title banner


a novel by Juliet Waldron

 · Home · Juliet · Books · Genesee · reviews · buy · excerpt · history · captivity stories · Essays

Colonial America in the mid 18th Century
the historical background of “Genesee”

A lady taking tea by Chardin

The Dutch

        “Tea was a perfect regale; accompanied by all sorts of cake unknown to us, cold pastry, and great quantities of sweetmeats, and preserved fruits of all kinds, and plates of hickory and other nuts cracked. In all manner of confectionary and pastry these people excelled, and having great fruit in abundance, which cost them nothing, and getting sugar home at an easy rate in return for their exports to the West Indies, the quantities of these articles used in families, otherwise plain and frugal, was astonishing.”
~  Mrs. Anne Grant,
Memoirs of an American Lady

An Elopement

        At the Morton home in New Jersey there had been a notable wedding, that of Eliza Morton to Josiah Quincy of Boston. Among the guests was Miss Cornelia Schuyler. The bride had a brother Washington Morton. He had made himself prominent during the British occupation by losing a darning needle, which being the only one in the neighborhood, had to be loaned from house to house. One of his recent enterprises had been a walk to Philadelphia on a wager. He was of superb figure and very athletic. The admiration of Miss Schuyler and Mr. Morton was mutual and prompt. He followed her to Albany and declared his attentions to her father. His walk had given him much distinction, but it was not of the sort to win the approval of so strict a disciplinarian As General Schuyler . . .

        The young man's suit was refused. "He had not taken that place which befitted a married man," said the General. To make his position clear, he escorted Washington Morton to the wharf and saw him aboard the New York sloop.

Albany watercolor

        One moonlit night two muffled figures appeared under Miss Cornelia's window. At a low whistle the window softly opened and a rope was thrown up. Attached to the rope was a rope ladder, which, making fast like a veritable heroine of romance, the bride descended. They were driven to the river, where a boat was waiting to take them across. On the other side was a coach-and-pair. They were then driven thirty miles to Stockbridge, where an old friend of the Morton family lived. The judge sent for a neighboring minister and the couple were married. Philip and Catherine Schuyler had had various experiences in kind, but this transcended everything out of fiction, from which it seemed to have been carefully copied.

~ Mary Gay Humphries,
Catherine Schuyler

Life on the River by Bingham

Coming of Age in Albany

        In the ordinary course of events, when the youth felt deeply stirred, he put aside his gun and fishing-rod and asked of his father some money, a slave, and a canoe. His brow grew thoughtful, and he adopted a pipe. With his money he purchased beads, trinkets, blankets, guns, powder, not forgetting for various reasons a supply of rum. With these he purposed laying the foundations of his fortunes as an Indian trader. His pipe was not so much insignia of manhood, as a defense against “the ague of the swamps and the insects of the woods. Dressing himself in a backwoodsman's dress of skins, accompanied by his Negro boy, the canoe was launched amid the tears of mothers and sisters, and among the weeping company was a maiden, who well knew what prompted the hazardous voyage. . . .

~ from Catherine Schuyler by Mary Gay Humphreys, 1897

The Native American “Indian”

        The characteristic dish of the natives was “suppawn.” This was a species of mush of Indian meal eaten with milk, and does not seem to differ greatly from the Hasty Puddings of New England.

~ Mary Gay Humphries,
Catherine Schuyler

A Peale still life

Iroquois Spiritiuality

         Six regular festivals or thanksgivings, were observed by the Iroquois. The first, in the order of time, was the Maple festival. This was a return of thanks to the maple itself, for yielding its sweet waters. Next was the Planting festival, designed, chiefly, as an invocation of the Great Spirit to bless the seed. Third came the Strawberry festival, instituted as a thanksgiving for the first fruits of the earth. The fourth was the Green Corn festival, designed as a thanksgiving acknowledgment for the ripening of the corn, beans, and squashes. Next was celebrated the Harvest festival, instituted as a general thanksgiving to “Our Supporters,” * after the gathering of the harvest. Last in the enumeration is placed the New Year's festival, the great jubilee of the Iroquois, at which the white dog was sacrificed.

. . .  By assembling at periodical seasons to render thanks to Ha-wen-ne-yu for his gifts, they fully recognized the duty which rested upon them as recipients of divine favor.

* Our Supporters are De-o-ha-ko--the three sisters, Corn, Bean, and Squash. In the growing season they visited the fields and lived there. The three sisters were inseparable, and this follows the Indian custom of planting all three in the same hill. The beans use first dead wood markers and then corn stalks for support. The squash receives shade from sun scald as it grows beneath the tall corn of late July and August.

~ Lewis Henry Morgan,
The League of the Iroquois, first published 1851


Baby Bunting (1895) by Mary Hudson


        “On leaving the cradle, the children begin to roll rather than to walk. The parents usually leave them naked in the lodge during their first years, in the belief that the body forms itself better or else to harden them early to the effects of fresh air. As soon as they have grown a little larger, they follow their mothers and work for the family. For this, they are trained to go fetch water from the river, to bring in little loads of wood as heavy as they can carry, and which they can regard as playthings rather than a burden. Little by little, they are thus trained to render services as far as their ability permits. For the rest, their persons are neglected, and they are badly clothed until they reach the age of adolescence and are incorporated in the body of the young people, when they are allowed to dress up . . . .”

~ Father Joseph Francois Lafitau,
Customs of the American Indians Compared ....,
ed. and trans. by Wm. N. Fenton and Elizabeth L. Moore,
secondary source: The Indian Peoples of Eastern America, ed. James Axtell