Chronicles of America 

Colonial Travel

THE vast body of colonists stayed at home. They lived quiet and uneventful lives, little disturbed by the lust for travel and seldom interrupted by journeys from their place of abode. There were, of course, always those whose business took them from one colony to another or over the sea to the West Indies or to England; there were the thousands, north and south, who at one time or another went from place to place in an effort to improve their condition; and, finally, there were the New Englanders, the Germans, and the Scotch-Irish who, in ever-increasing numbers, wandered westward towards the uplands and the frontier, led on by that unconquerable restlessness which always seizes upon settlers in a new land.

Of these the most enterprising wanderers and the forerunners of the tourists of today were the voyagers overseas to England, the Continent, and the West Indies for business, education, health, and pleasure. Many who went to England on colonial employment or for education, took advantage of the opportunity to see the sights or to make the "grand tour" of the Continent. One of the earliest of New Englanders to visit the Continent was John Checkley of Boston, who studied at Oxford and traveled in Europe before 1710. Another was Thomas Bulfinch, whose father wrote to him in Paris in 1720: "I am glad of your going there, it being, I doubt not for your good, though somewhat chargeable. " Elizabeth, wife of Colonel Thomas Jones, who went abroad in 1728 for her health, had one of her husband's London correspondents look after her, provide her with money, arrange for her baggage, and purchase what was needful. She stayed for a time in London, where she consulted Sir Hans Sloane, went to Bath, where she took the waters, and was gone from home nearly two years. Laurens went to England in 1749, a nine weeks' voyage, to study the conditions of trade, and traveled on horseback to Manchester, Birmingham, Worcester, and other towns, where he was entertained by merchants to whom he had letters or with whom he did business. The many Virginians — Randolphs, Carters, and others — who were at Gray's Inn or the Middle Temple, probably traveled elsewhere to some extent, while of the South Carolinians who visited Europe Ralph Izard went to Dijon, Geneva, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Strasbourg. Charles Carroll of Maryland was away from home at his studies and on his travels for sixteen years, living at St. Omer in France, studying law in England, visiting the Low Countries, and even planning to go to Berlin, which he did not reach, however, partly for lack of time and partly because he heard that the accommodations were bad and the roads were infested with banditti. Many members of the Baltimore family traveled widely; Copley the painter in 1774 went to Rome, Marseilles, Paris, and London; Boucher speaks of a "gentleman-clergyman" in Virginia who had made the grand tour and was exceedingly instructive and entertaining in his conversation; and doubtless there were many others who made trips to foreign cities but whose travels remain unrecorded. On the other hand members of English and Scottish families were often widely scattered throughout the colonial world and travelers from the British Isles would occasionally go from place to place in America visiting their relatives, trying new business openings, or seeking recovery of their health.

Those who visited only the British Isles were very numerous. The voyage from the colonies Was not ordinarily difficult, though the dangers of the North Atlantic and inconveniences on shipboard in those days were sometimes very serious. "We had everything washed off our decks," wrote one who had just arrived in England, "and was once going to stove all our water and throw our guns and part of our cargo overboard to lighten the ship; four days and nights at one time under a reef mainsail, our decks never dry from the time we left Cape Henry. " But despite the difficulties ships were constantly coming and going, and ample provision for passengers was made. The trip from London to Boston sometimes lasted only twenty-six days, and five weeks to the Capes was considered a fine passage. Chalkley, the Quaker, was eight weeks sailing from Land's End to Virginia, and Peckover nine weeks and five days from London to New York. An Irish traveler was forty-two days from Limerick to the same city. Sailing by the southerly route and into the Trades made a longer voyage but a pleasanter one, and those who were able to pay well for their cabins and to take extra provisions were in comfort compared with the servants and other emigrants, whose experiences below decks aft in the steerage during stormy and protracted voyages must have been harrowing in the extreme.

There was scarcely a merchant ship but took on passengers going one way or the other, and of the life on board we have many accounts.

