Memoirs of an American Lady*
Anne Mc Vickar Grant's Memoirs of an American Lady recalled a portion of her childhood days during the 1760s when she was the guest and protege of Madame Margarita Schuyler - the "friend" she introduced to her readers as the "American Lady."
Her memoir first took the form of a letter sent in 1808 to Sir William Grant. It stated: "The Principal object of this work is to record the few incidents, and the many virtues, which diversified and distinguished the life of a most valued friend." She was referring to Madame Schuyler - her host and mentor from the 1760s!
Anne Grant was one of a number of visitors whose memories and perspectives constitute an important part of the community's historical record.
Although Anne Grant's reminiscent reporting contains many errors of fact, it is nonetheless fascinating reading and has been used extensively by historians and antiquarians for almost two hundred years. With the special effort of intern Juandrea Bates during the summer of 2004, we now present the first thirty chapters of Anne Grant's published memoir on this website. The final six chapters, including substantial material on Dominie Theodorus Frelinghuysen, Jr. await inclusion on this website.
[9-15] Chapter I: "Province of New York - Origin of the Settlement at Albany – Singular Possession held by the Patron — Account of his Tenants."
It is well known that the province of New York, anciently called Munhattoes by the Indians, was originally settled by a Dutch colony, which came from Holland, I think, in the time of Charles the Second. Finding the country to their liking, they were followed by others more wealthy and better informed. Indeed some of the early emigrants appear to have been people respectable both from their family and character. Of these the principal was the Cuylers and the Schuylers, the Renselaers, the Delancys, the Cortlandts, the Tinbrooks, and the Beckamans, who have all of them been since distinguished in the late civil wars, either as persecuted loyalists or triumphant patriots. I do not precisely recollect the motives assigned to the voluntary exile of persons who were evidently in circumstances that might admit their living in comfort at home, but am apt to think that the early settlers were those who adhered to the interest of the Stadtholder’s family, a party which, during the minority of King William, were almost persecuted by the high republicans. They who came over at a later period probably belonged to the party which opposed the Stadtholder, and which was then in its turn depressed. These persons afterward distinguished themselves by an aversion, almost amounting to antipathy, to the British army , and indeed to all the British colonists. Their notions were mean and contracted; their manners blunt and austere; and their habits sordid and parsimonious: as the settlement began to extend they retired, and formed new establishments, afterwards called Fishkill, Esopus, &c.
To the Schuylers, Cuylers, Delancys, Cortlandts, and a few others, this description did by no mean to apply. Yet they too bore about them the tokens of former affluence and respectability, such as family plate, portraits of their ancestors executed in a superior style, and the great numbers of original paintings, some of which were much admired by acknowledged judges. Of these the subjects were generally taken from sacred history.
I do not recollect the exact time, but think it was during the last years of Charles the Second, that a settlement we then possessed at Surinam was exchanged for the extensive(indeed at that time boundless) province of Munhattoes, which , in compliment to the hier apparent, was called New York. Of the part of that country then explored, the most fertile and beautiful was situation far inland, on the banks of the Hudson’s River. This copious and majestic stream is navigable 170 miles from its mouth for vessels of 60 or 70 tons burthen. Near the head of it, as a kind of barrior against the natives, and a central resort for traders, the foundation was laid of a town called Oranienburgh, and afterwards by the British, Albany.
After the necessary precaution of erecting a small stockaded fort for security, a church was built in the center of the intended town. Which served in different respects as a kind of land-mark. A gentleman of the name of Renzelaer was considered as in a manner lord paramount of this city. A pre-eminence which his successor still enjoys, both with regard to the town and the land adjacent. The original proprietor having obtained from the high and mighty states a grant of lands, which beginning at the church, extended twelve miles in every direction, forming a manor twenty -four Dutch miles in length, the same in breadth, including lands not only of the best quality of any in the province, but the most happily situated both for the purposes of commerce and agriculture. This great proprietor was looked up to as much as republicans in a new county could be supposed to look up to any one. He was called the Patroon, a designation tantamount to the lord of the manor. Yet, in the distribution of the lands, the sturdy Belgian spirit of independence set limits to the power and profits of this lord of the forests as he might then be called. None of these lands were either sold or alienated. The more wealthy settlers, as the Schuylers, Cuylers, &c. took very extensive leases of the fertile plains along the river, with boundless liberty of woods and pasturage, to the westward. The terms were, that the lease should hold while water runs and grass grows, and the landlord, to receive the tenth sheaf. Of every kind of grain the ground produces. Thus ever accommodating the rent to the fertility of the soil, and changes of the season, you may suppose the tenants did not greatly fear a landlord, who could not neither remove them nor heighten their rents. Thus, without pride or property, they had all the independence of proprietors. They were like German princes, who after furnishing their contingent to the Emperor, might make war on him when _____ chose. Besides the profits(yearly augmenting) which the patroon drew from his ample possessions, he held in his own hands an extensive and fruitful demesne. Yet preserving in a great measure the simple and frugal habits of his ancestor, his wealth was not an object of envy, nor a source of corruption to his fellow citizens. To the northward of these bounds, and at the southern extremity also, the Schuylers and Cuylers held lands of their own. But the only other great landholders I remember, holding their land by those original tenures, were Philips and Cortlandt; their land lay also on the Hudson’s River, half way down to New York, and were denominated Philips’ and Cortlandt’s manors. At the time of the first settling of the country the Indians were numerous and powerful along all the river; but they consisted of wandering families, who, though they affixed some sort of local boundaries for distinguishing the hunting grounds of each tribe, could not be said to inhabit any place. The cool and crafty Dutch governors being unable to cope with them in arms, purchased from them the most valuable tracts for some petty consideration. They affected great friendship for them; and, while conscious of their own weakness, were careful not to provoke hostitities; and they silently and insensibly, established themselves to the west.
[16-23] Chapter II: "Account of the Five Nations, or Mohawk Indians - Building of the Fort at Albany - John and Philip Schyuler"
On the Mohawk River, about forty miles distant from Albany there subsisted a confederacy of Indian tribes, of a very different character from those mentioned in the preceding chapter; too sagacious to be deceived, and too powerful to be eradicated. These were the once renowned five nations, whom anyone, who remembers then while they were a people, will hesitate to call savages. Were they savages who had fixed habitations; who cultivated rich fields; who built castles (for so they called their not incommodious wooden houses surrounded with palisadoes;) who planted maize and beans, and shewed considerable ingenuity in constructing and adorning their canoes, arms and clothing? They who had wise though unwritten laws, and conducted their wars, treaties, and alliances with deep and sound policy; they whose eloquence was bold, nervous and animated; whose language was sonorous, musical, and expressive: who possessed generous and elevated sentiments, heroic fortitude, and unstained probity: Were these indeed savages? The difference
“Of scent the headlong lioness between
And hound sagacious, on the tainted green,”
is not greater than that of the Mohawks in point of civility and capacity, from other American tribes, among whom, indeed, existed a far greater diversity of character, language, &c, than Europeans seem to be aware of. This little tribute to the memory of a people who have been, while it sooths the pensive recollection of the writer is not so foreign to the subject as it may first appear. So much of the peace and safety of this infant community depended on the friendship and alliances of these generous tribes; and to conciliate and retain their affections so much address was necessary, that common characters were unequal to the talk. Minds liberal and upright, like those I am about to describe, could alone excite that esteems, and preserve that confidence, which were essential towards retaining the friendship of those valuable allies.
From the time of the great rebellion, so many English refugees frequented Holland, that the language and manners of our country became familiar at the Hague, particularly among the Stadtholder’s party. When the province of New York fell under the British dominion, it became necessary that every body should lean our language, as all public businesses was carried on in the English tongue, which they did the more willingly, as, after the revolution , the accession of the Stadtholder to the English crown very much reconciled them to our government. Still, however, the English was a kind of court language; little spoken and imperfectly understood in the interior. Those who brought with them the French and English languages soon acquired a sway over their less enlightened fellow settlers. Of this number were the Schuylers and the Cuylers, two families among whom intellect of a superior kind seemed an inheritance, and whose intelligence and liberality of mind, fortified by well-grounded principle, carried them far beyond the petty and narrow views of the rest. Habituated at home to centre all wisdom and all happiness commercial advantages, they would have been very ill calculated to lay the foundation of an infant state in a country that afforded plenty and content, as the reward of industry, but where the very nature of the territory, as well as the state of society, precluded great pecuniary acquisitions. Their object here was taming savage nature, and making the boundless wild subservient to agricultural purposed. Commercial pursuits were a distant prospect; and before they became consequence, rural habits had greatly changed the character of these republicans. But the commercial spirit, inherent in all true Batavians, only slept to wake again, when the avidity of gain was called for by the temptation of bartering for any lucrative commodity. The furs of the Indians gave this occasion, and were soon made the object of the avidity of petty traders. To the infant settlement at Albany the consequences of this short-sighted policy might have proved fatal, had not the patriotic leaders, by their example and influence, checked for a while such illiberal and dangerous practices. It is a fact singular and worth attending to, from the lesson of the exhibits, that in all our distant colonies there is no other instance where a considerable town and prosperous settlement has arisen and flourished, in peace and safety, in the midst of nations disposed and often provoked to hostility; at a distance from the protection of ships, and from the only fortified city, which, always weakly garrisoned was little fitted to awe and protect the whole province. Let it be remembered that the distance from New York to Albany is 170 miles, and that in the intermediate space, at the period of which I speak, there was no one town or fortified place. The shadow of a palisadoed fort * , which then existed in Albany was occupied by a single independent company, who did duty, but were dispersed through the town, working at various trades: so scarce indeed where these artisans in this community, that a tradesmen might in these days ask any wages he chose.
