2. Manners and Morals
2. Manners and Morals
- Elizabeth A. Bohls
Isaac Weld, Travels through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the years 1795, 1796, and 1797 (1799)
As a young man Isaac Weld (1774–1856) spent over two years travelling through the United States and Canada, returning home in 1797 ‘without entertaining the slightest wish to revisit’ the continent. His Travels were published in 1799 to considerable acclaim, reaching a second edition within a year and appearing in French, German, and Dutch translations. They exhibit a spleen reminiscent of Smollett, but with less wit and intelligence. Here Weld comments on Americans’ aversion to trees, compares them to the German settlers in Pennsylvania, and gives a lurid account of tavern recreations in Virginia.
The scenery in this neighbourhood is extremely interesting. From the top of the hills you meet with numberless bold and extensive prospects of the Chesapeake Bay and of the River Susquehannah; and scarcely do you cross a valley without beholding in the depths of the woods the waters of some little creek or rivulet rushing over ledges of rock in a beautiful cascade. The generality of Americans stare with astonishment at a person who can feel any delight at p. 390↵passing through such a country as this. To them the sight of a wheat field or a cabbage garden would convey pleasure far greater than that of the most romantic woodland views. They have an unconquerable aversion to trees; and whenever a settlement is made, they cut away all before them without mercy; not one is spared; all share the same fate, and are involved in the general havoc….
From the face of the country being entirely overspread with trees, the eyes of the people become satiated with the sight of them. The ground cannot be tilled, nor can the inhabitants support themselves, till they are removed; they are looked upon as a nuisance, and the man that can cut down the largest number, and have the fields about his house most clear of them, is looked upon as the most industrious citizen, and the one that is making the greatest improvements* in the country….
The Germans are a quiet, sober, and industrious set of people, and are most valuable citizens. They generally settle a good many together in one place, and, as may be supposed, in consequence keep up many of the customs of their native country as well as their own language. In Lancaster and the neighbourhood, German is the prevailing language, and numbers of people living there are ignorant of any other. The Germans are some of the best farmers in the United States, and they seldom are to be found but where the land is particularly good; wherever they settle they build churches, and are wonderfully attentive to the duties of religion. In these and many other respects the Germans and their descendants differ widely from the Americans, that is, from the descendants of the English, Scotch, Irish, and other nations, who from having lived in the country for many generations, and from having mingled together, now form one people, whose manners and habits are very much the same.
The Germans are a plodding race of men, wholly intent upon their own business, and indifferent about that of others: a stranger is never molested as he passes through their settlements with inquisitive and idle questions. On arriving amongst the Americans,* however, a stranger must tell where he came from, where he is going, what his name is, what his business is; and until he gratifies their curiosity on these points, and many others of equal importance, he is never suffered to remain quiet for a moment. In a tavern, he must satisfy every fresh set that comes in, in the same manner, or involve p. 391↵himself in a quarrel, especially if it is found out that he is not a native, which it does not require much sagacity to discover.
The Germans give themselves but little trouble about politics; they elect their representatives to serve in Congress and the state assemblies; and satisfied that deserving men have been chosen by the people at large, they trust that these men do what is best for the public good, and therefore abide patiently by their decisions: they revere the constitution, conscious that they live happily under it, and express no wishes to have it altered. The Americans, however, are for ever cavilling at some of the public measures; something or other is always wrong, and they never appear perfectly satisfied. If any great measure is before Congress for discussion, seemingly distrustful of the abilities or the integrity of the men they have elected, they meet together in their towns or districts, canvass the matter themselves, and then send forward instructions to their representatives how to act. They never consider that any important question is more likely to meet with a fair discussion in an assembly, where able men are collected together from all parts of the states, than in an obscure corner, where a few individuals are assembled, who have no opportunity of getting general information on the subject. Party spirit is for ever creating dissensions amongst them, and one man is continually endeavouring to obtrude his political creed upon another. If it is found out that a stranger is from Great Britain or Ireland, they immediately begin to boast of their own constitution and freedom, and give him to understand that they think every Englishman a slave, because he submits to be called a subject. Their opinions are for the most part crude and dogmatical, and principally borrowed from newspapers, which are wretchedly compiled from the pamphlets of the day; having read a few of which, they think themselves arrived at the summit of intellectual excellence, and qualified for making the deepest political researches.
The Germans, as I have said, are fond of settling near each other: when the young men of a family are grown up, they generally endeavour to get a piece of land in the neighbourhood of their relations, and by their industry soon make it valuable; the American, on the contrary, is of a roving disposition, and wholly regardless of the ties of consanguinity; he takes his wife with him, goes to a distant part of the country, and buries himself in the woods, hundreds of miles distant from the rest of his family, never perhaps to see them p. 392↵again. In the back parts of the country, you always meet numbers of men prowling about to try and buy cheap land; having found what they like, they immediately remove: nor having once removed, are these people satisfied; restless and discontented with what they possess, they are for ever changing. It is scarcely possible in any part of the continent to find a man, amongst the middling and lower classes of Americans, who has not changed his farm and his residence many different times. Thus it is that though there are not more than four millions of people in the United States, yet they are scattered from the confines of Canada to the farthest extremity of Georgia, and from the Atlantic to the banks of the Mississippi. Thousands of acres of waste land are annually taken up in unhealthy and unfruitful parts of the country, notwithstanding that the best settled and healthy parts of the middle states would maintain five times the number of inhabitants that they do at present. The American, however, does not change about from place to place in this manner merely to gratify a wandering disposition; in every change he hopes to make money. By the desire of making money, both the Germans and Americans of every class and description are actuated in all their movements; self-interest is always uppermost in their thoughts; it is the idol which they worship, and at its shrine thousands and thousands would be found, in all parts of the country, ready to make a sacrifice of every noble and generous sentiment that can adorn the human mind….
Perhaps in no place of the same size in the world is there more gambling going forward than in Richmond. I had scarcely alighted from my horse at the tavern, when the landlord came to ask what game I was most partial to, as in such a room there was a faro table, in another a hazard table, in a third a billiard table, to any one of which he was ready to conduct me. Not the smallest secrecy is employed in keeping these tables; they are always crowded with people, and the doors of the apartment are only shut to prevent the rabble from coming in. Indeed, throughout the lower part of the country in Virginia, and also in that part of Maryland next to it, there is scarcely a petty tavern without a billiard room, and this is always full of a set of idle low-lived fellows, drinking spirits or playing cards, if not engaged at the table. Cock-fighting is also another favourite diversion. It is chiefly, however, the lower class of people that partake of these amusements at the taverns; in private there is, perhaps, as little p. 393↵gambling in Virginia as in any other part of America. The circumstance of having the taverns thus infested by such a set of people renders travelling extremely unpleasant. Many times I have been forced to proceed much farther in a day than I have wished, in order to avoid the scenes of rioting and quarrelling that I have met with at the taverns, which it is impossible to escape as long as you remain in the same house where they are carried on, for every apartment is considered as common, and that room in which a stranger sits down is sure to be the most frequented.
