Dr. Alexander Hamilton on Albany*

Dr. Alexander Hamilton's Itinerarium chronicles his journey from Maryland to Maine and back in 1744. According to his biographer, this Scottish-born Annapolis physician was a rarity among contemporary observers - a "truthful traveller!" He took a two week side trip up the Hudson to Albany. The excerpts printed below shed light on early Albany and its people!

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[51]  Mr. M_____s [Milne] read a treatise upon microscopes and wanted me to sit and hear him, which I did, tho' with little relish, the piece being trite and vulgar, and tiresome to one who had seen Leewenhoek and some of the best hands upon that subject. I soon found M____ls [Milne's] ignorance of the thing, for as he read he seemed to be in a kind of surprize  [53]  att every little trite observation of the author's. I found him an intire stranger to the mathematicks, so as that he know not the difference betwixt a cone and a pyramid, a cylinder and a prysm. He had studied a year att Leyden under Boerhaave, even after he had entered into holy orders. He had once wore a souldier's livery, was very whimisicall about affairs relating to farming in so much that he had spent a deal of money in projects that way but reaped as little profit as projectors commonly do. I was told by a gentleman that knew him that formerly he had been an immoderate drinker so as to expose himself by it, but now he was so much reformed as to drink no liquor but water. In some parts of learning, such as the languages, he seemed pritty well versed. He could talk Latine and French very well and read the Greek authors, and I was told that he spoke the Dutch to perfection. He enquired of me concerning Parson C____se of Maryland, but I could not find out which of the C____ses it was. He told me had had once given him a hearty horsewhipping for some rude language he gave him in a theologicall dispute which they had. I was informed by him that Morgan, the philosopher and mathematician whom I had seen att Kingstown, was his curate>.

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[61]We set off in the canoes att nine a clock and saw Albany att a distance. We landed upon an island belonging to Mr. M_____s [Milne], upon which there was fine grass of different sorts and very good crops of wheat and pease

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Thursday, June 28th.?Early this morning I took horse, and went in company with one Collins, a surveyor here, to a village called Schenectady, about sixteen miles from Albany, and pleasantly situated upon the Mohook River. [219]

It is a trading village, the people carrying on a traffick with the Indians; their chief commodities, wampum, knives, needles, and other such pedlery ware. This village is pretty near as large as Albany, and consists chiefly of brick houses, built upon a pleasant plain, enclosed all round at about a mile's distance, with thick pine woods. These woods form a copse above your head, almost all the way betwixt Albany and Schenectady, and you ride over a plain, level, sandy road till, coming out of the covert of the woods, all at once the village strikes surprisingly your eye, which I can compare to nothing but the curtain rising in a play and displaying a beautiful scene. [220]

We returned to M?s's island, from whence between twelve and one o'clock I went to Albany in a canoe, the day being somewhat sultry, tho' in this latitude the heats are tolerable to what they are two or three degrees to the southward, the mornings and evenings all summer long being cool and pleasant, but often, about noon and for three hours after, the sun is very hot. [221]

I went to see the school in this city, in which are about aoo [sic] scholars, boys and girls. I dined at the Patroon's; after dinner Mr. Shakesburrough, surgeon to the fort, came in, who by his conversation seemed to have as little of the quack in him as any half-hewn doctor ever I had met with. The doctors in Albany are mostly Dutch, all empirics, having no knowledge or learning but what they have acquired by bare experience. They study chiefly the virtues of herbs, and the woods there furnish their shops with all the pharmacy they use. [222]

A great many of them take the care of a family for the value of a Dutch dollar a year, which makes the practice of physick a mean thing, and unworthy of the application of a gentleman. The doctors here are all barbers. [223]

This afternoon I went avisiting with M s, and had the other kissing bout to go thro'. We went at night to Stephen Ranslaer's, where we supped. [224]

[225] Friday, June 29th. After breakfast I walked out with Ms, and visited some more old women, where I had occasion to prescribe and enter into a dispute with a Dutch doctor. Mr. M's gesture in common discourse often afforded me subject of speculation. At every the least trifling expression and common sentence in discourse, he would shrug up his shoulders, and stare one in the face as if he had uttered some very wonderful thing, and he would do the same while another person spoke, tho' he expressed nothing but common chat. By this means it was hard to tell when anything struck his fancy, for by this odd habit he had contracted in his gesture, everything seemed alike to raise his admiration. About this time one Kuyler, the mayor of the city, was suspected of trading with the Canada Indians, and selling powder to them. The people in town spoke pretty openly of it, and the thing coming to Governour Clinton's ears, he made him give security for his appearance at the General Court, to have the affair tried and canvassed. [226]

I went before dinner with Ms, and saw the inside of the Townhouse. The great hall where the court sits is about forty feet long and thirty broad. This is a clumsy, heavy building, both without and within. We went next and viewed the workmen putting up new palisading or stoccadoes to fortify the town, and at ten o'clock we walked to the island, and returned to town again at twelve. Mr. Ms and I dined upon cold gammon at one Stevenson's, a Scots gentleman of some credit there. We drank tea at Steph. Ranslaer's, and supped at widow Skuyler's, where the conversation turned upon the Moravian enthusiasts and their doctrines. [227]

Saturday, June 30th. In the morning I went with Ms to make some more visits, of which I was now almost tired. Among others we went to see Dr. Rosaboom, one of the Dutch medicasters of the place, a man of considerable practice in administering physick and shaving. He had a very voluminous Dutch Herbalist lying on the table before him, being almost a load for a London porter. The sight of this made me sick, especially when I understood it was writ in High Dutch. I imagined the contents of it were very weighty and ponderous, as well as the book itself. It was writ by one Rumpertus Dodonzus. From this book Rosaboom had extracted all his learning in physick, and he could quote no other author but the great infallible Rumpertus, as he styled him. His discourse to us tended very much to self commendation, being an historical account of cases in surgery, where he had had surprising success. [228]

At ten o'clock Ms and I went to the island, where we dined, and Ms, being hot with walking, went to drink his cool water as usual, which brought an ague upon him, and he was obliged to go to bed. In the meantime the old woman and I conversed for half an hour about a rural life and good husbandry. At three o'clock I walked abroad to view the island, and sitting under a willow near the water, I was invited to sleep, but scarce had I enjoyed half an hour's repose, when I was waked by a cow that was eating up my handkerchief, which I had put under my head. I pursued her for some time before I recovered it, when I suppose the snuff in it made her disgorge, but it was prettily pinked all over with holes. [230]

I went to the house and drank tea and then walked to town with Ms. On the way we met an old man who goes by the name of Scots Willie. He had been a soldier in the garrison, but was now discharged as an invalid. He told us he had been at the battle of Killiecrankie in Scotland, upon the side where Lord Dundee fought, and that he saw him fall in the battle. [231]

We supped by invitation at the tavern with some of the chief men in the city, it being muster day, and a treat given by the officers of the fort to the muster masters. There were Messrs. Kuyler the Mayor, Tansbrook the Recorder, Holland the Sheriff, Surveyor Collins, Captain Blood, Captain Haylin of the Fort, and several others. The conversation was rude and clamorous, but the viands and wine were good. We had news of the French having taken another small fort, besides Cansoe. I walked with Ms to ye island at ten at night. [232]

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From Gentleman's Progress: The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton 1744, edited and introduced by Carl Bridenbaugh (Williamsburg, VA, 1948; reprinted 1973 and again). Page references in brackets. The original punctuation and spellings are variable and have been retained! Transformed from a digital posting of the historical work.


Visitors to Albany

Transformed from the book and then from the digital source cited above by SB

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first posted: 4/20/04; revised 1/3/11