To return to this settlement, which evidently owed its security to the wisdom of its leaders, who always acted on the simple maxim that honestly is the best policy; several miles north from Albany a considerable possession, called the Flats, was inhabited by Colonel Phillip Schuyler, one of the most enlightened men in the province. This being a frontier, he would have found I a very dangerous situation had he not been a person of singular worth, fortitude and wisdom. Were I not afraid of tiring my reader with a detail of occurrences which, taking place before the birth of my friend, might seem irrelevant to the present purpose, I could related many instances almost incredible, of the power of mind displayed by this gentlemen in governing the uninstructed without coercion or legal right. He possessed this species of power in no common degree; his influence, with that of his brother John Schuyler, was exerted to conciliate the wandering of tribes of Indians; and by fair traffic, for he too was a trader, and by fair liberal dealings, they attained their object. They also strengthen the league already formed with the five Mohawks nations, by procuring for them some assistance against their enemies, the Onondagoes of the Lakes.
Queen Anne had by this time succeeded to the Stadtholder. The gigantic ambition of Lewis the Fourteenth actuated the remotest parts of this extensive dominions; and the encroaching spirit of this restless nation began to discover itself in hostilities to the infant colony. A motive for which could scarce be discovered, possessing, as they did already much more territory than they were able to occupy, the limits of which were undefined. But the province of New York was a frontier; and, as such, a kind of barrier to the southern colonies. It began also to compete for a share of the fur trade, then very considerable, before the beavers were driven back from their original haunts. In short, the province daily rose in importance; and being in a great measure protected by the Mohawk tribes, the policy of courting their alliances, and impressing their minds with an exalted idea of the power and grandeur of the British Empire, became obvious. I cannot recollect the name of the governor at this time; but whoever he was, he, as well as the succeeding ones, visited the settlement at Albany, to observe its wise regulations, and growing prosperity, and to learn maxims of sound policy from those whose interests and happiness were daily promoted by the practice of it.
[24-29] Chapter III: "Colonel Schuyler persuades four Sachemes to accompany him to England - Their Reception and Return."
It was thought advisable to bring over some of the heads of tribes to England to attach them to that country: but to persuade the chiefs of a free and happy people, who were intelligent, sagacious, and aware of all probable dangers; who were strangers to all maritime concerns, and had never beheld the ocean; to persuade such independent and high-minded warriors to forsake the safety and enjoyments of their own country, to encounter the perils of a long voyage, and trust themselves among entire strangers, and this merely to bind closer an alliance with the sovereign of a distant country – a female sovereign too; a mode of government that must have appeared to them very congruous. This was no common undertaking, nor was it easy to induce these chiefs to accede to the proposal. The principal motive for urging it was to counteract the machinations of the French, whose emissaries in these wild regions had even then begun to style us, in effect, a nation of shopkeepers; and to impress the tribes of the power and splendor of their grand monarque, while our sovereign , they said, ruled over a petty island, and was himself a trader. To counterwork those suggestions, it was thought requisite to give the leaders of the nation (who then in fact protected our people) an adequate idea of our power, and the magnificence of our court. The chiefs at length consented on this only condition, that their brother Phillip, who never told a lie, or spoke without thinking, should accompany them. However this gentleman’s wisdom and integrity might qualify him for this employment, it by no means suited his placid temper, simple manners, and habits of life, at once pastoral and patriarchal, to travel over seas, visit courts, and mingle with the bustle of a world, the customs of which were become foreign to those primitive inhabitant of new and remote regions, nor was to him no pleasant undertaking. The adventure, however, succeeded beyond his expectations; the chiefs were pleased with the attention paid them, and with the mild and gracious manners of their queen, who at different times admitted them to her presence. With the good Phillip she had many conversations, and made him some valuable presents, among which, I think, was her picture; but this was many other was lost in a manner which will appear hereafter. Colonel Schuyler too was much delighted with the courteous affability of the princess; she offered to knight him, which he respectfully, but positively refused; and being pressured to assign his reasons. He said he had brothers and near relations in humble circumstances, who, already his inferiors in property, would seem as it were depressed by his elevation: and though it should have no such effect on her mind, it might be the means of awakening pride or vanity in the female part of his family. He returned, however, in triumph, having completely succeeded in his mission. The kings, as they were called in England, came back in full health, deeply impressed with esteem and attachment for a country which to them appeared the centre of arts, intelligence and wisdom; where they were treated with kindness and respect; and neither made the objects of perpetual exhibition, nor hurried about to be continually distracted with a succession of splendid, and to them incomprehensible sights, the quick shifting of which rather tends to harass minds which have enough of native strength to reflect on what they see, without knowledge sufficient to comprehend it. It is to this childish and injudicious mode of treating those uncivilized beings, this mode of rather extorting from them a tribute to our vanity, then taking the necessary pains to inform and improve them, that the ill success of all such experiments have been owing Instead of endeavoring to conciliate them by genuine kindness, and by gradually and gently unfolding to them simple and useful truths. Our manner of treating them seems calculated to dazzle, oppress, and degrade them with a display of our superior luxuries and refinements: which, by the elevated and self-denied Mohawk, would be regarded as unmanly and frivolous objects, and which the voluptuous and low minded Otaheitean would so far relish, that the privation would seem intolerable, when he returned to his hogs and his cocas. Except such as have been previously inoculated, (a precaution which voyagers have rarely had the prudence or humanity to take) there is scarcely an instance of savages brought to Europe that have not died of small pox; induced either by the infection to which they are exposed from the indiscriminate crowds drawn about them, or the alternative in their blood, which unusual diet, liquors, close air and heated rooms, must necessarily produce.
To presents made to these adventurous warriors were judiciously adapted to their taste and customs. They consisted of shewy habits, of which all these people are very fond, and arms made purposely in the form of those used in their own country. It was the fortune of the writer of these memoirs, more than thirty years after, to see that great warrior and faithful ally to the British crown the redoubted King Hendrick, then sovereign of the five nations, splendidly arrayed in a suit of light blue, made in an antique mode, and trimmed with broad silver lace; which was probably an heir-loom, in the family, presented to his father by his good ally, and sister, the female king of England.
I cannot exactly say how long Mr. Schuyler and his companions staid in England, but think they were nearly a year absent. In those primeval days pf the settlement, when our present rapid modes of transmitting intelligence were unknown, in a country so detached and inland as that at Albany, the return of these interesting travellers was like the first lightning of lamps in a city.
[30-38] Chapter IV: "Return of Colonel Schuyler and the Sachems to the interior – Literary Acquisitions — Distinguished and instructs his favorite Niece - Manners of the Settlers"
This sagacious and intelligent patriot thus brought to the foot of the British throne the high spirited rulers of the boundless wild, who, alike heedless of the power and splendor of distant monarchs, were accustomed to say with Fingal, “sufficient for me is the desart, with all deer and woods.” It may easily be supposed that such a mind as Phillip’s was equally fitted to acquire and communicate intelligence. He who had converted with Addison, Marlborough and Godolphin, who had gratified the curiosity of Oxford and Bolingbroke, of Arbuthnot and of Gay, with accounts of nature in her pristine garb, and of their children in their primitive simplicity; he who could do all this, no doubt received ample returns of various information from those best qualified to give it, and was besides a diligent observer. Here he improved a taste for literature, native to him, for it had not yet taken root in this uncultivated soil. He brought home the Spectator and the tragedy of Cato, Windsor Forest, Young’s poem on the Last Day, and in short all the works then published of that constellation of wits which distinguished the last female reign. Nay more, and better, he brought Paradise Lost; which in after-times afforded such delight to some branches of his family, that to them
“Paradise (indeed) seemed opened in the wild.”
