and mother joined me for a few hours for the first and only time on the boat as it was docked before we departed for Cape Girardeau.
Reporters keep asking what I expect to learn on this trip. I tell them I do not know, but will know it when I see it. Unlike the prior 2006 trip, when our goal and purpose were clear, this time the goal and purpose remain vague. What I do know is that the boat, the Thompson family, Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church and the history of the Lincoln family are all integrally linked.
Goddaughter Reggina called yesterday. She is concerned about the length of the trip and my absence from home. Also, I spoke today with Mrs. Duane Walters. She told me that Duane is recovering with little pain from the broken elbow he sustained on shore, working with the Committee’s vehicle and trailer.
Tonight we were guests for a BBQ dinner at a church near the dock. After the meal we heard a presentation by our host group about flatboats, the Thompson family 2006 Journey of Remembrance, all interrelated to this present Lincoln Journey of Remembrance. At the conclusion of the presentation, I remembered another time and place, and requested that the Mayor and the city councilman, who were known to be excellent singers, to sing. They sang Amazing Grace and Precious Memories. The Mayor then turned to me and said they would sing an old Movement song for me. The Mayor and I stood together with our arms linked as they sang. And then I knew the essence of Lincoln’s Journey of Remembrance.
September 18 - Today is a layover day in Cairo, Illinois, built into the schedule for flexibility and repairs, if needed. Cairo is in many ways a devastated town, a carry-over of deep racial confrontations in the 60s. Buildings are falling onto the sidewalk with no debris removal evident. Yet, it has so much potential. The confluence of the two major American rivers, an extra-ordinary view, two bridges to Kentucky and Missouri, immediate interstate access, historic houses and other buildings, wide streets, unlimited space for building. What a place for a pilot project of community renewal for the upcoming new administration. It could be an oasis on the rivers.
We went to the Nu Café in Cairo for dinner and engaged in conversation with two longtime Cairo residents. They directed us to a point across the river in Missouri to Bird’s Point Landing where grandfather Closs Thompson landed December, 1810. There his son Wilson’s wife fell overboard into the frigid December waters, only to be rescued by Uncle Wilson at the last moment as she slipped under a flatboat.
There he abandoned the flatboat, left the female members of the family aboard the boat and walked with Uncle Wilson to Uncle Elder Benjamin Thompson’s cabin 12 miles from the Cape in the green wilderness. They hired an oxen team to transport their goods and the women. The driver apparently became drunk, broke the ox cart and spilled all their earthly possession onto the muddy pathway. The goods finally arrived at Harris Landing, half-way to the Cape and were put into storage until the spring thaw. When the thaw came they obtained a keel boat and cordelled it up the Mississippi. One man walked on the shore pulling the rope, while the others remained on board using poles to keep the boat from going aground.
We found that location and stood where my people once stood. It was like time revisited to stand where the family had so narrowly averted disaster under a flatboat, and to think 200 years later that our Dawn so narrowly escaped the water.
As we prepare to cast off on the morrow from poor, suffering Cairo, I think back to a time in late October, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson was running for election in his own right. He went to poor, suffering Mississippi, and I paraphrase: “Poor old Mississippi, so hungry to hear a speech of hope, and all she ever hears is race, race, race." Poor suffering Cairo, so hungry for hope, but abandoned by those who used her to advance their own agenda, and moved on to other targets of opportunity, never looking back at the devastation they left in their wake. How badly used were the people of
September 19 - We cast off at about 8:30 a.m. The wake from passing tugs as they made up barge strings pushed us into the shore, but we had no difficulty getting off the ramp. Last evening, as we were looking for Bird’s Landing, we inquired of two men, Mr. Hutcheson and Mr. Bell, who were raking alfalfa hay. They directed us to the exact location. I invited them to tour the boat this morning before we cast off. As we departed Bird’s Landing we came upon a young man who had run his vehicle into the ditch to avoid deer crossing the road. He would not allow us to take him to a hospital, so we stayed with him until his family and friend arrived to take charge.