Hundreds of colonists went to the West Indies to search for employment, to investigate commercial opportunities, to visit their plantations — for there were many who owned plantations in the islands — or merely to enjoy the pleasures of the trip. The voyage, which was in any case a comparatively short one, varied slightly according to the port of departure and the route. It usually occupied two weeks from the Northern colonies. David Mendes thought a trip of twenty-nine days from Newport to Jamaica a very dismal and melancholy passage, but another Rhode Islander in 1752 estimated a trip to the Bahamas and back, including the time necessary for selling and purchasing cargoes, at from two to three and a half months. In Virginia it was customary to sail from Norfolk, the center of that colony's trade with the West Indies.

Travel from one continental colony to another merely for pleasure was not of frequent occurrence,as far as the colonists themselves were concerned. It was more common for men and women from the South and the West Indies to visit the North to recover their health and to enjoy the cooler climate than it was for the Northerners to go southward. William Byrd, 3d, and his wife planned to travel in the North in 1763, and in 1770 thirty-two people from South Carolina went to Philadelphia, New York, Newport, and Boston either as invalids or as tourists. Men on business were constantly moving about from colony to colony. Visitors from England, Scotland, and the West Indies made long journeys and were often lavishly entertained as they passed from town to town with letters of introduction from one official or merchant to another. James Birket of Antigua traveled from Portsmouth to the Chesapeake in 1750, and the record of his journey is a document of rare value in social history. Lowbridge Knight of Bristol went from Georgia to Quebec in 1764. The travels of George Whitefield, the preacher, Peter Kalm, the Swedish professor, Thompson, the S. P. G. missionary, and Burnaby, the Anglican clergyman, are well known.'

Other interesting accounts will be found in the records of the Quakers Edmundson, Richardson, Chalkley, Fothergill, Wilson. Dickinson, Peckover, and Esther Palmer.

In 1764-1765, Lord Adam Gordon spent fifteen months going from Antigua through the colonies to Montreal and Quebec, returning by way of New England to New York, whence he sailed for England. In 1770 Sir William Draper made the tour, with a party consisting of his nephew, his nephew's wife, and a Mrs. Beresford. The visit of these two titled Britishers made a considerable stir in American society and was duly chronicled in the papers. The impression made by Lord Adam and others may be inferred from Mrs. Burgwin's remarks to her sister: "In my last I was going to tell you about the great people we had in town [Wilmington], really a colection of as ugly ungenteal men as I've seen, four in number. Lord Adam is tall, slender, of the specter kind intirely; Capt. McDonnel a highlander very sprightly; the other two are Americans just come from England where they have been educated, both very rich, which will no doubt make amends for every defect in Mr. Izard and Wormly. "

Travelers in the early part of the century were obliged to go chiefly by water, and they continued to use this method in the colonies south of Pennsylvania in which the wide rivers, bays, and swamps rendered the land routes difficult and dangerous. At all times, indeed, the waterways were quicker and less fatiguing, particularly in the case of long journeys. The travelers used the larger vessels, ships, pinks, barks, brigs, brigantines, snows, and bilanders, for ocean voyages and frequently for coastwise transportation from colony to colony.

For coastwise and West India trade the commoner colonial craft in use were shallops, sloops, and schooners, of which those built in New England were the best known. Bermuda sloops or sloops built after the Bermuda model, which were prime sailers and often engaged in the colonial carrying trade, were common in the South. For passage up and down inland waters such as the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay, and for supplying the big merchant ships in Southern waters, sloops were the rule. Rafts contrived for carrying lumber and partly loaded before launching with timber so framed as to be almost solid, were floated down the rivers. For ordinary purposes — for transporting wood, lumber, tobacco, rice, indigo, and naval stores on shallow inland watercourses —the colonists used various kinds of flatboats, each with its boss or patroon and often carrying mainsail and jib for sailing before the wind. For short distances they used dingies, yawls, and longboats as well as canoes fashioned in many sizes and shapes — either dugouts or light craft made of cedar and cypress, propelled by paddles or oars, and in some cases fitted with thwarts and steps for masts and some even with cabins and forecastles.

Flat-bottomed "fall-boats " were used for freighting and passenger travel on the Connecticut River above Hartford, but they had no sleeping accommodations and passengers had to put up for the night at taverns along the route. Such wealthy planters as the Carters on the Rappahannock had family boats with four and six oars and awnings. The customs officials at all the large ports had rowboats and barges. Some of these craft were handsomely painted, and at New York, for example, carried sails, awnings, a coxswain, and bargemen in livery.