But to return to our Sachems, from whom we have to long digressed: when they arrive in Albany, they did not, as might be expected, hasten home to communicate their discoveries, or display their acquisitions. They summoned a congress there, not only of the elders of their own nation, but the chiefs of all those with whom they were in alliance. This solemn meeting was held in the Dutch church. In the present depressed and diminished state of these once powerful tribes, so few traces of their wonted energy remain, that it could scarce be credited, were I able to relate with what bold and flowing eloquence they clothed their conceptions; powerful reasoning, empathetic language, and graceful action , added force to their arguments; while they presided their adherents to renounce all connection with the tribes under the French influence; and form a lasting , offensive and defensive, with that great queen, whose mild majesty had so deeply impressed them : and the mighty people whose kindness and gratified, and whose power had astonished them, whose populous cities swarmed with arts and commerce, and in whose floating castles they has rode safely over the ocean. I have seen a volume of the speeches of these Mohawks preserved by Colonel Schuyler; they were literally translated, so that the native idiom were preserved; which, instead pf appearing uncouth, seemed to add to their strength and sublimity.
When Mr. Schuyler returned from England, about the year 1709, his niece Catalina, the subject of this narrative, was about seven years old; he had a daughter and sons, yet this child was early distinguished above the rest for docility, a great desire of knowledge, and an even and pleasing temper; this her uncle early observed. It was at that time very difficult to procure the means of instruction in those inland districts; female education of consequence was conducted on a very limited scale; girls learnt needle work ( in which they were indeed both skillful and ingenious) from their mothers and aunts: they were taught too at that period to read, in Dutch, the bible and a few Calvinist tracts of the devotional kind. But in the infancy of the settlement few girls read English; when they did, they were thought accomplished; they generally spoke it, however imperfectly, and few were taught writing. This considered education precluded elegance; yet though there was no polish, there was no vulgarity. The dregs of the people, who subside to the bottom of the mass, are not only degraded by abject poverty, but so utterly shut out from intercourse with the more enlightened, and so rankled with envy at feeling themselves so, that a sense of their condition gradually debased their minds; and this degradation communicates to their manners, the vulgarity of which we complain. This more particularly applies to the lower class in towns; for merely simplicity, or even a rustic bluntness, I would by no means call a vulgarity. At the same time these unembellished females had more comprehension of mind, more variety of ideas, more in short of what ma be called original thinking, than could easily be imagined. Their thoughts were not like those of other illiterate women, occupied by the ordinary details of the day, and the gossiping tattle of the neighborhood. The life of new settlers, in a situation like this, where the very foundation of society were to be laid, was a life of exigencies. Every individual took an interest in the general welfare, and contributed their respective shares of intelligence and sagacity to aide plans that embraced important objects relative to the common good. Every day called forth some new expedient, in which the comfort or advantage of the whole was implicated; for there were no degrees but those assigned to worth and intellect. This singular community seemed to have a common stock, not only of sufferings and enjoyments, but of information and ideas; some pre-eminence, in point of knowledge and abilities, there certainly was, yet those who possessed it seemed scarcely conscious of their superiority: the daily occasion which called forth the exertion of mind, sharpened sagacity, and strengthened character; avarice and vanity were there confided to a very narrow limits; of money there was little; and dress was, though in some instances valuable, very plain, and not subject to the caprice a fashion. The wolves, the bears and the enraged or intoxicated savages, that always hung and threatening on their boundaries, made more and more endeared to each other. In this calm infancy of society, the rigors of law slept, because the fury of turbulent passioned had not awakened it. Fashioned that capricious tyrant over adult communities, had not erected her standard, to which the looks, the language, the very opinions of her subjects must be adjusted. Yet no person appeared uncouth, or ill bred, because there was no accomplished standard of comparison. They viewed no superior with fear or envy; and treated no inferior with contempt or cruelty; servility and indolence were thus equally unknown: perhaps they were less solicitous either to please or to shine than the members of more polished societies; because, in the first place, they had no motive either to dazzle and deceive and in the next , had they attempted it, they felt there was no assuming a character with success, where their native one was so well known. Their manners, if not elegant and polished, were at least easy and independent: the constant efforts necessary to extend their commercial and agricultural possessions, prevented indolence; and industry was the certain path to plenty. Surrounded on all sides by those whom the least instance so fraud indolence or grasping meanness, would have rendered irreconcilable enemies, they were at first obliged to “assume a virtue if they had it not;” and every circumstance that renders virtue habitually, may be accounted a happy one. I may be told that the virtues I describe were chiefly those of situation. I acknowledge it. It is no more to be expected that this equality, simplicity, and moderation, should continue in a more advance state of society, than that the sublime tranquility, and dewy freshness, which adds a nameless charm to the face of nature, in the dawn of a summer morning, should continue all day. Before increased wealth and extended territory; these “wassel days” quickly receded: yet it is pleasing to indulge the remembrance of a spot, where peace and felicity, the result of moral excellence, dwelt undisturbed, for, alas! hardly for a century.
[38-43] Chapter V: "State of Religion among the Settlers — Instruction of Children devoted to Females — to whom the Charge of Gardening, &c. was also committed - Sketch of the State of the Society at New York."
I must finish this general outline, by saying something of that religion which gave stability and effect to the virtues of this infant society. Their religion, then, like their original national character, had it in little of fervour or enthusiasm: their manner of performing religious duties was regular and decent, but calm, and to more ardent imaginations might appear mechanical. None ever doubted of the great truths of revelation, yet few seemed to dwell on the result with that lively delight which devotion produces in minds of a keener sensibility. If their piety, however, was without enthusiasm, it was also without bigotry; they wished others to think as they did, without shewing rancour or contempt towards those who did not. In many individuals, whose lives seemed governed by the principals of religion, the spirit of devotion seemed to be quiescent in the heart, and to break forth in exigencies; yet that monster in nature, an impious woman, was never heard among them.
Indeed it was on the females that the talk of religious instruction generally devolved; and in all cases where the heart is interested, whoever teaches, at the same time learns.
Before I quit this subject, I must observe a singular coincidence; not only the training of children, but of plants, such as needed peculiar care or skill to rear them, was the female province. Every one in town or country had a garden: but all the more hardy plants grew in the field, in rows, admits the hills, as they were called, of Indian corn. Those lofty sheltered them from the sun, while the same hoeing served for both: there cabbages potatoes, and other esculent roots, with variety of gourds grew to a great size, and were of an excellent quality. Kidney-beans, asparagus, celery, great variety of sallads and sweet herbs, cucumbers, &c., were only admitted into the garden, into which no foot of man intruded, after it was dug in spring. Here were no trees, those grew in the orchard in high perfection; in these strawberries and many high flavored wild fruits of the shrub kind abounded so much in the woods, that they did not think of cultivating them in their gardens, which were extremely neat, but small, and not by any means calculated for walking in. I think I yet see what I have so often beheld both in town and country, a respectable mistress of a family going out to her garden, in an April morning, with her great calash, her little painted basket of seeds, and her rake over her shoulders, to her garden labors. These were in no means figurative,
“From morn till noon, from noon till dewy eve.”
A woman, in very early circumstances, and abundantly gentle in form and manners, would sow, and plant, and rake, incessantly. These fair gardeners too were great florists: their emulation and solicitude in this pleasing employment, did indeed produce “flowers worthy of Paradise.” These, though not set in “curious knots,” were arranged in beds, the varieties of each kind by themselves; this, if not varied and elegant, was at lewas at rich and gay. To the Schuylers this description did not apply; they had gardeners. And their gardens were laid out in a Europeans manner.
Perhaps I should reserve my description of the manner of living in that country for that period, when by the exertion of a few humane and enlightened individuals it assumed a more regular and determinate form. Yet as the same outline was preserved though all the stages of its progression, I know not but that it may be best to sketch it entirely before I go further; that the few and simple facts which my narrative affords may not be clogged by explanations relative to the customs. or any other peculiarities which can only be understood by a previous acquaintance with the nature of the country, its political relations, and the manners of the people: my recollection all this while has been merely confined to Albany, and its precincts. At New York there was always a governor, a few troops, and a kind of a little court kept; there too was a mixed, and in some degree, polished society. To this the accession of many families of French hugonots, rather above the middling rank, contributed not a little: those conscientious exiles had more knowledge and piety than any other class of the inhabitants; their religion seemed indeed endeared to them, by what they had suffered for adhering to it. Their number and wealth was such, as enabled them to build not only a street, but a very respectable church in the new city. In this place of worship service continued to be celebrated in the French language within my recollection, though the original congregation was by that that time much blended in the mass of general society. It was the custom of the inhabitants of the upper settlement, who had any pretensions to superior culture or polish, among which number Mr. Schuyler stood foremost, to go once a year to New York, where all the law-courts were held, and all the important business of the province transacted, here too they sent their children occasionally to reside with their relations, and to learn the more polished manners and language of the capital. The inhabitants of that city, on the other hand delighted in a summer excursion to Albany. The beautiful, and in some places highly singular banks of the river, rendering a voyage to its source both amusing and interesting, while the primitive manners of the inhabitants diverted the gay and idle, and pleased the thoughtful and speculative.
