TRAVELS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA;
Commencing in the Year 1793, and Ending in 1797. With The Author's Journals of his Two Voyages Across the Atlantic
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BY WILLIAM PRIEST, Musician, Late of the Theatres Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston.
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LONDON: Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul's Church-Yard
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Bryer, Printer, Bridewell Hospital, Bridge Street.
An elegant writer observes that a preface may be dispensed with in any work, if the author (either from his humility of justice) think that his style be calculated only to put his readers to sleep. Though I do not think the publication of the following sheets will materially affect the price of opium, I cannot intrude this volume on the public without informing them, what all my friends will vouch for the truth of, viz.— that on my return from America, in 1797, I wrote the work in its present form for their perusal; and, that conscious of my want of talent as a writer, I resisted all their entreaties for its publication, till within these three months.
The public, I presume, will not be wholly disappointed; the extracts I have made from Jefferson, Belknap, and other american writers, are worthy their attention: I have no other merit than having placed them in a tolerable point of view.
"The God of Truth, and all who know me, will bear testimony that, from my whole soul, I despise deceit, as I do all silly claims to superior wisdom, and infallibility, which so many writers, by a thousand artifices, endeavour to make their readers imagine they possess."
JOURNAL—Gravesend—why so called—Deal—Falmouth—Pendennis castle—a gale—a hymn—the gulph weed—sun set at sea—dolphins and flying fish— first account of the yellow fever—arrival in the Delaware—on shore in the Jerseys—Woodbury—melancholy visit to Philadelphia—arrival at Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS—why so called—extract from the charter—situation—loss of the trade—accounted for—Annapolitans partial to theatrical amusements— produce of Maryland—tobacco—wheat—new species of manure
JOURNEY TO THE CAPITAL—filial affection of the negroes—fried squirrels and coffee—Baltimore—the mighty Susquana—intrepidity of a slave—how rewarded—Wilmington—Brandywine—grist mills—the battle—Chester— arrival at Philadelphia
TWO ANECDOTES—a gentleman blacksmith not ashamed of his origin—a high sheriff doing his duty
PHILADELPHIA—state of, in 1681—Penn's arrival in 1701—intended plan of the city—not observed—situation—advantages of exports—entries in 1793— buildings how constructed—houses removed intire—new theatre—pleasure carriages—removal of the state government to Lancaster
MANNER OF LIVING OF THE PHILADELPHIANS—breakfast—dinner—supper—bad effects of such diet—relishes in stile at an American tea-garden
BACK SETTLER—arrives at his purchase—builds his huts—manner of clearing the land—Indian corn—advantages of—the black and grey squirrels— attacked by the Indians—extract—he escapes the scalping knife—more comfortably situated—an idle back settler—his manner of life—what he calls liberty—joins the Indians at war with the states—the demisavage copies only the black side of the Indian character
PENNSYLVANIA PLANTER—enjoys a happy state of mediocrity between riches and poverty—the children how disposed of—the boys—effect of the religious education given to the girls not intirely eradicated even by a brothel—a country sleighing match—another in Philadelphia in stile—a fiddler a necessary apendage
FROGS—two extracts—they sit croaking to the wonderment of strangers— land of enchantment—frog concert—how supported—treble—counter tenor— tenor—bass—fire-flies—night-hawks—probable effects on an enthusiastic cockney
JOURNEY TO LANCASTER—the Pioli—Wayne's surprise—appointed to the command of the western army—Indian war—shocking effects of— misunderstanding between the Canadians and American citizens—accounted for—French agents—the British government vindicated—Proceed on the journey—charming prospects—beauties of the Susquana destroys the navigation—arrival at Lancaster—rifle manufactory—uncommon shot of two back woodsmen—Dutch schools—three concerts—two German sans culottes— extracts from the regulations of the Hanover dancing assembly—German and Irish emigrants
FEDERAL COINAGE not approved of by the people—the new scheme contrasted with the old one—advantages of an even division by the decimal
DELAWARE SHAD FISHERY—stupidity of the Anglo-Americans in giving English names to animals peculiar to the new continent—length of the siens— greatest haul of shad on record—fanatical law of the Quakers injurious to the fishery—sturgeon—extract from general Lincoln on the migration of fishes
JOURNEY TO BALTIMORE—water-stage—Newcastle—Glasgow—the Elk—bay of Chesapeake—arrival at Baltimore—yellow fever
BALTIMORE—situation—disadvantages of—the Dutch plan of canals not adapted to a southern latitude—the former race-course in the centre of the town—anecdote
MANUFACTORIES—not the interest of the Americans to engage in them—why— American iron—its malleability—two patents granted by Congress— sawing-mills—ship-building
SHOOTING AND FISHING—partridges—no game laws—woodcocks in August—the American ortolan—back woodsmen—their game—wild turkey—squirrel shooting—American fishing parties—how conducted
INDIANS—genius for oratory, painting, and sculpture—their continence— extract—the Indian student—the splenetic Indian—his remedy—seen in another point of view—the Indian orator—verses on an Indian burial-ground
SCHEME OF A RIFLE CORPS—of forming the corps—rifles—powder— accoutrements and dress—exercise
SPECULATION—the United States—the land of—100 acres of land for a dollar—flour—the mines—description of a coal-bank
CLIMATE—Cooper on this subject not to be depended upon—quotation from Jefferson—the N.W. wind not accounted for—Volney—his intended investigation
WHITE SLAVE TRADE—mortality on board a white Guineaman from Ireland— Hibernian and German societies—the trade not allowed in New England—a German flesh-butcher sells his countrymen at Philadelphia during the fatal yellow fever of 1793
JOURNEY TO BOSTON—Pennsylvania the garden of the United States— Bristol—Trentown—New Brunswick—New York—arrival in Yankee Land—land speculators harangue—interrupted—arrival at Boston—P.S.—dramatic mania—detestation of the primitive Bostonians to theatricals—are first introduced as moral lectures—the theatrical opposition
BATTLE OF BUNKER'S HILL—inscription from a monument on the scene of action—anecdotes of Cox, the celebrated bridge-architect—connects Boston with the Continent—goes to Ireland, where he builds seven bridges
BOSTON—situation—West Boston—advantages of the harbour—the long wharf—new theatre—university of Cambridge—new bridge a mile in length— Irish market
BOSTONIAN FIRE ALARM—amateur firemen—negro incendiaries—good effects of their villainy
FANATICISM—Brownists—intolerance proved from their own writers— rebellion against parents made a capital crime—smoaking tobacco and drinking healths forbidden—proclamation against wearing long hair— persecution of the Quakers—Penn's retaliation—poetry
NEGRO SLAVERY—state of in the Southern, Middle, and New England Slates— abolition society—extract from Jefferson's Virginia
YELLOW FEVER—a new disorder—first imported from the coast of Guinea to the West Indies in 1792—extract from Dr. Rush—a disorder fatal only to one race of men not new—plague among the red men—how accounted for by the fanatics—not to the satisfaction of a philosopher—age of the world proved to be 36,960 years from the falls of Niagara
AMERICAN FISHERY ON THE BANKS OK NEWFOUNDLAND—extract from Dr. Belknap— dumb fish—how cured—merchantable—Jamaica fish—former and present state of the fishery
NEW ENGLAND STATES COMPARED WITH THOSE OF THE SOUTH—beauty of the women— accounted for—general knowledge of the inhabitants—free schools—how supported—difference of climate
VOYAGE TO ENGLAND—journal—severe gale at N.E.—the vessel encrusted with ice—stand to the southward—the gulph stream—another gale—misfortunes— arrival at Dover—conclusion
P. 11, 1.8, for plantation, read plantations.
32, 1.5 and 6, are a note having reference to p. 28, 1.11.
71, 1.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, are a note having reference to p. 68, 1.4.
131, 1.6, for freeing, read treeing.
146, the asterisk placed at the word vessel in the 13th line, should be placed at the word Newcastle in the 15th line.
*TRAVELS IN AMERICA.*
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London, May 7th, 1797.
Since my return, my friends have made a thousand inquiries respecting the state of America. I do not know how I can inform them of my sentiments on that subject better, than by having the rough draught I preserved of the letters I wrote to you from that country fairly copied for their use. If, like you, they are really my friends, they will take the will for the deed. The truth of my information, and my wish to contribute to their amusement, will be a sufficient apology for the many imperfections they will meet with, in the desultory epistles of
Yours very sincerely.
Annapolis, December 1st, 1793.
The enclosed extracts from my journal will I hope convince you, I have not entirely forgot my promise at parting. When at Philadelphia I delivered your letters to——. Believe me
Yours very sincerely.
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Gravesend, on board the George Barclay,
31st of July, 1793.
Arrived onboard at 2 this afternoon, with an intention of sailing to Philadelphia: Gravesend is so called from it's being the end of a sailors grave, as those who die on a voyage after passing the fort are thrown over board.
Got under weigh with a light breeze at S.W., which not being sufficient to stem the returning tide, we dropped out anchor again off the Nore light.