Whenever these people come to blows, they fight just like wild beasts, biting, kicking, and endeavouring to tear each other’s eyes out with their nails. It is by no means uncommon to meet with those who have lost an eye in a combat, and there are men who pride themselves upon the dexterity with which they can scoop one out. This is called gouging. To perform the horrid operation, the combatant twists his forefingers in the side locks of his adversary’s hair, and then applies his thumbs to the bottom of the eye, to force it out of the socket. If ever there is a battle, in which neither of those engaged loses an eye, their faces are however generally cut in a shocking manner with the thumb-nails, in the many attempts which are made at gouging. But what is worse than all, these wretches in their combat endeavour to their utmost to tear out each other’s testicles. Four or five instances came within my own observation, as I passed through Maryland and Virginia, of men being confined in their beds from the injuries which they had received of this nature in a fight. In the Carolinas and Georgia, I have been credibly assured that the people are still more depraved in this respect than in Virginia, and that in some particular parts of these states, every third or fourth man appears with one eye.
John Davis, Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America; during 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802 (1803)
John Davis (b. 1776) came to America at the age of 22 to try to make a living as a private tutor. He travelled on foot through a great part of the fifteen States, bringing a literary sensibility to his observations. Davis dedicated his Travels to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote back, ‘Such a p. 394↵testimony of respect from an enlightened foreigner cannot but be flattering to me.’ Our selections recount Davis’s adventures in the Carolina woods en route from Charleston to the plantation of Thomas Drayton, where he worked as a tutor in the winter and spring of 1798–9. The idyll was marred, in his view, by the slave labour that sustained it.
The place I had reached was Asheepo, a hamlet consisting of three or more log-houses; and the inhabitants of every sex and age had collected round a huge elephant, which was journeying with his master to Savannah.
Fortune had therefore brought me into unexpected company, and I could not but admire the docility of the elephant, who, in solemn majesty, received the gifts of the children with his trunk. But not so the monkey. This man of Lord Monboddo* was inflamed with rage at the boys and girls; nor could the rebukes of his master calm the transports of his fury.
I entered the log-house which accommodated travellers. An old negro-man had squatted himself before the fire. Well, old man, said I, why don’t you go out to look at the elephant? Hie! Massa, he calf! In fact the elephant came from Asia, and the negro from Africa, where he had seen the same species of animal, but of much greater magnitude.
Travelling, says Shakespeare, acquaints a man with strange bedfellows;* and there being only one bed in the log-house, I slept that night with the elephant driver. Mr Owen was a native of Wales, but he had been a great traveller, and carried a map of his travels in his pocket. Nothing shortens a journey more than good company on the road; so I departed after breakfast from Asheepo, with Mr Owen, his elephant, and his monkey.
Mr Owen related to me the wonders of his elephant, which at some future day, I may perhaps publish in a separate treatise; but they would be irrelevant to my present journey, which towards noon I was left to prosecute alone. The elephant, however docile, would not travel without his dinner; and Mr Owen halted under a pine-tree to feed the mute companion of his toils.
For my own part, I dined at a solitary log-house in the woods, upon exquisite venison. My host was a small planter, who cultivated a little rice, and maintained a wife and four children with his rifled-barrel-gun. He had been overseer to a Colonel Fishborne, and owned p. 395↵half a dozen negroes; but he observed to me his property was running about at large, for four of them had absconded.
As I proposed to make Pocotaligo the end of my day’s journey, I walked forward at a moderate pace; but towards evening I was roused from the reveries into which my walking had plunged me by a conflagration in the woods. On either side of the road the trees were in flames, which, extending to their branches, assumed an appearance both terrific and grotesque. Through these woods, belching flames and rolling smoke, I had to travel nearly a mile, when the sound of the negro’s axe chopping of wood announced that I was near Pocotaligo.
At Pocotaligo I learned that the conflagration in the woods arose from the carelessness of some backwoods-men, who having neglected to extinguish their fires, the flames had extended in succession to the herbage and the trees.
I was somewhat surprised on entering the tavern at Pocotaligo to behold sixteen or more chairs placed round a table which was covered with the choicest dishes; but my surprise ceased when the Savannah and Charleston stage-coaches stopped at the door, and the passengers flocked to the fire before which I was sitting. In the Charleston coach came a party of comedians.* Of these itinerant heroes the greater part were my countrymen; and, as I was not travelling to see Englishmen, but Americans, I was not sorry when they retired to bed.
I was in a worse condition at Pocotaligo than Asheepo; for at Pocotaligo the beds were so small that they would hold only respectively one person. But I pity the traveller who takes umbrage against America, because its houses of entertainment cannot always accommodate him to his wishes. If he images no other happiness to himself in travelling but what is to be obtained from repasts that minister to luxury, and beds distinguished by softness, let him confine his excursions to the cities of polished Europe. The western continent can supply the traveller an employment more noble than a minute attention to the casualties of the road, which are afterwards to be enlarged upon with studied declamation. The world is called upon to sympathize with the sufferer; he who at home had been accustomed to the luxury of a bed, groaned the night out in America on the rack of a mattress; and for this the country is to be execrated, and the beautiful scenes of nature beheld with a jaundiced eye.
p. 396↵Finding there was no bed to be procured, I seated myself in a nook of the chimney, called for wine and cigars, and either attended to the conversation of the negro girls who had spread their blankets on the floor, or entertained myself with the half-formed notions of the landlord and coachman, who had brought their chairs to the fire, and were disputing on politics. Both Americans and English are subject to loquacious imbecility. Their subjects only differ. The American talks of his government, the Englishman of himself.
Early in the morning, I resumed my journey in the coach that was proceeding to Savannah; I had but a short distance more to go; for Coosohatchie is only ten miles from Pocotaligo. In journeying through America, the Indian names of places have always awakened in my breast a train of reflection; a single word will speak volumes to a speculative mind; and the names of Pocotaligo, and Coosohatchie, and Occoquan, have pictured to my fancy the havoc of time, the decay and succession of generations, together with the final extirpation of savage nations, who, unconscious of the existence of another people, dreamt not of invasions from foreign enemies, or inroads from colonists, but believed their power invincible and their race eternal.
I was put down at the post office of Coosohatchie. The postmaster was risen, expecting the mail. He invited me to partake of a fire he had just kindled, before which a negro boy was administering pap to a sickly infant, whom the man always addressed by the homeric title of My Son….
An hour’s ride through a forest of stately pines brought me to the plantation, where I was received with much affability by Mr Drayton and his lady, and where I was doomed to pass the winter in the woods of Carolina….
The affability and tenderness of this charming family* in the bosom of the woods will be ever cherished in my breast, and long recorded, I hope, in this page. My wants were always anticipated. The family library was transported without entreaty into my chamber; paper and the apparatus for writing were placed on my table; and once, having lamented that my stock of cigars was nearly exhausted, a negro was dispatched seventy miles to Charleston for a supply of the best Spanish.
I conclude my description of this elegant family with an observation that will apply to every other that I have been domesticated p. 397↵in, on the western continent—that cheerfulness and quiet always predominated, and that I never saw a brow clouded, or a lip opened in anger.
One diminution to the happiness of a European in the woods of Carolina is the reflection that every want is supplied him by slaves. Whatever may be urged on the subject of negroes, as the voice of millions could lend no support to falsehood, so no casuistry can justify the keeping of slaves. That negroes are human beings is confessed by their partaking with the rest of mankind the faculty of speech, and power of combination. Now no man being born a slave, but with his original rights, the supposed property of the master in the slave is an usurpation and not a right; because no one from being a person can become a thing. From this conviction should every good citizen promote the emancipation of negroes in America.