Mr. Hutcheson and Mr. Bell came aboard this morning. In our conversation, Mr. Hutcheson told us that his grandfather, born in 1855, had seen President Lincoln as he traveled the area in the company of Federal troops. He said that soldiers from both sides arbitrarily and without regard to the likely unwillingness of the farmers, requisitioned/traded horses with the farmers, taking the best fresh horses and leaving in their stead worn out, exhausted army horses. He also told us of his memories of Cairo, where he was born, as a thriving river town of more than 30,000 people, reduced now to about 3000.
We are now on the Mississippi. It is full of debris washed down by the high waters. The current is running about 8 mph. We will check later to determine our actual speed, aided by the current.
Late morning we stopped at Fort Columbus Belmont Kentucky State Park and were treated to an early lunch. The Fort is the point on the Mississippi River where the Confederates ran a chain across the river to bar the Union forces access to the lower Mississippi River, and, thus, to delay invasion and capture of Southern strongholds.
Mid-afternoon we encountered rain and some high wakes cast by barge strings. But, overall the ride has been smooth and uneventful. The boat performs well and appears to be improved by the repairs we made after Sunday’s storm.
As we left Cairo, someone on board made the suggestion that housing in Cairo could be made available to Katrina victims with government loans for home purchase and rehab.
We docked at New Madrid, Missouri at about 5p. The devastating earthquake occurred in December, 1811. New Madrid was also the home of an old and infirm Primitive Baptist minister, Elder John Tanner, who preached the charge at the ordination of Uncle Wilson Thompson in early 1812 at Old Bethel Primitive Baptist Church, using as his text, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest though me? “. Uncle Wilson reported in his autobiography that, “[a]though forty-five years have passed away, and many sermons and other valuable thoughts have gone from my memory, the substance of this sermon I still retain.”
Elder Tanner was a native of Old Virginia, who had been shot, beaten and imprisoned by the Colonial Church of England for his beliefs. And so the confluence in history of my own family, the Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church, the Lincoln family, and our country, all in search of freedom. See “A slave’s story” for information about a slave Uncle Wilson baptized.
And so as we drift on the Mississippi waters we learn more about the essence of Lincoln, and ourselves. Freedom, freedom, freedom, the cornerstone of life.
September 20 - We departed New Madrid at about 9a. Last night at dinner the waitress told us that in the 1811 earthquake the town of New Madrid disappeared, the river ran backward, and the shock was heard as far away as the east coast. My own ancestors reported that people and horses could scarcely stand. The family went on to report that:
“We could hear the screams of the people near the river, and the falling of houses. Large trees were snapped off, and the boughs of others were
.... lashing each other with fury, and old mossy logs were rolled out of their beds. All this was from the great agitation of the earth, for not a breeze.... ....
.... of wind could be perceived. These heavy shocks were often introduced by a sound like distant thunder, and then a roaring, like heavy wind, would
.... come through the air, and with this sound would come the shaking and convulsive surges of the earth."
As a result of the earthquake hundreds of people flocked to churches to be baptized. Among those was my great-great-great-great-great uncle, Benjamin Thompson.
Which brings us full circle to the central questions, as follows:
Who was Abraham Lincoln?
To what extent was Lincoln influenced by his time in Spencer County, Indiana?
To what extent, if any, was Lincoln influenced by his time at Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church?
As I ponder those questions, I find the best answers in the words of my ancestors, and in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. My ancestors' and our continued philosophy, stated in approximately 1815 - which could well be said to be the credo of the Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church while Lincoln was there between 1816 and 1830 - is as follows:
"Under the auspices of a popular free government, that disarms the disposition of tyrants and places us all under the protection of the tree of
liberty, men can now enjoy freedom of conscience, of thought, of speech, and of the press, and can be free to act in compliance with their own
convictions of where and how they should worship God, or not at all, as they choose. All are free from the "established" religion of an earthly
king, and an oppressive law-made clergy to override the consciences of the people - regardless of reason or the free volition of the mind and will."