Let me now be indulged in drawing a picture of the abode of my childhood just as, at this time, it presents itself to my mind.
[44-50] Chapter VI: "Description of Albany - Manner of Living There"
The city of Albany was stretched along the banks of the Hudson; one very wide and long street lay parallel to the river, the intermediate space between it and the shore being occupied by gardens. A small, but steep hill rose above the center of the town, on which stood a fort, intended (but very ill adapted) for the defence of the place, and of the neighboring country. From the foot of this hill, another street was built; sloping pretty rapidly down till it joined the one before mentioned that ran along the river. This street was still wider than the other; it was only paved on each side, the middle being occupied by public edifices. These consisted of a market-place, or guard-house, a town hall, and the English and Dutch churches.
The English church, belonging to the Episcopal persuasion, and in the diocese of the bishop of London, stood at the foot of the hill, at the upper end of the street. The Dutch church was situated at the bottom of the descent where the street terminated: two irregular streets, not so broad, but equally long, ran parallel to those, and a few even ones opened between them. The town, in proportion to its population. Occupied a great space of ground. This city, in short, was a kind of semi-rural establishment; every house had its garden, well, and a little green behind ; before each door a tree was planted, rendered interesting by being coeval with some beloved member of the family; many of their trees were of a prodigious size and extraordinary beauty, but without regularity, everyone planting the kind that best pleased him, or which he thought would afford the most agreeable shade to the open portico at his door, which was surrounded by seats, and ascended by a few steps. It was in these that each domestic group was seated in summer evenings to enjoy the balmy twilight, or serenely clear moonlight. Each family had a cow fed in a common pasture at the end of the town. In the evening they returned all together, of their own accord, with their tinkling bells hung at their necks, along the wide and grassy streets, to their wonted sheltering trees, to be milked at their master’s door. Nothing could be more pleasing to a simple and benevolent mind than to see thus, at one view, all the inhabitants of a town, which contained not one very rich or very poor, very knowing or very ignorant, very rude or very polished individual; to see all these children of nature enjoying in easy indolence, or social intercourse,
“The cool, the fragrant, and the dusky hour,”
clothed in the plainest habits, and with minds as undisguised and artless. These primitive beings were dispersed in porches grouped according to the similarity of years and inclinations. At one door young matrons, at another the elders of the people, at a third the youths and maidens, gaily chatting or singing together, while the children played round the trees, or waited by the cows for the chief ingredient of their frugal supper, which they generally ate sitting on the steps in the open air. This picture so familiar to my imagination, has led me away from my purpose, which was to describe the rural economy, and modes of living in this patriarchal city. At one end of the town, as I observed before, was a common pasture where all the cattle belonging to the inhabitant grazed together. A never-failing instinct guided each home to her master’s door in the evening, where, being treated with a few vegetables and a little salt which is indispensably necessary for cattle in this country, they patiently waited the night; and after being milked in the morning, they went off in slow and regular procession to their pasture. At the other end of the town was a fertile plain along the river, three miles in length, and near a mile broad. This was all divided into lots, where ever inhabitant raised Indian corn sufficient for the food of two or three slaves, ( the greaest number that each family has ever possessed,) and for his horses, pigs and poultry : their flour and other grain they from farmers in the vicinity. Above the town, a long stretch to the westward was occupied first by sandy hills, on which grew bilberries of uncommon size and flavor in prodigious quantities : beyond, rise heights of a poor hungry soil, thinly covered with stunted pines, or dwarf oak. Yet in this comparatively barren tract, there were several wild and picturesque spots, where small brooks, running in deep and rich bottoms nourished on their banks every vegetable beauty ; there some of the most industrious early settlers had cleared the luxuriant wood from these charming little glens, and built neat cottages for their slaves, surrounded with little gardens and orchards, sheltered from every blast, wildly picturesque, and richly productive. Those small sequestered vales had an attraction that I know not how to describe, and which probably resulted from the air of deep repose that reigned there, and the strong contract which they exhibited to the surrounding sterility. One of these was in my time inhabited by a hermit. He was a Frenchman, and did not seem to inspire much veneration among the Albanians. They imagined, or had heard, that he retired to that solitude in remorse for some fatal duel in which has had been engaged ; and considered him as an idolater because he had an image of the Virgin in his hut. I think he retired to Canada at last : but I remember being ready to worship him for the sanity with which my imagination invested him, and being cruelly disappointed because I was not permitted to visit him. These cottages were in summer occupied by some of the negroes who cultivated the grounds about them, and served as a place of joyful liberty to the children of the family on holidays, and a nursery for the young negroes, whom it was the custom to rear very tenderly, and instruct very carefully.
[80-87] Chapter VII: "Gentle Treatment of Slaves among the Albanians --
Reflections on Servitude"
In the society I am describing, even the dark aspect of slavery was softened into a smile. And I must, in justice to the best possible masters, say, that a great deal of that tranquility and comfort, to call it by no higher name, which distinguished this society from all others, was owing to the relation between master and servant being better understood here than in any other place. Let me not be detested as an advocate for slavery when I say that I think I have never seen people so happy in servitude as the domestics of the Albanians. One reason was, (for I do not speak of the virtues of their masters) that each family had few of them, and that there were no field negroes. They would remind one of Abraham’s servants, who were all born in the house, which was exactly their case. They were baptized too, and shared the same religious instruction with the children of the family; and, for the first years, there was little of no difference with regard to food or clothing between their children and those of their masters.
When a negroe-woman‘s child attained the age of three years, the first New Years day after it was solemnly presented to a son or daughter, or other young relative of the family, who was of the same sex with the child so presented. The child to whom the young negroe was given immediately presented it with some piece of money and a pair of shoes; and from that day the strongest attachment subsisted between the domestic and the destined owner. I have no where met with instances of friendship more tender and generous than that which here subsisted between the slaves and their masters and mistresses. Extra ordinary proofs of them have been given in the course of hunting or Indian trading when a young man and his slave have gone to the trackless woods together, in the case of fits of the ague ,loss of a canoe, and other casualities happening near hostile Indians. The slave has been known, at the imminent risk of his life, to carry his disabled master through trackless woods with labor and fidelity scarce creditable; and the master has been equally tender on similar occasions of the humble friend who stuck closer than a brother: who was baptized with the same baptism, nurtured under the same roof, and often rocked in the same cradle with himself. These gifts of domestics to the young member of the family were not irrevocable: yet they were very rarely withdrawn. If the kitchen family did not increase in proportion to that of the master, young children were purchases some family where they abounded, to furnish those attached servants to the rising progeny. They were never sold without consulting the mother, who, if expert and sagacious, had a great deal of say in the family, and would not allow her child to go into any family with whose domestics she was not aquainted. These negroe-women piqued themselves on teaching their children to be excellent servants, well knowing servitude to be their lot for life, and that it could only be sweetened by making themselves particularly useful, and excelling in their department. If they did their work well, it is astonishing, when I recollect it, what liberty of speech was allowed to those active and prudent mothers. They would chide, reprove and expostulate in a manner that we would not endure from our hired servants; and sometimes excerpt fully as much authority over the children of the family as their parents, conscious that they were entirely in their power. They did not crush freedom of speech and opinion in those by whom they knew they were beloved, and who watched with incessant care over their interest and comfort. Affectionate and faithful as these homebred servants were in general, there were some instances (but very few) of those who, through levity of mind, or love of liquor or finery betrayed their trust, or habitually neglected their duty. In these cases, after every means has been used to reform them, no severe punishments were inflicted at home. But the terrible sentences, which they dreaded worse than death, was past -- they were sold to Jamaica. The necessity of doing this was bewailed by the whole family as a most dreadful calamity, and the culprit was carefully watched on his way to New York, lest he should evade the sentence by self-destruction.