As the colonists made little provision for the improvement of navigation, shipwrecks were of all too frequent occurrence. Vessels ran ashore, grounded on sand bars, or went to pieces on shoals and reefs. Many lighthouses were built between 1716 and 1775, chiefly of brick and from fifty to one hundred and twenty feet high, but the lights were poor and unreliable. The earliest beacon showed oil lamps in a lantern formed of close-set window sashes. The most important early lights were in Boston Harbor, off Newport, on Sandy Hook, on Cape Henry, in Middle Bay Island, Charleston, and on Tybee Island, Savannah, and toward the end of the period in Portsmouth Harbor and at Halifax. The Boston light had a glazed cage, roofed with copper and supported on a brick arch. The lamps had to be supplied with oil two or three times in the night and even though they were snuffed every hour the glass was never free from smoke. Not until the lighthouse at Halifax was erected in 1772 was a better system adopted. In many of the more important and dangerous channels, as at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, in the North Carolina inlets, and among the bars of the Southern rivers, buoys were placed, often at private expense, and everywhere pilots were required for the larger vessels entering New London, New York, and other harbors, passing through the Capes of Virginia, navigating Roanoke and Ocracock inlets, going up from Tybee to Savannah, and sometimes on the more dangerous reaches of the rivers.

As population increased and settlement was extended farther and farther westward from the region of coastwise navigation to areas not easily reached even from the rivers, the colonists were forced to depend more and more upon travel by land. Trails were widened into tote roads and bridle paths, and these in turn into carriage roads, until they grew into highways connecting towns with towns and colonies with colonies. The process of developing this vast system of pathways through the back country was slow, expensive, and very imperfect. Nothing but sheer necessity could have compelled men to drive these roads through the dense forests and tangled undergrowth, across marshes, and over rocky hills; nothing else could have made them endure the arduous and dangerous riding through "the howling wilderness," as the colonists themselves called it, particularly in the South and the back country, where the roads ran always through lonely woods. The menace of treacherous ground, falling trees, high river banks, and dangerous fords were real to every traveler. All the records of these early journeys refer to the ever present danger from the accidents and injuries of highway travel. In the South guides were particularly necessary, for to miss one's way was a harrowing and dangerous experience.

But necessity won the day. Tremendous advances were made in the eighteenth century, when


In the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass. This is said to be the only chaise

of the Revolutionary period in any museum.


the need of more rapid and extended communication by land became imperative and the postal service in particular was demanding better facilities. The colonies now made strenuous efforts to improve their roads, increase the number of their ferries, and build causeways and bridges wherever possible. New England soon became a network of roads and highways, with main routes connecting the important towns, country roads radiating from junction points, and lanes, pent roads, and private ways leading to outlying sections. Philadelphia became the terminus of such roads from the country behind it, as those running from Lancaster, York, Reading, and the Susquehanna. From Baltimore, Alexandria, Falmouth, and Richmond roads ran westward and joined the great wagon and cattle thoroughfare which stretched across Maryland and Virginia, by way of York, the Monocacy, Winchester, and Staunton, to the Indian country of the Catawbas, Cherokees, and Chickasaws.

The great intercolonial highways, which were also used as post roads, ran from Portsmouth to Savannah. Starting from Portsmouth in 1760, the traveler would first make his way over an excellent piece of smooth, hard-graveled road available for stage, carriage, or horse, southward to the Merrimac, which he would cross on a sailing ferry, and thence proceed by way of Ipswich to Boston. William Barrell started on this trip by stage in August, 1766, but, finding the vehicle too crowded for warm weather got out at Ipswich and finished the journey in a chaise. From Boston one would have the choice of four ways of going to New Haven : one by way of Providence to New London; a second by way of Providence, Bristol, and Newport, a troublesome journey involving three ferry crossings; a third over the Old Bay road to Springfield and thence south through Hartford and Meriden; and a fourth, much used by Connecticut people, diagonally through the northeastern part of the colony, crossing the dangerous Quinebaug and Shetuckit rivers, and reaching New Haven by way of either Hartford or Middletown. At Springfield, if the traveler wished, he could continue westward to Kinderhook and Albany along a road used by traders and the militia, or at Hartford he could take through northwestern Connecticut one of the newest and worst roads in New England, to be known later as the Albany turnpike. Lord Adam Gordon, who passed over this road in going from Albany to Hartford in 1765, described that section which ran through the Greenwoods from Norfolk to Simsbury as "the worst road I have seen in America, " and the colony itself so far agreed in 1758 as to consider it "ill-chosen and unfit for use and not sufficiently direct and convenient. " Though efforts were made to repair it, the road remained for years very crooked and encumbered with fallen trees.

