The two Israel Shreve journals overlap chronologically; one was written between December 19, 1788, and July 5, 1789, and the other covers his expedition from January 3, 1789, to February 12, 1789. The former journal consists of 200 pages, while the latter 19 pages. Both, however, contain earlier and later dated material separate from the main narratives of the journals. Also included in the collection is a brief letter written by Shreve to his son, John Shreve (b. c.1862), on August 5, 1797.
The December 19, 1788 - July 5, 1789, journal relates Shreve's journey from his home in Rostraver Township, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 1788, to join Colonel George Morgan's surveying expedition bound for the Northwest Territory. With the goal of reconnoitering land in Spanish territory for the establishment of New Madrid, a group of over 50 individuals left Pittsburgh on January 3, 1789. The party was comprised of Colonel Morgan, Shreve, Captain William Taylor, and others. In addition, Native Americans, such as George White Eyes (the Indian ambassador for the expedition), John White Eyes, and members of the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, and Munsee were all present.
The large expedition traveled by boat along the Ohio River through West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio, until they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on February 14, 1789. After having traveled approximately 40 miles down the Mississippi, they arrived at Anse a la Graisse (sometimes spelled Lance la Grais in the journals) on March 13, 1789. Although the site was inhabited by Delaware Indians, it was here that the Spanish crown had given permission for Morgan to build his colony. While the group surveyed and constructed buildings, Morgan demarcated the boundaries of the town. On May 1, 1789, Shreve and others began their voyage back to Pittsburgh, where they arrived on June 19, 1789.
Throughout the journal, Shreve describes a great deal of the geography and environment. He notes water levels and various tributaries they encountered during their journey along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He also writes about local flora and fauna, especially birds and species of trees. Shreve mentions people their party passed, especially those in "Kentucke" boats. Some of these were merchant vessels, while others were filled with settlers bound for the Northwest or Spanish territory.
Though Shreve is more interested in writing on the landscape and environmental conditions, he also provides some commentary on Native Americans. He describes the Native Americans they met when they arrived at Anse a la Graisse. He also witnessed people fleeing to Spanish territory, especially to places like Anse a la Graisse and Natchez, in order to escape Native American hostilities. Shreve writes, "…many of them left Good Farms, and moved away on account of the savages murdering the Inhabitants and stealing their Horses, such has been the Neglect of Congress as to affoard them no relief they are now forced to become subjects to the King of Spain, many of them unwillingly…" (1: 87).
The shorter journal contains a more detailed account of events that transpired between January 3, 1789, and February 12, 1789, and appears to have been written from Fort Massac. He comments about their stop at Muskingum on January 5, where the group witnessed negotiations between Governor Arthur St. Clair (1743-1818) and the Six Nations - known as the Treaty of Fort Harmar. Ten Native Americans departed with Colonel Morgan to be ambassadors to other tribes, and to relay the news of the treaty. Shreve also describes their brief interludes at Fort Harmar, Fort Finney, and Fort Massac. In addition to his entries, he includes two copies of letters written by Colonel George Morgan: one is a recruitment notice for the expedition, dated October 3, 1788, and the other is a letter addressed to the Delaware Indians on March 2, 1789. Morgan signed the letter as "Taimenand," an appellation which had been given to him by the Delaware several years earlier.
The journals provide a great deal of information about both the relationship between Native Americans and white settlers, and about the experience of boat travel along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers during this period. Above all, they are of interest for their insight into the dynamics of 18th century surveying and city planning expeditions.