Lincoln's own answer can best be found in the concluding words of his 1865 Second Inaugural Address, delivered about a month before his assassination, as follows:
"Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until
all the wealth piled up by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with
the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord
are true and righteous altogether.'
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are
in, to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the Battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve
and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
Running through both of the foregoing is the inexplicable joy and cost of freedom. Lincoln tells the cost of freedom. In an earlier posting, in my discussion of Elder John Tanner and his suffering at the hands of the Colonial Church of England, I discussed the cost of freedom. In my blog for the my 2006 Journey of Remembrance, tracing my own ancestors, I detailed the cost of freedom as I described events I have observed in my own life. You can read those comments in the blog here.
September 21 - I notice that I did not indicate yesterday’s destination. We arrived at Caruthersville, Missouri yesterday at about 2p, and departed this morning at 8a. We arrived at Osceola, Arkansas, today at about 2 p.m. We had on board two reporters who interviewed most or all persons on board.
The president of the Osceola Chamber of Commerce, two state representatives, the mayor, and the head of the historical society met us and provided a dinner at dockside. We were also joined by a volunteer rescue squad. We then went to Osceola (about 6 miles) to the historical museum. The town has a new power plant and a grain terminal. The attitude is upbeat, looking to the future. We were told that the topsoil is several hundred feet deep. Irrigation was evident.
With regard to yesterday’s posting, I recalled a story about Uncle Elder Wilson Thompson. Renowned as the leading Primitive Baptist frontier minister, he trudged down a long, dusty road to reach his next appointment. He arrived at a rather imposing home. When the lady came to the door she admonished him as follows: “I have an important person coming to my home for dinner, Elder Wilson Thompson, How dare you, a dusty, worn, unkempt stranger come to my front door.” When she learned who he was apologies were made. At dinner he found a sumptuous frontier feast placed before him. He rejected it all, and said, “I will have cornbread and butter milk.” That story has been repeated in my family all my life to teach that you may receive angels unaware, but, more importantly, humility, and the unbecomingness of self-importance.
September 22 - We departed Osceola, Arkansas, at 8 a.m. The mosquitoes were fierce last night, and seem to get worse the further south we go. Boat is running well. Current is running at about 6 mph, making our total speed about 10 mph. We arrived in Memphis at about 1 p.m.
There were no activities today – apparently those are planned for tomorrow. The generator went down and we had to send a truck back to my farm on a turn-around trip to pick up my own generators from the prior trip. I stayed on the boat all day and night.
September 23 - Today is a lay-over day at Memphis. We just realized that the first Presidential Debate will occur three days from now at Oxford, Mississippi. We are looking at our schedule to see how close we come to Oxford on that date.
My replacement generator, the one that made the 2006 trip, arrived from the Jeremiah Thompson farm about noon today, started immediately, and has performed lawlessly. It was like seeing an old friend again. In fact, the boat and the timbers in the boat seem like old friends, reaching across the years from Revolutionary war veteran Closs Thompson, to today, just three days before a biracial man will debate in his quest for the Presidency. The Lincoln of the Second Inaugural Address would be proud of what his words and deeds have wrought.
I have lived on the boat since we embarked, except for the first two nights when Dawn and Autumn were here, and my trip after the accident to return them and Carolyn to DC.
September 24 - We departed Memphis at 8 a.m. Stopped at Tunica River Park where the Visitors Bureau provided lunch, toured the museum and viewed a movie about the Mississippi River. Cast off at 1 p.m.
The barge strings and tugs are longer, larger, and more frequent. The wake can create high waves of extended duration, causing the boat to rock side-to-side and to rise and then fall into the troughs.
We arrived in Helena, Arkansas at about 5 p.m. Several persons were there to greet us. There was no official function. We are docked in a rather swampy area, so expect mosquitoes to be a problem tonite.
For the past 30 years, I have been a part of community outreach in DC’s inner city, organizing and helping those unable to help themselves. For the past 20 years I have practiced civil rights law there, representing minority disabled children against an imperious government operating a failed school system. Along the way I have encountered life far different from what my family knew back home on Jeremiah’s farm. I have gone to seemingly countless funerals, helped pay for some. Death, a constant ever-present companion, comes so casually to the broken young for whom hope is illusory in the inner city.