The negroes on the plantation, including house-servants and children, amounted to a hundred, of whom the average price being respectively seventy pounds, made them aggregately worth seven thousand to their possessor.
Two families lived in one hut, and such was their unconquerable propensity to steal that they pilfered from each other. I have heard masters lament this defect in their negroes. But what else can be expected from man in so degraded a condition, that among the ancients the same word implied both a slave and a thief.
Since the introduction of the culture of cotton in the state of South Carolina, the race of negroes has increased. Both men and women work in the field, and the labour of the rice-plantation formerly prevented the pregnant negress from bringing forth a long-lived offspring. It may be established as a maxim that, on a plantation where there are many children, the work has been moderate.
It may be incredible to some that the children of the most distinguished families in Carolina are suckled by negro women. Each child has its Momma, whose gestures and accent it will necessarily copy, for children, we all know, are imitative beings. It is not unusual to hear an elegant lady say, Richard always grieves when Quasheehaw is whipped, because she suckled him. If Rousseau in his Emile could inveigh against the French mother, who consigned her child to a woman of her own colour to suckle,* how would his indignation have been raised to behold a smiling babe tugging with its roseate lips at a dug of a size and colour to affright a satyr?
p. 398↵Of genius in negroes many instances may be recorded. It is true that Mr Jefferson has pronounced the Poems of Phillis Whately below the dignity of criticism, and it is seldom safe to differ in judgment from the author of Notes on Virginia.* But her conceptions are often lofty, and her versification often surprises with unexpected refinement. Ladd, the Carolina poet,* in enumerating the bards of his country, dwells with encomium on ‘Whately’s polished verse’; nor is his praise undeserved, for often it will be found to glide in the stream of melody. Her lines on Imagination have been quoted with rapture by Imlay of Kentucky, and Stedman,* the Guiana traveller; but I have ever thought her happiest production the Goliah of Gath….
It is, indeed, grating to an Englishman to mingle with society in Carolina; for the people, however well-bred in other respects, have no delicacy before a stranger in what relates to their slaves. These wretches are execrated for every involuntary offence; but negroes endure execration without emotion, for they say, when Massa curse, he break no bone. But every master does not confine himself to oaths; and I have heard a man say, By heaven, my Negurs talk the worst English of any in Carolina: that boy just now called a basin a round-something: take him to the driver! let him have a dozen!
Exposed to such wanton cruelty the negroes frequently run away; they flee into the woods, where they are wet with the rains of heaven, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter. Life must be supported; hunger incites to depredation, and the poor wretches are often shot like the beasts of prey. When taken, the men are put in irons, and the boys have their necks encircled with a ‘pot-hook’.
The Charleston papers abound with advertisements for fugitive slaves. I have a curious advertisement now before me. ‘Stop the runaway. Fifty dollars reward. Whereas my waiting fellow, Will, having eloped from me last Saturday, without any provocation (it being known that I am a humane master) the above reward will be paid to any one who will lodge the aforesaid slave in some jail or deliver him to me on my plantation at Liberty Hall. Will may be known by the incisions of the whip on his back; and I suspect has taken the road to Coosohatchie, where he has a wife and five children, whom I sold last week to Mr Gillespie.
p. 399↵Thus are the poor negroes treated in Carolina. Indeed, planters usually consider their slaves as beings defective in understanding; an opinion that excites only scorn from the philosopher. The human soul possesses faculties susceptible of improvement, without any regard to the colour of the skin. It is education that makes the difference between the master and the slave. Shall the imperious planter say that the swarthy sons of Africa, who now groan under his usurpation of their rights, would not equal him in virtue, knowledge and manners, had they been born free, and with the same advantages in the scale of society? It is to civilization that even Europeans owe their superiority over the savage; who knows only how to hunt and fish, to hew out a canoe from a tree, and construct a wretched hut; and but for this, the inhabitants of Britain had still bent the bow, still clothed themselves in skins, and still traversed the woods.
Anne Grant, Memoirs of an American Lady, With Sketches of Manners and Scenes in America as they Existed Previous to the Revolution (1807)
Anne Grant (1755—1838) was born Anne MacVicar at Glasgow. Her farmer father joined the army and sailed for America in 1757, followed by his wife and daughter. They settled at Albany, New York, until the family’s return to Scotland in 1768. In 1779 Anne married a clergyman named Grant in Inverness-shire, where she learnt Gaelic, studied Highland folklore, and relieved the poor. After her husband’s death in 1801 Grant turned to literature to support herself and her eight children, publishing volumes of poetry and Highland ethnography. In Memoirs of an American Lady (Grant’s hostess Margaret Schuyler, widow of an Albany colonel) Grant recalls her sojourn in pre-revolutionary New York, during years when the Indian tribes were still formidable and independence was on the horizon.
[An exchange of prisoners]
The Indian war* was now drawing to a close, after occasioning great disquiet, boundless expense, and some bloodshed. Even when we had the advantage which our tactics and artillery in some instances gave, it was a warfare of the most precarious and perplexing kind. It was something like hunting in a forest at best; could you but have supposed the animals you pursued armed with missile weapons, and p. 400↵ever ready to start out of some unlooked for place. Our faithful Indian confederates, as far as I can recollect, were more useful to us on this occasion than all the dear bought apparatus, which we collected for the purpose of destroying an enemy too wise and too swift to permit us to come in sight of them; or, if determined to attack us, sufficiently dextrous to make us feel before we saw them. We said, however, that we conquered Pontiac, at which no doubt he smiled; for the truth of the matter was, the conduct of this war resembled a protracted game of chess. He was as little able to take our forts, without cannon, as we were able without the feet, the eyes, and the instinctive sagacity of Indians, to trace them to their retreats. After delighting ourselves for a long while with the manner in which we were to punish Pontiac’s presumption, ‘could we but once catch him’, all ended in our making a treaty,* very honourable for him, and not very disadvantageous to ourselves. We gave both presents and promises, and Pontiac gave—permission to the mothers of those children who had been taken away from the frontier settlements to receive them back again, on condition of delivering up the Indian prisoners.
The joyful day when the congress was held for concluding peace I never shall forget. Another memorable day is engraved in indelible characters upon my memory. Madame,* being deeply interested in the projected exchange, brought about a scheme for having it take place at Albany, which was more central than any other place, and where her influence among the Mohawks could be of use in getting intelligence about the children, and sending messages to those who had adopted them, and who, by this time, were very unwilling to part with them. In the first place because they were growing very fond of them; and again, because they thought the children would not be so happy in our manner of life, which appeared to them both constrained and effeminate. This exchange had a large retrospect. For ten years back there had been, every now and then, while these Indians were in the French interest, ravages upon the frontiers of the different provinces. In many instances these children had been snatched away while their parents were working in the fields, or after they were killed. A certain day was appointed, on which all who had lost their children, or sought those of their relations, were to come to Albany in search of them; where, on that day, all Indians possessed of white children were to present them. Poor women, who had travelled some hundred miles from the back settlements of Pennsylvania and p. 401↵New England, appeared here, with anxious looks and aching hearts, not knowing whether their children were alive, or how exactly to identify them if they should meet them. I observed these apprehensive and tender mothers were, though poor people, all dressed with peculiar neatness and attention, each wishing the first impression her child should receive of her might be a favourable one. On a gentle slope near the fort, stood a row of temporary huts, built by retainers to the troops; the green before these buildings was the scene of these pathetic recognitions; which I did not fail to attend. The joy of even the happy mothers was overpowering, and found vent in tears; but not like the bitter tears of those who, after long travel, found not what they sought. It was affecting to see the deep and silent sorrow of the Indian women, and of the children, who knew no other mother, and clung fondly to their bosoms, from whence they were not torn without the most piercing shrieks; while their own fond mothers were distressed beyond measure at the shyness and aversion with which these long lost objects of their love received their caresses. I shall never forget the grotesque figures and wild looks of these young savages; nor the trembling haste with which their mothers arrayed them in the new clothes they had brought for them, as hoping that, with the Indian dress, they would throw off their habits and attachments. It was in short a scene impossible to describe, but most affecting to behold.
