Forgotten Voices:

The Adirondack, or Life in the Woods

by Rev. Joel T. Headley, 1849


Rev. Joel Headley was born December 30, 1813, at Walton, Delaware County, N. Y.  Early in life he determined to follow father's vocation and become a minister, first attending Union College, in 1839, and then completing his theology training at the Auburn Theological Seminary.  After presiding over a church at Stockbridge, Mass., due to poor health he was unable to continue in that profession.  1842 found him in Europe where he wrote extensively and became a noted contributor to newspapers in America.  He was elected to the New York Assembly from the First District of Orange County in 1845, and the year following was chosen secretary of the State of New York.  The History of Orange County New York, published in 1908, tells us of his background to write about the Adirondacks:


"Mr. Headley's passionate love for nature in all her various moods led him nearly forty years ago to seek those great solitudes which the Adirondacks had at that time kept concealed from all men save the trapper or woodsman. He was so enamored of that Switzerland of America that for over thirty years he made yearly pilgrimages for health and pleasure to that beautiful region. He was probably the first tourist to visit that section, and his descriptions of its charms and health giving powers soon induced large numbers to visit it, and thus led to its becoming the great fashionable resort it is today."


In 1849 Mr. Headley wrote "The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods," a book that would be in it's fourth edition by 1875.  This account of his travels in the wilderness introduced many to the beauty of what was then a remote and unknown region of the country.   Joel T. Headley died in Newburg December 30, 1897, in his eighty fourth year.



Chapter XXVI of "The Adirondack" describes what is probably the first record of traveling into the Fulton Chain of Lakes:



Dear H

From the Raquette your nearest way out of the woods is towards the Black River county.  Ascending the Brown Tract Inlet four miles, you carry your boat over a portage two miles in extent to the Eighth Moose Lake, which forms the summit level of the waters of this region those on the west flowing west into the Black River.  This sheet of water is the first of a chain of lakes, eight in number, connected by streams, and forming a group of surpassing beauty.


Being on the height of land, it is filled wholly by springs and rills, and of course its water is unrivalled in clearness and coldness.  It is completely embosomed in trees, while a beach of sand, white as the driven snow, and almost as fine as table salt, shows between the green frame work of the forest and the lake, presenting a beautiful and strange contrast here in this land of rocks and cliffs.  The bottom is composed of this white sand also, and can be seen through the clear water at an astonishing depth.  In such cold water, with such a clear bottom, how can the trout be otherwise than delicious?


This charming sheet of water is about three miles in length, with an average width of a mile and a half.  The seven lakes that follow are not a mere repetition of the first, but vary both in size and shape, with a different frame-work of hills.  The change is ever from beauty to beauty, yet a separate description would seem monotonous.  There they repose, like a bright chain in the forest, the links connected by silver bars.  You row slowly through one to its outlet, and then, entering a clear stream, overhung with bushes, or fringed with lofty trees, seem to be suddenly absorbed by the wilderness.   At length, however, you emerge as from a cavern, and lo!  


An untroubled lake, with ail its variations of coast, and timber, and islands, greets the eye. Through this you also pass like one in a dream, wondering why such beauty is wasted where the eye of man rarely beholds it.  Another narrow outlet receives you, and guiding your frail canoe along the rapid current, you are again swallowed up by the wilderness, to be born anew in a lovelier scene.  Thus on, as if under a wizard's spell, you move along, alternately lost in the narrow channels, and struggling to escape the rocks on which the current would drive you, then floating over a broad expanse, extending as far as the eye can see into the mountains beyond.  


A ride through these eight lakes is an episode in a man's life he can never forgot.  It furnishes a new experience gives rise to a new train of thoughts and feelings, and opens to the dweller of our cities an entirely new world.  They vary in size from two to six miles, except the fifth and eighth, which are mere ponds.  Thus, for more than twenty miles, you float through this primeval wilderness in a skiff that can be carried on the head, and yet are not compelled to take it from water but once, the whole distance, and then only to pass over some five hundred yards.   Near the foot of the first lake, (or last in the route,) is "murderer's point," where a white man, Rome ten years since, shot an Indian.  The latter, who was trapping around these waters, in some way gave offence to the white hunter, whose name was Johnson.  A quarrel ensued, and the Indian was killed.  "Whether the murder was committed in the heat of a sudden fight, or in cold blood, is not known the forest alone witnessed the bloody transaction: yet there, on the shore of that lonely river, sleeps the poor savage.  A simple wooden cross, erected by some of his tribe, stands over the grave, awakening sad emotions in the breast of the wanderer.


