The new book The Majestic Nature of the North: Thomas Kelah Wharton’s Journeys in Antebellum America through the Hudson River Valley and New England (SUNY Press, 2019), edited by Steven A. Walton and Michael J. Armstrong, features the travel diaries of nineteenth-century artist, educator, and architect Thomas Kelah Wharton, documenting his trips in the lower Hudson River Valley and New Orleans to Boston and back.
Thomas Kelah Wharton’s travel diaries provide an intimate glimpse into the society of early nineteenth-century America. As a young immigrant from England, the eldest son of a wealthy merchant who fell on hard times, Wharton (1814–1862) navigated the complex world of New York and the Hudson River Valley in the early 1830s and his diaries reveal a vibrant cultural and social scene.
Wharton’s details of encounters with the Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole; the author Washington Irving; Sylvanus Thayer, superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point; the Greek Revival architect Martin E. Thompson, and many others enliven his story.
Skipping two decades to 1853, Wharton — now an established professional living in New Orleans — took his young family to Boston. The trip to and from Boston illuminates the joys and hazards of traveling aboard steamboats and trains, and touches on the tensions growing between North and South. The diary entries show an inquisitive, observant mind at work. A gifted pen-and-ink artist, the inclusion of Wharton’s faithful drawings provide rare views of an America from a very unique and personal perspective.
Steven A. Walton is Associate Professor of History at Michigan Technological University. He is the author and editor of several books, including Wind & Water in the Middle Ages: Fluid Technologies from Antiquity to the Renaissance.
Michael J. Armstrong is retired Senior Vice President of Operations for U.S. News & World Report and former President of the Chapel Restoration, Wharton’s first architectural commission, in Cold Spring, New York.
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