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Leonard Stephens Diary, 1859 Trip, Part 1

Trip to Monroe County, Missouri.

May 22nd, 1859. This morning at 5:00 o'clock I left my home on a trip to Monroe County, Missouri. According to arrangement, at Napoleon's in Covington, I joined with my sister, Mrs. Mary Waller Herndon, my niece Mrs. Eliza Riddell and my daughter Mrs. Harriet Stephens and her little daughter Lucy. At the depot in Cincinnati we were also joined by Hiram Calvert a relative from East Bend. At the rail road depot we procured tickets and at 9:00 o'clock A.M. the cars moved off to St. Louis. We had a pleasant trip to Vincennes, where we arrived at after 4:00 o'clock P.M. and took lodgings at the American Hotel. We found it pretty good and nothing unpleasant occurred to mar our comfort.

June 23rd, 1859. At about 6:00 o'clock this morning we left the hotel in an omnibus for the rail road. We found the train from Cincinnati and after waiting for the passengers to breakfast, the train started with us on board and we arrived at St. Louis about 1/2 after 2:00 o'clock, or at the depot on the east side of the Mississippi River. We took an omnibus for the Virginia House where we took quarters for the night. We found the accommodations good and we were well pleased in all respects. We walked over the City a good deal and found it much more extensive than I had expected to see it. It was a larger town and appears to be in a very flourishing condition.

June 24th, 1859. We left St. Louis at an early hour and at 5:00 o'clock took the North Missouri Rail Road for Sturgeon, which is 130 miles from St. Louis and 10 miles from where Brother William Stephens lives. We arrived at Sturgeon at about 12:00 o'clock where we found brother William, his son Absolum, his grand son Temple Stephens and a Mr. Walker Fetheston, who married his grand daughter. After dining at Sturgeon, we got into conveyances that had been brought for us and about one hours sun [sic] arrived at Brother Billy's and his son Thos' where we were cordially received by the whole family.

June 25th, 1859. This being Sunday the ladies that came from Kentucky and also the ladies that were here went to meeting at Middle Grove. I and brother William did not go to meeting but remained at home with friends that preferred to stay.

June 27th, 1859. Today we went to Absolum Stephens and were kindly received by him and his wife, where we spent a pleasant day.

June 28th, 1859. We visited Col. William R. Stephens where there were quite a collection gathered. We went in the fore noon to fishing and had a good deal of sport. We caught so thirty odd fish mostly of diminutive size and of the cat kind. After dinner we enjoyed ourselves in social chats and nodding. Up to the present time I have slept at Brother Billie's and expect to do so while I remain in this part of the state. We find friends here of the most friendly kind and they take all the pains to make our visit agreeable. The ladies before named who came from Kentucky are going from here to Chariton County to visit friends living there and expect to start there on the 30th instant.

[Here the diary ends and no further record of the trip was made.]


Monroe County lies in an area between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that became known as Little Dixie from the Southern origins of most of the settlers. The southwestern part of Monroe County gained the nickname of Missouri's Bluegrass from its horse breeding. Missouri: A Guide to the "Show Me" State (NY: Hastings House, 1954 [1941]), 369. Return.

Leonard's elder son, Napoleon Bonaparte Stephens (1814-1887), lived in Covington where he served as Clerk of State and Federal Courts. He was later President of the City Council. Return.

Mary Waller Stephens (1789-1869), had married Benjamin Herndon (1786-1839) in Orange County, Virginia in 1805, before the families migrated to Kentucky. Return.

Eliza Ann Herndon (1809-1870), daughter of Mary and Benjamin, had married Fountain Riddell (1806-1875) in Campbell County, Kentucky in 1827. Return.

Harriet A. Riddell (1826-1888) was the wife of Leonard's younger son, Lucien Bonaparte Stephens (1819-1899). She was a niece of Fountain Riddell. Her young daughter, Lucy Waller Stephens (1856-1934), was named for an aunt who died young. Return.

Hiram Calvert (1834-1910) was a grandson of Leonard's elder brother, Benjamin Stephens, Jr. (1779-1855), who had settled in East Bend. Ben's daughter, Louisiana Stephens (1810-1845), had married Samuel Calvert (1805-1890) in 1826. Return.

The Ohio and Mississippi Railroad was a broad-gauge line, associated with the Baltimore & Ohio system. Just two years before, the two roads had joined with the intervening Marrieta and Cincinnati Railroad to inaugurate service from Baltimore to St. Louis with extravagant celebrations all along the route. Seymour Dunbar, A History of Travel in America (NY: Tudor, new and rev. ed., 1937), 1087-1095.

Before the completion of the railroad, the Stephens party would have had to taken a steamboat down the Ohio to Cairo, then up the Mississippi, a total distance of 711 serpentine miles, more than twice that of the rails. Uriah Pierson James, James' River Guide (Cincinnati: U.P. James, 1856 [microform: Louisville: Lost Cause Press, 1976]), 3-7. An ad for the O & M route in the 1860 St. Louis Directory extolled their use of "Foote's Patent Ventilated Cars. By day, affording and [sic] agreeable atmosphere perfectly free from dust." Return.