[Description of the breaking up of the ice on the Hudson River]
Soon after this I witnessed, for the last time, the sublime spectacle of the ice breaking up on the river; an object that fills and elevates the mind with ideas of power, and grandeur, and, indeed, magnificence; before which all the triumphs of human art sink into contemptuous insignificance. This noble object of animated greatness, for such it seemed, I never missed: its approach being announced, like a loud and long peal of thunder, the whole population of Albany were down at the riverside in a moment; and if it happened, as was often the case, in the morning, there could not be a more grotesque assemblage. No one who had a night-cap on waited to put it off; as for waiting for one’s cloak, or gloves, it was a thing out of the question; you caught the thing next you, that could wrap round you, and ran. In the way you saw every door left open, and pails, baskets, etc., without number, set down in the street. It was a perfect saturnalia. p. 402↵People never dreamt of being obeyed by their slaves, till the ice was past. The houses were left quite empty: the meanest slave, the youngest child, all were to be found on the shore. Such as could walk, ran; and they that could not, were carried by those whose duty it would have been to stay and attend them. When arrived at the show place, unlike the audience collected to witness any spectacle of human invention, the multitude with their eyes all bent one way, stood immovable, and silent as death, till the tumult ceased, and the mighty commotion was passed by; then everyone tried to give vent to the vast conceptions with which his mind had been distended. Every child, and every negro, was sure to say, ‘Is not this like the day of judgment?’ and what they said everyone else thought. Now to describe this is impossible, but I mean to account, in some degree, for it. The ice, which had been all winter very thick, instead of diminishing, as might be expected in spring, still increased, as the sunshine came, and the days lengthened. Much snow fell in February; which, melted by the heat of the sun, was stagnant, for a day, on the surface of the ice; and then by the night frosts, which were still severe, was added, as a new accession to the thickness of it, above the former surface. This was so often repeated, that in some years the ice gained two feet in thickness, after the heat of the sun became such, as one would have expected should have entirely dissolved it. So conscious were the natives of the safety this accumulation of ice afforded, that the sledges continued to drive on the ice, when the trees were budding, and everything looked like spring; nay, when there was so much melted on the surface that the horses were knee deep in water, while travelling on it; and portentous cracks, on every side, announced the approaching rupture. This could scarce have been produced by the mere influence of the sun, till midsummer. It was the swelling of the waters under the ice, increased by rivulets, enlarged by melted snows, that produced this catastrophe; for such the awful concussion made it appear. The prelude to the general bursting of this mighty mass was a fracture, lengthways, in the middle of the stream, produced by the effort of the imprisoned waters, now increased too much to be contained within their wonted bounds. Conceive a solid mass, from six to eight feet thick, bursting for many miles in one continued rupture, produced by a force inconceivably great, and, in a manner, inexpressibly sudden. Thunder is no adequate image of this awful explosion, which roused all the sleepers within reach of the p. 403↵sound, as completely as the final convulsion of nature, and the solemn peal of the awakening trumpet, might be supposed to do. The stream in summer was confined by a pebbly strand, overhung with high and steep banks, crowned with lofty trees, which were considered as a sacred barrier against the encroachments of this annual visitation. Never dryads dwelt in more security than those of the vine-clad elms, that extended their ample branches over this mighty stream. Their tangled nets laid bare by the impetuous torrents formed caverns ever fresh and fragrant; where the most delicate plants flourished, unvisited by scorching suns, or snipping blasts; and nothing could be more singular than the variety of plants and birds that were sheltered in these intricate safe recesses. But when the bursting of the crystal surface set loose the many waters that had rushed down, swollen with the annual tribute of dissolving snow, the islands and low lands were all flooded in an instant; and the lofty banks, from which you were wont to overlook the stream, were now entirely filled by an impetuous torrent, bearing down, with incredible and tumultuous rage, immense shoals of ice; which, breaking every instant by the concussion of others, jammed together in some places, in others erecting themselves in gigantic heights for an instant in the air, and seemed to combat with their fellow giants crowding on in all directions, and falling together with an inconceivable crash, formed a terrible moving picture, animated and various beyond conception; for it was not only the cerulean ice, whose broken edges, combating with the stream, refracted light into a thousand rainbows, that charmed your attention, lofty pines, large pieces of the bank torn off by the ice with all their early green and tender foliage, were drove on like travelling islands, amid this battle of breakers, for such it seemed. I am absurdly attempting to paint a scene, under which the powers of language sink. Suffice it, that this year its solemnity was increased by an unusual quantity of snow, which the last hard winter had accumulated, and the dissolution of which now threatened an inundation.
Solemn indeed it was to me, as the memento of my approaching journey, which was to take place whenever the ice broke, which is here a kind of epoch.
Cobbett first visited North America as a soldier in 1791, when his regiment was stationed in Nova Scotia. After his return, his involvement in a legal case against former officers—the first of many times Cobbett would fall foul of the law—caused him to flee to France and then America. He settled in Delaware and got involved in US politics, writing as ‘Peter Porcupine’. Sued for defamation, he returned to England to publish in 1802 the first issue of Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, which continued publication until his death. By 1806 his conservatism had given way to reformist zeal. He spent two years in prison on seditious libel charges provoked by an article about flogging in the army. A government roundup of suspected radicals after a reformist mass meeting turned into the Spa Fields Riot of 1816 sent him fleeing to America once again. This time Cobbett lived on Long Island, New York, with his wife and five children, pursuing his lifelong passion for farming. When he returned to England he brought with him the bones of Thomas Paine. In these selections Cobbett praises Americans’ work ethic but deplores their excessive drinking.
Labour is the great article of expense upon a farm; yet it is not nearly so great as in England, in proportion to the amount of the produce of a farm, especially if the poor-rates be, in both cases, included.
It is, too, of importance to know, what sort of labourers these Americans are; for, though a labourer is a labourer, still there is some difference in them; and, these Americans are the best that I ever saw. They mow four acres of oats, wheat, rye, or barley in a day, and, with a cradle, lay it so smooth in the swarths that it is tied up in sheaves with the greatest neatness and ease. They mow two acres and a half of grass in a day, and they do the work well. And the crops, upon an average, are all except the wheat, as heavy as in England. The English farmer will want nothing more than these facts to convince him, that the labour, after all, is not so very dear.