Aug. 2nd.—Weighed anchor with the wind at S.E., and on the morning of the 3rd; off Deal, sent a boat on shore, which soon returned with a supply of meat, water, sheep, poultry gin, and gingerbread; dismissed our pilot, and soon after doubted the South Foreland; the prospect of Dover and the adjacent coast delightful.
Aug 8th.—Beating to windward with a fresh breeze off the Lizard; finding it impossible to clear the land, put about, and by three in the afternoon were safe moored in Falmouth harbour. Went on shore; the lower order of the inhabitants chaunt, or rather speak in recitative, a strange dialect, in which I could distinguish several English words.
Took a walk to Pendennis castle, which protects the West entrance of the harbour; found it garrisoned by a party of invalides, who informed me they had not two nights in bed to one up; hard duty after twenty years servitude!
Aug. 9th.—Dined on john dory, which I cannot think equal either to turbot or sole. Falmouth has the best fish market in England: I am informed, in the course of the year, they have upward of fifty different species for sale, on very moderate terms.
Aug. 15th.—Weighed anchor, and having a good breeze at N.E., we were soon clear of the land. On the evening of the 16th came on a smart breeze at S.W.; at 2 A.M. the wind changed to W.N.W. and blew a hard gale, which split our jib, and at last obliged us to lie too, under our courses: shipped some very heavy seas over our quarter, which drowned three parts of our stock of geese and other poultry; the baggage of near fifty passengers, for want of being properly lashed, was dashing about the steerage; which, with the shrieks of the women, heaving of the vessel, rattling of the wind, and all the et cetera of a storm, was dreadful indeed.
Aug. 18th.—Wind N.W. moderate; the morning delightful; appeared doubly so, contrasted with the horrours of the night.
Aug. 31st.—Fresh breeze at S.W. increasing to a hard gale, reduced us once more to our courses: at 8 P.M. calm, with a very heavy swell.
Sunday 1st September.
Pleasant breeze at N.N.E. The following hymn was written by Mr. Harwood, for this morning's service.
Father of Heav'n, to thee we raise (Mark'd by thy kind peculiar care,) Our songs of thankfulness and praise, To thee ascends the grateful pray'r.
Thou didst direct the gentlest breath, That o'er the sleeping waters stole; Thine is the dreadful voice of death, In which thy angry thunders roll.
Father of all, 'tis thine to give, Not what our erring pray'r demands; With joy thy blessings we receive, And bow submissive 'neath thy hand.
Sept. 7th.—First appearance of the gulf-weed. The trade wind, between the Equator and the extent of the northern Tropic, setting from the eastward, forces the water against the islands, and at length into the gulf of Mexico where it meets with an uniform opposition from the main, causing a strong current to the N.E., or points somewhat in that direction. This stream is so violent as to tear up the sea weeds in the gulf, and bear them as far to the north as latitude 44: the stream is soon after absorbed in the Western ocean; but causes certain counter currents, which, for want of being properly allowed for by mariners, have been the causes of many shipwrecks.
Sept. 8th.—Fine morning; wind at W.S.W. A beautiful dolphin struck at an artificial flying fish, hanging at our bow-sprit; the hook breaking, he escaped;—continued playing round our bows for some time, and struck at several flying fish; but we could not again tempt him with the artificial bait.
Mem. To read this lesson once a month.
Sept. 9th.—Calm and fog, several flocks of wild fowl. Suppose ourselves near the banks of Newfoundland. Thermometer sunk 18 degrees since yesterday.
Sept. 10th.—Pleasant morning, having run to the S.W. during the night: no sign of the banks. A land bird, of the thrush kind, came and settled on our main yard; seemed quite exhausted; fell upon the deck, and was taken up by the cabin boy. The poor creature must have been driven off the coast of America in a violent gale at N.W., the distance from any land being upwards of a thousand miles; no other circumstance could account for it's flying so far.
Sept. 19th.—Wind at N.N.W. very moderate;—the afternoon calm. The sun set this evening with uncommon beauty, that glorious luminary was surrounded with clouds of a vivid yellow, green, and red; strongly shaded with black half the extent of the horizon. The moon at the same time rising to the east-ward, with a cool and faint sky, formed a strong and beautiful contrast.
Sept. 21st.—Wind S. with rain. Caught four dolphins, which afforded us a most delicious repast: in the paunch of one was found a dodon, or globe-fish; the sailors call it a parrot-fish, from its having a beak exactly resembling that bird.—At 9 A.M. spoke with the Queen Charlotte of London, bound to Bristol, out ten days from Baltimore; the captain's account of the longitude 67. Our joy in being so near the land was of short continuance; for, in one hour after, we spoke with the Union, eight days from Philadelphia. The captain informed us, there was a sort of plague in that city, which carries off great numbers, and that ten thousand of the inhabitants had fled to the country, to avoid the infection.
Sept. 24th.—Soundings at 60 fathom: lay to all night.
Sept. 25th.—Woke with the cry of "Land." At 10 A.M. we took a pilot on board: he informed us the disorder at Philadelphia is the yellow fever, imported in a french schooner from the West Indies; some of the passengers of this vessel died of this fatal disorder, at a lodging-house in Water-street, and communicated the infection to the family. It is now spreading rapidly through the city, in all directions. The faculty, so far from being able to cure this disorder, have, in several instances, fallen victims to it's fury. Within this few days, a Dr. Rush has discovered this disorder is not the yellow fever of the West Indies and has applied an opposite mode of cure by copious bleedings, mercurial medicines, &c. with some success. What is truly extraordinary, the infection does not affect people of colour!
Sept. 28th.—Came to an anchor off Glocester Point, five miles below Philadelphia: the vessel proceeds no further at present, as all intercourse with the city is cut off, and business at a stand.
Brought my baggage on shore, and arrived, at four in the afternoon, at Woodbury, the county town of Glocester, in the state of West Jersey. With some difficulty I procured a lodging within half a mile of the town. Woodbury consists of about fifty well built houses, chiefly inhabited by quakers, and other dissenters of the most rigid kind; so very primitive are they in their appearance, that a barber cannot make a living among them.
Oct. 13th.—Spent the last ten days in shooting, and rambling about the woods. The face of the country is exactly that of an immense forest, entirely covered with wood, except the plantation cleared by the settlers. The land sandy, and by no means of a good quality; the chief produce maize, or indian corn. I counted the increase of one stalk with three ears; the amount of the grains were upward of one thousand two hundred.
Oct. 16th.—I believe the Americans conceive their woods to be inexhaustible. My landlord this day cut down thirty-two young cedars to make a hog-pen. A settler informs me, he raised a gum tree from the seed, which, in sixteen years, measured twenty inches diameter, three feet from it's base. He tells, me they have ten species of oak; viz, white, black, red, spanish, turkey, chesnut, ground, water, barren, and live oak. The white, turkey, and chesnut are used for ship-timber; the acorn of the latter very superiour in size to any other. Red oak is chiefly used for pipe-staves, and exported to most parts of Europe, and the West Indies. Black oak is a dry wood, and easily splits; is chiefly used for the rails and fences of their enclosures. Ground oak is bushy, and seldom exceeds six feet in height; it bears a small acorn of a very superiour flavour, which is the chief food of the deer, and sheep, who run wild in the woods. Water and barren oak are small and bushy, and only used for firing. Live oak is said to be very superiour to all the rest, and the best ship-timber in the world. I am informed it is a sort of evergreen, seldom met with north of the Carolinas.
Oct. 26th.—Went to Philadelphia.—After crossing the Delaware, I found the land very different from the Jersey shore; a fine stiff black soil, the clover growing spontaneously. The city exhibited a most melancholy spectacle; most of the houses and stores shut up, and grass growing in many of the streets; what few white inhabitants I met with had a most dejected appearance. The disorder has been most favourable to the softer sex; women with child, and those above and under a certain age, were in general free from the infection: but so fatal has it proved to the other sex, that, in Apple-tree-alley, which does not exceed fifty yards in length, there are upwards of sixty widows within these two months. The total loss on this melancholy occasion already exceeds four thousand, nearly one tenth of the inhabitants! Returning to Woodbury, I met with a quaker, who informed me of the cause of the infectious disorder in the Great City: "It is a judgment on the inhabitants for their sins, insomuch that they sent to England for a number of play-actors, singers, and musicians, who were actually arrived; and as a just judgment on the Philadelphians for encouraging these children of iniquity, they were now afflicted with the yellow fever." I told him, that more likely the sins of the quakers had drawn down this judgment on the city of brotherly love, and that it was now scourged for their hypocrisy, lying, canting, and other manifold iniquities.
Oct. 27th.—Very cold wind at N.W. In the evening snow.
Oct. 29th.—Favourable accounts from Philadelphia: the late cold weather has entirely stopped the progress of the disorder.
Set out for Annapolis, and arrived there in health, the 29th, at five in the afternoon.
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Annapolis, 17th December, 1793.
The bay of Chesapeak is one of the largest in the world. From it's entrance, between capes Henry and Charles, to the mouth of the Susquana, which forms the head of the bay, the distance is two hundred and eighty miles, through which great extent of water the tide ebbs and flows. This bay receives into it's bosom the following rivers; viz. the Patomac, the Rappahanock, the Patapsico, the York, the James, the Severn, and the Elk, beside innumerable creeks, and small streams. On an inlet from this bay, about two hundred miles from it's entrance from the Atlantic, stands Annapolis, the capital of the state of Maryland, so called in honour of queen Anne, as appears from the following extract from their charter:—
"Anne, by the grace of God, queen of Great Britain, &c....
