Extracts From Memoirs of an American Lady
by Mrs. Anne Grant
Extracts From Memoirs of an American Lady
by Mrs. Anne Grant
In winter, the river, frozen to a great depth formed the principal road through the country, and was the scene of all those amusements of skating and sledge races, common to the north of Europe. They used in great parties to visit their friends at a distance, and having an excellent and hardy breed of horses, flew from place to place over the snow or ice in these sledges with incredible rapidity, stopping a little while at every house they came to, and always well received, whether acquainted with the owners or not. The night never impeded these travelers, for the atmosphere was so pure and serene, and the snow so reflected the moon and starlight, that the nights exceeded the days in beauty.
In town all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town, in the midst of which as has been formerly mentioned, stood all the churches and public buildings, sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river; between the buildings was an unpaved carriage road, the foot-path beside the houses being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter this sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquired firmness from the frost and became extremely slippery. Then the amusement commenced. Every boy and youth in town from eight to eighteen, had a little low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged by hand. On this one or two at most could sit, and this sloping descent being made as smooth as a looking glass, perhaps a hundred at once set out in succession from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge with rope in his hand, which drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a stick as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, precipitated by the weight of the owner, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so delightful in this rapid descent I could never discover, but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended by the drawback of walking to the top of the declivity dragging sledge every time he renewed his flight.
A Charming View Of Colonial Albany
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 every door a tree was planted, rendered interesting by being coeval with some beloved member of the family. May of these trees were of a prodigious size and extraordinary beauty, but without regularity every one 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 street to their wonted sheltering trees, to be milked at their master’s doors. 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 ignornant, to see all these children of nature enjoying in easy indolence:
“The cool, the fragrant, and the dusky hour”
clothed in the plainest habits…dispersed in porches grouped according to similarity of years and inclinations. At one door young matrons, at another he 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 the frugal supper, which they generally ate sitting on the steps in the open air.
At one end of town as I observed, was a common pasture where all the cattle belonging to the inhabitants grazed together. A never failing instinct guided each home to her master’s door in the evening, there being treated with a few vegetables and a little salt, which is indispensably necessary for cattle in this country, they patiently waited the night. 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 every inhabitant raised Indian corn sufficient for the food of two or three slaves (the greatest number that each family ever possessed), and for his horses, pigs and poultry. Their flower and other grain they purchased from farmers in the vicinity. . .
When one of the boys was deeply smitten, his fowling-piece and fishing rode were at once relinquished. He demanded of his father forty dollars, a Negro boy and a canoe. All of a sudden he assumed the brow of care and solicitude and began to smoke, a precaution absolutely necessary to repel aguish damps and insects. He arrayed himself in a habit very little differing from that of the aborigines, into whose bounds he was about penetrate, and in short commenced Indian trader; that strange amphibious animal, who united the acute senses, strong instincts, and unconquerable patience and fortitude of the savage with 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 into the same house and predestined to his service) was launched amidst tears and prayers of his female relations, amongst who was generally included his destined bridge, who well knew herself to be the motive of this perilous adventure.
The canoe was entirely filled with coarse strouds and blankets, guns, powder, beads, etc., 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 adventures extended. The canoe generally steered northward towards the Canadian frontier.
At the falls of Cohoes on account of the obstruction, they unloaded the canoe, and carried it upon their shoulders, returning again for the cargo which they were obliged to transport in the same manner. This was but a prelude to the labors and dangers, incredible to those who dwell at east. 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 the rivers.
These ancient mynheers were forced in those voyages to breast the downward and devious current of the Mohawk, with its rifts, falls and portages, descend into Oneida Lake, and follow its outlet to Oswego, course along the winding shores of Ontario and Erie to Detroit, up that river to St. Clair and along the shores of the Huron, crossing Saginaw bay to Mackinac, where they traded with the Indian for his furs, then with infinite labor retrace their route to Pearl Street . . .
Without compass or guide of any kind, the traders steered through these pathless forests. These single adventurers sought the Indians in their spring haunts as soon as the rivers were open; there they had new dangerous to apprehend. It is well known that among the natives, 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 wonted probity. 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 destination, these daring adventurers found occasion for address, patience and 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. Even a single season spent in this manners ripened the mind and changed their whole appearance, nay the character of these demi-savages, for such they seemed on returning from among their friends of the forest. Lofty, sedate and collected, they seemed master of themselves and independent of others; though sun burnt and austere . . .
The 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 the more cautious went to New York in winter, disposed of their peltry, and purchased a larger cargo, another slave and canoe. The next year they laid out the profits of their 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 sailing cedar schooners for the building of which those islanders are famous, and proceeding to the Leeward islands loaded it with a cargo of rum, sugar and molasses… They were now ripened into men, and considered as active and useful members of society, possessing a stake in the common weal.
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, sailed up and down the river all summer, and all winter disposed of the cargoes he obtained in exchange to more distant settlers; or he sold her, purchased European goods and kept a store. Otherwise he settled in the country, and became as diligent in his agricultural pursuits as if he had never known any other.