Once he had reached New Haven, the traveler would find that the road to New York, which stretched along the Sound, still required about two days of hard riding or driving. These Connecticut roads had indeed a bad reputation. The traveler's progress was interrupted by troublesome and even dangerous ferries and he frequently had to ride over much soft, rocky, and treacherous ground. Mrs. Knight described their terrors in 1704; Peckover says in 1743 that he "had abundance of very rough, stony, uneven roads "; Birket in 1750 calls parts of them "most intollerable" and "most miserable"; and Barrell on "old Sorrell" was nearly worn out by them sixteen years later. Though Cuyler of New York, who went over them to Rhode Island in 1757 in a curricle or two-horse chair, failed to complain of his journey, his good nature may be due to the fact that he went for a wife, "a very agreeable young lady with a gentle fortune." Quincy preferred to take boat from New York to Boston rather than face the inconveniences of these notorious roads. Many travelers took a sloop from Newport or New London, and by going to Sterling or Oyster Bay, in order to avoid the pine barrens in the center of Long Island, and proceeding thence to New York, they not only saved fifty miles but also had a better road. There was a ferry from Norwalk to Huntington, but that was chiefly for those who desired to go to Long Island without taking the roundabout journey through New York.

The traveler might go to Albany from New York, either by sloop or by road, preferably along the eastern bank. If he were going southward, he might select one of three ways. He could cross to Paulus Hook (now Jersey City) by ferry or could go to Perth Amboy by sloop through the Kill van Kull and Staten Island Sound, or by ferrying to Staten Island he could traverse the northern end of the island and take a second ferry to Elizabeth-port. Once on New Jersey soil, he would find two customary routes to Philadelphia: one by road to New Brunswick and Bordentown and down the Delaware by water; the other by the same road to Bordentown, thence by land to Burlington, and across the river by boat. In 1770 a stage company offered to make the trip in two days, and thus rendered it possible for a New York merchant to spend two nights and a day in Philadelphia on business and be back in five days, a rapid trip for the period.

Unless one were going into the back country by way of Lancaster and York southwestward or from Lancaster or Reading northwest to Fort Augusta (now Sunbury) and the West Branch, there was but one road which he could take in leaving Philadelphia. It ran by way of Chester along the Delaware, crossed the Brandywine toll-bridge to Wilmington, and ran on to Christiana bridge, the starting point for Maryland and the Chesapeake as well as the delivery center for goods shipped from Philadelphia for transfer to the Eastern and Western shores. Here the road divided: one branch went down the Eastern Shore to Chestertown, from which point the traveler might cross the Bay to Annapolis; the other rounded the head of the Bay, crossed the Susquehanna near Port Deposit, and so ran on to Joppa, Baltimore, and Annapolis. Birket tells of passing over the Susquehanna in January on the ice, and describes how the horses were led across and the party followed on foot, with the exception of two women who sat on ladders "and were drawn over by two men, who slipt off their shoes and run so fast that we could not keep way with them." From Annapolis the traveler could go directly to Alexandria by way of Upper Marlboro, or he could take a somewhat more southerly route to Piscataway Creek and thence across the Potomac by ferry until he reached the road from Alexandria to Richmond and proceeded southward by way of Dumfries and Fredericksburg. From Fredericksburg and Falmouth a road ran to Winchester through Ashby's Gap and was much used for hauling supplies northwest from the stores there and for bringing down flour and iron from the farms and Zane's iron works in the Shenandoah. From Richmond one might go directly to Williamsburg, cross the James at Jamestown by the Hog Island Ferry, and continue by a rough road through Nansemond County, skirting west of the Dismal Swamp to Edenton; or he might cross the James farther down the peninsula at Newport or Hampton, go to Norfolk by sloop, and thence continue south on the other side of the swamp by way of North River, and southwest through the Albemarle counties to the same destination. Another road which ran through Petersburg and Suffolk was sometimes used.

