With Sketches of Manners and Scenes in America as they existed previous to the Revolution. Mrs. Grant of Laggan, as she was called, spent several years of her childhood in America, where her father was in the military service, returning to Scotland in 1770, at the age of ﬁfteen. The " American lady " who is here described is Mrs. Schuyler of Albany, an aunt of Gen. Schuyler, a lady of great character and intelligence, in whose household the young Scotch girl was for some time on a very intimate footing. The volume shows a remarkable tenacity of memory, as well as a graceful and animated pen. The first forty-three chapters (out of sixty-six) are of a general nature, giving a lively sketch of society and manners among the Dutch families at Albany, and a somewhat detailed history of the Schuyler family. The rest of the volume describes the author's own experiences, chieﬂy at Oswego, where her father's regi"ment was stationed, and afterwards at Albany.
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Memoirs of an American Lady
ANNE MACVICAR GRANT
Memoirs of an American Lady, A. MacVicar Grant
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Among the scenes of peculiar interest the American traveller is, as it were, under a patriotic obligation to visit while abroad, may be mentioned the birth-place of Columbus near Genoa, Cave Castle, the mansion of the Washington family in the Wolds of Yorkshire, and the abode at Edinburgh of the venerable authoress of “Letters from the Mountains.” In acknowledgment of what we all owe to her, and as a heartfelt tribute of admiration, and affection for her talents, and virtues, the present work being out of print, the opportunity of republishing what so much identifies Mrs. Grant of Laghan with our country, is gladly seized upon by one who since one of those pilgrimages has long enjoyed the benign influence of her society and correspondence. The simple circumstances she relates of herself, and the gentle spirit of the whole work render it unnecessary to deprecate criticism; and the praise of Southey who pronounced the “description of the breaking up of the ice in the Hudson,” as “quite Homeric,” must bespeak for it a favourable perusal. As a picture, taken at the dawning of the Revolution, of the clouds which then passed along to have vanished otherwise forever, and as one in a series of works shedding light upon that momentous period of which the “Pioneers” is its natural successor, its reappearance must be a welcome event in the marshalling of American literature now in progress
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
SIR WILLIAM GRANT, K. N. T.
MASTER OF THE ROLLS.
It is very probable that the friends, by whose solicitations I was induced to arrange in the following pages my early recollections, studied more the amusement I should derive from executing this task, than any pleasure they could expect from its completion.
The principal object of this work is to record the few incidents, and the many virtues which diversified and distinguished the life of a most valued friend. Though no manners could be more simple, no notions more primitive than those which prevailed among her associates, the stamp of originality with which they were marked, and the peculiar circumstances in which they stood, both with regard to my friend, and the infant society to which they belonged, will, I flatter myself, give an interest with reflecting minds, even to this desultory narrative; and the miscellany of description, observation, and detail which it involves.
If truth, both of feeling and narration, which are its only merits, prove a sufficient counterbalance to carelessness, laxity, and incoherence of style, its prominent faults, I may venture to invite you, when you unbend from the useful and honourable labours to which your valuable time is devoted, to trace this feeble delineation of an excellent, though unembellished character; and of the rapid pace with which an infant society has urged on its progress from virtuous simplicity, to the dangerous “knowledge of good and evil:” from tremulous imbecility to self-sufficient independence.
To be faithful, a delineation must necessarily be minute. Yet if this sketch, with all its imperfections, be honoured by your indulgent perusal, such condescension of time and talent must certainly be admired, and may, perhaps, be imitated by others.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your faithful, humble servant,
London, Oct. 1808.
as well as you have expressed a wish to see a memoir of my earliest and most valued friend. To gratify you and them I feel many inducements, and see many objections. To comply with any wish of yours is one strong inducement. To please myself with the recollection of past happiness and departed worth, is another; and to benefit those into whose hands this imperfect sketch may fall, is a third. For the authentic record of an exemplary life, though delivered in the most unadorned manner, or even degraded by poverty of style or uncouthness of narration, has an attraction for the uncorrupted mind.
It is the rare lot of some exalted characters, by the united power of virtues and of talents, to soar above their fellow-mortals, and leave a luminous track behind, on which successive ages gaze with wonder and delight. But the sweet influence of these benign stars that now and then enlighten the page of history, is partial and unfrequent.
Those to whom the most important parts on the stage of life are allotted, if possessed of abilities undirected by virtue, are too often
“Wise to no purpose, artful to no end,”
that is really good and desirable.