One must have lived among those placid and humane people to be sensible that servitude, hopeless, endless servitude, could exist with so little servility and fear on one side and so little harshness of even sternness of Authority in the other. In Europe, the footing on which service is placed in consequence of the corruptions of society, hardens the heart, destroys confidence, and embitters life. The deceit and venality of servants not absolutely dishonest, puts it out of one’s power to love or trust them. And if in hopes of having people attached to us, who will neither betray our confidence, nor corrupt our children, we are at pains to rear them from childhood, and give them religious and moral education; after all our labor, others of their own class reduce them away to those who can afford to pay higher for their services. This is not the case in a few remote districts, where surrounding mountains seem to exclude the contagion of the world, some traces of fidelity and affection among domestics still remain. But it must be remarked that, in those very districts, it is usual to treat inferiors with courtesy and kindness, and to consider those domestics who marry out of the family as holding a kind of relation to it, and still claiming protection. In short, the corruption of that class of people is, doubtless, to be attributed to the example of their superiors. But how severely are those superiors punished? Why this general indifference about home; why are the household gods, why is the sacred hearth so wantonly abandoned? Alas! the charm of home is destroyed, since out children, educated in distant seminaries, are strangers in the paternal mansion; and our servants, like mere machines, move on their mercenary track without feeling or exiting one kind of generous sentiment. Home, thus despoiled of all its charms, is no longer the scene of any enjoyment but such as wealth can purchase. At the same time we feel there a nameless cold privation, and conscious that money can coin the same enjoyments with more variety elsewhere. We substitute these futile and evanescent pleasures for the perennial spring of calm satisfaction “without o’erflowing full” . . . which is fed by exercise of the kindly affections, and soon indeed must those stagnate where there are no proper objects to excite them. I have been forced into this painful digression by unavoidable comparisons. To return:---
Amidst all this mild and really tender indulgence to their negroes, these colonists had not the smallest scruple of conscience with regard to the right by which they held them in subjection. Had that been the case, their singular humanity would have been incompatible with continued injustice. But the truth is, that of law the generality of those people knew little: and of philosophy, nothing at all. They sought their code of morality in the Bible, and there imagined they found this hapless race condemned to perpetual slavery: and thought nothing remained for them but to lighten the chains of their fellow Christians, after having made them such. This I neither “extenuate,” nor “set down in malice,” but merely record the fact. At the same time it is but justice to record also a singular instance of moral delicacy distinguishing this settlement from every other in the like circumstances, though, from their simple and kindly modes of life, they were from infancy in habits of familiarity with these humble friends, yet being early taught that nature had placed between them a barrier, which it was in a high degree criminal and disgraceful to pass, they considered a mixture of such distinct races with abhorrence, as a violation of her laws. This greatly conduced to the preservation of family happiness and concord. An ambiguous race, which the law does not acknowledge; and who (if they have any moral sense, must be as much ashamed of their parents as there last are of them) are certainly a dangerous, because degraded part of the community. How much more so must be those unfortunate beings who stand in the predicament of the bat in the fable, whom both birds and beasts disowned? I am sorry to say that the progress of the British army, when it arrived, might be traced by a spurious and ambiguous race of this kind. But of a mulatto born before their arrival I only remember a single instance; and from the regret and wonder it occasioned, considered it as singular. Colonel Schuyler, of whom I am to speak, had a relation so weak and defective in capacity, the he never was intrusted with anything of his own, and lived an idle bachelor about the family. In process of time a favorite negroe-woman, to the great offense and scandal of the family, bore a child to him, whose color gave testimony to the relation. The boy was carefully educated; and when he grew up a farm was allotted to him well stocked and fertile but “ in the debts of the woods embraced” about two miles back from the family seat. A destitute white woman, who had some how wandered from the older colonies, was induced to marry him; and all the branches of the family thought it incumbent on them now and then to pay a quite visit to Chalk (for so, for some unknown reason, they always called him). I have been in Chalk’s house myself, and a most comfortable abode it was; but considered him as a mysterious and anomalous being.
I have dwelt longer on this singular instance of slavery, existing devoid of its attendant horrors, because of the fidelity and affection resulting from a bond of union so early formed between master and servant contributed very much to the safety of individuals, as well as the general comfort of society, as will hereafter appear.
[61-71] Chapter VIII: "Education and early Habits of the Albanians described"
The foundations both of friendship and still tendered attachments were here laid very early by an institution which I always thought had been peculiar to Albany, till I found in Dr. Moore’s View of a Society on the Continent and account of a similar custom subsisting in Geneva. The children of the town were all divided into companies, as they called them, from five or six years of age, till they became marriageable. How those companies first originated, or what were their exact regulations, I cannot say; though I spoke their current language fluently. Every company contained as many boys as girls. But I do not know that there was any limited number; only this I recollected, that a boy and girl of each company, who were older cleverer, or had some other pre-eminence above the rest , were called heads of the company, and, as such, obeyed by the others. Whether they were voted in, or attainted their pre-eminence by a tactic acknowledgement of their superiority, I know not; but however it was attained it was never disputed. The company of little children had also their heads. All the children of the same age were not in one company; there were at least three or four of equal ages, who had a strong rivalry with each other; and children of different ages in the same family, belonged to different companies. Wherever there is human nature there will be a degree of emulation, strife, and a desire to lessen others, that we may exalt ourselves. Dispassionate as my friends comparatively were, and bred up in the highest standards attainable candour and innocence, they regarded the company most in competition wit their with a degree of jealous animosity. Each company, at a certain time if the year, went in a body to gather a particular kind of berries, to the hills. It was sort of annual festival, attended with religious punctuality. Every company had a uniform for this purpose; that is to say, very pretty light baskets made by the Indians with lids and handles, which hung over the arm, and were adorned with various colors. One company would never allow the least degree of taste to the other in this instance; and was sure to vent its whole stock of spleen in decrying the rival baskets. Nor would they ever admit that the rival company gathered near so much fruit on these excursions as they did. The parents of these children seemed very much to encourage this manner of marshalling and divising themselves. Every child was permitted to entertain the whole company on its birth-day, and once besides, during the winter and spring. The master and mistress of the family always were bound to go from home on these occasions, while some old domestic was left to attend and watch over them, with an ample provision of tea, chocolate, preserves and dried fruits, nuts and cakes of various kinds, to which was added cyder or a syllabub, for these young friends met at four , and did not part till nine or ten, and amused themselves with the utmost gaiety and freedom in any way their fancy dictated. I speak from hearsay; for no person that does not belong to the company is ever admitted to these meetings; other children or young people visit occasionally, and are civilly treated, but they admit of no intimacies beyond their company. The consequences of these exclusive and early intimacies was, that, grown up, it was reckoned a sort of apostacy to marry out of ones company, and indeed it did not happen often. The girls, from the example of their mothers, rather than any compulsion, became very early notable and industrious, being constantly employed in knitting stockings, and making cloths for the family and slaves; they even make all the boy’s clothes. This was the more necessary, as all articles of clothing were extremely dear. Though all the necessaries of life, and some luxuries, abounded, money, as yet, was a scarce commodity. This industry was the more to be admired, as children were her indulged to a degree that, in our vitiated state of society, would have rendered them good for nothing. But there, where ambition, vanity, and the more turbulent passions were scarce awakened: were pride , founded on birth, or any external pre-eminence, was hardly known; and where the affections flourished fair and vigorous, unchecked by the thorns and thistles with which our minds are cursed in a more advanced state or retirement, affection restrained parents from keeping their children at a distance, and inflicting harsh punishments. But then they did not treat them likes apes or parrots, by teaching them to talk with borrowed words and ideas, and afterwards gratifying their own vanity by exhibiting these premature wonders to company, or repeating their sayings. They were tenderly cherished, and early taught that they all their enjoyments to the divine source of beneficence to whom they were finally accountable for their actions; for the rest they were very much left to nature, and permitted to range about at full liberty in their earliest years, covered in summer with some slight and cheap garb, which merely kept the sun from them, and in winter with some warm habit, in which convenience was consulted. Their dress of ceremony was never put on but when their company were assembled. They were extremely fond of their children; but, luckily for the latter, never dreamed of being vain of their immature wit and parts, which accounts, in some measure, for the great scarcity of coxcombs among them. The children returned the fondness of their parents with such tender affection, that they feared giving them pain as much as ours do punishment, and very rarely wounded their feelings by neglect, or rude answers. Yet the boys were often willful and giddy at a certain age, the girls being sooner tamed and domesticated.
These youths were apt, whenever they could carry a gun, (which they did at a very early period,) to follow some favorite negro to the woods, and, while he was employed in felling trees, range the whole day in search of game, to the neglect of all intellectual improvements, and contract a love of savage liberty which might, and in some instances did degenerate into licentious and idle habits. Indeed, there were three stated periods in the year when, for a few days, young and old, masters and slaves, were abandoned to unruly enjoyment, and neglected ever serious occupation for pursuits of this nature.
We who occupy counties fully inhabited can form no idea of the multitude of birds and animals that nature provides to consume her waste fertility in those regions unexplored by man. In the interior of the province the winter is much colder then might be supposed, from the latitude in which it lies, which is only 42 36’, from the keen north winds which blow constantly for four or five months over vast frozen lakes and snowy tracks, in the direction of Canada. The snow too lies very deep; but when once they are visited by the south wind in March, its literally warm approach dissolves the snow like magic; and one never sees another wintry day till the season of cold returns. These southern winds seem to flow in a rapid current, uninterrupted by mountains or other obstacles, from the burning sands of the Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas, and bring with them a degree of warmth, that appears no more the natural result of the situation, than the intense cold of winter does in that season.