"To all, and singular, our faithful subjects within our province of Maryland, greeting.... Whereas there is a pleasant and commodious place for trade ... laid out for a town, and port, and called Annapolis, in honour of us."
This city was intended for the emporium of the province; and surely no spot ever seemed better calculated for a town of trade and commerce. Far to the south, and in one of the most pleasant and healthy situations in America; as the seat of government, being the greatest, and indeed then only mercantile town in the province; the bay of Chesapeak, and adjacent rivers, wafting the tobacco and other produce of the country to this mart at a trifling expense; a harbour where ships might ride at anchor in perfect security, and where wharfs, with sufficient depth of water for a vessel of eight hundred tons, might be formed with very little trouble: but unfortunately these advantages were rendered abortive by the bite of a small insect; the worms are so troublesome in these waters, that a vessel lying in this harbour during the summer months will be as full of holes as a honey-comb. Baltimore, a town on a similar inlet from the bay, about thirty miles hence, being free from this plague, (by having a great proportion of fresh water from the Patapsico in it's harbour) has drawn all the trade from the capital: the Annapolians have now but one square-rigged vessel belonging to their port, while their rivals have many hundreds, and drive a brisk trade to the four quarters of the globe.
Annapolis is whimsically laid out, the streets verging from each other, like rays from a centre. It is still the seat of government; and it's state-house is by much the best building I have seen in America. This little city is now the retreat of some of the best families in the state. The inhabitants in general are passionately fond of theatrical entertainments, and received us with a degree of kindness and hospitality which claims our warmest acknowledgments. I spend my time here very agreeably. The politeness, ease, and conviviality of the Annapolians form a strong and pleasing contrast to the behaviour of the stiff, gloomy and unsocial bigots I was lately surrounded with in the Jerseys. Next to Virginia, this state was the most famous for tobacco-plantations; but the people now find the culture of wheat more profitable, as well as less injurious to the soil. No plant impoverishes the earth so much by it's growth as tobacco; many plantations, owing to successive crops of this weed, are what is here called worn out; formerly, when their land was in this state, instead of endeavouring to bring it round by a few fallow years and manure, as in England, they immediately cleared a fresh tract. They now begin to use manure, and have discovered a very extraordinary kind; viz. antediluvian oyster-shells, large beds of which are found a few feet beneath the surface of the earth in several parts of the state[Footnote: See Bartram's Account of a similar Bed in Georgia, page 213.]: these being laid on the land, are, by the effect of the air, crumbled into dust in a few days, and fertilize the earth in an astonishing degree.—Farewell.—Conclude me
Yours very sincerely, &c.
Philadelphia, 27th February, 1794.
On the fourth instant I left Annapolis on my way to this city. After travelling eight miles, we passed through a long and dreary wood; here we met two negroes conveying a coffin on a sort of sledge. On inquiry, one of them informed us, the coffin contained the corpse of his mother; that on the death of his old master, his parents were sold to different planters, which his father took so much to heart, that he died soon after; his mother only survived him about five months; and they were now complying with her last request, which was, to be carried to a plantation about eight miles thence, and there buried with her husband. There seemed a great degree of dejection in the poor fellow's countenance; and I could not help telling him, by way of consolation, that his father and mother were gone to a better place, where there was no distinction of colour, and where no white man would dare again to part them; but as words are wind, we agreed to administer some more solid consolation, which the black man received with a look of gratitude, then cast his eye towards his mother's corpse, and shed a silent tear. Why was not Sterne present at this scene?
I slept at an inn, about twenty miles from Annapolis, where we supped in the American fashion on fried squirrels and coffee, the former excellent.
Feb. 5th.—Arrived at Baltimore, and hired a caravan with four horses, which is here called a stage: the same afternoon we arrived at the Susquana. This noble river, which is here about a mile and a quarter wide, was frozen hard. Our advanced guard crossed the day before, in a ferry boat: this circumstance will give you some idea of the severity of the cold in this climate. A negro slave, belonging to the ferry, undertook to drive our stage over the river for two dollars, which his master put into his pocket, and ordered Sambo to proceed; the fellow drove boldly, and was across in a few minutes, the ice cracking most horribly all the way. I suppose I need not inform you, we were not in the carriage.
On the evening of the 7th we slept at Wilmington, a pleasantly situate town on the banks of a creek, which joins the Delaware, about thirty miles below Philadelphia. There are about thirty square-rigged vessels, beside sloops, and schooners, belonging to this port, which was originally a danish settlement.
The next morning I walked to Brandywine, to see the grist mills, which are said to be the best in the United States. About five miles from this village was fought the battle of Brandywine. This was Washington's last effort to stop general Howe's progress, and save Philadelphia. The royal army being victorious, they got possession of that city without opposition. General Washington, after rallying his troops, took a very advantageous situation on a chain of hills, a few miles west of the British army.
We dined at Chester. This little town is situated on the Delaware, and is the same to Philadelphia that Gravesend is to London. Ships outward bound here receive their passengers, &c. &c.
At four the same day, arrived in this city, distant from Annapolis one hundred and forty one miles, and from Baltimore one hundred and eleven. Farewell.
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Philadelphia, March 1st, 1794.
I perfectly agree with you, that the form of government in a great measure affects, or rather forms the manners, and way of thinking of the people; but must decline answering the queries in your last, at least for the present. I have not been long enough in these states to draw any fair conclusions on these subjects; but that you may not be wholly disappointed, I send you two anecdotes, on which you may depend.
Peter Brown, a blacksmith of this city, having made his fortune, set up his coach; but so far from being ashamed of the means by which he acquired his riches, he caused a large anvil to be painted on each pannel of his carriage, with two naked arms in the act of striking. The motto, "By this I got ye."
Benjamin Whitall, high sheriff for the county of Gloster, West Jersey, being obliged soon after his appointment to attend an execution, not approving of Jack Ketch's clumsy method of finishing the law, fairly tucked up the next criminal himself. Such behaviour in Germany would have branded him with eternal infamy, but is in this country (I think justly) thought a spirited action of a man, who was above receiving the emoluments of an office, without performing the most essential duty annexed to it himself.
I have often heard it asserted, that a servant should be born under an absolute monarchy: whether this observation is just or not, I cannot tell, but I know, that a republic is not the place to find good servants. If you want to hire a maid servant in this city, she will not allow you the title of master, or herself to be called a servant; and you may think yourself favoured if she condescends to inform you when she means to spend an evening abroad; if you grumble at all this, she will leave you at a moment's warning; after which you will find it very difficult to procure another on any terms. This is one of the natural consequences of liberty and equality.
March 3d, 1794.
Philadelphia, the present seat of government, both of the state of Pensylvania, and of the whole federal union, consisted, in the year 1681, of half a dozen miserable huts, inhabited by a few emigrants from Sweden; when the celebrated William Penn obtained a charter from king Charles the Second, for a certain tract of unsettled country in North America, extending from twelve miles north of Newcastle, along the courses of the Delaware, and a meridian line from its head, to the 43d degree of north latitude, and westward, 5 degrees of longitude from its eastern bounds.
In the year following, he arrived, and in 1701 the city was finally laid out from Cedar-street to Vine-street, forming an oblong square of two miles in length, from the river Delaware to the Scuylkill; and about a mile in width. It was the wish of the founder, that the fronts facing the two rivers should be equally built upon; by which means the city would naturally meet in the centre; but they have not only deviated from the original plan, by running the city along the banks of the Delaware, beyond the aforesaid streets, which formed the bounds in that direction, but have left the Scuylkill front without a single street.
Philadelphia is situate in latitude 39 deg. 56 min. north, and long. 75 deg. 8 min. west from Greenwich, on a narrow neck of land, between the rivers Delaware and Scuylkill, on the Pensylvania banks of the latter, where this river is about one mile wide, and one hundred and twenty (following it's course) from the Atlantic Ocean. This noble river affords a safe navigation for vessels of a thousand tuns burden up to the wharfs of the city. The Scuylkill (though by no means so wide) has nearly the same depth of water.
Philadelphia is the first port in the Union. The total value of it's exports in the year 1793, was 695736 dollars; the total of flower shipped in the year 1792 was 420000 barrels, and in the spring only of 1793 it exceeded 200000 barrels.
The total of inward entries at Philadelphia, in 1793, was 1414 vessels of different sizes, of which 477 were ships or brigs.
It is foreign from the subject of this city, but I cannot help informing you, that the imports of the United States from Great Britain alone, in the year 1791, were stated at 19502070 dollars, (chiefly of manufactured articles) and have been considerably increasing every year since.