They, again, where virtue is not supported by wisdom, are often, with the best intentions, made subservient to the short-sighted craft of the artful and designing. Hence, though we may be at times dazzled with the blaze of heroic achievement, or contemplate with a purer satisfaction those “awful fathers of mankind,” by whom nations were civilized, equitable dominion established, or liberty restored; yet, after all, the crimes and miseries of mankind form such prominent features of the history of every country, that humanity sickens at the retrospect, and misanthropy finds an excuse amidst the laurels of the hero, and the deep-laid schemes of the politician:
“And yet this partial view of things
“Is surely not the best.”—
Where shall we seek the antidote to this chilling gloom left on the mind by the bustling intricate scenes, where the best characters, goaded on by furious factions or dire necessity, become involved in crimes that their souls abhor?
It is the contemplation of the peaceful virtues in the genial atmosphere of private life, that can best reconcile us to our nature, and quiet the turbulent emotions excited by
“The madness of the crowd.”
But vice, folly, and vanity are so noisy, so restless, so ready to rush into public view, and so adapted to afford food for malevolent curiosity, that the small still voice of virtue, active in its own sphere, but unwilling to quit it, is drowned in their tumult. This is a remedy, however,
“Not obvious, not obtrusive.”
If we would counteract the baleful influence of public vice by the contemplation of private worth, we must penetrate into its retreats, and not be deterred from attending to its simple details by the want of that glare and bustle with which a fictitious or artificial character is generally surrounded.
But in this wide field of speculation one might wander out of sight of the original subject. Let me then resume it, and return to my objections. Of these the first and greatest is the dread of being inaccurate. Embellished facts, a mixture of truth and fiction, or what we sometimes meet with, a fictitious superstructure built on a foundation of reality, would be detestable on the score of bad taste, though no moral sense were concerned or consulted. It is walking on a river half frozen that betrays your footing every moment. By these repulsive artifices no person of real discernment is for a moment imposed upon. You do not know exactly which part of the narrative is false; but you are sure it is not all true, and therefore distrust what is genuine, where it occurs. For this reason a fiction, happily told, takes a greater hold of the mind than a narrative of facts, evidently embellished and interwoven with inventions.
I do not mean to discredit my own veracity. I certainly have no intention to relate any thing that is not true. Yet in the dim distance of near forty years, unassisted by written memorials, shall I not mistake dates, misplace facts, and omit circumstances that form essential links in the chain of narration? Thirty years since, when I expressed a wish to do what I am now about to attempt, how differently should I have executed it. A warm heart, a vivid imagination, and a tenacious memory, were then all filled with a theme which I could not touch without kindling into an enthusiasm, sacred at once to virtue and to friendship. Venerated friend of my youth, my guide and my instructress; are then the dregs of an enfeebled mind, the worn affections of a wounded heart, the imperfect efforts of a decaying memory, all that remain to consecrate thy remembrance, to make known thy worth, and to lay on thy tomb the offering of gratitude?
My friend's life, besides being mostly passed in unruffled peace and prosperity, affords few of those vicissitudes which astonish and amuse. It is from her relations, to those with whom her active benevolence connected her, that the chief interest of her story (if story it may be called) arises. This includes that of many persons, obscure indeed but for the light which her regard and beneficence reflected upon them. Yet with out these subordinate persons in the drama, the action of human life, especially such a life as hers, cannot be carried on. They can neither appear with grace, nor be omitted with propriety. Then, remote and retired as her situation was, the variety of nations and characters, of tongues and of complexions, with which her public spirit and private benevolence connected her, might appear wonderful to those unacquainted with the country and the times in which she lived; without a pretty distinct view of which my narrative would be unintelligible.
I must be excused too for dwelling, at times, on the recollection of a state of society so peculiar, so utterly dissimilar to any other that I have heard or read of, that it exhibits human nature in a new aspect, and is so far an object of rational curiosity, as well as a kind of phenomenon in the history of colonization. I forewarn the reader not to look for lucid order in the narration, or intimate connection between its parts. I have no authorities to refer to, no coeval witnesses of facts to consult. In regard to the companions of my youth, (in which several particulars relative to my friend's ancestry must necessarily be included,) I sit like the “Voice of Cona,” alone on the heath; and, like him too, must muse in silence, till at intervals the “light of my soul arises,” before I can call attention to “a tale of other times.”
Province of New-York—Origin of the Settlement at Albany—Singular Possession held by the Patron—Account of his Tenants.