The day this journey began, I was notified that a former young client had been killed, all over $500. Four deaths in that extended family. Today I just received word that another former young client is now also dead. Surely this could not have been Lincoln’s dream when he set this country on its long tortuous journey toward equality, at the cost of more than a half million dead, untold treasure and yet unresolved grievances. How did we fail Lincoln’s dream? Did his assassination delay into an as yet uncertain future time the arrival of the better angels of our own souls?
September 25 - We departed Helena at 8 a.m. With the current we are running about 12-13 mph. We have decided to stop and refuel but not stay tonite at or near today’s planned destination at Mouth of White River, but to press on to Greenville, Mississippi. Plan is to arrive there today late evening, rather than tomorrow evening. That will give us flexibility for tomorrow.
River is calm with rather light barge traffic. Boat is running well. The depth finder is out, so Sterling has rigged the old-fashioned line and weight to check depth by hand.
Mid-day we commenced a discussion among those on board about the three questions I posed in my earlier blog. On board was Charlie Finecy, who said he is a sixth cousin of Aaron Grigsby, the husband of Lincoln’s sister, Sarah, buried with her still-born infant in her arms at the Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church. He is a former Spencer County historian, quite knowledgeable about Lincoln’s life, especially his boyhood in Indiana.
At 4 p.m. we stopped at Rosedale, Mississippi, and refueled. We were met at dockside by Mayor Carey G. Estes, who came aboard. He told us the city is 82% black, 16% white, and 2 % other. He was especially proud of his electoral support from the black community. Next stop Greenville, Mississippi.
We just enjoyed rib-eye steaks cooked by Sterling – As good as any in a fine restaurant. We are running in the dark at 8:30 p.m. We just met a barge string where the tug captain used his powerful spotlight to guide us toward harbor. This is the latest at night this boat has ever run. We have passed by an unseemingly never ending line of barges, miles, docked in this harbor area. Certainly different from the farm. What did it look like in 1828 during Lincoln’s flatboat trip?
We docked at 9:30 p.m. at Greenville, Mississippi.
September 26 - Last nite was cool, good for sleeping, not so many mosquitoes. We had breakfast at Jim’s Café, owned and operated by Jim’s son Gus Johnson, who told us many stories about the history of Greenville. We then stopped and viewed the archeological finds of John Moore of Greenville Iron Works, who finds all sorts of treasures along the river bank. We purchased a Seth Thomas ship’s clock for the boat.
John Cooper was interviewed by Ms. Necha Kandikatla a Greenville Channel 6 reporter, originally from New York. I urged her to go to Cairo with her producer and do an in-depth story of the lost hope and the unrecognized opportunities.
We then went in search of Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was killed so many years ago. We were redirected on our way by a young black man working in the repair shop of what appeared to be a large farm/plantation. He provided us with directions, but of more interest was our discussion of the local protocol for dealing with that issue, still unresolved. When I departed his presence, I called him my brother, but knew I would never experience what his life is and his future may be.
I looked out over the vast, fertile delta fields, covered with ripening cotton, and dimly saw a glimmer of ghosts from the past, backs bent, in involuntary servitude to another man, with no hope for joy to come in the morning. We then made our way to Money, Mississippi, to the general store, now decaying and falling, and tried to visualize a young black teenager from Chicago, not schooled in local folkways and traditions, who insulted a white woman by an inappropriate whistle, and paid with his life, and torture before death came. I remember reading of his mother who insisted that his casket be left open for all the world to see what rage had wrought, and to stand on the spot where in that moment change, albeit inexorably slow, had its birth.
From there we went to a re-creation of what appeared to be a community of slave cabins as they would have been both then and in share-cropper days. Upon leaving we came upon a settlement of houses, in use, that looked little different, and wondered, what change.