If it were on an open bank it would not seem so solitary, but surrounded as it is by an interminable forest, it looks fearfully forlorn.  By one of those singular discoveries which so often detect the murderer, Johnson was convicted of the crime.  The people of Herkimer County, however, claiming him as their criminal, he was tried there and acquitted, and carried about the town on men's shoulders.  The good Dutchmen of that county had suffered so much in former times from the depredations of the Indians, that they considered the man a public benefactor, rather than murderer, who slew one.  To hang a man for killing an Indian was a monstrous absurdity they would as soon think of punishing him for shooting a rattlesnake or wolf.  You cannot conceive the shock one feels in coming on a spot in the forest, where a murder has been committed.  In the streets of a crowded city, or on the highway, all remembrance of the deed is soon effaced changes take place, and the mere fact that ten thousand other things have transpired since it occurred, serves to weaken the associations connected with it, and indeed removes it much farther off.  But in the still woods, the solitary grave and you are alone together. 


The motionless trunks seem stem watchers there; and you impart a consciousness to the sleeper, and imagine that the uneven surface around him was made by the fierce death-struggle, and that the leaves are yet tinted with his blood.  I have often thought that a murderer in the heart of a boundless forest must feel more restless and wretched than if he were in a crowd of men.  The suspicious eyes of his fellows would be encountered with far more firmness than those of that invisible presence which seems there to surround him.  There is no way to escape himself nothing to resist or to dare, "The scowl of revenge or stare of defiance, may be met, for there is a visible object" on which the passions can act; but to struggle with conscience to hush the awful voice of law which God's universe about him is thundering in his ear, is a hopeless task.


Near the last of this chain of lakes is a small sheet of water called Moose Lake, from its being a favorite haunt of moose.  Like the first mentioned, in the group, it is embosomed in trees, but no mountains rise from its shores.  It has also a beach of incomparable whiteness, and the bottom of the lake looks like a vast bed of fine white salt.  As you sit in your boat, you can see it glittering beneath at an immense depth, while ever and, anon a huge trout flits like a shadow over it. 


A certain judge and his lady are accustomed in summer to come from the western settlements, and camp out for two or three weeks at a time on its shores, and fish.  The lady, accomplished and elegant, enjoys the recreation amazingly, and once caught herself a trout weighing nineteen pounds.  There are no islands upon it, but a long green promontory almost cuts it in two, from which you get an entrancing view of the whole lake.  My friend B n, with a hunter, had great sport hero one day.  He did not fish over an hour, and yet in that short time, took a hundred and twenty pounds of trout, and left them biting as sharp and fast as when he began. 


Going back through the lake towards Brown's tract, two moose with their broad spreading horns and huge black forms, were seen standing on the shore.  They can see to an astonishing distance ; and at the first glimpse of the boat, they wheeled into the woods and made off.  One, however, was killed the next day.  Deer were stumbled on almost every half mile.  B n said he counted six, two of which the rifle of the hunter fetched down.  A deer seems unable to measure distance correctly on the water, or else reasons very poorly on what he sees; for if a man will approach noiselessly and without changing his posture, he can often, in broad daylight, got within fair shooting range.  To strike through the woods, it is only about five miles from the head of this lake to " Brown's tract," as it is called, where the signs of civilized life first appear, though it will be a great mistake if when you get here you imagine yourself " out of the woods" a long road yet remains to be traveled.




We're pleased to bring you writings from an Adirondack Blogger, Dave Waite ([email protected]) Dave is an amateur nature and fine arts photographer who was trained in black & white photography in the early 1970's, worked professionally a bit and then set aside all artistic pursuits until about 2003.  Ne now enjoys creative aspects of photograph and writing to share with others.  Please visit Dave at:


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