The traveling and postal routes south of Annapolis were much less fixed than those in the North, for transit by water was as frequent as by land, and the possible combinations of land and water routes were many and varied. According to the regulations of 1738, which for the first time established a settled mail service from the North to Williamsburg and Edenton, the postrider met the Philadelphia courier at the Susquehanna, rode thence to Annapolis, crossed the Potomac to New Post — the plantation of Governor Spotswood, the deputy postmaster-general, on the Rappahannock just below Fredericksburg — and ended his trip at Williamsburg, whence a stage carried the mail to Edenton by way of Hog Island Ferry and Nansemond Court House. The uncertainties of the Eastern Shore postal connections as late as 1761 can be judged from a letter which John Schaw wrote in that year: "You'll observe," he says, "how difficult it is to get a letter from you, that post office at Annapolis being a grave of all letters to this side of the Bay. I am sending this by way of Kent Island, and am in hopes it will get sooner to you than yours did to me."

From Edenton there was but a single road which ran as directly as possible to Charleston, but nevertheless it was long, arduous, and slow. There were many rivers to be crossed, including a five-mile ferry across Albemarle Sound, detours to be made around the wide mouths of the Pamlico and the Neuse, and much low and wet ground to be avoided. Frederick Jones took six days to go from Williamsburg to New Bern. Schoepf records how he was delayed at Edenton four days because the ferryman had allowed his negroes to go off with the boat on a pleasure excursion of their own — an indulgence which shows that even after the Revolution travelers in that section were few and far between. From New Bern to the Cape Fear or Wilmington was not a difficult journey, for Peter du Bois accomplished it on horseback in 1757 with no other comment than an expression of satisfaction at the fried chicken and eggs that he had for breakfast and the duck and fried hominy that he ate for dinner. From Wilmington, after ferrying over to Negro Head Point with bad boats and very poor service in 1764, the traveler might continue, by a lonely, desolate, and little frequented way, to Georgetown and Charleston. It was a noteworthy event in the history of the colonies when the firstpost stage was established in 1739 south of Edenton and postal communication was at last opened all the way from Portsmouth and Boston through the principal towns and places in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina to Charleston, and even thence by the occasional services of private individuals to Georgia and points beyond. At Charleston, which was the distributing center for the far South, the road branched, and one line went back through Dorchester, Orangeburg Court House, and Ninety-Six, to the towns of the lower Cherokee, a route used by caravans and Indian traders; another turned off at Dorchester for Fort Moore and Fort Augusta on the upper Savannah; and a third curved away from the coast to Savannah to avoid the rivers and sounds of Beaufort County. In 1767 the mail was carried from Savannah to Augusta and on to Pensacola by way of St. Marks and Appalachicola, but the journeys were dangerous and sometimes the postman could not get through on account of raids by the Creek Indians.

Land travel before 1770 had become very common even in the South. Laurens wrote to John Rutherfurd of Cape Fear: "I believe you are the greatest traveler in America. You talk of a 400 mile ride as any other man would one of 40. I hope these frequent long journeys will not prejudice your health." Laurens himself usually went by boat to visit his plantations in Georgia — a single day's journey instead of two by horseback; but in 1769 he went off for seven weeks almost a thousand miles through the woods to visit his upriver properties. Governor Montagu in 1768 went all the way from Boston to Charleston by land; and the Anglican missionaries traveled long distances in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina to visit their parishioners and baptize the children. Merchants are known to have journeyed far to collect their debts. Allason speaks of going from forty to ninety miles from house to house on collecting tours; merchants who sold their goods "in the lumping way" rode up and down the river towns and plantations in their efforts to dispose of their consignments; and itinerant pedlars, with their horses and packs, wandered on from place to place, South as well as North, retailing their wares.