By a slight inspection of the plan, you will perceive the great regularity observed in laying out this city; the streets intersect each other at right angles, the centre street, north and south, is 113 feet wide; that east and west 100 feet; and the other principal streets 50 feet wide. Had equal care been taken to build the houses uniformly, and their height in proportion to the width of the streets, this city would have been uncommonly beautiful; but except that the fronts of the buildings were not permitted to extend beyond the line laid down in the plan, every man built his house (to use the language of the first settlers,) "as it seemed good in his own eyes."
The first object of an industrious emigrant, who means to settle in Philadelphia, is to purchase a lot of ground in one of the vacant streets. He erects a small building forty or fifty feet from the line laid out for him by the city surveyor, and lives there till he can afford to build a house; when his former habitation serves him for a kitchen and wash-house. I have observed buildings in this state in the heart of the city; but they are more common in the outskirts. Our friend Wright is exactly in this situation; but I am afraid it will be many years before he will be able to build in front.
The buildings in this city are about two thirds of brick, and the rest of wood. The foundations of the former are in general of a species of marble; the bricks are uncommonly well manufactured; and these buildings are more firmly constructed than in Europe. Those of wood are the reverse, which you will easily credit, when I inform you, that when a house of this description is offered for sale, it is by no means understood, as in England, that the land on which it stands is included in the purchase. They have a method of removing these buildings entire. A house travelling in this manner through the streets of the city is to a European a truly grotesque and extraordinary sight.
During the time the British troops had possession of this city in the last war, they were much distressed for fuel, and obliged to cut down all the wood they could meet with; upwards of a thousand acres of peach and apple orchard were destroyed, belonging to one family. This destruction of the trees has materially hurt the prospects for three or four miles on the Pensylvania side; the opposite Jersey shore (except the plantations) is one entire forest.
Philadelphia is at present supplied with water from pumps, placed in different parts of the city; but a company of adventurers are bringing water from above the falls of Scuylkill, in the manner of the New River in London: but mean to improve on sir Hugh Middleton's plan, by making their aqueduct also serve the purposes of inland navigation.
The inhabitants are in general very fond of theatrical representations; their new theatre is an elegant building, from a design the subscribers obtained from London, where the principal scenes were painted by Richardson and Rooker. The receipts of the house have exceeded one thousand six hundred dollars.
The fair Philadelphians are by no means so fond of walking, as the English ladies; not that they have any great dislike to a trip into the country, but it is not fashionable even for a maid servant to make use of her legs on these occasions; the consequence is, that there are 806 two and four wheeled machines entered at the office, and pay duty, as pleasure carriages, most of which are for hire; and yet the inhabitants do not exceed 50000, of whom there are not three individuals but follow some profession, trade, or employment. In a few days I shall have an opportunity of sending you a publication, which will give you a more ample account of this city than you now receive from
Since writing this letter, the seat of government of the state has been removed to Lancaster, as being nearer the centre; for the same reason, that of the general government of the United States, will, in the year 1800, be removed to the federal city, now building in the district of Columbia.
Several uniform and elegant rows of houses have lately been built.
* * * * *
Philadelphia, March 7th, 1794.
It is a general observation with respect to the English, that they eat more animal food than the people of any other nation. The following statement of the manner of living of the Americans[Footnote: By the term American you must understand a white man descended from a native of the Old Continent; and by the term Indian, or Savage, one of the aborigines of the New World.] will convince you of the falsity of this opinion.
About eight or nine in the morning they breakfast on tea and coffee, attended always with what they call relishes, such as salt fish, beef-steaks, sausages, broiled-fowls, ham, bacon, &c. At two they dine on what is usual in England, with a variety of american dishes, such as bear, opossum, racoon, &c. At six or seven in the evening they have their supper, which is exactly the same as their breakfast, with the addition of what cold meat is left at dinner. I have often wondered how they acquired this method of living, which is by no means calculated for the climate; such stimulating food at breakfast and supper naturally causes thirst, and there being no other beverage at these meals than tea, or coffee, they are apt to drink too freely of them, particularly the female part of the family; which, during the excessive heats in summer, is relaxing and debilitating; and in winter, by opening the pores, exposes them to colds of the most dangerous kind.
The manner of living I have been describing is that of people in moderate circumstances; but this taste for relishes with coffee and tea extends to all ranks of people in these states. Soon after my arrival at this city, I went on a party of pleasure to a sort of tea-garden and tavern[Footnote: By the word tavern, in America, is meant an inn or public house of any description.], romantically situate on the bank of the Scuylkill. At six in the evening we ordered coffee, which I was informed they were here famous for serving in style. I took a memorandum of what was on the table; viz. coffee, cheese, sweet cakes, hung beef, sugar, pickled salmon, butter, crackers, ham, cream, and bread. The ladies all declared, it was a most charming relish!
Yours sincerely, &c.
* * * * *
Philadelphia, March 12th, 1794.
The price of labour in this country is very great, owing to the prospect an industrious man has of procuring an independance by cultivating a tract of the waste lands; many millions of acres of which are how on sale by government; to say nothing of those held by individuals. The money arising from the sale of the former is appropriated to the discharge of the national debt.
During my residence in Jersey, I was at no little pains to inform myself of the difficulties attending a back settler. We will suppose a person making such an attempt to possess one hundred pounds, though many have been successful with a much less sum: his first care is to purchase about three hundred acres of land, which, if it is in a remote western settlement, he will procure for about nineteen pounds sterling: he may know the quality of the land by the trees, with which it is entirely covered. The hickory and the walnut are an infallible sign of a rich, and every species of fir, of a barren, sandy, and unprofitable soil. When his land is properly registered, his next care is to provide himself with a horse, a plough, and other implements of agriculture; a rifle, a fowling piece, some ammunition, and a large dog of the blood-hound breed, to hunt deer. We will suppose him arrived at the place of his destination in spring, as soon as the ground is clear of frost. No sooner is the arrival of a new settler circulated, than, for many miles round, his neighbours flock to him: they all assist in erecting his hut; this is done with logs; a bricklayer is only wanting to make his chimney and oven. He then clears a few acres by cutting down the large trees about four feet from the ground[Footnote: These stumps are many years rotting, and, when completely rotted, afford an excellent manure.], grubs up the underwood, splits some of the large timber for railing fences, and sets fire to the rest upon the spot; ploughs round the stumps of the large timber, and in May plants maize, or indian corn. In October he has a harvest of eight hundred or a thousand fold. This is every thing to him and his family. Indian corn, ground and made into cakes, answers the end of bread, and when boiled with meat, and a small proportion of a sort of kidney-bean (which it is usual to sow with this grain), it makes an excellent dish, which they call hominy. They also coarsely pound the indian corn, and boil it for five hours; this is by the Indians called mush; and, when a proportion of milk is added, forms their breakfast. Indian corn is also the best food for horses employed in agriculture in this climate: black cattle, deer, and hogs are very fond of it, and fatten better than on any other grain. It is also excellent food for turkies, and other poultry.
When this harvest is in, he provides himself with a cow, and a few sheep and hogs; the latter run wild in the woods. But for a few years he depends chiefly on his rifle, and faithful dog; with these he provides his family with deer, bear, racoon, &c.; but what he values most are the black, and gray squirrels; these animals are large and numerous, are excellent roasted, and make a soup exceedingly rich and nourishing.
He gradually clears his land, a few acres every year, and begins to plant wheat, tobacco, &c. These, together with what hogs, and other increase of his stock he can spare, as also the skins of deer, bear, and other animals he shoots in the woods, he exchanges with the nearest storekeeper, for clothing, sugar, coffee, &c.
In this state he suffers much for want of the comforts and even necessaries of life. Suppose him afflicted with a flux or fever, attacked by a panther, bitten by a rattle-snake, or any other of the dreadful circumstances peculiar to his situation: but, above all, suppose a war to break out between the Indians, and him, and his whole family scalped, and their plantations burnt!
The following extract from an American work very feelingly describes him under these cruel apprehensions:—
"You know the position of our settlement; therefore I need not describe it. To the west it is enclosed by a chain of mountains, reaching to——. To the east, the country is yet but very thinly inhabited. We are almost insulated, and the houses are at a considerable distance from each other. From the mountains we have but too much reason to expect our dreadful enemy, the Indians; and the wilderness is a harbour, where it is impossible to find them. It is a door through which they can enter our country at any time; and as they seem determined to destroy the whole frontier, our fate cannot be far distant. From lake Champlain almost all has been conflagrated, one after another. What renders these incursions still more dreadful is, that they most commonly take place in the dead of the night. We never go to our fields, but we are seized with an involuntary fear, which lessens our strength, and weakens our labour. No other subject of discourse intervenes between the different accounts, which spread through the country, of successive acts of devastation; and these, told in chimney corners, swell themselves in our affrighted imaginations into the most terrific ideas. We never sit down, either to dinner, or supper, but the least noise spreads a general alarm, and prevents us from enjoying the comforts of our meals. The very appetite proceeding from labour and peace of mind is gone! Our sleep is disturbed by the most frightful dreams! Sometimes I start awake, as if the great hour of danger was come; at other times the howling of our dogs seems to announce the arrival of the enemy: we leap out of bed, and run to arms; my poor wife, with panting bosom, and silent tears, takes leave of me, as if we were to see each other no more. She snatches the youngest children from their beds, who, suddenly awakened, increase by their innocent questions the horrour of the dreadful moment! She tries to hide them in the cellar, as if our cellar was inaccessible to the fire! I place all my servants at the window, and myself at the door, where I am determined to perish. Fear industriously increases every sound; we all listen; each communicates to each other his fears and conjectures. We remain thus, sometimes for whole hours, our hearts and our minds racked by the most anxious suspense! What a dreadful situation! A thousand times worse than that of a soldier engaged in the midst of a most severe conflict! Sometimes feeling the spontaneous courage of a man, I seem to wish for the decisive minute; the next instant a message from my wife, sent by one of the children, quite unmans me. Away goes my courage, and I descend again into the deepest despondency: at last, finding it was a false alarm, we return once more to our beds; but what good can the sleep of nature do us, when interrupted with such scenes?"
