Ohio History Journal

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ADVENTURER. Edited and with an In-

troduction by Dwight L. Smith. (Cin-

cinnati: Historical and Philosophical

Society of Ohio, 1961. xii?? 176p.; il-

lustrations, bibliography, and index.


John May, Boston merchant and Rev-

olutionary War officer, was one of the

leaders of the Ohio Company of Asso-

ciates which settled Marietta. In 1788 he

rode west to the new country on Ohio

Company business, and in 1789 he re-

turned to the upper Ohio Valley to try

his hand at merchandising.

This volume, painstakingly edited by

Professor Smith, is comprised of the

record May kept on his odysseys. It

makes available for the first time his orig-

inal journals, or something as close to the

original journals as we are ever likely

to have. (Incomplete and badly edited

versions were published many decades

ago, but are unsatisfactory in many re-

spects, and, at any rate, are now virtu-

ally unobtainable.) The volume provides

valuable source material on transporta-

tion, trade, Indian relations, agriculture,

and other conditions in the region which

is now southern Ohio, northern West Vir-

ginia, and western Pennsylvania. How-

ever, since May began his journals as

soon as he left home, there are also use-

ful and engaging glimpses of New York,

Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the seaboard

region generally.

Professor Smith's introduction details

how the original text was resurrected--

an exercise in historical criticism almost

rivaling the labors of medievalists. The

restored journals do not alter to any

significant extent our knowledge of the

period, but they certainly do alter our

picture of Colonel May. The early ver-

sions of the journal had been edited

before publication by a narrowly proper

nineteenth-century descendant of the colo-

nel, a clergyman who took out passages

that were too blunt, "polished" up the

language, and sometimes became so car-

ried away that he simply added passages

not in the original. As a result, most

of the juice was extracted from that

intrepid entrepreneur.

As is usually the case, the original is

far better. The real journals have a de-

lightful and lively flavor. The dimensions

of their author palpably emerge, and

through him we experience the frontier

as he leaves the East, and, in his own

words, "stood for the Wilderness, in the

Western World."

May emerges as a sensible man of

affairs, roughly tolerant of ignorant Ger-

man settlers or loutish frontier tavern

keepers because it was practical to be

tolerant. He shows a finely attuned un-

derstanding of psychology in business re-

lations, and does not fail to jot down

a newly heard prescription for rheuma-

tism, a recipe for good bread, or instruc-

tions on making whiskey.

But the flush of exploration transforms

the Yankee. His heart leaps at a new

country--particularly a magic night at

the helm of a Kentuckyman running the

Ohio flood. By the time he has reached