It is well known that the province of New-York, anciently called Manahattos by the Indians, was originally settled by a Dutch colony, which came from Holland, I think, in the time of Charles the Second. Finding the country to their liking, they were followed by others more wealthy and better informed. Some of the early emigrants also appear to have been people respectable both from their family and character. Of these the principal were the Cuylers, the Schuylers, the Rensselaers, the Delanceys, the Cortlandts, the Tenbroeks, and the Beekmans, who have all of them been since distinguished in the late civil wars, either as persecuted loyalists or triumphant patriots. I do not precisely recollect the motives assigned for the voluntary exile of persons who were evidently in circumstances that might admit of their living in comfort at home, but am apt to think that the early settlers were those who adhered to the interest of the Stadtholder's family, a party which, during the minority of King William, was almost persecuted by the high republicans. Those who came over at a later period probably belong to the party which opposed the Stadtholder, arid which was then in its turn depressed. These persons afterwards distinguished themselves by an aversion, almost amounting to antipathy, to the British army, and indeed to all the British colonists. Their notions were mean and contracted; their manners blunt and austere; and their habits sordid and parsimonious. As the settlement began to extend they retired, and formed new establishments, afterwards called Fishkill, Esopus, &c.
To the Schuylers, Cuylers, Delanceys, Cortlandts, and a few others, this description did by no means apply. They carried about them the tokens of former affluence and respectability, such as family plate, portraits of their ancestors executed in a superior style, and great numbers of original paintings, some of which were much admired by acknowledged judges. Of these the subjects were generally taken from sacred history.
I do not recollect the exact time, but think it was during the last years of Charles the Second, that a settlement we then possessed at Surinam was exchanged for the extensive (indeed at that time boundless) province of Manahattos, which, in compliment to the then heir apparent, was called New-York. Of the part of that country then explored, the most fertile and beautiful was situated far inland, on the banks of the Hudson River. This copious and majestic stream is navigable one hundred and seventy miles from its mouth for vessels of sixty or seventy tons burthen. Near the head of it, as a kind of barrier against the natives, and a central resort for traders, the foundation was laid of a town called Oranienburgh, and afterwards by the British, Albany.
After the necessary precaution of erecting a small stockaded fort for security, a church was built in the centre of the intended town, which served in different respects as a kind of landmark. A gentleman of the name of Rensselaer was considered as in a manner lord paramount of this city. A pre-eminence which his successor still enjoys, both with regard to the town and the lands adjacent. The original proprietor having obtained from the high and mighty states a grant of lands, which, beginning at the church, extended twelve miles in every direction, forming a manor twenty-four Dutch miles in length, the same in breadth, including lands not only of the best quality of any in the province, but the most happily situated both for the purposes of commerce and agriculture. This great proprietor was looked up to as much as republicans in a new country could be supposed to look up to any one. He was called the Patroon, a designation tantamount to lord of the manor. Yet, in the distribution of these lands, the sturdy Belgian spirit of independence set limits to the power and profits of this lord of the forests, as he might then be called. None of these lands were either sold or alienated. The more wealthy settlers, as the Schuylers, Cuylers, &c. took very extensive leases of the fertile plains along the river, with boundless liberty of woods and pasturage, to the westward. The terms were, that the lease should hold while water runs and grass grows, and the landlord to receive the tenth sheaf of every kind of grain the ground produces. Thus ever accommodating the rent to the fertility of the soil, and changes of the seasons, you may suppose the tenants did not greatly fear a landlord, who could neither remove them, nor increase their rents. Thus, without the pride of property, they had all the independence of proprietors. They were like German princes, who, after furnishing their contingent to the Emperor, might make war on him when they chose. Besides the profits (yearly augmenting) which the patroon drew from his ample possessions, he held in his own hands an extensive and fruitful demesne. Yet preserving in a great measure the simple and frugal habits of his ancestors, his wealth was not an object of envy, nor a source of corruption to his fellow-citizens. To the northward of these bounds, and at the southern extremity also, the Schuylers and Cuylers held lands of their own. But the only other great landholders I remember, holding their land by those original tenures, were Philips and Cortlandt; their lands lay also on the Hudson River, half way down to New-York, and were denominated Philips' and Cortlandt's manors. At the time of the first settling of the country the Indians were numerous and powerful all along the river; but they consisted of wandering families, who, though they affixed some sort of local boundaries for distinguishing the hunting grounds of each tribe, could not be said to inhabit any place. The cool and crafty Dutch governors being unable to cope with them in arms, purchased from them the most valuable tracts for some petty consideration. They affected great friendship for them; and while conscious of their own weakness, were careful not to provoke hostilities; and silently and insensibly established themselves to the west.
Account of the Five Nations, or Mohawk Indians—Building of the Fort at Albany—John and Philip Schuyler.
