A NIGHT IN A SWAMP.
In the December of 1831, “putting out” from the Capital of Georgia, Milledgeville, (“a promising town, but which very few people think it worth while to remind of its promises,) might have been seen, at an early hour in the morning, a long, lumbering wagon, canvass topped, &c., a “basket horse,” snuffing the breeze out of the after end, and one or two eccentric looking individuals, (exclusive of the driver—an “up country cracker,”) lounging in the forepart, almost as inertly as the rag pile of “Miller’s Men” on which they were reclining. This was the “baggage wagon,” containing the moveable portion of the “scenery, machinery, dresses and decorations” of Mr. Sol. Smith’s theatrical company, then in the act of invading the State of Alabama on a winter campaign, and with the purpose of attacking the town of Montgomery, in particular. Immediately after breakfast, on the same morning, two or three “travelling carriages,” not over ostentatious in their appearance, set out, on the same road, containing Manager Sol. and the rest of the company. It was about the commencement of bad weather ; the streams were rising, I remember distinctly that it was a pretty general drench across the two States, but it was my intention only to mention one or two watery passages connected with the journey.
Not a great way from the Alabama line, in Georgia, on the high road to Columbus—that is if it continues to be a high road in these times of topographical ambition—is a water course called Bull Creek ; the whole route had been rendered difficult by the heavy rains, and now, Bull Creek lay in the way, swelling and roaring and endeavoring to deserve its name, by behaving in as bull-headed a manner as possible. Old Sol.’s private carriage was, literally, a family coach, his whole family (a small one at that time, though,) being contained in it, to say nothing of the writer, who sat on the front seat, wondering what was to “be done with him next.” Of course there was a dead stop at the formidable looking ford ; the negro driver “didn’t like dat water, no how!” till manager “Sol.,” who had often crossed before, cast the black boy for another part, that of the footman, assumed the responsible character of coachman himself, and boldly determined that he would go through with it. In we went—in deeper—now, glancing from the coach window, we caught a full view of the stream, with its impetuous rush in the middle.
“Solomon!” said a mild voice, “won’t it be dangerous?”
“Sol.,” cried a more reckless one, “can you go it, old fellow?”
“Hallo! daddy,” screamed one of the boys, “here’s the water coming through!”
“It’s only deep for a few yards,” said Sol., pushing onward, when, in an instant, the body of the coach was inundated, and, from its loose motion, it was evident that we were afloat! Sol. whipped up like mad, as the vehicle swung round ; the horses snorted and struggled, the boys screamed and gathered themselves on to the seats, the mother grew mute and pale, their fellow-traveller contemplated a spring through the window—one intense moment, when the horses felt ground—hurrah! whip, shout, struggle—and the drenched coach, staggering and shivering, seemingly, was dragged up the opposite shore!
“There,” says Sol., “you stupid nigger, couldn’t you do that?”
The driver resumed his seat with an expressive “Whew!”
“Well,” muttered he, “I never did tink ole Sol. done fotch himself clar, dat time!” Three or four days, over corduroy roads, in the “Creek nation,” Alabama, had not served to shake Bull Creek from remembrance, when a homeless throng of about two thousand persons, camped in every shape and direction—travellers, movers, negroes, &c., warned us that we had reached Kalebah hatchee,--the drain of an immense swamp, now flooded,--and that the rude bridge, &c., had been swept away. It was evening when we arrived. The one house of entertainment swarmed like a bee hive, while the borders of the swamp were hardly less populous.
“Not a bit of room inside,” cried the landlord, as we drove up.
“Thank you,” said Sol., “knew you would! Jump out ladies!”
“Not a bit of room, I say,” repeated the landlord.
“Of course a bit will do ; there’s only three, and they can all go together, when there’s a crowd!”
“But I say there’s no use of coming in!”
“They’re coming in, thank you,” blandly persevered the manager, with his hand to his ear, as if partially deaf; and actually pushing by the man, with the ladies under his wing, he made his way into a back room of the log tenement, one which served alike for kitchen and eating hall, placed the shivering females at the fire, and forthwith began doing the agreeable to the cook and hostess.