* * * * *
But we will suppose our planter to have escaped the scalping knife and tomahawk; and in the course of years situate in a thick, settled neighbourhood of planters like himself, who have struggled through all the foregoing difficulties: he is now a man of some consequence, builds a house by the side of his former hut, which now serves him for a kitchen; and as he is comfortably situate, we will leave him to the enjoyment of the fruits of his industry.
Such a being has often ideas of liberty, and a contempt of vassalage and slavery, which do honour to human nature.
The planter I have endeavoured to describe, I have supposed to be sober and industrious: but when a man of an opposite description makes such an attempt, he often degenerates into a demisavage; he cultivates no more land than will barely supply the family with bread, or rather makes his wife, and children perform that office. His whole employment is to procure skins, and furs, to exchange for rum, brandy, and ammunition; for this purpose he is often for several days together in the woods, without seeing a human being. He is by no means at a loss; his rifle supplies him with food, and at night he cuts down some boughs with his tomahawk, and constructs a wigwam[Footnote: The Indian name for their huts so constructed.], in which he spends the night, stretched on the skins of those animals he has killed in the course of his excursion. This manner of living he learned from his savage neighbours, the Indians, and like them calls every other state of life slavery. It sometimes happens, that an unsuccessful back settler joins the Indians at war with the states. When this is the case, it is observed he is, if possible, more cruel than his new allies; he eagerly imbibes all the vices of the savages, without a single spark of their virtues. Farewell,
Philadelphia, March 18th, 1794.
My present intention is to give you some conception of the family of a planter, whose ancestors had in some degree gone through all the difficulties I described in my last.
We will suppose them descended from the original english emigrants, who came over with Penn; like them, to possess a high sense of religion; and that this family are now in the quiet possession of about three hundred acres of land, their own property[Footnote: There are very few farms properly so called in the United States.], situate in Pennsylvania, about seventy or eighty miles from Philadelphia. Whatever difficulties they, or their ancestors, struggled formerly with, are now over; their lands are cleared, and in the bosom of a fine country, with a sure market for every article of produce they can possibly raise, and entirely out of the reach of the most desperate predatory excursions of the savages.
They enjoy a happy state of mediocrity[Footnote: The quakers in particular. I have seen at a meeting in West Jersey, in a very small town, upwards of two hundred carriages, one horse chairs, and light waggons, which are machines peculiar to this country, and well adapted to the sandy soil of the state of New Jersey; they are covered like a caravan, and will hold eight persons; the benches are removable at pleasure, and they are also used to convey the produce of the country to market.], between riches and poverty, perhaps the most enviable of all situations. When the boys of this family are numerous, those the father cannot provide for at home, and who prefer a planter's life to a trade, or profession, are, when married, presented with two or three hundred acres of uncultivated land, which their parents purchase for them as near home as possible. The young couple are supplied with stock, and supported till they have a sufficient quantity of land cleared to provide for themselves.
If unsuccessful through want of industry, &c., they often sell off, and emigrate to Kentucky, or some other new country seven or eight hundred miles to the S.W., and begin the world again as back settlers.
The daughters are brought up in habits of virtue and industry; the strict notions of female delicacy, instilled into their minds from their earliest infancy, never entirely forsake them. Even when one of these girls is decoyed from the peaceful dwelling of her parents, and left by her infamous seducer a prey to poverty and prostitution in a brothel at Philadelphia, her whole appearance is neat, and breathes an air of modesty: you see nothing in her dress, language, or behaviour, that could give you any reason to guess at her unfortunate situation; (how unlike her unhappy sisters so circumstanced in England!) she by no means gives over the idea of a husband, she is seldom disappointed: and, I am informed, often makes an excellent wife.
The chief amusement of the country girls in winter is sleighing, of which they are passionately fond, as indeed are the whole sex in this country. I never heard a woman speak of this diversion but with rapture. You have doubtless read a description of a sleigh, or sledge, as it is common in all northern countries, and can only be used on the snow. In British America this amusement may be followed nearly all the winter; but so far to the south as Pennsylvania, the snow seldom lies on the ground more than seven or eight days together. The consequence is, that every moment that will admit of sleighing is seized on with avidity. The tavern and inn-keepers are up all night; and the whole country is in motion. When the snow begins to fall, our planter's daughters provide hot sand, which at night they place in bags at the bottom of the sleigh. Their sweethearts attend with a couple of horses, and away they glide with astonishing velocity; visiting their friends for many miles round the country. But in large towns, in order to have a sleighing frolic in style, it is necessary to provide a fiddler who is placed at the head of the sleigh, and plays all the way. At every inn they meet with on the road, the company alight and have a dance. But I perceive I am dancing from my subject, which I suppose you are by this time heartily tired of; I shall therefore conclude, by assuring you,
Yours sincerely, &c.
* * * * *
"There be also store of frogs, which in the spring time will chirp, and whistle like birds: there be also toads, that will creep to the top of trees, and sit there croaking, to the wonderment of strangers!"
"To a stranger walking for the first time in these woods during the summer, this appears the land of enchantment: he hears a thousand noises, without being able to discern from whence or from what animal they proceed, but which are, in fact, the discordant notes of five different species of frogs!"
Philadelphia, April 27th, 1794.
Previous to my coming to this country, I recollect reading the foregoing passages, the first in a history of New England, published in London, in the year 1671; and the other in a similar production of a later date.
Prepared as I was to hear something extraordinary from these animals, I confess the first frog concert I heard in America was so much beyond any thing I could conceive of the powers of these musicians, that I was truly astonished. This performance was al fresco, and took place on the night of the 18th instant, in a large swamp, where there were at least ten thousand performers; and I really believe not two exactly in the same pitch, if the octave can possibly admit of so many divisions or shades of semitones. An hibernian musician, who, like myself, was present for the first time at this concert of antimusic, exclaimed, "By Jasus but they stop out of tune to a nicety!"
I have been since informed by an amateur, who resided many years in this country, and made this species of music his peculiar study, that on these occasions the treble is performed by the tree-frogs, the smallest and most beautiful species; they are always of the same colour as the bark of the tree they inhabit, and their note is not unlike the chirp of a cricket: the next in size are our counter tenors; they have a note resembling the setting of a saw. A still larger species sing tenor; and the under part is supported by the bull-frogs; which are as large as a man's foot, and bellow out the bass in a tone as loud and sonorous as that of the animal from which they take their name.
To an Englishman lately arrived in this country there are other phenomena, equally curious; as fire-flies, night-hawks &c.; but, above all, such tremendous peals of thunder and flashes of lightning, as can be conceived only by those who have been in southern latitudes.
I have often thought, if an enthusiastic cockney, of weak nerves, who had never been out of the sound of Bow bell, could suddenly be conveyed from his bed, in the middle of the night, and laid, fast asleep, in an american swamp, he would, on waking, fancy himself in the infernal regions: his first sensation would be from the stings of a myriad of mosquitoes; waking with the smart, his ears would be assailed with the horrid noises of the frogs; on lifting up his eyes he would have a faint view of the night-hawks, flapping their ominous wings over his devoted head, visible only from the glimmering light of the fire-flies, which he would naturally conclude were sparks from the bottomless pit. Nothing would be wanting at this moment to complete the illusion, but one of those dreadful explosions of thunder and lightning, so extravagantly described by Lee, in Oedipus:—
"Call you these peals of thunder, but the yawn or bellowing clouds? by Jove, they seem to me the world's last groans, and those large sheets of flame it's last blaze!"
I have often traversed the woods by myself at night, and sometimes during such scenes; and though I was conscious that all round me proceeded from natural causes, I could not at these times entirely forget,
"All that the priest and all the nurse had taught."
Yours very sincerely, &c.,
* * * * *
Philadelphia, August 10th, 1794.
Having a few weeks vacation at the theatre, we agreed upon a scheme to give three concerts at Lancaster, a town in Pennsylvania, about seventy miles west of this city. Our band was small, but select; and our singers Darley, and miss Broadhurst. We crossed the Scuylkill about two miles below the Falls.
The country, which, from the Atlantic to this spot, is nearly a level, now abruptly swells into hills, and rises as you advance westerly, till you reach the Allegany mountains, the great back bone of America, as the Indians call that chain of mountains. There is then a considerable descent; but that the country rises afterward for many hundred miles is certain from the course of the rivers. No traveller has penetrated so far west, in these latitudes, as to find a river which did not ultimately run into the Atlantic Ocean,
We slept about a mile from the Pioli. I took a walk to reconnoitre the field of battle, with one who was present at that horrid affair.