The causes of these performances, so far beyond those in England, is first, the men are tall and well built; they are bony rather than fleshy; and they live, as to food, as well as man can live. And, secondly, they have been educated to do much in a day. The farmer here generally is at the head of his ‘boys’, as they, in the kind language of the country, are called. Here is the best of examples. My old p. 405↵and beloved friend, Mr James Paul,* used, at the age of nearly sixty to go at the head of his mowers, though his fine farm was his own, and though he might, in other respects, be called a rich man; and, I have heard that Mr Elias Hicks,* the famous Quaker preacher, who lives about nine miles from this spot, has this year, at seventy years of age, cradled down four acres of rye in a day. I wish some of the preachers of other descriptions, especially our fat parsons in England, would think a little of this, and would betake themselves to ‘work with their hands the things which be good, that they may have to give to him who needeth’, and not go on any longer gormandizing and swilling upon the labour of those who need.
Besides the great quantity of work performed by the American labourer, his skill, the versatility of his talent, is a great thing. Every man can use an axe, a saw, and a hammer. Scarcely one who cannot do any job at rough carpentering, and mend a plough or a waggon. Very few indeed who cannot kill and dress pigs and sheep, and many of them oxen and calves …
So that our men, who come from England, must not expect that, in these common labours of the country, they are to surpass, or even equal, these ‘Yankees’, who, of all men that I ever saw, are the most active and the most hardy. They skip over a fence like a greyhound. They will catch you a pig in an open field by racing him down; and they are afraid of nothing. This was the sort of stuff that filled the frigates of Decatur, Hull, and Brainbridge.* No wonder that they triumphed when opposed to poor pressed creatures, worn out by length of service and ill-usage, and encouraged by no hope of fair-play My Lord Cochrane* said in his place in parliament, that it would be so; and so it was. Poor CASHMAN,* that brave Irishman, with his dying breath, accused the government and the merchants of England of withholding from him his pittance of prize money! Ought not such a vile, robbing, murderous system to be destroyed?
Of the same active, hardy, and brave stuff, too, was composed the army of JACKSON,* who drove the invaders into the Gulf of Mexico, and who would have driven into the same Gulf the army of Waterloo, and the heroic gentleman, too, who lent his hand to the murder of Marshal Ney* This is the stuff that stands between the rascals, called the Holy Alliance,* and the slavery of the whole civilized world. This is the stuff that gives us Englishmen an asylum; that gives us time to p. 406↵breathe; that enables us to deal our tyrants blows, which, without the existence of this stuff, they never would receive. This America, this scene of happiness under a free government, is the beam in the eye, the thorn in the side, the worm in the vitals, of every despot upon the face of the earth.
An American labourer is not regulated, as to time, by clocks and watches. The sun, who seldom hides his face, tells him when to begin in the morning and when to leave off at night. He has a dollar, a whole dollar for his work; but then it is the work of a whole day. Here is no dispute about hours. ‘Hours were made for slaves,’ is an old saying; and, really, they seem here to act upon it as a practical maxim. This is a great thing in agricultural affairs. It prevents so many disputes. It removes so great a cause of disagreement. The American labourers, like the tavern-keepers, are never servile, but always civil. Neither boobishness nor meanness mark their character. They never creep and fawn, and are never rude. Employed about your house as day-labourers, they never come to interlope for victuals or drink. They have no idea of such a thing: their pride would restrain them if their plenty did not; and, thus would it be with all labourers, in all countries, were they left to enjoy the fair produce of their labour. Full pocket or empty pocket, these American labourers are always the same men: no saucy cunning in the one case, and no base crawling in the other. This, too, arises from free institutions of government. A man has a voice because he is a man, and not because he is the possessor of money. And, shall I never see our English labourers in this happy state?
Let those English farmers, who love to see a poor wretched labourer stand trembling before them with his hat off, and who think no more of him than of a dog, remain where they are; or go off, on the cavalry horses, to the devil at once, if they wish to avoid the tax-gatherer; for, they would, here, meet with so many mortifications, that they would, to a certainty, hang themselves in a month….
There is one thing in the Americans which, though its proper place was further back, I have reserved, or rather kept back, to the last moment. It has presented itself several times; but I have turned from the thought, as men do from thinking of any mortal disease that is at work in their frame. It is not covetousness; it is not niggardliness; it is not insincerity; it is not enviousness; it is not cowardice, above all things: it is drinking. Aye, and that too, amongst but too p. 407↵many men, who, one would think, would loathe it. You cannot go into hardly any man’s house, without being asked to drink wine, or spirits, even in the morning….
The Americans preserve their gravity and quietness and good-humour even in their drink; and so much the worse. It were far better for them to be as noisy and quarrelsome as the English drunkards; for then the odiousness of the vice would be more visible, and the vice itself might become less frequent. Few vices want an apology, and drinking has not only its apologies but its praises; for, besides the appellation of generous wine, and the numerous songs, some in very elegant and witty language, from the pens of debauched men of talents, drinking is said to be necessary, in certain cases at least, to raise the spirits, and to keep out cold. Never was anything more false. Whatever intoxicates must enfeeble in the end, and whatever enfeebles must chill. It is very well known, in the Northern countries, that, if the cold be such as to produce danger of frost-biting, you must take care not to drink strong liquors.
To see this beastly vice in young men is shocking. At one of the taverns at Harrisburgh there were several as fine young men as I ever saw. Well-dressed, well educated, polite, and every thing but sober. What a squalid, drooping, sickly set they looked in the morning!
Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)
Frances Trollope (1780–1863), mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope, was herself a novelist as well as a travel writer, though she published nothing before her fifty-third year. Her husband, Thomas Anthony Trollope, was dogged by failure (and probably depression) all his life. He tried law and farming, and then, in 1827, invested what was left of his money to open a bazaar for the sale of fancy goods in Cincinnati. Frances and three of her children had travelled to America (December 1827) with the charismatic reformer Fanny Wright to found a utopian community in Tennessee. Appalled by conditions there, they moved to Cincinnati, where Thomas joined them. The bazaar proved a fiasco. On her return to England (July 1831), in an attempt to recoup the family’s losses, Trollope published Domestic Manners of the Americans. The book was an immediate and resounding success. Our selections support one critic’s comment: ‘Mrs. Trollope was personally entirely exempt from vulgarity, but she p. 408↵knew her forte to lie in depicting it.’ Riverboat ‘gentlemen’ and an evangelical camp meeting are the targets of her satiric skill. Visits to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, and to slave owners in Virginia occasion more political comment. Trollope’s condemnation of slavery, generally accepted in the United States, was one reason why many Americans hated her book.
Although much has already been written on the great experiment, as it has been called, now making in government, on the other side of the Atlantic, there appears to be still room for many interesting details on the influence which the political system of the country has produced on the principles, tastes, and manners, of its domestic life.
The author of the following pages has endeavoured, in some degree, to supply this deficiency, by carefully recording the observations she had an opportunity of making during a residence of three years and six months in different parts of the United States.
She leaves to abler pens the more ambitious task of commenting on the democratic form of the American government; while, by describing, faithfully, the daily aspect of ordinary life, she has endeavoured to show how greatly the advantage is on the side of those who are governed by the few, instead of the many. The chief object she has had in view is to encourage her countrymen to hold fast by a constitution that ensures all the blessings which flow from established habits and solid principles. If they forgo these, they will incur the fearful risk of breaking up their repose by introducing the jarring tumult and universal degradation which invariably follow the wild scheme of placing all the power of the state in the hands of the populace.