Along the sea banks in all these southern provinces, are low sandy lands, that never were or will be inhabited, covered with the berry myrtle, from which wax is extracted for candles. Behind theses banks are woods and unwholesome swamps of great extent. The myrtle groves formerly mentioned afford shelter and food to the countless multitudes of pigeons in winter, when fruit is in season; while wild geese and ducks in numbers nearly as great, pass the winter in the impenetrable swamps behind. Some time in the month of April, a great emigration takes place to the northward, first of the geese and ducks, and then of the pigeons; they keep the direction of the sea coast till they come to the mouths of the great rivers, and then follow their course till they come to they reach the great lakes in the interior, where nature has provided for them with the same liberality as in their winter haunts. On the banks of these great lakes there are large tracts of ground, covered with a plant taller and more luxuriant than the wild carrot, but something resembling it, on the seeds of which the pigeons feed all the summer, while they are breeding and rearing their young. When they pass in spring, which they always do in the same track, they go in great numbers, and are very fat. Their progression northward and southward begins always about the vernal and autumnal equinoxes; and it is this that renders the carnage so great when they pass over inhabited districts. They begin to fly in the dawn, and are never seen after nine or ten o’clock in the morning, possibly feeding and resting in the woods all the rest of the day. If the morning be dry and windy, all the fowlers (that is everybody) are disappointed, for then they fly so high that no shot can reach them; but in a cloudy morning the carnage is incredible; and it is singular that their removal falls out at the time of year that the weather (even in their fertile climate) is generally cloudy. This migration, as it passed by, occasioned, as I said before, a total relaxation from all employments, and a kind of drunken gaiety, though it was rather slaughter than sport; and, for above a fortnight, pigeons in pies and soups, and every way they could be dressed, were the food of the inhabitants. These were immediate succeeded by wild geese and ducks, which concluded the carnival for the season, to be renews in September. About six weeks after the passage of these birds, sturgeon of a large prize, and in great quantity, made their appearance in the river. Now the same ardour seemed to pervade all ages in pursuit of this new object. Every family had a canoe; and on this occasion all were launched; and these preserving sisters traced the course of the sturgeon up the river; following them by torch light; and often continued to nights upon the water, never returned till they had loaded their canoes with this valuable fish, and many other excellent in their kinds, that come upon the river at the same time. The sturgeon not only furnished them with good part of their food in the summer months, but was pickled or dried for future use or exportation.
[72-91] Chapter IX: "Descriptions of the Manner in which the Indian Traders set on their full Adventure"
To return to the boys, as all young men were called here till they married. Thus early trained to a love sylvan sports, their characters were unfolded by contingencies. In this infant society penal laws lay dormant, and every species of coercion was unknown.
Morals, founded on christianity, were fostered by the sweet influence of the charities of life. The reverence which children I particular had for their parents, and the young in general for the old, was the chief bond that held society together. This veneration, being founded on esteemed, certainly could only have existed thus powerfully in an uncorrupted community. It had, however, an auxiliary no less powerful. Here, indeed, it might with truth be said,
“Love breath’d his infant sighs from anguish free.”
In consequence of the singular mode of associating together little exclusive parties of children of both sexes, which has been already mentioned, endearing intimacies, formed in the age of playful innocence, were the precursors of more tender attachments.
These were not wrought up to romantic enthusiasm, or extravagant passion by an inflamed imagination, or by the fears of rivalry, or the artifices of coquetry, yet they had power sufficient to soften the manners and elevate the character of the lover.
I know not if this be the proper place to observe, how much of the general order of society, and they happiness of a people, depends on marriage being early and universal among them: but of this more hereafter. The desire (undiverted by any objects passion) of obtaining the object of their affection, was to them a stimulus to early and severe exertion. The enamorued youth did not lifelessly sold his arms and sigh over his hopeless or unfortunate passion. Of love not fed by hope they had not an idea. Their attachments originated at too early an age, and in a circle too familiar to give room for those first sight impression of which we hear such wonders. If the temper of the youth was rash and impetuous, and his fair one gentle and complying, they frequently formed a rash and precipitate union without consulting their relations, when perhaps the elder of the two was not above seventeen. This was very quietly borne by the parties aggrieved. The relations of both parties met, and with great calmness consulted on what was to be done. The father of the youth or the damsel, whichever it was who had most wealth, or fewest children, brought home the young couple; and the new married man immediately set about a trading adventure, which was renewed every season, till he has the means of providing a home of his own. Meantime the increase of the younger family did not seem an inconvenience, but rather a source of delight to the old people; and an arrangement begun from necessity was often continued through choice for many years after. Their tempers, unruffled by the endless jealousies and competitions incident to our mode of life, were singularly placid, and the love of offspring, where children were truly an unmixed blessing, was a common sentiment which united all the branches of the family and predominated over every other. The jarring and distrust, the petulance and egotsm, which, distinct from all weightier considerations, would not fail to poison concord, were different families to dwell under one roof here , were there scarcely known. It is but justice to our acquired delicacy of sentiment to say, that the absence of refinement contributed to this tranquility. These primitive people, if they did not gather the flowers of cultivated elegance were not wounded by the thorns of irritable delicacy: they had neither artificial wants, not artificial miseries. In short, they were neither too wise to be happy, nor too witty to be at rest.
Thus is was in the case of unauthorized marriages. In the more ordinary course of things, love, which males labour light, tamed these young hunters, and transformed them into diligent and laborious traders, for the nature of their trade included very severe labour. When one of the boys was deeply smitten, his fowling-piece and fishing rod were at once relinquished. He demanded of his father forty or at most fifty dollars, a negroe boy, and a canoe; all of the sudden he assumed the brow of care and solitude, and began to smoke, a precaution absolutely necessary to repel aguish damps, and troublesome insects. He arrayed himself in a habit very little differing from that of the Aborigines, into whose bounds he was about to penetrate, and in short commenced Indian trader. That strange amphibious animal, who, uniting the acute senses, strong instincts, and unconquerable patience and fortitude of the savage, witch the art, policy, and inventions of the European, encountered in the pursuit of gain dangers and difficulties equal to those described in the romantic legends of chivalry.
The small bark canoe in which this hardy adventurer embarked himself, his fortune, and his faithful squire, (who was generally born in the same house, and predestined to his service,) was launched amidst the tears and prayers of his female relations, amongst whom was generally included his destined bride, who well knew herself to be the motive of his perilous adventure.
The canoe was entirely filled with coarse strouds and blankets, guns, powder, beads, & c. suited to the various wants and fancies of the natives; one pernicious article was never wanting, and often made a great part of the cargo. This was ardent spirits, for which the natives too early acquired a relish , and the possession of which always proved dangerous, and sometimes fatal to the traders. The Mohawks bringing their furs and other peltry habitually to the stores of their wonted friends and patrons. It was not in that easy and safe direction that these trading adventures extended. The canoe generally steered northward towards the Canadian frontier. They passed by the flats and stonehook in the outset of their journey. Then commenced their toils and dangers at the famous water-fall called the Cohoes, ten miles above Albany, where three rivers, uniting their streams into one, dash over a rocky shelf, and falling into a gulph below with great violence, raise clouds of mist bedecked with splendid rainbows. This was the Rubicon which they had to pass before they plunged into pathless woods, ingulphing swamps, and lakes, and opposite shores of which the eye could not reach. At the Cohoes, on account of the obstruction formed by the torrent, they unloaded their canoe, and carried it above a mile further upon their shoulders, returning again for the cargo, which they were obliged to transport in the same manner. This was but a prelude to labours and dangers, incredible to those who dwell at ease. Further on, much longer carrying places frequently recurred; where they had the vessel and cargo to drag through thickets impervious to the day, abounding with snakes and wild beasts, which are always to be found on the side of rivers.
Their provision of food was necessarily small, for fear of over-loading the slender and unstable conveyance already crouded with goods. A little dried beef and Indian corn-meal was their whole stock, though they formerly enjoyed both plenty and variety. They were in a great measure obliged to depend upon their own skill in hunting and fishing, and the hospitality of the Indians: for hunting, indeed, they had small leisure, their time being sedulously employed in consequence of the obstacles that retarded their progress. In the slight and fragile canoes, they often had to cross great lakes, on which the wind raised a terrible surge. Afraid of going into the track of the French traders, who were always dangerous rivals, and often declared enemies, they durst not follow the direction of the river St. Lawrence; but, in search of distant territories and unknown tribes, were wont to deviate to the east and south-west, forcing their painful way towards the source of “rivers unknown to song”, whose winding course was often interrupted by shallows, and oftener still by fallen trees of great magnitude lying across, which it was requisite to cut through with their hatchets before they could proceed. Small rivers which wind through fertile valleys, in this country, are peculiarly liable to this obstruction. The chestnut and hiccory grew to so large a size in this kind of soil, that in time they become top heavy, and are then the first prey to the violence of the winds; and thus falling, form a kind of accidental bridge over these rivers.