On our way back to Greenville, we stopped at Itta Bena, home-town of DC’s long time mayor, Marion Berry. From there I called my community organizing colleague and friend, Milli Edwards, a close friend of former mayor Berry.
After our return to Greenville, we were greeted by several city officials and presented with a key to the city. In my response, I told them where I had been, what I had seen, and how far we have to go to achieve Lincoln’s dream of equality among people and unity within our country. I suppose that was my 1964 LBJ moment, but it seemed well received, I hope.
I am planning to go across the levy tonight to restaurant and see the Oxford, Mississippi, debate.
Plans changed for the debate. The yacht club requested that we bring the boat to their dock tonite, which we did (my first time at a yacht club). We then had dinner there and watched the Presidential Debate at Oxford, Mississippi. Comments by men sitting in front of us during the debate made me proud of where I went today and what I wrote about it. LBJ was so right. I have so often pondered what it would have been like to be born a black man in a culture defined by skin color, given my lifetime of resistance to abuse of power. Tonight I so inadequately felt the horror of what it must have been to be subjugated by such men, 143 years after Lincoln. Will my daughters live lives defined by color? Do my black god-daughters, living in DC, fathom what it is like where there is no hope?
I did not come to Mississippi during the summer of 1964. That was not my family’s way. But my family baptized slaves and called them brothers and sisters in the Primitive Baptist Church in Missouri Territory 151 years before that. And now I am in Mississippi 44 years after that summer, and 195 years after my family’s time in Missouri Territory.
Yes, I believe. I believe that at the time of the Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln had resolved that whatever the cost, human bondage must end and this nation must remain whole and unasundered. Whatever the cost. And he was right. But his work is not yet done.
September 27 - We departed on time today at 8 a.m., enroute to Lake Providence, La. We returned to Jim’s café for breakfast and to say good-by. I purchased a bottle of his special hot sauce, bottled in old Jim Beam bottles, to be shipped home. As I left his café I looked up and down the street to all of the closed and unused buildings – small town America under siege.
We paid $130 for the Seth Thomas clock. It runs. We have now mounted it in the cabin where it adds to the character. Sterling has now offered to buy the clock for $300, with more still on the table. I now bequeath immediately the Seth Thomas clock to Dawn Agnew Drake and Autumn Agnew Drake – it is now off limits.
As we left the harbor to return to the river channel, we passed seemingly miles of docked barges, and a dry dock repairing barges. We also passed by a large grain terminal that yesterday had semi trucks backed up in line to unload for about a mile. I felt a sense of wonderment that a wooden boat that I helped build back home in Fairbanks Township, Indiana, built from trees growing when my ancestors were alive, could be plying these waters, respectably.
As we leave, my mind’s eye sees more clearly today the vast delta fields, with the backs of an enslaved people turned toward the sun, as they worked off their life sentence of servitude. How could the Founders have signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the War, drafted a Constitution the envy of all nations of good will, embarked a new nation, and still left a people in bondage? How could Lincoln, who revered the Founders and their work, have finally reached his 2nd Inaugural Address position that it mattered not the cost in blood or treasure, a people were to be set free, and a nation, destined for greatness, would not be Balkanized as in the old countries? Will we find the answer by Journey’s end?
We arrived at Lake Providence, Louisiana at about 3 p.m. Sterling had cooked chili for lunch – quite good. We were some distance from the town, docked at some type of barge loading facility. Several Mennonites came to view the boat. Mosquitoes are the worst we have encountered. No other activities.
September 28 - We departed Lake Providence a few minutes before 8a. We purchased a German chocolate cake from a young Mennonite lady, who said she is a school teacher. A friend of hers brought home-made bread baked this morning, as a welcomed gift.
Sleeping was the worst it has ever been. Mosquitoes were fierce. The water dropped during the nite leaving our bow hung on the ramp, but we managed to break free.
We have two generators aboard, the one we used on the last part of the 2006 trip, and the new replacement (never opened) for the one we wore out during the first part of that trip. We have now opened and put in service the smaller, new replacement generator to see if it makes less noise. Sterling, who claims to be the trip cook and deck hand, who also claims to be qualified in 16 different skilled professions, has now moved his cooking operation from the top deck to the cabin.