General Wayne was here completely surprised, but had his revenge at Stoney Point.
After St. Claire's defeat, he was appointed by Congress to the command of the continental army in the present indian war. The fatal surprise at the Pioli has been an excellent lesson for him; since his present appointment he has established the most rigid discipline: this is of the utmost consequence in any army; but particularly so in that he commands, as they have to contend with the most subtle and desperate foe on earth, flushed with their late victory over St. Claire.—In a former indian war, an army lay with it's rear and flanks well secured; a river three quarters of a mile broad in its front, and no enemy within fifty miles. A body of Indians, being informed by their scouts of the situation of this army, made a forced march, crossed the river in the night, on rafts hastily constructed, completely surprised the camp before sun-rise in the morning, butchered all before them, and made their retreat good with their scalps and plunder, before the enemy recovered from the general consternation. The system of military tactics Wayne has introduced is admirably adapted to the perilous service, in which he is engaged. He fights the Indians in their own way, and scalps are now taken on both sides.—There is expected to be warm work this campaign; and it is generally imagined Wayne will meet with the fate of Braddock and St. Clare. A few military men I have discoursed with, are of another opinion; they tell me the rifle-men of the western army were recruited from Kentucky, and other remote settlements, and are all experienced back-woods-men, who have been great part of their lives in the habits of Indian fighting; that the general is forming a body of cavalry, on principles entirely new, from which much is expected; in short, that Wayne will oblige the Indians to bury the hatchet on his own terms. The Indian war is not popular. It has met with much opposition both in the General Assemblies of the States, and in Congress.
The devastation that has (even within the present century) taken place among the brave and independent aborigines of this continent, is really shocking to humanity[Footnote: The Cherokees are by no means the formidable body of warriors they were 40 years ago. The original possessors of the vast tract of land which forms North Carolina, are reduced to a single family; and several tribes of the eastern Indians actually exterminated.].
I spent the evening at the Pioli, with a surgeon of the american army lately from the scene of action; he gave me a disgusting account of the misunderstanding that subsists between the american citizens on the frontiers, and their neighbours in Upper Canada. It seems the Canadians are accused of assisting the indians in the decisive action against St. Clare.
As many of the descendants of the original french settlers have indian blood in their veins, the charge is not improbable, as far as relates to a few individuals, but that they received either the connivance, or protection of government, (as the Americans assert) is totally without foundation.
I never take up a western newspaper that does not teem with the most illiberal abuse of the british government. It would therefore be impossible to exonorate certain american citizens from their share of provocation, and a wish to blow up the hardly-extinguished embers of the late war. This temper is kept alive by french agents, who use every means of inflaming the public mind, by the most flagrant exaggerations of the late captures, &c.: and so successful have they been in their misrepresentations, that a war with England would at this time be very popular.
Aug. 30th.—You can conceive nothing more beautifully romantic, than the appearance of the country during the latter part of this day's journey. The hills, bold, rounding, and lofty, are covered with wood to their very summit. In the midst of this wild scenery is the mighty Susquana, above a mile wide, dashing over rocks and precipices, seventy or eighty miles distant from the flow of the tide. A similar body of running water, perfectly clear and transparent, with so many hundred cascades as beautify the Susquana, is perhaps no where else to be met with. Unfortunately these very beauties render the navigation of this noble river impracticable.
Aug. 31st.—Arrived at Lancaster, a prettily situate town, of about nine hundred houses. It is reckoned the largest inland town south of New England, and indeed the only large town without some kind of navigation; to remedy this inconvenience as much as possible, a turnpike road (very superiour to any thing of the kind in America, and which will cost three thousand dollars per mile,) is forming from Philadelphia, through Lancaster, to the Susquana. I before told you this river, owing to the rocks and falls, was not navigable; but I forgot to inform you, that the inhabitants of the back country contrive to waft the produce of their plantations down the river on floats, during the floods, in spring and fall; which will be conveyed by means of this new road to Philadelphia, whence it will be exported to the west indian or european markets.
The only manufactory in Lancaster is one of rifles; they have contracted to supply the continental army with these "mortal engines."
I have heard a hundred improbable stories relative to what was done with the rifle by famous marksmen in America, such as shooting an apple from a child's head, &c; to which I could not give credit: but, I have no reason to doubt the following feat: as it was actually performed before many hundred inhabitants of this borough, and the adjacent country.—During the late war, in the year 1775, a company of riflemen, formed from the back woodsmen of Virginia, were quartered here for some time: two of them alternately held a board only nine inches square between his knees, while his comrade fired a ball through it from a distance of one hundred paces! The board is still preserved; and I am assured by several who were present, that it was performed without any manner of deception.
Lancaster was originally a german settlement; the inhabitants were so desirous of perpetuating their language, that they established german schools for the education of the rising generation; but their descendants, finding the inconvenience of being without a knowledge of English, now send their children first to the german, and afterward to the english schools; by which means they acquire a tolerable idea of both languages. They still retain many characteristics of their ancestors; such as frugality, plainness in dress, &c. At our first concert, three clownish-looking fellows came into the room, and, after sitting a few minutes, (the weather being warm, not to say hot) very composedly took off their coats: they were in the usual summer dress of farmers servants in this part of the country; that is to say, without either stockings or breeches, a loose pair of trowsers being the only succedaneum. As we fixed our admission at a dollar each, (here seven shillings and sixpence,) we expected this circumstance would be sufficient to exclude such characters; but on inquiry, I found (to my very great surprise!) our three sans culottes were german gentlemen of considerable property in the neighbourhood!
They manage these matters better at Hanover; (a settlement of germans about forty miles hence.) One of the articles of their dancing assembly is in these words; "No gentleman to enter the ball-room without breeches, or to be allowed to dance without his coat."
All the back parts of Pennsylvania were in general cleared, and settled by german, and irish emigrants; but the former are commonly more prosperous than their neighbours, whom they excel in sobriety and economy, and have also a much better understanding amongst themselves.
An irish family often arrives, and purchases a plantation; which for some years brings them good crops, but for want of manure will in time be worn out (a very common case in America.) When in this situation they offer it for sale, the adjacent german families club a sum of money, purchase the land, plough it well, and let it remain in this state for three or four years: they then place an emigrant family from their own country upon the farm, who, by indefatigable industry and manure, soon bring the land round, pay for the estate by installments, and live very comfortably. Some of the best plantations in Pennsylvania were originally left in this manner. The irish family go two or three hundred miles up the country, where they can purchase as much land as they please, from sixpence to a dollar per acre: here they literally break fresh ground, and begin the world again. To some timorous people, their new situation would be thought dangerous, as they are liable to a visit from the Indians, and perishing by the scalping knife and tomahawk.—See a former letter on back settlers.
Aug. 6th.—We returned to Philadelphia, not overloaded with cash, but with more than was sufficient for our expenses, which, owing to several excursions from Lancaster, were not trifling.—Farewel.—Believe me
Yours very sincerely.
* * * * *
Philadelphia, 14th August, 1794.
By captain H——, of the Betsy, who will deliver this letter, I have sent you specimens of the federal coinage.
When that government was formed, a mint was established, and a coinage issued on a new plan. This was much wanted, as scarcely three of the states agreed as to the value currency of a dollar. Here it was seven shillings and sixpence, in South Carolina four shillings and eight pence, at New York eight shillings, and in the New England states six shillings. According to the new regulations, all nominal coins are exploded, and the silver dollar, weighing 17 dwts. 6 grs.[Footnote: This is the exact weight of the spanish milled dollar, which, as well as the divisions, are allowed to pass current; they consist of the half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth, also the pistreen, or fifth, and the half pistreen, or tenth.], is fixed as the standard, divided into one hundred decimal parts; these are of copper, and called cents. All taxes, duties and imposts, that extend to the whole Union, are levied in these coins only. The other federal coins, like the english guineas and crowns, never appear on the public accounts.
Those of gold are eagles, half eagles, and quarter eagles, value ten, five, and two and a half, dollars: of silver, the half, quarter, tenth, and twentieth of the standard dollar; or fifty, twenty-five, ten, and five cents: of copper, the half cent, or two hundredth part of a dollar. The principle on which this coinage is formed is so very simple, that the proportion they bear to each other, and the standard dollar may be found with the utmost facility. Indeed little else is wanted than the adding or cutting off figures or ciphers: for instance, the public accounts being kept in two columns, dollars, and cents; suppose in adding up the latter, you find they amount to 27621, you have only to cut off the two right hand figures, and their value stands thus; 276 dollars, 21 cents. To reduce eagles to dollars, add a cipher, and vice versa. To reduce half, and quarter eagles to dollars, you have only to divide by 2 or 4 previous to adding the cipher.