When the toils and dangers of the day were over, the still greater terrors of the night commenced. In this, which might literally be stiled the howling wilderness, they were forced to sleep in the open air, which was frequently loaded with the humid evaporation of swamps, ponds, and redundant vegetation. Here the axe must be again employed to procure the materials of a large fire even in the warmest weather. This precaution was necessary, that the flies and mosquitoes might be expelled by the smoke, and that the wolves and bears might be deterred by the flame from incroaching on their place of rest. But the light which afforded them protection created fresh disturbance.
“Loud as the wolves on Orca’s stormy steep.
Howl to the roarings of the northern deep,”
the American wolves howl to the fires kindled to affright them, watching the whole night on the surrounding hills to keep up a concert which truly “rendered night hideous:” meantime the bull-frogs, terrible though harmless, and smaller kinds of various tones and countless numbers, seemed all night calling to each other from opposite swamps, forming the most dismal assemblage of discordant sounds. Though serpents abounded very much in the woods: few of them were noxious. The rattle-snake, the only dangerous reptile, was not so frequently met with as in the neighboring provinces; and the remedy which nature has bestowed as an antidote to his bite, was very generally known. The beauties of rural and varied scenery seldom compensated the traveler for the dangers of his journey. “In the close prison of innumerous boughs,” and on ground thick with under-wood, there was little of landscape open to the eye. The banks of streams and lakes no doubt afforded a rich variety of trees and plants: the former of the most majestic size, the latter of singular beauty and luxuriance; but otherwise they only traveled through a grove of chestnuts or oak, to arrive at another maple, or poplar, or a vast stretch of pines and other ever-greens. If by chance they arrived at a hill crowned with cedars, which afforded some command of prospect, still the gloomy and interminable forest, only varied with different shades of green, met the eye which ever way it turned, while the mind, repelled by solitude so vast, and silence so profound, turned inward on itself. Nature here wore a veil rich and grand, but impenetrable: at least this was the impression it was likely to make on an European mind; but a native American, familiar from childhood with the productions and inhabitants of the woods, sought the nuts and wild fruits with which they abounded; the nimble squirrel in all its varied forms, the architect beaver, the savage raccoon, and the stately elk; where we should see nothing but awful solitudes untrod by human foot. It is inconceivable how well these young travelers, taught by their Indian friends, and their experimental knowledge of their fathers, understood every soil and its productions. A boy of twelve years old would astonish you with his accurate knowledge of plants, their properties, and their relation to the soil and to each other. “Here,” said he, “ is a wood of red oak, when it grubbed up this will be loam and sand, and make good Indian-corn ground. This chestnut wood abounds with strawberries, and is the very best soil for wheat. The poplar wood yonder is not worth clearing; the soil is always wet and cold. There is a hickory wood, where the soil is always rich and deep, and does not run out; such and such plants that dye blue, or orange, grew under it.”
This is merely a sight epitome of the wide views of nature that are laid open to these people from their very infancy, the acquisition of this kind of knowledge being one of their first amusements; yet those who were capable of astonishing you by the extent and variety of this local skill, in objects so varied and so complicated, never heard of a petal, corolla, or stigma in their lives, nor even of the strata of that soil with the productions and properties of which they were so intimately acquainted.
Without compass, or guide of any kind, the traders steered through these pathless forests. In those gloomy days when the fun is not visible, or in winter, when the falling snows obscured his beams, they made an incision on the bark on the different sides of a tree; that on the north was invariable thicker than the other, and covered with moss in much greater quantity. And this never failing indication of the polar influence, was to those sagacious travelers a sufficient guide. They had indeed several subordinate monitors. Knowing so well as they did the quality of the soil by the trees or plants most prevalent, they could avoid a swamp, or approach with certainty to a river or high ground in such was their wish, by means that to us would seem incomprehensible. Even the savages seldom visited these districts except in the dead of winter; they had towns, as they called their summer dwellings, on the banks of the lakes and rivers in the interior, where their great fishing places were. In the winter, their grand hunting parties were in places more remote from our boundaries, where the deer and other larger animals took shelter from the neighborhood of man. These single adventurers sought the Indians in their spring haunts as soon as the rivers were open; there they had new dangers to apprehend. It is well known that among the natives of America, revenge was actually a virtue, and retaliation a positive duty; while faith was kept with these people they never became aggressors. But the Europeans, by the force of bad example, and strong liquors, seduced them from their notion of justice and revenge was of that vague and general nature, that if they considered themselves injured, or if one of their tribe had been killed by an inhabitant of any one of our settlements, they considered any individual of our nation as a proper subject for retribution. This seldom happened among our allies; never indeed, but when the injury was obvious, and our people very culpable. But the avidity of gain often led our traders to deal with Indians, among whom the French possessed a degree of influence, which produced a smothered animosity to our nation. When at length, after conquering numberless obstacles, they arrived at the place of their destination, these daring adventured found occasion for no little address, patience, and indeed courage, before they could dispose of their cargo, and return safely with the profits.
The successful trader had now laid the foundation of his fortune, and approved himself worthy of her for whose sake he encountered all these dangers. It is utterly inconceivable, how even a single season, spent in this manner, ripened the mind, and changed the whole appearance, nay the very character of the countenance of these demi-savages, for such they seem on returning from among their friends in the forests. Lofty, sedate, and collected, they seem matters of themselves, and independent of others; though fun-burnt and austere, one scarce knows them till they unbent. By this Indian likeness, I do not think them by any means degraded. One must have seen these people. (the Indians I mean,) to have any idea what a noble animal man is, while unsophisticated. I have been often amused with the descriptions that philosophers, in their closets, who never in their lives saw man, but in his improved or degraded state, give of uncivilized people; not recollecting that they are at the same time uncorrupted. Voyagers, who have not their language, and merely see them transiently, to wonder and be wondered at, are equally strangers to the real character of man in a social, though unpolished state. It is no criterion to judge of this state of society by the roaming savages (truly such) who are met with on these inhospitable coasts, where nature is niggardly of her gifts, and where the skies frown continually on her hard-fates children, for some good reason to us unknown, it is requested that human beings should be scattered through all habitable space, “ till gradual life goes out beneath the pole;” and to beings so destined, what misery would result from social tenderness and fine perceptions. Of the class of social beings (for such indeed they were) of whom I speak, let us judge from the traders who know their language and customs, and from the adopted prisoners who have spent years among them. How unequivocal, how consistent is the testimony they bear to their humanity, friendship, fortitude, fidelity, and generosity; but the indulgence of the recollections thus suggested have already led me too far from my subject.
They joy that the return of these youths occasioned was proportioned to the anxiety their perilous journey had produced. In some instances the union of the lovers immediately took place before the next career of gainful hardships commenced. But they more cautious went to New York in winter, disposed of their peltry, purchases a larger cargo, and another slave and canoe. The next year they laid out the profits of there former adventures in flour and provisions, the staple of the province; this they disposed of at the Bermuda Islands, where they generally purchased one of those light-failing cedar schooners, for building of which those islanders are famous, and proceeding to the Leeward Islands, loaded it with a cargo of rum, sugar, molasses.
They were now ripened into men, and considered as active and useful members of society, possessing a stake in the common weal.
The young adventurer had generally finished this process by the time he was one or, at most, two and twenty. He now married, or if married before, which pretty often was the case, brought home his wife to a house of his own. Either he kept his schooner, and, loading her with produce, failed up and down the river all summer, and all winter disposed of the cargoes he obtained in exchange to more settled in the country, and become as diligent in his agricultural pursuits as if he had never known any other.
[91-103] Chapter X: "Marriages, Amusements, rural Excursions, &c. among the Albanians."
It was in this manner that the young colonist made the transition from boyhood to man hood; from the disengaged and the careless bachelor, to the provident and thoughtful father of a family; and thus was spent that period of life so critical in polished society to those whose condition exempts them from manual labor, Love, undiminished by any rival passion, and cherished by innocence and candour, was here fixed by the power of early habit, and strengthened by similarity of education, tastes, and attachments. Inconstancy or even indifference among married couples was unheard of, even where there happened to be a considerable disparity in point of intellect. The extreme affection they bore their mutual offspring was a bond that forever endeared them to each other. Marriage in this colony was always early, very often happy, and very seldom indeed interested. When a man had no son there was nothing to be expected with a daughter by a well brought-up female slave, and the furniture of the best bed-chamber. At the death of her father she obtained another division of his effects, such as he thought she needed or deserved, for there was no rule in these cases.