Sterling cooked fried potatoes, butter beans and salmon patties for lunch. It was excellent. He is now called Mr. Chef.
We had a reception today at 2 p.m., with music. Were received by the Visitors Bureau and an alderman.
The following is copied directly from my 2006 blog, with relevance to this journey too. Click here
September 29 - We cast off at 7 p.m. today enroute to Natchez, Mississippi. Used mosquito net and a citronella candle last night. Problem solved, hopefully. When we were welcomed by the city councilman at Vicksburg, during the welcoming ceremonies, he announced that he “sings a little bit.” In my response, I requested that he favor the gathering with a song. He demurred, saying that he needed backup when singing. I noted to him that there was an instrumental group there preparing to perform, and that I was sure they would be his back up. He declined, saying “I need my own group.” Moral of the story, don’t announce that you possess a particular skill and then not expect to be called out.
Smooth sail today. Sterling cooked eggs and hog jowl for breakfast, chicken and dumplings (made from flour tortilla), gumbo vegetables. He promised country ham tomorrow – I do not know of any clean knife to cut it. However, he told us no one has ever become sick from his cooking. So far, he is right. Tomorrow may be the test.
We arrived at Roth Hill Park at Natchez Under the Hill at 3 p.m. Since the on-shore group could not set at the ramp, and we could not dock at their location, we went to their location and tied to willow trees and floated against the shore, much like Lincoln would have done. It turned out well, because on-lookers could then look down the bank and have a better view than if we were docked. We then moved for the night to the ramp.
Smooth sailing today. Expect to meet encounter much rougher waters in next couple of days with wake from ocean going vessels. That may test the boat one last time.
September 30 -Today was a safety day in the schedule. However, with no need for repair, we chose to press on today to St. Francisville. We departed Natchez at 7:30 a.m. for St. Francisville, which has been substituted for Angola Ferry, La., where it had been determined we could not dock. Yesterday’s two riders chose not to ride today. We have aboard a reporter, Ed Collins, and a photographer, Richard Alan Hannon, from The (Baton Rouge) Advocate.
After refueling and about 30 miles out of St. Francisville, we hit a barge wake that came up several feet above the deck gunnel. No harm.
We arrived at St Francisville, La. At about 6 p.m. We docked next to a ferry that charges $1 to cross the river one way, nothing the other.
October 1 - We cast off from St. Francisville at 7:30 a.m. The ferry next to where we were docked commenced running at 5 a.m. with all attendant noise. We had a reporter, a photographer and an author aboard for the run to Baton Rouge. Smooth sailing, breakfast and lunch courtesy of chef Sterling.
We arrived and tied off at a barge dock next to the USS Kidd, across from the Port of Baton Rouge. Apparently nothing is planned for the day, big day tomorrow with welcoming ceremonies.
I just spoke to the daughter of a family who were close church friends of my parents at the Mt. Moriah Primitive Baptist Church which my Dad pastored for many years. I last saw her as a small child more than 40 years ago. She is now a professor at LSU. I hope she visits the boat, sees the timber from my father’s farm, and feels a connection to my parents whom she described as like grandparents to her.
As we have traveled down the river, we have seen a plethora of gambling casino boats docked, lighted, open continuously, no river travel, boats in name only. The host communities seem grateful for their presence and their tax revenue. Little is said about the devastated families and seniors they lure with their siren call of quick riches without work or pain. As we pass them by, I take silent satisfaction that in a time not too distant past, others and I fought and defeated slots in DC. What would Closs Thompson have thought on his 1810 journey to Missouri Territory had he passed by these shrines to instant riches? What would Lincoln have thought on his 1828 journey as he passed by these fantasy palaces erected to ensnare? Would he have been the Lincoln of the Second Inaugural Address? Would he have become president, freed the bondman, and saved a nation, had he succumbed to the lure of riches without cost, success without pain?