Company on Board the Steam Boat
The weather was warm and bright, and we found the guard of the boat, as they call the gallery that runs round the cabins, a very agreeable station;* here we all sat as long as light lasted, and sometimes wrapped in our shawls, we enjoyed the clear bright beauty of American moonlight long after every passenger but ourselves had retired. We had a full complement of passengers on board. The deck, as is usual, was occupied by the Kentucky flat-boat men, returning p. 409↵from New Orleans, after having disposed of the boat and cargo which they had conveyed thither …
The gentlemen in the cabin (we had no ladies) would certainly neither, from their language, manners, nor appearance, have received that designation in Europe; but we soon found their claim to it rested on more substantial ground, for we heard them nearly all addressed by the titles of general, colonel, and major. On mentioning these military dignities to an English friend some time afterwards, he told me that he too had made the voyage with the same description of company, but remarking that there was not a single captain among them; he made the observation to a fellow-passenger, and asked how he accounted for it. ‘Oh, sir, the captains are all on deck,’ was the reply.
Our honours, however, were not all military, for we had a judge among us. I know it is equally easy and invidious to ridicule the peculiarities of appearance and manner in people of a different nation from ourselves; we may, too, at the same moment, be undergoing the same ordeal in their estimation; and, moreover, I am by no means disposed to consider whatever is new to me as therefore objectionable; but, nevertheless, it was impossible not to feel repugnance to many of the novelties that now surrounded me.
The total want of all the usual courtesies of the table, the voracious rapidity with which the viands were seized and devoured, the strange uncouth phrases and pronunciation; the loathsome spitting, from the contamination of which it was absolutely impossible to protect our dresses; the frightful manner of feeding with their knives, till the whole blade seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful manner of cleaning the teeth afterwards with a pocket knife, soon forced us to feel that we were not surrounded by the generals, colonels, and majors of the old world; and that the dinner hour was to be anything rather than an hour of enjoyment.
The little conversation that went forward while we remained in the room was entirely political and the respective claims of Adams and Jackson to the presidency* were argued with more oaths and more vehemence than it had ever been my lot to hear. Once a colonel appeared on the verge of assaulting a major, when a huge seven-foot Kentuckian gentleman horse-dealer asked of the heavens to confound them both, and bade them sit still and be d—d. We too thought we should share this sentence; at least sitting still in the p. 410↵cabin seemed very nearly to include the rest of it, and we never tarried there a moment longer than was absolutely necessary to eat.
The unbroken flatness of the banks of the Mississippi continued unvaried for many miles above New Orleans; but the graceful and luxuriant palmetto, the dark and noble ilex, and the bright orange, were everywhere to be seen, and it was many days before we were weary of looking at them. We occasionally used the opportunity of the boat’s stopping to take in wood for a ten minutes’ visit to the shore; we in this manner explored a field of sugar canes and loaded ourselves with as much of the sweet spoil as we could carry. Many of the passengers seemed fond of the luscious juice that is easily expressed from the canes, but it was too sweet for my palate. We also visited, in the same rapid manner, a cotton plantation. A handsome spacious building was pointed out to us as a convent, where a considerable number of young ladies were educated by the nuns.
At one or two points the wearisome level line of forest is relieved by bluffs, as they call the short intervals of high ground. The town of Natchez is beautifully situated on one of these high spots; the climate here, in the warm season, is as fatal as that of New Orleans; were it not for this, Natchez would have great attractions to new settlers. The beautiful contrast that its bright green hill forms with the dismal line of black forest that stretches on every side, the abundant growth of pawpaw, palmetto and orange, the copious variety of sweet-scented flowers that flourish there, all make it appear like an oasis in the desert.
It was in the course of this summer* that I found the opportunity I had long wished for, of attending a camp-meeting, and I gladly accepted the invitation of an English lady and gentleman to accompany them in their carriage to the spot where it is held; this was in a wild district on the confines of Indiana.
The prospect of passing a night in the backwoods of Indiana was by no means agreeable, but I screwed my courage to the proper pitch, and set forth determined to see with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears, what a camp-meeting really was. I had heard it said that being at a camp-meeting was like standing at the gate of heaven, and seeing it opening before you; I had heard it said that being at a camp-meeting was like finding yourself within the gates p. 411↵of hell; in either case there must be something to gratify curiosity, and compensate one for the fatigue of a long rumbling ride and a sleepless night.
We reached the ground about an hour before midnight, and the approach to it was highly picturesque. The spot chosen was the verge of an unbroken forest, where a space of about twenty acres appeared to have been partially cleared for the purpose. Tents of different sizes were pitched very near together in a circle round the cleared space; behind them were ranged an exterior circle of carriages of every description, and at the back of each were fastened the horses which had drawn them thither. Through this triple circle of defence we distinguished numerous fires burning brightly within it; and still more numerous lights flickering from the trees that were left in the enclosure. The moon was in meridian splendour above our heads.
We left the carriage to the care of a servant, who was to prepare a bed in it for Mrs B. and me, and entered the inner circle. The first glance reminded me of Vauxhall,* from the effect of the lights among the trees, and the moving crowd below them; but the second showed a scene totally unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Four high frames, constructed in the form of altars, were placed at the four corners of the enclosure; on these were supported layers of earth and sod, on which burned immense fires of blazing pine-wood. On one side a rude platform was erected to accommodate the preachers, fifteen of whom attended this meeting, and with very short intervals for necessary refreshment and private devotion, preached in rotation, day and night, from Tuesday to Saturday.
When we arrived, the preachers were silent; but we heard issuing from nearly every tent mingled sounds of praying, preaching, singing, and lamentation. The curtains in front of each tent were dropped, and the faint light that gleamed through the white drapery, backed as it was by the dark forest, had a beautiful and mysterious effect, that set the imagination at work; and had the sounds which vibrated around us been less discordant, harsh, and unnatural, I should have enjoyed it; but listening at the corner of a tent, which poured forth more than its proportion of clamour, in a few moments chased every feeling derived from imagination, and furnished realities that could neither be mistaken nor forgotten.
Great numbers of persons were walking about the ground, who p. 412↵appeared like ourselves to be present only as spectators; some of these very unceremoniously contrived to raise the drapery of this tent, at one corner, so as to afford us a perfect view of the interior.
The floor was covered with straw, which round the sides was heaped in masses, that might serve as seats, but which at that moment were used to support the heads and the arms of the close-packed circle of men and women who kneeled on the floor.
Out of about thirty persons thus placed, perhaps half a dozen were men. One of these, a handsome looking youth of eighteen or twenty, kneeled just below the opening through which I looked. His arm was encircling the neck of a young girl who knelt beside him, with her hair hanging dishevelled upon her shoulders, and her features working with the most violent agitation; soon after they both fell forward on the straw, as if unable to endure in any other attitude the burning eloquence of a tall grim figure in black, who, standing erect in the centre, was uttering with incredible vehemence an oration that seemed to hover between praying and preaching; his arms hung stiff and immovable by his side, and he looked like an ill-constructed machine, set in action by a movement so violent as to threaten its own destruction, so jerkingly, painfully, yet rapidly, did his words tumble out; the kneeling circle ceasing not to call in every variety of tone, on the name of Jesus; accompanied with sobs, groans, and a sort of low howling inexpressibly painful to listen to. But my attention was speedily withdrawn from the preacher, and the circle round him, by a figure which knelt alone at some distance; it was a living image of Scott’s Macbriar,* as young, as wild, and as terrible. His thin arms, tossed above his head, had forced themselves so far out of the sleeves that they were bare to the elbow; his large eyes glared frightfully, and he continued to scream without an instant’s intermission the word ‘Glory!’ with a violence that seemed to swell every vein to bursting. It was too dreadful to look upon long, and we turned away shuddering.