Though journeying by land was at all times an arduous experience, it was particularly difficult during heavy rains and freshets, in the winter season, and when forest fires were burning. The winters were as variable then as now. Often therewas no ice before February and many a green Christmas is recorded.' In other years the season would be one of prolonged cold, the winter of 17711772 having nineteen "plentiful effusions of snow." Checkley records a frost in Boston on June 14,1735, and a snowstorm on the 30th of October in the same year. In December, 1752, the temperature in Charleston dropped from 70 to 24 in a single day, and there were many winters in the South when frost injured the crops and killed the orange blossoms. Once, in the winter of 1738, no mail reached Williamsburg for six weeks on account of the bad weather. Mrs. Manigault of Charleston notes in her diary that the burial of her daughter in February had to be postponed on account of the deep snow.

Rivers were crossed at fords whenever possible, but ferries were introduced .from the first on the main lines of travel. All sorts of craft were utilized for crossing: canoes for passengers, flatboats and scows for horses and carriages, and sailing vessels,

'New England. " Feb. 12, 1703. Summer weather, no winter yet." Green's Diary. Yet on the 28th of September following there were two inches of snow. Preston in his diary says of the winter of 1754-1755: " This winter was open, no sledding at all." Essex Institute, Historical Collections, vol. yin, p. 222; vol. xi, p. 258, note.


chiefly sloops, where the crossings were longer and therefore more dangerous. Rope ferries were necessary wherever the current was swift, though they were always an annoying obstruction on navigable rivers. At much traveled places two boats were frequently required, one on each bank. The ferryman was summoned usually by hallooing, by ringing a bell, or by building a fire in the marshes. Licenses for ferries were issued and rates were fixed by the Assembly in the North and the county court in the South. Passage was ordinarily free to the postrider and to public officials, and in Connecticut to children going to school, worshipers going to church, and sometimes to militia men on their way to musters.

Bridges over small streams were built before the end of the seventeenth century, but those over the larger rivers were late in construction, because as a rule the difficulties involved were too great for the colonial builders to cope with. Many of these bridges were the result of private enterprise, and toll was taken by permission of Assembly or court. First they were always built of timbers, in the form of "geometry work, " with causeways. The raising of a bridge in New England was a public event, at which the people of the surrounding country appeared to offer their services. Bridges constructed over such swift rivers as the Quinebaug in Connecticut had to be renewed many times, as they were frequently carried away by ice or freshets. Stone bridges could be built only where the distances were short and the water was comparatively shallow. Peter Kalm mentions two stone bridges on the way from Trenton to Philadelphia. There was a very good wooden bridge over the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge, and others were built over the Mystic, the Quinnipiac, the Harlem, the Brandywine, Christiana Creek, and

One of these is described by another traveler as follows: "Sd Bridge stands on two pillars of stone and arched over makes three arches. The middlemost is something largest and is about 20 foot wide. The river was low it having been a very dry time. I rid through under the bridge up streem to view the under side. I counted the stones that go round the mouth of one arch and there is sixty. One arch hath eighty stones round the mouth of it. They seem all of a size and seem to be about 18 inches long and 2 broad and six inches thick. The lower end of each stone is much less than the upper end and laid in lyme (as all the bridge is) and it looks in the shape of an ovens mouth. The bridge is about 20 rod in length and gradually rounding, the stones covered over on the top with earth and wide enough for 2 or 3 carts to pass a breast. On each side is a stone wall built up about 3 foot and an half, a flat hewn stone on the top about 4 foot in length and 12 or 14 inches wide and about 4 inches thick and an iron staple let in to each joynt, one part of said staple in one stone and the other part of said staple in the other stone, and 80 stones covers the wall on one side which I counted and the other I suppose the same. The bridge is much wider at each end than the midle and was built at the cost of the publick for the benefitt of travelers."


many of the upper waters and smaller streams in the South.