Vincennes, Indiana, established 1735 by the French as a military post on the eastern bank of the Wabash, was for a while the capital of the Northwest Territory, which stretched from the Ohio River to Lake Superior. Later the seat of Knox County, the town benefited from its location about midway on a straight line between Cincinnati and Saint Louis. When the Stephens party passed through, Vincennes still retained some of its French atmosphere, though the Creole population was being submerged by newer groups, such as the Germans and Irish. James, 126. The travelers had averaged better than 24 miles an hour, a respectable speed, even on the Indiana prairies. Before the introduction of Pullman sleeping cars, most travelers preferred to break their journey overnight. Return.

The American Hotel, at First and Main streets, "was built in 1824 and remained standing until 1870, when John La Plante bought the property and razed it to the ground to make room for a more modern hostelry-- the La Plante House... For many years it was the leading hotel of the city and the meeting place for all prominent citizens to transact business of a public character. ... The above locality was the principal corner of the town in early days, and whenever the militia turned out on dress parade (which was daily) they did their best maneuvering in front of the American Hotel, which always furnished them large audiences." George E. Green, History of Old Vincennes and Knox County, Indiana, Volume 1 (S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1911), 500. Accessed on Google Books, 13 July 2010. Return.

Construction on James Eads' magnificent bridge over the Mississippi would not be started for a decade, so they would have crossed to Saint Louis by ferry. Return.

The Virginia House was among four hotels deemed worthy of mention in James' River Guide. An illustrated advertisement in Bartlett's 1858 St. Louis Business Directory, 15, shows an imposing brick structure of six floors plus a penthouse, located on Main Street at Green and Second. Return.

St. Louis in 1856 extended along the limestone bluffs above the river for more than six miles and boasted a number of grand new public and private buildings. Five dozen churches served an estimated population of more than 100,000. James, 24. Missouri had surpassed Kentucky in population by 1860, thanks in part to the large number of Kentuckians like the Stephens kin who had forsaken the Bluegrass State for new lands in the west.


The North Missouri Rail Road was one of several lines chartered by the state in the previous decade when railroad fever swept the populace. It was to run from St. Charles up the divide between the tributaries of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the border with Iowa. After the usual construction problems and millions in state and local government assistance, in 1859 the line had reached 168 miles to Macon and a junction with the Hannibal and St. Joseph, the newly completed east-west route. Perry McCandless, A History of Missouri, Volume II, 1829 to 1860 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1972), 147; 206. Return.

Sturgeon lies on the line between Audrain and Boone Counties. Return.

William Stephens (1782-1873) had lived in South Carolina and Boone County, Kentucky, before settling in Missouri about 1837. He and his descendants saved some of Leonard's letters from Kentucky, written from 1838 to 1866. The originals are at the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis. They provide valuable glimpses of General Stephens' family and neighbors. Return.

Absalom Waller Stephens (1815-1889), William's youngest son, was named for his father's first cousin, a noted Baptist preacher in Virginia. Return.

Temple Stephens (1838-1898), an elder son of Thomas Nelson Stephens; in 1860 he was a clerk in the store of E.T. Tucker. Return.

Walker Turner Featherston (1825-1904), a schoolteacher from Kentucky, had married in 1850 Amanda Malvina F. Stephens (1825-1906), who was the daughter of William Robinson Stephens, and thus William's grandniece, not granddaughter. A sketch of Walker appears in History of Monroe and Shelby Counties, Missouri (St. Joseph: National Historical, 1884), 402. Return.

Thomas Nelson Stephens (1808-1886) had married as his second wife Mary Swindell (1817-1895) in 1834. They had six children at home in 1860. A prior marriage to Fountain Riddell's niece, Joicy Ann Riddell, had ended with her early death in 1832. Return.

Whether the ladies went to the Baptist church or the Christian church is unknown. The family included adherents of both groups. Return.

Absalom had married Eliza Jane Hull (1820? - ) in 1838. In 1860 they had seven children at home. Return.

William Robinson Stephens (1802-1865), son of Benjamin Stephens, Jr., had married his cousin, Agnes Nelson Stephens (1804-1871), the daughter of William. In 1860 three of their children were at home. William R.'s rank was earned in the Kentucky militia, where he had served as commander of the 120th Regiment before moving to Missouri in 1837. Return.

Chariton County lies to the west of Randolph County, about 40 miles from Middle Grove. Return.

At least two of Eliza and Fountain Riddell's children, William Waller (1828- ) and John Lewis (1837-1920)., settled there about this time, and their sister, Ophelia (1840?-1905), followed. Sketches can be found in T. Berry Smith and Pearl Sims Gehrig, History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri. (Topeka: Historical Publishing, 1923), 572, 580. Fountain died there in 1875. Return.

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This page updated 3 May 2016.