We made the circuit of the tents, pausing where attention was particularly excited by sounds more vehement than ordinary. We contrived to look into many; all were strewed with straw, and the distorted figures that we saw kneeling, sitting, and lying amongst it, joined to the woeful and convulsive cries, gave to each the air of a cell in Bedlam.*
One tent was occupied exclusively by Negroes. They were all p. 413↵full-dressed, and looked exactly as if they were performing a scene on the stage. One woman wore a dress of pink gauze trimmed with silver lace; another was dressed in pale yellow silk; one or two had splendid turbans; and all wore a profusion of ornaments. The men were in snow white pantaloons, with gay coloured linen jackets. One of these, a youth of coal-black comeliness, was preaching with the most violent gesticulations, frequently springing high from the ground, and clapping his hands over his head. Could our missionary societies have heard the trash he uttered, by way of an address to the Deity, they might perhaps have doubted whether his conversion had much enlightened his mind.
At midnight a horn sounded through the camp, which, we were told, was to call the people from private to public worship; and we presently saw them flocking from all sides to the front of the preachers’ stand. Mrs B. and I contrived to place ourselves with our backs supported against the lower part of this structure, and we were thus enabled to witness the scene which followed without personal danger. There were about two thousand persons assembled.
One of the preachers began in a low nasal tone, and, like all other Methodist preachers, assured us of the enormous depravity of man as he comes from the hands of his Maker, and of his perfect sanctifi-cation after he had wrestled sufficiently with the Lord to get hold of him, etc. The admiration of the crowd was evinced by almost constant cries of ‘Amen! Amen!’ ‘Jesus! Jesus!’ ‘Glory! Glory!’ and the like. But this comparative tranquillity did not last long: the preacher told them that ‘this night was the time fixed upon for anxious sinners to wrestle with the Lord’, that he and his brethren ‘were at hand to help them’, and that such as needed their help were to come forward into ‘the pen’. The phrase forcibly recalled Milton’s lines*—
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold A sheep-hook, or have learned aught else, the least That to the faithful herdsman’s art belongs! —But when they list their lean and flashy songs, Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw: — The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed! But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw, Rot inwardly—and foul contagion spread.
‘The pen’ was the space immediately below the preachers’ stand; we p. 414↵were therefore placed on the edge of it, and were enabled to see and hear all that took place in the very centre of this extraordinary exhibition.
The crowd fell back at the mention of the pen, and for some minutes there was a vacant space before us. The preachers came down from their stand and placed themselves in the midst of it, beginning to sing a hymn, calling upon the penitents to come forth. As they sang they kept turning themselves round to every part of the crowd, and, by degrees, the voices of the whole multitude joined in chorus. This was the only moment at which I perceived anything like the solemn and beautiful effect which I had heard ascribed to this woodland worship. It is certain that the combined voices of such a multitude, heard at dead of night, from the depths of their eternal forests, the many fair young faces turned upward, and looking paler and lovelier as they met the moonbeams, the dark figures of the officials in the middle of the circle, the lurid glare thrown by the altar-fires on the woods beyond, did altogether produce a fine and solemn effect, that I shall not easily forget; but ere I had well enjoyed it, the scene changed, and sublimity gave place to horror and disgust.
The exhortation nearly resembled that which I had heard at ‘the Revival’,* but the result was very different; for, instead of the few hysterical women who had distinguished themselves on that occasion, above a hundred persons, nearly all females, came forward, uttering howlings and groans so terrible that I shall never cease to shudder when I recall them. They appeared to drag each other forward, and on the word being given, ‘let us pray’, they all fell on their knees; but this posture was soon changed for others that permitted greater scope for the convulsive movements of their limbs; and they were soon all lying on the ground in an indescribable confusion of heads and legs. They threw about their limbs with such incessant and violent motion that I was every instant expecting some serious accident to occur.
But how am I to describe the sounds that proceeded from this strange mass of human beings? I know no words which can convey an idea of it. Hysterical sobbings, convulsive groans, shrieks and screams the most appalling, burst forth on all sides. I felt sick with horror. As if their hoarse and overstrained voices failed to make noise enough, they soon began to clap their hands violently. The scene described by Dante was before me:
p. 415↵Quivi sospiri, pianti, ed alti guai Risonavan per l’aere— —Orribili favelle Parole di dolore, accenti d’ira Voci alti e fioche, e suon di man con elle.*
Many of these wretched creatures were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered ‘Sister! dear sister!’ I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls; I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims, and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red. Had I been a man, I am sure I should have been guilty of some rash act of interference; nor do I believe that such a scene could have been acted in the presence of Englishmen without instant punishment being inflicted; not to mention the salutary discipline of the treadmill, which, beyond all question, would, in England, have been applied to check so turbulent and so vicious a scene.
After the first wild burst that followed their prostration, the moanings, in many instances, became loudly articulate; and I then experienced a strange vibration between tragic and comic feeling.
A very pretty girl, who was kneeling in the attitude of Canova’s Magdalene* immediately before us, amongst an immense quantity of jargon, broke out thus: ‘Woe! woe to the backsliders! hear it, hear it Jesus! when I was fifteen my mother died, and I backslided, oh Jesus, I backslided! take me home to my mother, Jesus! take me home to her, for I am weary! Oh John Mitchel! John Mitchel!’ and after sobbing piteously behind her raised hands, she lifted her sweet face again, which was as pale as death, and said, ‘Shall I sit on the sunny bank of salvation with my mother? my own dear mother? oh Jesus, take me home, take me home!’
Who could refuse a tear to this earnest wish for death in one so young and so lovely? But I saw her, ere I left the ground, with her hand fast locked, and her head supported by a man who looked very much as Don Juan* might, when sent back to earth as too bad for the regions below.
One woman near us continued to ‘call on the Lord’, as it is termed, in the loudest possible tone, and without a moment’s interval, for the two hours that we kept our dreadful station. She became p. 416↵frightfully hoarse, and her face so red as to make me expect she would burst a blood-vessel. Among the rest of her rant, she said, ‘I will hold fast to Jesus, I never will let him go; if they take me to hell, I will still hold him fast, fast, fast!’
The stunning noise was sometimes varied by the preachers beginning to sing; but the convulsive movements of the poor maniacs only became more violent. At length the atrocious wickedness of this horrible scene increased to a degree of grossness that drove us from our station; we returned to the carriage at about three o’clock in the morning, and passed the remainder of the night in listening to the ever increasing tumult at the pen. To sleep was impossible. At daybreak the horn again sounded, to send them to private devotion; and in about an hour afterwards I saw the whole camp as joyously and eagerly employed in preparing and devouring their most substantial breakfasts as if the night had been passed in dancing; and I marked many a fair but pale face that I recognized as a demoniac of the night, simpering beside a swain, to whom she carefully administered hot coffee and eggs. The preaching saint and the howling sinner seemed alike to relish this mode of recruiting their strength.
After enjoying abundance of strong tea, which proved a delightful restorative after a night so strangely spent, I wandered alone into the forest, and I never remember to have found perfect quiet more delightful.
We soon after left the ground; but before our departure we learnt that a very satisfactory collection had been made by the preachers, for Bibles, Tracts, and all other religious purposes.