In the early days riding on horseback was the chief mode of traveling on land, but in the seventeenth century wheeled vehicles appeared in Virginia and to a limited extent in the North, though for the purpose of carting rather than for driving. Hadley in Massachusetts had only five chaises in the town before 1795. The usual styles were the two-wheeled and four-wheeled chaises with or without tops, the riding chair, sulky, and solo chair, which were little more than chaise bodies without tops, the curricle, phaeton, gig, calash, coach, and chariot. Sedan chairs could be hired by the hour in Charleston, and stagecoaches were in use in all the colonies. Four-wheeled chaises drawn by two horses could be transformed into one-horse chairs by taking off the front wheels, but coaches and chariots were generally drawn by four, six, and even eight horses. Chaises, curricles, and phaetons were the rule in the North, and coaches and chariots in Virginia and South Carolina; yet chairs and chaises were common enough in the South, and

Hempstead, though mentioning a few chaises and chairs in New London, makes it clear in his diary that he never rode in one himself. He traveled always on horseback.


ABOUT 1760

In the collection of the New York Historical Society.


Henry Vassall of Massachusetts had his coach and chariot as well as his chaise and curricle. Many of the coaches and chariots were very ornate, neatly carved, handsomely gilded, lined with dove-colored, blue, and crimson cloth, and sometimes furnished with large front glass plates in one piece, with the arms of the owner on the door panels. The harness was bright with brass or silver-gilt metal work and ornamented with bells and finery, and coach and horses were adorned with plumes. Equipages of such magnificence appeared in Virginia as early as the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Chaises were more somber, though occasionally set off to advantage with brass hubs and wheel boxes. Though vehicles and harness were at first usually imported from England, chaise making in the North gradually developed into an industry, and chairs, chaises, and phaetons were frequently exported to Southern ports. Beverley once wrote to England for a set of secondhand harness from the royal mews, under the impression that some of them were very little the worse for wear, but when the consignment arrived he was greatly disappointed to discover that the harness was "sad trash not worth anything. " In the Middle and New England colonies people usually traveled in winter in sleighs. These vehicles are described by Birket as standing "upon two pieces of wood that lyes flat on the ground like a North of England sled, the forepart turning up with a bent to slyde over stones or any little rising and shod with smooth plates of iron to prevent their wearing away too fast."

We have now described in somewhat cursory fashion the leading characteristics and contrasts of colonial life in the eighteenth century. The description is manifestly not complete, for many interesting phases of that life have been :left out of account. Little or nothing has been said of trade and business, money, newspapers, the postal service, prose and poetry, wit and humor, and the lighter side of government, politics, and the professions. To have made the account complete, something of each of these aspects of colonial life should have been included; but there are limitations of space and of material. Extensive as is the evidence available regarding the weightier aspects of early American life, there is but a slender residue from the vicissitudes of history to throw any sufficient light upon some of the habits, practices, and daily concerns of the colonists in the ordinary routine of their existence. Our forefathers on this continent were not given to talking about themselves, to gossiping on paper and in print, however much they may have gossiped in their daily intercourse, and to recording for future generations everyday matters that must have seemed to them trivial and commonplace. They have left us only a few letters of an intimate character, few diaries that are more than meager chronicles, and scarcely any picturesque anecdotes or narrations that have illustrative value in an attempt to reconstruct the daily life of the colonist.

Perhaps the greatest omission of all in a book of this character is the failure to speak of mental attitudes and opinions. What did the colonists think of each other, of the mother country, and of the foreign world that lay almost beyond their ken? One may readily discover contrasts in government, commerce, industry, agriculture, habits of life, and social relations, but it is not so easy for us nowadays to penetrate the colonist's mind, to fathom his motives, and to determine his likes and dislikes, fears and prejudices, jealousies and rivalries. In matters of opinion the colonists, except in New England, were not accustomed to disclose their inner thoughts, though it is not at all unlikely that large numbers of them had no inner thoughts to disclose. Moreover the people were of many origins, many minds, many varieties of temper, and grades of mental activity, and, as was to be expected, they differed very widely in their ideas on religion, conduct, and morals. They were Puritans, Quakers, and Anglicans; they were English, French, Germans, and Scots; and they were dwellers in seaports and inland towns, on small farms and large plantations, in the tidewater, in the upcountry, along the frontier, under temperate or semitropical skies.