Following the example of their manager, in being a little deaf, and a little blind, and a good deal civil, some half a dozen of the party managed not only to get in “for a warm,” as poor Smike says, but to seat themselves at the “first table,” also ; nay, more, finally obtaining the sanction of the landlord to “take their chance” for the night. The woods, without, were red with camp-fires ; the ground was marshy and wet, but the scene was of the wildest, and most exciting nature. Not a soul had passed for several days ; the gathering crowds, however, with the Indians of the neighborhood, had toiled unceasingly, and a few hour’s work, in the morning, it was thought would complete a temporary means of crossing. The movers sat  listlessly within or around their wagons; the negroes prepared their suppers, laughing and singing, as usual ; the Indians stood by in groups, or wandered singly, begging for whiskey ; while Sol. and his friends, raising the surprise of all, went “from tent to tent” rehearsing the choruses of Cinderella and Massaniello, then “in active preparation,” for the opening of the season at Montgomery.
Bed time came—all but the beds! The Thespians had “their chance,” however, and had fixed their hopes upon a small rude apartment, which with divers barrels, old trunks, saddles, &c., actually did contain a cot,--carefully watched by a lanky, stupid-looking fellow. On the cot, by some extraordinary distribution, were two pillows, and one of them being denied to the intruders, as they arranged their bag or two of straw, a direful longing for mischief was aroused. At length Sol. entered, looking more like a deacon than ever he did in his most clerical moments.
“Sir,” said he, to the proprietor of the pillows, “you have no objection to prayer?”
“No,” said the man, rather confused.
“Seek the landlord, if you please, and procure two candles!”
The commissioned one looked at his cot, then at his company—now hushed into a respectable solemnity of aspect—and finally went to procure two candles.
“What the devil do you want with two candles?” cried the landlord as he stood at the door, with a pine torch in his hand.
“That preacher says he wants to have prayers by ‘em.”
It is uncertain whether the host liked least the demand, or the object of it ; but after an equally fruitless application to the lady of the mansion, the messenger returned—to find the room in total darkness, and his fellow lodgers fast asleep. He groped to his cot, and his first exclamation was “The pillers gone, by gracious!” Another feel—“Look here, deacon!” A very comfortable snore came from one corner. “I say, stranger, I’ll be go derned if you haint gone to sleep a leetle quicker than you’d a-done if you hadn’t gone and stole my hull beddin’! not a dern thing but the tick!” muttered he, as he continued his examination. “Stranger!” A simultaneous snore from every point appeared to warn the bereaved one that the odds were entirely against him, and muttering that he was “a dern fool, anyhow,” and a “pretty dern kind of prayer-meetin’ that was,” &c., he seemed to bestow himself on the outside of the tick. Things became quiet, when the intense darkness was strangely dissipated by a broad stream of blue fire, which starting from one side, made its way along the planks directly towards the cot, the occupant of which jumped up in alarm.
“Two candles, h—ll!” said he.  “I should like to catch myself prayin’ with such a dern set—or sleepin’ either!” and he bolted out, while the Thespians bolted themselves in, restoring the cot contingents,--investing the deacon with its occupancy, and, finally, emptying the brandy flask, a portion of the contents of which had procured the evacuation of the fortress. The writer remembers being awakened in the morning by a strange sort of pushing and punching at his head. “Be quiet, will you!” cried he. Another punch, and an attempt to pull the pillow away. “Oh, thunder,” said he, peevishly, “I’ve got the pillow, and I mean to keep it!” Push—punch—and a deuce of a pull! “D—m it, what are you about!” The sleeper started up to behold the snout of a swine in the act of being withdrawn through a hole in the floor, and the pillow followed it into the under apartment—the pigsty!
How the deacon contrived, notwithstanding the impatient crush of two thousand persons, to get his teams first over the bridges in the morning, ought to be the subject of a separate story. St. Louis Reveille.
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.41 (6 December 1845): 481. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
 Original text reads “lat.”
 Original text reads “he.’”
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