October 2 - We remain docked next to the USS Kidd at Baton Rouge. Our cook (former chef until today) did not appear, so breakfast was on shore. When I left the boat for dinner last evening, I walked about three blocks, only to discover I was wearing one brown deck shoe and one black tennis shoe. After pondering the relative merits of walking six unnecessary blocks, I decided to stay with the shoes I had, and if anyone made inquiry, to be prepared with some type of over the top Sterling story. Sadly, no one inquired and I had no opportunity to test my Sterling tall tale-telling skills.
Today we went to the USS Kidd for a luncheon provided by that organization. The chief of police and his assistant came on board, toured the boat and talked with us for a few minutes. He told us that Baton Rouge grew 20 years worth of population in a short time as the result of Katrina. He said many evacuees have now settled here, bought homes, and will not return to New Orleans. We had already been told that Baton Rouge is now the largest city in Louisiana. Do not yet know where I will watch the vice-presidential debate tonight.
Our family and church friend, Karen Bradley Donnelly, and her family came to visit and see the boat. It had been 40 years since I had seen her. She was a small child then.
The Visitors Bureau hosted a welcoming event for us. Mayor Kip Holden read a proclamation declaring today “Journey of Remembrance.” He remembered working with my wife on legislative matters in DC. After my response, he opened his arms in an embrace. I told him “I think we are brothers.” He said “I think so, too.” One moment in time. I then introduced Karen as our family friend with a family/church friendship spanning 5 generations. I told them that Indiana’s loss was LSU and Baton Rouge’s gain.
Tonite the Foundation for Historical Louisiana hosted a reception for us at the Old Governor’s Mansion, built by Governor Huey Long in 1930. Several of us were asked to address the group. I recalled for them the beginning of our journey at Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church and Sarah Lincoln Grigsby’s graveside. On the river for nearly 30 days. So much learned. So much changed from then till now.
October 3 - We departed Baton Rouge at 7 a.m., with appreciation to Baton Rouge for the warmth and hospitality shown us. I can understand why so many Katrina evacuees have chosen to stay. We have a reporter from Rockport, Indiana, Angela Geralds, on board for today and tomorrow. I watched the vice-presidential debate last night at a hotel near the dock.
The following is the response I made yesterday to the mayor’s welcome. It was taped by Duwayne Walters:
Thank you Mr. Mayor and to all the officials gathered here today. This has been the highlight of the trip thus far that we have taken. It has been a journey
of remembrance in many ways. For me it has been a journey of remembrance for my own family, and for the history of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, as you
have already heard, had his formative years in Spencer County. He grew up there in a church that happened to be my own people, the Little Pigeon
Primitive Baptist Church, where my father once preached as well.
So it has been a journey of remembrance. The boat that you see out there was made from timber Taken from my ancestral farm, my family’s farm,
back in Indiana. They too took a trip like this in 1810, from Cincinnati to Missouri Territory. It makes you stop and think and wonder, and wonder
and think some more. Many people think of Lincoln in iconic status throughout his life. I believe that not to be true. I believe that he was a
poor boy who struggled, struggled in the wild green forest, struggled to find himself, and he worked, and he worked, and he worked, and kept
The Lincoln I want to think about is the Lincoln of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates in Illinois, in 1858, who by then had begun to return to his roots,
to what was really right and wrong, and what could stand and what couldn’t stand. That a house divided could not stand. And I think this we have
He went, not to set aside slavery, he went to preserve the Union. Only as he paid the price of the Civil War and the blood and treasure that were given
and sacrificed. Only when you come to his Second Inaugural, when you find a man who has given his all and his spirit, you find a man who has
returned to his founding, to his background and understanding from Spencer County, and then you find the icon, then you find the Lincoln what
I say is a secular saint. One who then said, whatever the cost, whatever the cost, right must prevail.