As a consequence it is not to be wondered at that to the New Englander the well-known hospitality, good breeding, and politeness of the Southerners seemed little more than a sham in the face of their inhumanity and barbarity towards servants and slaves, their looseness of morals, and their fondness for horse racing, drinking, and gambling. Even Quincy himself, no ill-natured critic, could find in Virginia no courteous gentlemen and generous hosts but only "knaves and sharpers" given to practices that were "knavish and trickish." Fithian was warned that when he went to Virginia he would go "into the midst of many dangerous temptations; gay company, frequent entertainment, little practical devotion, no remote pretention to heart religion, daily examples in men of the highest quality of luxury, intemperence, and impiety. "

Little more exact, on the other hand, was the Southerner's opinion of New England, to him a land of pretended holiness and disagreeable self - righteousness. He doubted the willingness of the New Englander to carry out his promises or to live up to his resolves; he dubbed him a saint, criticized his Yankee shrewdness, and charged him with business methods that were little short of thievery. These sentiments were not confined, however, to the people of the South. The Quakers also had a deep-seated antipathy for New England, in part because they remembered with bitterness and reproach the old-time treatment of their forerunners there. Stephen Collins of Philadelphia once called the merchants of Boston "deceitful, canting, Presbyterian deacons." Beekman of New York voiced a widespread feeling when he charged the men of Connecticut with selling goods underweight, "a cursed fraud," and added that "seven-eights of the people I have credited in New England has proved to me [such] d—d ungreatful cheating fellows ',hat I am now almost afraid to trust any man in Connecticut though he be well recommended from others. " Often the lack in the North of open-handed hospitality and a polite demeanor toward strangers called forth remark. One traveler wrote that "the hospitality of the gentlemen of Carolina to strangers is a thing not known in our more northern region"; and John London of Wilmington said of New Haven, where he lived for some time, that "in general the manners of this place has more of bluntness than refinement and want those little attentions that constitute real politeness and are so agreeable to strangers. " Such criticism was not unknown from New Englanders themselves, for Dr. Johnson once said that Punderson's failure as a clergyman was due to his "want of politeness," and Roger Wolcott named censoriousness, detraction, and drinking too much cider as the leading "blemishes" of Connecticut.

The fondness for innuendo and disparagement which these citations disclose was a characteristic colonial weakness. Virginians would speak of the ladies of Philadelphia as "homely, hard favored, and sour"; dwellers in Charleston would deem themselves vastly superior to their brethren of North Carolina; the old settlers of Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston had little liking for the immigrant Germans and Scotch-Irish, were glad to get them out of the tidewater region into the country beyond, and looked upon them throughout the colonial period as inferior types of men, a "spurious race of mortals," as a Virginian called the Scotch-Irish.

Dislikes such as these cut deeply and found ample expression at all times, but were never more freely and harshly stated than in the years preceding the Revolution. The Stamp Act Congress, which was a gathering of a few high-minded men, was no real test of the situation. The Non-importation Movement, as the first organized effort at common action against England on the part of the colonists as a whole and the first movement that really tested the temper of every grade and every section, made manifest, to a degree unknown before, the apparently hopeless disaccord that existed among the colonists everywhere on the eve of their combined revolt from the mother country. But this disagreement was more the inevitable accompaniment of the growth of national consciousness on the part of the American colonists than it was the manifestation of permanent and irreconcilable differences in their political, economic, and social life. To the early colonists must be given the credit of having laid a broad and stable foundation for the future United States of America, and their subsequent history has been the indisputable record of a growing national solidarity. Even the Civil War, which at first sight may seem conclusive contradiction, is to be regarded as in its essence the inevitable solution of hitherto discordant elements in the democracy which had their beginnings far back in the complex spiritual and social inheritance of the early colonial generations.

From the vantage point of the twentieth century, with its manifold legacy from the past and its ample promise for the future, it has been interesting to glance backward for a moment upon colonial times, to see once again the life of the people in all its energy, simplicity, and vivid coloring, with its crude and boisterous pleasures and its stern and uncompromising beliefs. Those forefathers of ours faced their gigantic tasks bravely and accomplished them sturdily, because they had within themselves the stuff of which a great nation is made. Differences among the colonists there indubitably were, but these, after all, were merely superficial distinctions of ancestral birth and training, beyond which shone the same common vision and the same broad and permanent ideals of freedom, of life, opportunity, and worship. To the realization of these ideals the colonial folk dedicated themselves and so endured.

Back to: Colonial Folkways