The bureau for Indian affairs contains a room of great interest: the walls are entirely covered with original portraits of all the chiefs who, from time to time, have come to negotiate with their great father, as they call the President. These portraits are by Mr King,* and, it cannot be doubted, are excellent likenesses, as are all the portraits I have ever seen from the hands of that gentleman. The countenances are full of expression, but the expression in most of them is extremely similar; or rather, I should say that they have but two sorts of expression; the one is that of very noble and warlike daring, the other of a gentle and naïve simplicity, that has no mixture of folly in it, but which is inexpressibly engaging, and the more p. 417↵touching, perhaps, because at the moment we were looking at them, those very hearts which lent the eyes such meek and friendly softness, were wrung by a base, cruel, and most oppressive act of their great father.
We were at Washington at the time that the measure for chasing the last of several tribes of Indians from their forest homes was canvassed in congress, and finally decided upon by the fiat of the President.* If the American character may be judged by their conduct in this matter, they are most lamentably deficient in every feeling of honour and integrity. It is among themselves, and from themselves, that I have heard the statements which represent them as treacherous and false almost beyond belief in their intercourse with the unhappy Indians. Had I, during my residence in the United States, observed any single feature in their national character that could justify their eternal boast of liberality and the love of freedom, I might have respected them, however much my taste might have been offended by what was peculiar in their manners and customs. But it is impossible for any mind of common honesty not to be revolted by the contradictions in their principles and practice. They inveigh against the governments of Europe, because, as they say, they favour the powerful and oppress the weak. You may hear this declaimed upon in Congress, roared out in taverns, discussed in every drawing-room, satirized upon the stage, nay, even anathematized from the pulpit: listen to it, and then look at them at home; you will see them with one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other flogging their slaves. You will see them one hour lecturing their mob on the indefeasible rights of man, and the next driving from their homes the children of the soil, whom they have bound themselves to protect by the most solemn treaties …
There were many objects of much interest shown us at this Indian bureau; but, from the peculiar circumstances of this most unhappy and ill-used people, it was a very painful interest.
The dresses worn by the chiefs when their portraits were taken are many of them splendid, from the embroidery of beads and other ornaments; and the room contains many specimens of their ingenuity, and even of their taste. There is a glass case in the room, wherein are arranged specimens of worked muslin, and other needlework, some very excellent handwriting, and many other little productions of male and female Indians, all proving clearly that they are perfectly p. 418↵capable of civilization. Indeed, the circumstance which renders their expulsion from their own, their native lands, so peculiarly lamentable, is that they were yielding rapidly to the force of example; their lives were no longer those of wandering hunters, but they were becoming agriculturists, and the tyrannical arm of brutal power has not now driven them, as formerly, only from their hunting grounds, their favourite springs, and the sacred bones of their fathers, but it has chased them from the dwellings their advancing knowledge had taught them to make comfortable; from the newly-ploughed fields of their pride; and from the crops their sweat had watered. And for what? To add some thousand acres of territory to the half-peopled wilderness which borders them.
The Possession of Slaves
It is not among the higher classes that the possession of slaves produces the worst effects. Among the poorer class of landholders, who are often as profoundly ignorant as the negroes they own, the effect of this plenary power over males and females is most demoralizing; and the kind of coarse, not to say brutal, authority which is exercised furnishes the most disgusting moral spectacle I ever witnessed. In all ranks, however, it appeared to me that the greatest and best feelings of the human heart were paralysed by the relative positions of slave and owner. The characters, the hearts of children, are irretrievably injured by it. In Virginia we boarded for some time in a family consisting of a widow and her four daughters, and I there witnessed a scene strongly indicative of the effect I have mentioned. A young female slave, about eight years of age, had found on the shelf of a cupboard a biscuit, temptingly buttered, of which she had eaten a considerable portion before she was observed. The butter had been copiously sprinkled with arsenic for the destruction of rats, and had been thus most incautiously placed by one of the young ladies of the family. As soon as the circumstance was known, the lady of the house came to consult me as to what had best be done for the poor child; I immediately mixed a large cup of mustard and water (the most rapid of all emetics) and got the little girl to swallow it. The desired effect was instantly produced, but the poor child, partly from nausea, and partly from the terror of hearing her death proclaimed by half a dozen voices round her, trembled so violently that I thought she would fall. I sat down in the court where we were standing, and, as a p. 419↵matter of course, took the little sufferer in my lap. I observed a general titter among the white members of the family, while the black stood aloof, and looked stupefied. The youngest of the family, a little girl about the age of the young slave, after gazing at me for a few moments in utter astonishment, exclaimed, ‘My! If Mrs Trollope has not taken her in her lap, and wiped her nasty mouth! Why I would not have touched her mouth for two hundred dollars!’
The little slave was laid on a bed, and I returned to my own apartments; some time afterwards I sent to enquire for her, and learnt that she was in great pain. I immediately went myself to enquire farther, when another young lady of the family, the one by whose imprudence the accident had occurred, met my anxious enquiries with ill-suppressed mirth—told me they had sent for the doctor—and then burst into uncontrollable laughter. The idea of really sympathizing in the sufferings of a slave, appeared to them as absurd as weeping over a calf that had been slaughtered by the butcher. The daughters of my hostess were as lovely as features and complexion could make them; but the neutralizing effect of this total want of feeling upon youth and beauty must be witnessed, to be conceived.
There seems in general a strong feeling throughout America that none of the negro race can be trusted, and as fear, according to their notions, is the only principle by which a slave can be actuated, it is not wonderful if the imputation be just. But I am persuaded that were a different mode of moral treatment pursued, most important and beneficial consequences would result from it. Negroes are very sensible to kindness, and might, I think, be rendered more profitably obedient by the practice of it towards them, than by any other mode of discipline whatever. To emancipate them entirely throughout the Union cannot, I conceive, be thought of, consistently with the safety of the country; but were the possibility of amelioration taken into the consideration of the legislature, with all the wisdom, justice, and mercy that could be brought to bear upon it, the negro population of the Union might cease to be a terror, and their situation no longer be a subject either of indignation or of pity.
I observed everywhere throughout the slave states that all articles which can be taken and consumed are constantly locked up, and in large families where the extent of the establishment multiplies the number of keys, these are deposited in a basket, and consigned to the p. 420↵care of a little negress, who is constantly seen following her mistress’s steps with this basket on her arm, and this, not only that the keys may be always at hand, but because should they be out of sight one moment, that moment would infallibly be employed for purposes of plunder. It seemed to me in this instance, as in many others, that the close personal attendance of these sable shadows must be very annoying; but whenever I mentioned it, I was assured that no such feeling existed, and that use rendered them almost unconscious of their presence.
I had, indeed, frequent opportunities of observing this habitual indifference to the presence of their slaves. They talk of them, of their condition, of their faculties, of their conduct, exactly as if they were incapable of hearing. I once saw a young lady who, when seated at table between a male and a female, was induced by her modesty to intrude on the chair of her female neighbour to avoid the indelicacy of touching the elbow of a man. I once saw this very young lady lacing her stays with the most perfect composure before a negro footman. A Virginian gentleman told me that ever since he had married, he had been accustomed to have a negro girl sleep in the same chamber with himself and his wife. I asked for what purpose this nocturnal attendance was necessary? ‘Good heaven!’ was the reply, ‘if I wanted a glass of water during the night, what would become of me?’