The Majestic Nature of the North

Thomas Kelah Wharton’s Journeys in Antebellum America through the Hudson River Valley and New England

Edited by Steven A. Walton & Michael J. Armstrong

Subjects: New York/regional, History, Art History
Hardcover : 9781438473277, 374 pages, March 2019
Paperback : 9781438473284, 374 pages, January 2020

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Transcription

Steven A. Walton

1. Thomas Kelah Wharton’s Autobiography

2. New York and the Hudson Valley, 1832–1834

3. Return to the Northeast, 1853

4. Biographical Register

Appendix Known Works by Thomas Kelah Wharton

The illustrated nineteenth-century travel diaries of 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—brought his young family from New Orleans 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 and wonderful 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.


"This extensive selection from the personal journals of Thomas Kelah Wharton offers rich rewards to anyone delving into its engaging pages … The editors deserve great credit for having made this important source of historical information widely available." — New York History

"The great contribution of The Majestic Nature of the North is that it presents a nuanced and human perspective on the more mundane concerns of life in this period … those interested in the Hudson River Valley will appreciate Wharton's stunning descriptive passages as well as the many beautiful sketches included in this volume." — Hudson River Valley Review

"This book is unique. Wharton is not a major figure in art, architecture, or education, although he did all three. However, Wharton does give us a view from a potential 'social-riser' during a period when the United States was full of opportunities. His interactions in the nineteenth-century New York art world and, twenty years later, life in New Orleans on the eve of the Civil War, unveil the role of social networks in both regions." — Thomas S. Wermuth, author of Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley, 1720–1850