But though the federal government has succeeded in establishing it's coinage, the people cannot be persuaded (the wholesale merchants, and a few enlightened citizens excepted,) to come into this scheme; they obstinately insist on buying, selling, and keeping their accounts in the good old way of their fathers! that is to say, in currency, by pounds, shillings, and pence; and nothing can be more complex, as they have not a single coin in circulation of the real or nominal value of any of them. If you are to pay the sum of three shillings and fourpence halfpenny, (without having recourse to the federal scheme) you must provide yourself with three silver divisions of the Spanish dollar, viz. the fourth, eighth, and sixteenth, three english halfpence, two of George the Second, and one of his present majesty[Footnote: Owing to the quantity of counterfeit english halfpence of the present reign now in circulation in these states, those of king George the Third, whether counterfeit or not, are depreciated to the 360th part of a dollar.]; the nominal value of which, added together, make that sum within a very trifling fraction.
I am informed the federal government means to fix the weights and measures by a standard, which, like the coinage, will admit of the same even division by decimals. I am often asked why the English, after having proved the great utility of this scheme in their chain of one hundred links for land measuring, do not extend it to their coin, &c.? If you can think of a good solution to this question, pray let me have it in your next to
Yours sincerely, &c.
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Philadelphia, August 18th, 1794.
In a former letter I mentioned the relishes of salt fish usual at breakfast and supper in this country; they are chiefly of shad, a name given them by the first settlers, from their having some resemblance to that fish, though in fact they are very different; and indeed this is the case with almost every fish, bird, and other animal these Anglo-Americans took it into their heads to christen. It is a great pity they did not call those peculiar to this continent by their indian names; and this should also have been the case with mountains, lakes, rivers, &c. What man of any taste will not prefer the sonorous sounds of Susquana, Patapsico, Allegany, Raphanock, Potomack, and other indian titles, to such stupid appellations as Cape Cod, Mud Island, cat-fish, sheep's head-fish, whip poor will, &c.?
But to return to the shad, if it must be so called; it is an excellent fish, and comes up the rivers in prodigious shoals, in the months of April and May, to spawn. The largest nets used in this fishery are on the Delaware, where that river is from one to two miles wide. These nets are from one hundred and fifty to three hundred yards long. The greatest hawl ever known was upwards of nine thousand, from four to nine pounds per fish.
The revolution has not yet done away a fanatical law passed by the quakers, prohibiting the catching of these fish on a sunday; which, considering the short time they remain in the river, is highly impolitic.
There are thirteen fisheries within ten miles of Philadelphia; allowing only eight sundays in the season, and ten thousand shads lost in each of the twenty-four hours, a very moderate calculation, the aggregate loss to Philadelphia, and the adjacent country, is eighty thousand fish, weighing five pounds each, on an average. I say loss; for the return of the fish is the same now as it was a hundred and thirty years ago, when only a few dozen were taken in the season by the Indians.
There is also a small fish which comes up the rivers with the shad; the shoals this year have been uncommonly large; upwards of ten thousand have been taken at one hawl. Like the shad, it takes salt well; and, from it's having some resemblance to a herring, they give it that name, though very different from the herring which visits the shores of Europe. I believe there is no instance of a herring running a hundred and fifty miles up a fresh water river, or existing at all in water perfectly fresh.
The above particulars you may depend upon; they were communicated to me by Mr. West, who is proprietor of the largest shad-fisheries on the Delaware.
This river also abounds in cat-fish, perch, jack, eels, and a great variety of others; above all, in sturgeon; which are frequently caught by accident in the shad-nets, and either boiled for their oil, or suffered to rot on the, shores, being very seldom sent to market: when this is the case, they are sold for a mere trifle, chiefly to emigrants. The Americans have conceived a violent antipathy to this fish. I recollect no instance of seeing it at their tables. They have every externals appearance of the european sturgeon, but in other respects must be very different, or the Americans lose one of the best fisheries in the world.
Enclosed is an extract from general Lincoln's letter on the migration of fish. He endeavours to prove, that river fish, after their passage to the sea, whatever time they remain there, always return to the original waters in which they were spawned, unless some unnatural obstructions are thrown in their way.
In an old History of Bermuda, published in the year 1661, is the following passage:—
"There is great store of fish, which being mostly unknown to the English, they gave them such names as best liked them, as porgie-fish, hog-fish, yellow-tails, cony-fish, &c."
"Whilst I resided in Philadelphia, in 1782, and 1783, I discovered that the shad brought to market from the Scuylkill were very superiour in flavour and firmness to those taken in the Delaware, which must proceed from their food in that river, previous to their going to the sea; as they are taken by the nets of the fishermen, before they are six hours in that river, on their return. I cannot think it a romantic idea, that the waters are impregnated with certain particles, on which they have been accustomed to feed; which is sufficient to allure them to where they were originally spawned; or that they are piloted there by some of the old fry. This idea will not appear improbable, when we consider the general laws which seem to control the whole finny tribe; and what would be the consequence should they be thrown down? The cod-fish which occupy the banks of Newfoundland, between the latitudes of 41 and 45, are very different, and are kept so distinct, and are so similar on the respective banks, that a man acquainted with that fishery will separate those caught on one bank from those of another, with as much ease as we separate the apple from the pear.
"I am, &c.
Baltimore, 14th October, 1794.
On the 7th of September I left the city of Brotherly Love, on my way to this town.
After sailing down the Delaware about two hours, in the water stage, our skipper run us on a sand bank. As there was no remedy but to wait patiently for the flow of tide, a party of us borrowed a boat, and went a shooting on the islands with which this part of the Delaware abounds. We landed at Fort Miflin, which was the principal obstruction to general Howe's progress up the river, in his way to Philadelphia, and obliged him to go several hundred miles round; this fort also kept the whole british fleet at bay, for some time after the army had taken possession of that city.
Fort Miflin, or Mud Fort (so called from it's low situation) is on an island in the Delaware, about one third nearer the Pennsylvania, than the Jersey shore.
During the first general attack of the british fleet the fort set fire to the Augusta, of 64 guns, and she shortly after blew up; and the Merlin sloop was so roughly handled, that she was hastily evacuated. The british admiral then procured a pilot, who carried two men of war, cut down for that purpose, on the Pennsylvania side of the island; a manoeuvre the Americans deemed impracticable. The works of the fort were now completely enfiladed, and on the 15th of November, the British began; a desperate attack, both from their ships on each side the island, and from a battery on the Pennsylvania shore.
The fort was supported by a battery on, the opposite side, and some row-gallies.
The british fire was heavy and well directed: they are supposed to have fired 1030 shots, weighing from 12 to 32 pounds, every 20 minutes, which, by the middle of the day, nearly levelled the works with the mud. This was the moment to storm the fort, which being lost by the British, the remains of the brave garrison made their retreat good to the Jersey shore the same night.
The British now having the complete command of the Delaware, totally dismantled this fort: in which state it remained till last year, when a french engineer was engaged to put it again into a state of defence. The works are already in great forwardness: the parapets are, according to the new french improvements, without embrasures, and the guns mounted on false carriages.
We also landed on several of, the other islands, and had tolerable sport.
At high water we proceeded on our voyage, and about twelve the next day arrived at Newcastle; whence I walked to Glasgow, a small village within a few miles of the river Elk, where general Howe landed his troops, after sailing two hundred and fifty miles up the bay of Chesapeak. His head quarters were at the house where I slept; the landlord also informed me, that I lay on the same bed general Washington occupied four times a year, in his way to his seat at Mount Vernon; an honour I did not exactly know the value of till the next morning, when he brought in his bill; after satisfying my conscientious landlord, I walked to French Town, which consists of two houses. This town is about 17 miles from the Delaware, and has a communication with the Chesapeak by means of the river Elk. But there is a nearer approximation of the Chesapeak to the Delaware, from a creek running into the latter at Apoquiminick, where the distance is only 7 miles: over this neck of land, all the trade between Philadelphia and Baltimore is conveyed in waggons. How soon would a canal be cut in such a situation in England!
I embarked in the Baltimore pacquet; had a pleasant sail down the Elk; in four hours entered the bay, and arrived here the same evening.
The yellow fever is certainly in town. Is it not astonishing the example of Philadelphia last year did not teach the inhabitants of Baltimore the necessity of building a lazaretto, and establishing a strict quarantine on all vessels from the infected islands in the West Indies? The first was not even attempted, and the last so carelessly performed, that I am mistaken if the fever has not been imported into more than one part of the town.
Sept. 29th.—The theatre closed at the request of the committee of health, the fever gaining ground rapidly, and the inhabitants quitting the town as fast as possible.
October the 2d.
The committee of health published their list of deaths, which they mean to continue every 24 hours. Died since the 1st of August 344 persons. The next day a violent cold and penetrating N.W. wind set in, with uncommon severity, which has entirely stopped the infection.
Oct. 14th.—The late cold weather has completely destroyed the yellow fever. The inhabitants are returned, and trade is restored to its usual course.
Yours, sincerely, &c.
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Baltimore and the Point[Footnote: Or Fell's Point, the name given to a small but well-situated town about a mile lower down the bay.] may be considered but as one town, as the interval that parts them is already laid out for building.
There is not perhaps on the face of the earth so many excellent situations for a sea-port as in this vicinity; and yet they have fixed on the very spot where the town should not be.