As we have come down the river, we have learned a lot of things, I hope you will take a look at both of our blogs, the Spencer County blog and mine,
mine called Ron’s blog of Lincoln’s journey blog, see some of the things we have seen and found.. We haven’t reached Lincoln’s dream. We’re
still a nation with division. We are still a nation that has struggles dealing with racial inequality, but what we can say, Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln
set us on a path. We’re not there yet. But we’ll get there.
October 4 - We arrived about 6 p.m. at our last stop for our last night on the river. We had a mid-afternoon fueling stop at a barge string assembly location. The tow boats made room for us so we could get to shore within reach of our fuel/supply truck that has accompanied us along the way. For our last night out we docked next to a Louisiana Water Rescue Patrol center. Once again, the hospitality was genuine and welcomed, and the men manning the patrol came aboard to inspect our boat and marvel over John Cooper’s skill in planning and building this wooden boat.
We cast off this morning at 8 a.m. with reporter Angela Geralds from Rockport again on board. For this last leg of the journey, Duane Walters (from the Rockport 1958 trip) joined us. Bob Gross, also from that 1958 trip, who has been with us all the way, also was aboard. Once again we enjoyed a good breakfast (last meal on board) by Sterling. A friendly debate ensued and ended inconclusively as to who would get to take Sterling home to cook (his wife was waiting to claim him when we docked).
We saw numerous barges parked alongside shore, as well as many docked sea-going vessels. Weather was excellent. We arrived at New Orleans, locked through a small lock into an industrial canal. Unlike other cities and towns along the way, New Orleans officialdom had been singularly unresponsive to repeated requests to meet us at our journey’s end. So it ended with us being allowed by a private company to come alongside a grassy lot on that industrial canal. We were met by persons in our fuel truck and in the Toyota that followed us on shore, but no one from New Orleans. We crossed over onto land on a make shift gangplank.
An ending as inauspicious as our beginning had been auspicious. However, it seems right that our journey should end this way. Lincoln, so unimportant in the world in 1828, would have been met by no one. And when our journey began (before the official send-off), it was at a little church, unimportant to most (Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church), located next to a once unimportant grave site (Sarah Lincoln Grigsby), a half mile from the probable burial site of Lincoln’s mother, a mile from Lincoln homestead. The journey ended, as it began at the church, with a prayer of thanksgiving by the assembled voyagers gathered near the bow. I embraced Chef Sterling (somewhat to his chagrin), the teller of tall tales, a great cook and a new friend.
And then we all went our separate ways. A four hours airline flight, and I was returned to real time. Time had not stood still in my absence, nor had I. I return changed, with a new perspective, with renewed faith in the innate goodness of people along the river, but in need of time.
Flatboat “Journey of Remembrance” will return next week by truck to Indiana, a reminder of the past month, and of so much more.
October 7 - The Rockport Parks Board has declined to accept the flatboat Journey of Remembrance for display at the Lincoln Pioneer Village. Therefore, the flatboat will be returned to and placed on the Closs Thompson Lake at the Jeremiah Thompson farm near Fairbanks, Indiana. The return date is uncertain, but will likely be Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, October 14-16, 2008. Onlookers are welcomed. To confirm the date, contact builder/trip master John Cooper, (615) 419-2532.
Thursday October 23 - The flatboat Journey of Remembrance arrived home at the Jeremiah Thompson farm near Fairbanks, Indiana, by truck from New Orleans today. It was lifted from the truck by two cranes and placed on the Closs Thompson lake.
The two Mercury Marine motors were returned today to the Mercury Marine dealer in Rockport, Indiana. They are to be held pending instruction as to their disposition by the manufacturer, Mercury Marine.
EPILOGUE TO FOLLOW
September 26th Addendum - When we made our trip to Money, Mississippi, the location of Emmett Till’s death, we used our GPS navigator. Up to that time it had never failed. We programmed it for Money, Mississippi, and followed its instructions. It led us down a gravel road to a point where we were surrounded on all sides by cotton fields, no Money, Mississippi, in sight, and it announced, “You have arrived.” Given our quest, it seemed ironic.
For more information about this trip, visit the Spencer County Visitor Bureau's Lincoln's Journey Web site, call 888-444-9252 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.