Such was the manner in which those colonists began life; nor must it be thought that those were mean or uniformed persons. Patriots, magistrates, generals, those who were afterwards wealthy, powerful, and distinguished, all, except a few elder brothers, occupied by their possessions at home, set out in the same manner; and in after life, even in the most prosperous circumstances, they delighted to recount the “ humble toils and destiny obscure” of their early years.
The very idea of being ashamed of anything that was neither vicious nor indecent never entered and Albanian head. Early accustomed to this noble simplicity, this dignified candour, I cannot express the contempt and disgust I felt at the shame of honourable poverty. The extreme desire of concealing our real condition, and appearing what we are not, that peculiarly characterizes, I had almost said disgraces, the northern part more particularly of this island. I have often wondered how this vile sentiment, that undermines all true greatness of mind, should prevail more here that in England, where wealth, beyond a doubt, is more respected, at least preponderates more over birth, and heart, and mind, and many other valuable considerations. As a people we certainly are not sordid, why then should we descent to the meanness of being ashamed of our condition, while we have not done anything to degrade ourselves? Why add a sting to poverty, and a plume to vanity, by the poor transparent artifice that conceals nothing, and only changes pity into scorn?
Before I quit the subject of Albanian manners I must describe their amusements, and some other peculiarities in their modes of life. When I say their amusements, I mean those in which they differed from most other people. Such as they had in common with others require no description. They were exceedingly social, and visited each other very frequently, beside the regular assembling together in their porches every fine evening. Of the most substantial luxuries of the table they knew little, and of the formal and ceremonious parts of good breeding still less.
If you went to spend a day any where, you were received in a manner we should thing very cold. No one rose to welcome you; no one wondered you had not come sooner, or apologized for any deficiency in your entertainment. Diner, which was very early, was served exactly in the same manner as if there were only the family. Th house indeed was so exquisitely neat and well regulated, that you could not surprise them’ and they saw each other so often and so easily, that intimates made no difference. Of strangers they were shy; not by any means from want of hospitality, but from a consciousness that people who had little to value themselves on but their knowledge of the modes of ceremonies of polishes life, disliked their sincerity, and despised their simplicity. If you shewed no insolent wonder, but easily and quietly adopted their manners, you would receive from them not only very great civility, but much essential kindness. Whoever has no common sense and common gratitude enough to pay this tribute of accommodation to those among whom he is destined for the time to live, must course be an insulated, discontented being; and come home railing at the people whose social comforts he disdained to partake. After sharing this plain and unceremonious dinner, which might, by the bye, chance to be a very good one, but was invariably that which was meant for the family, tea was served in at a very early hour. And here it was that the distinction shewn to strangers commenced. Tea here was a perfect regale; accompanied by various sorts to cakes unknown to us, could pastry, and great quantities of sweetness and preserved fruits of various kinds, and plates of hiccory and other nuts ready cracked. In all manner of confectionary and pastry these people excelled; and having fruit in great abundance, which cost them nothing, and getting sugar home at an easy rate, in return for their exports to the West Indies, the quantity of these articles used in families, otherwise plain and frugal, was astonishing. Tea was never unaccompanied with some of these petty articles; but for strangers a great display was made. If you staid supper, you were sure of a most substantial though plain one. In this meal they departed, out of compliment to the strangers, from their usual simplicity. Having dined between twelve and one you were quite prepared for it. You had either game or poultry roasted, and always shell-fish in the season: you had also fruit in abundance, All this with much neatness but no form. The seeming coldness with which you were first received wore off by degrees. They could not accommodate their topics to you, and scarcely attempted it. But the conversation of the old, though limited in regard to subjects, was relational and easy, and had in it an air of originality and truth not without its attractions. That of the young was natural and playful, yet full of localities, which lessened its interest to a stranger, but which were extremely amusing when you became one of the initiated.
Their amusements were marked by a simplicity which, to strangers, appeared ruse and childish, (I mean those of the younger class.) In spring, eight of ten of the young people of one company, or related to each other, young men and maidens, who set out together in canoe on a kind of rural excursion, of which amusement was the object. Yet so fixed were their habits of industry, that hey never failed to carry their work baskets with them, not as a form, but as an ingredient necessarily mixed with their pleasures. They had no attendants; and steered a devious course of four, five or perhaps more, miles, till they arrived at some of the beautiful islands with which this fine river abounded, or at some sequestered spot on its banks, where delicious wild fruits, or particular conveniences for fishing, afforded some attraction. There they generally arrived by nine of ten o’clock having set out in the cool and early hour of sun-rise Often they met another party going, perhaps, to a different place, and joined them, or induced them to take their route. A basket with tea, sugar, and other usual provisions for breakfast, with the apparatus for cooking it; a little rum and fruit for making cool weak punch, the usual beverage in the middle of the day, and now and then some cold pastry, was the sole provision; for the great affair was the depend on the sole exertions of the boys, in procuring fish, wild ducks, &c. for their dinner. They were all , like Indians, ready and dexterous with the axe, and gun, &c. Whenever they arrived at their destination they sought out a dry and beautiful spot opposite to the river, and in an infant with their axes cleared so much superfluous shade or shrubbery as left a semicircular opening, above which they bent and twined the boughs, so as to form a pleasant bower, while the girls gathered dried branches, to which one of the youths soon set fire with gunpowder, and the breakfast, a very regular and cheerful one, occupied an hour or two; the young men then set out to fish, o r perhaps to shot birds, and the maiden sat busily down to their work, singing and conversing with all the ease and gaiety the bright serenity of the atmosphere and beauty of the surrounding scene were calculated to inspire. After the sultry hours had been thus employed, the boys brought their tribute from the river or the wood, and found a rural meal prepared by their fair companions. Among whom were generally their sisters and the chosen of their hearts. After dinner they all set out together to gather wild strawberries, or whatever other fruit was in season; for it was accounted a reflection to come home empty handed. When wearied of this amusement, they either drank in their bower, or returning, landed at some friend’s on the way to partake of that refreshment. Here, indeed,
“Youths’ free spirit, innocently gay, Enjoyed the most that innocence could give.”
Another of their summer amusements was going on the bush, which was thus managed: a party of young people set out in little open carriages, something in the form of a gig, of which every family had one; every one carried something with him, as in these cases there was no hunting to add provision. One brought wine for negus, another tea and coffee of a superior quality, a third a pigeon pye; in short, every one brought something, no matter hoe trifling, for there was no emulation about the extent of the contribution. In this same bush, there were spots to which the poorer members of the community retired, to work their way with patient industry, through much privation and hardship compared to the plenty and comfort enjoyed by the rest. They perhaps could only afford to have on negroe-woman, whose children, as they grew up, became to their master a source of plenty and ease: but in the mean time the good man wrought hard himself, with a little occasional aid sent him by his friend. He had plenty of the necessaries of life, but no luxuries. His wife and daughters milked the cows and wrought at the hay, and his house was on a smaller scale than the older settlers had their, yet he had always one neatly furnished room. A very clean house, with a pleasant portico before it, generally a fine stream beside his dwelling, and some Indian wigwam near it. He was wood-surrounded, and seemed absolutely to live in the bosom of nature, screened from all the artificial ills of life; and those spots cleared of incumbrances, yet rich in native luxuriance, had a wild originality about them not easily described. The young parties, or something elder ones, who set out on this woodland excursion, had no fixed destination; they went generally in the forenoon, and when they were tired of going on the ordinary road, turned into the bush, and whenever they saw an inhabited spot, with the appearance of which they were pleased, went in with all the ease of intimacy, and told them they were come to spend the afternoon there. The good people, not in the least surprised at this incursion, very calmly opened the reserved apartments, or if it were very hot, received them in the portico. The guests produced their stores, and they boiled their tea kettle, and provided cream, nuts, or any peculiar dainty of the woods which they chanced to have; and they always furnished bread and butter, which they did with great ease and frankness; then dancing, or any other amusement that struck their fancy, succeeded. They sauntered about the bounds in the evening, and returned by moonlight. These good people felt not the least embarrassed at the rustic plainness of every thing about them; they considered themselves as on the way, after a little longer exertion of patient industry, to have everything that the others had: and their guests though tit an agreeable variety in this abrupt manner to visit their sequestered abodes.
From Memoirs of an American Lady: with Sketches of Manners and Scenery in America, as they existed previous to the Revolution written by Ann Grant. First published by Strahan and Preston, Printers-Street, London, in 1808. Republished by London Research Reprints Inc. in New York in 1970.
Two volumes, consecutive pagination; edition pages for each chapter shown in [brackets]. The original punctuation is variable and has been retained!
Transformed by DB
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first posted: 12/15/03; last revised 1/5/04