Baltimore, by being built so far from the bay of Chesapeak, has not depth of water for a vessel of two hundred tons, nearer than the Point. The lower part of the town is a dead flat, intersected with canals and docks, filled with stagnated water from the Basin: owing to this circumstance the town is unhealthy at certain seasons, and subject, in the fall, to musquitoes: these inconveniences might have been avoided by building the town a mile lower, on either side the bay.
But there is a much better situation for a town and port on an inlet from the Patapsico, west of the town, round a point, which runs about W.N.W. where I have marked No. 10.
On this spot is water for a vessel of eight hundred tons burden, sufficiently fresh to exclude the worms, and at the same time a current strong enough to prevent stagnation. A bay perfectly secure from the N.W. and other dangerous winds, a gradual rise of ground consisting of a fine dry gravel to build upon; in short, every natural advantage. This was the original situation designed for the town; but the proprietor was concerned in a wharf in this neighbourhood, and fearing the new town would injure his business, positively refused his consent to the proposals made him on this occasion, and by that means, lost one of the first estates perhaps ever offered to an individual.
I was in this bay, on a fishing party, a few days ago, with one of his descendants, who was lamenting the infatuation of his ancestor. This gentleman was so kind as to point out and explain the foregoing particulars.
You will naturally inquire how the town came to be built in it's present situation? The governor of the province was proprietor of most of the land. Is not that a sufficient reason.
About forty years ago the two towns of Baltimore, and the Point, contained only two brick houses, and a few wooden ones: in a late edition of Salmon's Geography, I find Baltimore described as consisting of a few straggling houses, scarcely deserving the name of a town. Within these fifteen years it has increased in size and population beyond all precedent. It now contains nearly twenty thousand inhabitants; and, in point of trade, Baltimore is the fourth town in America.
The following anecdote will give you some idea of the growth of the town, and amazing increase in the value of land:—
An english gentleman, who emigrated to this country some years ago, built a small country seat on the side of the race ground; this house is now in the possession of a colonel Rogers, and in the centre street of Baltimore. The colonel has sold the wings for two thousand guineas to build upon, and still retains the house.
But the improvements have not advanced in proportion to the buildings; there is scarcely a dozen lamps in the whole town, which is badly paved, &c.
All the inhabitants agree as to the necessity of establishing a powerful, and energetic government, for the regulation of the town, somewhere; but though frequent town meetings have been called, they cannot agree about the means.
Something must soon be done, as the nuisances are every day increasing.
Yours sincerely, &c.
Since writing the above, the general assembly has ordered fifty thousand dollars be raised by lottery, which are laid out in paving the town, and clearing the Basin. Two enormous machines have been constructed on the dutch plan, to work with oxen, which make such progress in clearing the channel, that it is expected in a few years it will be sufficiently deep, to admit the largest merchantmen to come up to the wharfs of the town. And since my landing in England, my brother informs me, Baltimore is at last incorporated; a vigorous police established; and improvements are going on with spirit.
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Baltimore, November 27th, 1794.
Yours of the 21st of August I received.—So I find you fall into the commonplace notion of the English, that manufactories are forming here, which will in a short time render all importation of british goods unnecessary. Take my word for it, you have nothing of that kind to fear, whilst the United States have so few inhabitants, and so much of their best land uncultivated. It is not their interest to engage in manufactories; and when the country is sufficiently populous, it will be easier to conquer South America, and procure thence the means of purchasing commodities, than to go through the drudgery of their fabrication: but at present such is the cheapness of land, and the high price of wheat, and other produce, that it has raised the value of labour beyond the profits of almost any manufacture. If they could be established with effect in any part of America, it would be in the New England states, where the population is more than double those of the south; and provision much cheaper; but the New Englanders, when they fancy themselves too populous, rather than engage in a laborious trade, prefer emigration to the Genasee[Footnote: The Genasee is a rich tract of country, a considerable distance west of New York, much resorted to by New England emigrants since the peace with the Six Nations. Kentucky is at least one thousand miles from the nearest of the New England states, two hundred of which are through a wilderness, which cannot be passed during an indian war, without great danger.], or even Kentucky. The same restless, enterprising spirit, which brought their ancestors from Europe, carries them to these remote western settlements; and I have no doubt their descendants will continue the same in that direction; till the Pacific Ocean[Footnote: A distance of more than two thousand miles from the most remote western settlement.] stops their further progress; unless, as I before observed, lured by a golden bait, they go to the south: let the Spaniard look to that.—The manufactories in this country that have fallen under my observation are one of rifles at Lancaster, another of musquets at Connecticut, and at German Town, in Pennsylvania, a peculiar sort of winter stockings. An American has lately procured a patent from Congress, for cutting brads out of sheet iron with an engine. The american iron is of an excellent quality, and possesses a great degree of malleability, which perhaps suggested the first idea of this invention. The following extract from the advertisement of the patentee will enable you, to form some judgment of this singular undertaking: "He begs leave to observe their superiority to english-wrought brads consists in their being quite regular in their shape, so much so, that ten thousand may be drove through the thinnest pine board, without using a brad-awl, or splitting the board. They have the advantage also of being cut with the grain of the iron; others are cut against it. He has already three engines at work, which can turn out two hundred thousand per day."
Another patent has been granted for making the teeth of cotton and wool cards by an engine, which is supposed to be a similar process.
There are also manufactories of cotton, sail cloth, gun-powder, glass, &c., but of no great consequence.
Their sawing-mills are numerous, and well constructed; this circumstance, and the great quantity of timber, mast, spars, &c., with which this country abounds, enable them to build vessels considerably under what you can afford in England, though the wages of a shipwright are now two dollars and a quarter per day. Theirs ships, in point of model and sailing, if not superiour, are at least equal to the best european-built vessels, and when constructed of live oak, and red cedar, are equally durable. Vessels of this description are scarce. Live oak is rarely met with north of the Carolinas: that used in the Boston ship-yards is brought from Georgia; a distance of more than a thousand miles,
Yours sincerely, &c.
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Philadelphia, February 21st 1795.
You know one motive for my coming to this country was, that I might have an unlimited range in my two favourite amusements, shooting, and fishing, and in both I have had tolerable sport. But as few except emigrants, follow the european method of shooting, I cannot purchase a pointer for any sum: pray send me one by an early fall ship, and if possible smuggle me half a dozen pounds of Battel powder; for since you have begun to cut one another's throats in Europe, I find it impossible to procure any but dutch, and that unglazed, at the moderate price of two dollars a pound.
We have two kinds of partridges; one larger, and the other smaller, than those of Europe: the former reside chiefly in the woods, and is in the southern states called a pheasant; but it is in fact neither one nor the other: the latter is called a quail in the northern states. The flesh of these birds is perfectly rich, white, and juicy, and though it has not a game flavour, is a very great delicacy. In other respects (except their size, and that they occasionally perch on the branches of a tree,) they differ very little in their plumage, call, manner of keeping in coveys, &c., from the partridge of England. They are amazingly prolific; I have often found twelve or fourteen coveys in the course of a few hours shooting; this will appear extraordinary, when you are informed there are no game laws in America, and that all ranks of citizens, or even a negro, may destroy them in any manner he pleases. When the snow is on the ground, whole coveys are taken in traps, and brought alive to market. They fly swiftly, and afford an excellent shot; but if the same covey be shot at a second time, they will often seek a refuge in the woods, whence it is difficult to dislodge them. They are very hardy, and will bear almost any degree of heat and cold; this circumstance, and their being so prolific, I should think would make a breed of them in England a very desirable acquisition. I am determined to bring over a few couples, by way of experiment.
We are visited by a sort of woodcock in July and August; we have also a kind of grouse, plover, dove, and wild pigeon, snipe, wild fowl, and a wonderful variety of small birds; among which, the reed-bird [Footnote: So called from their note resembling the word reed.], or american ortolan, justly holds the first place: they visit us from the south, and are found at certain seasons as far as the West Indies in that direction.
The back woodsmen, and indeed all western settlers, affect to despise our mode of shooting; they all use rifles, and throw a single ball to a great degree of certainty. The riflemen in the last war were all of this description, Their game are deer, bear, beaver, and other animals. The only bird they think worthy their attention is the wild turkey. An american naturalist (Bartram) says, "Our turkey of America is a very different species from the meleagris of Asia and Europe. I have seen several that have weighed between twenty and thirty pounds, and some have been killed that have weighed nearly forty pounds."
Why do not the Americans domesticate this noble bird? They are much better adapted to bear this climate than the puny breed their ancestors imported from England. The few that are shot so far to the eastward as to be brought to our markets bear a great price.
The shooting of the back settlers is rather business than sport. When they are inclined for a frolic of the latter sort, they meet in large parties to shoot the gray squirrel: the devastation made on these occasions is incredible; the following is from the Kentucky Gazette; and I have no doubt, that it is strictly true:—
"Lexington, July 13th.
"At a squirrel-hunt in Madison county, on the 29th and 30th ult., the hunters rendezvoused at captain Archibald Wood's, and upon counting the scalps[Footnote: By scalp is here meant skin, which is an excellent fur.] taken, it was found they amounted to 5589!"