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Baynard Rush HallBaynard Rush Hall

Hoosier Connection: Baynard Rush Hall lived in Bloomington, Indiana, from 1823-1831. Afterward, he wrote The New Purchase, which is considered a source on pioneer life in the early 1800s.

Works Discussed: The New Purchase; or, Seven and a Half Years in the Far West

Did you ever go away off, when traveling was the work of months—away off, a thousand miles, in search of the nearest and dearest kindred—and then, unexpectedly, on a bright and fragrant May morning, find those dear ones in the dark depths of an almost impervious wilderness? ...[H]ow we crossed the creek I never knew.... (Hall 79)

On January 28, 1798, Baynard Rush Hall was born in Philadelphia. His father, Dr. John Hall, was staff surgeon to General George Washington. Hall became an orphan in his early childhood and little is known about him until his teenage years, when he became a printer to help finance his education. In 1820, he attended Union College, and after graduation, he entered the Princeton Theological Seminary. Soon after completing his studies at the seminary, Hall accepted a teaching position at the Indiana Seminary, later to be named Indiana University, which was just opening in Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana Seminary, 1825
Indiana Seminary, 1825

Bloomington was in its early years of settlement, with less than a few hundred citizens when Hall arrived. He was excited about the new position, but unprepared for the challenge he would face in trying to educate the woodsmen of this western town.

Although it is not known whether or not Hall succeeded in his plans to educate the people of Bloomington, he did teach at the college for more than ten years, until 1831. That year, a quarrel with Dr. Andrew Wylie, the seminary's president, caused Hall to leave Bloomington and head back to Pennsylvania. There he founded an academy in Bedford, and he preached and educated students for several years, traveling to several cities, until his death on January 25, 1863.

Hall’s experiences in Bloomington led him to write a fictional memoir, The New Purchase; or, Seven and a Half Years in the Far West (1843), under the pen name Robert Carlton. The memoir describes his journey from Pennsylvania to Indiana, with several references to the land, rivers, trees, animals, and dangers he and his family faced on along the way. The memoir gives readers a glimpse of how unprepared Hall was for the journey and the condition of his final destination, and how uncivilized Hall found the inhabitants of Indiana.

During the time of Hall's travels to Indiana in the 1820s, the land was covered with dense forests filled with wild animals, swamps packed with bugs, and peat bogs, which settlers often mistook for quicksand. There were also very few settlements. At the time, Bloomington was part of The New Purchase, a land agreement made by the United States Government in 1818 with several Indian tribes, including the Wea, Delaware, Kickpoo, Pottawattomie, and the Miami. The purchase contained eight million acres of land east and south of the Wabash River, creating thirty-seven new counties.

The memoir shows the excitement and happiness Hall felt when he first accepted the position at Bloomington and began the journey to get there. He anticipates the forests, rivers, and prairies:

Reader! all is ready! Oh! how soft the blossom scented balmy air is breathing! See! the sun light dancing from one sparkling ripple to another! A most delicious April morning is inviting us with the blandest smiles to come and float in the beauteous river far, far away to the boundless prairies and the endless forests of the New World! Yes! Yes! here is a vision—and in the midst's [sic] of fragrance, and flowers, and sunshine's [sic], and with those we love for comrades, and those we love awaiting us, we are entering the land, the glorious land of sunsets. (35-36)

At first, the journey is very pleasant and scenic for Hall, but when the true nature of Indiana becomes clear, he has very different opinions of the landscape, as well as some observations of habitat destruction and deforestation:

...I felt some sort of shiver; especially as the gloom of the frightful shades increased; and the deafening clangour of innumerable rude frogs in the mines and the trees arose; and the whirl and hum and buzz of strange, savage insects and reptiles, and of winged and unwinged bugs, began and increased and grew still louder; and vapers [sic] damp, chilly and foetid ascended and came down; and the only field in sight was a few years of "clearing" stuck with trunks of "deadened" trees and great stumps blackened with the fires. (48)

Although Hall is disappointed with Bloomington residents and the rough landscape, he is eventually able to see the beauty of the land and regret its destruction. He feels deep sympathy for the trees that were being hastily cut down to make room for farmland and to mill timber for houses and furniture, among other reasons. He speaks of destruction throughout many passages of The New Purchase. One in particular deals with a recent clearing of land near Hall’s home:

Sycamore tree

Enormous sycamore
on Wabash River bottoms
(photo by Robert Ridgway)

Far and wide the forest was grandly illuminated and in returning home I often looked back and saw noble trees at the pyres, tossing their mighty arms and bowing their spreading tops for mercy and succour—like beings spreading forth cries of agony unheard in that fiery chaos.... I passed that clearing, the arena was yet smoking, although nothing remained of that part of the primeval forest, save heaps of ashes and a few blackened upright masses that for so many creatures had been the living bodies of lately martyred trees! (199)

Hall contributed greatly to Indiana environmental history with The New Purchase. (Read more excerpts.) He opened a window to the past with his descriptions of the West, known today as Indiana. The New Purchase gives a glimpse of what the landscape was like in early settlement times in Indiana.




Barnhart, John D., Donald F. Carmony, Opal M. Nichols, and Jack E. Weicker. Indiana: The Hoosier State. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1960.

Hall, Baynard Rush. The New Purchase, or Early Years in the Far West. By Robert Carlton, Esq. 3rd ed. New Albany, IN: Nunemacher, 1855.

Lewis, Dorothy F. The Indiana Story. Chicago: Wheeler, 1951.

Lockridge, Ross F. The Story of Indiana. Oklahoma City: Harlow, 1957.

Shumaker, Arthur W. A History of Indiana Literature. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1962.

Vanausdall, Jeanette. Pride and Protest: The Novel in Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1999.

Woodburn, James Albert, ed. The New Purchase; or, Seven and a Half Years in the Far West, by Robert Carlton, Esq. By Baynard Rush Hall. Indiana Centennial ed. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1916.


"Baynard Rush Hall." Archives, Indiana U Bloomington Libraries. 2002. 7 Nov. 2002. <http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/iuchron/hall.jpg>.

"Indiana Seminary." Indiana University. Archives, Indiana U Bloomington Libraries. 2002 . 7 Nov. 2002. <http://www.indiana.edu/~libarch/iuchron/seminary.jpg>.

Ridgway, Robert. In The Natural Heritage of Indiana. By Marion T. Jackson, ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. xxi.

To our knowledge, there are no sites dedicated to Baynard Rush Hall. If you know of any, please notify us at landandlit@bsu.edu.