On the Mohawk River, about forty miles distant from Albany, there subsisted a confederacy of Indian tribes, of a very different character from those mentioned in the preceding chapter; too sagacious to be deceived, and too powerful to be eradicated. These were the once renowned five nations, whom any one, who remembers them while they were a people, will hesitate to call savages. Were they savages who had fixed habitations; who cultivated rich fields; who built castles, (for so they called their not incommodious wooden houses, surrounded with palisadoes;) who planted maize and beans, and showed considerable ingenuity in constructing and adorning their canoes, arms, and clothing? They who had wise though unwritten laws, and conducted their wars, treaties, and alliances with deep and sound policy; they whose eloquence was bold, nervous, and animated; whose language was sonorous, musical, and expressive; who possessed generous and elevated sentiments, heroic fortitude, and unstained probity? Were these indeed savages? The difference
“Of scent the headlong lioness between
“And hound sagacious, on the tainted green,”
is not greater than that of the Mohawks in point of civility and capacity, from other American tribes, among whom, indeed, existed a far greater diversity of character, language, &c. than Europeans seem to be aware of. This little tribute to the memory of a people who have been, while it soothes the pensive recollections of the writer, is not so foreign to the subject as it may at first appear. So much of the peace and safety of this infant community depended on the friendship and alliance of these generous tribes; and to conciliate and retain their affections so much address was necessary, that common characters were unequal to the task. Minds liberal and upright, like those I am about to describe, could alone excite that esteem, and preserve that confidence, which were essential towards retaining the friendship of those valuable allies.
From the time of the great rebellion, so many English refugees frequented Holland, that the language and manners of our country became familiar at the Hague, particularly among the Stadtholder's party. When the province of New-York fell under the British dominion, it became necessary that every body should learn our language, as all public business was carried on in the English tongue, which they did the more willingly, as, after the revolution, the accession of the Stadholder to the English crown very much reconciled them to our government. Still, however, the English was a kind of court language; little spoken, and imperfectly understood in the interior. Those who brought with them the French and English languages soon acquired a sway over their less enlightened fellow settlers. Of this number were the Schuylers and Cuylers, two families among whom intellect of the superior kind seemed an inheritance, and whose intelligence and liberality of mind, fortified by well-grounded principle, carried them far beyond the petty and narrow views of the rest. Habituated at home to centre all wisdom and all happiness in commercial advantages, they would have been very ill calculated to lay the foundation of an infant state in a country that afforded plenty and content, as the reward of industry, but where the very nature of the territory, as well as the state of society, precluded great pecuniary acquisitions. Their object here was taming savage nature, and making the boundless wild subservient to agricultural purposes. Commercial pursuits were a distant prospect; and before they became of consequence, rural habits had greatly changed the character of these republicans. But the commercial spirit, inherent in all true Batavians, only slept to wake again, when the avidity of gain was called forth by the temptation of bartering for any lucrative commodity. The furs of the Indians gave this occasion, and were too soon made the object of the avidity of petty traders. To the infant settlement at Albany the consequences of this short-sighted policy might have proved fatal, had not these patriotic leaders, by their example and influence, checked for a while such illiberal and dangerous practices. It is a fact singular and worth attending to, from the lesson it exhibits, that in all our distant colonies there is no other instance where a considerable town and prosperous settlement has arisen and flourished, in peace and safety, in the midst of nations disposed and often provoked to hostility; at a distance from the protection of ships, and from the only fortified city, which, always weakly garrisoned, was little fitted to awe and protect the whole province. Let it be remembered that the distance from New-York to Albany is 170 miles; and that in the intermediate space, at the period of which I speak, there was not one town or fortified place. The shadow of a palisadoed fort*
, which then existed at Albany, was occupied by a single independent company, who did duty, but were dispersed through the town, working at various trades: so scarce indeed were artizans in this community, that a tradesman might in those days ask any wages he chose.
* It may be worth noting, that Captain Massey, who commanded this non-effective company for many years, was the father of Mrs. Lennox, an estimable character, well known for her literary productions, and for being the friend and protegee of Dr. Johnson.
To return to this settlement, which evidently owed its security to the wisdom of its leaders, who always acted on the simple maxim that honesty is the best policy: several miles north from Albany a considerable possession, called the Flats, was inhabited by Colonel Philip Schuyler, one of the most enlightened men in the province. This being a frontier, he would have found it a very dangerous situation had he not been a person of singular worth, fortitude, and wisdom. Were I not afraid of tiring my reader with a detail of occurrences which, taking place before the birth of my friend, might seem irrelevant to the present purpose, I could relate many instances almost incredible, of the power of mind displayed by this gentleman in governing the uninstructed without coercion or legal right. He possessed this species of power in no common degree; his influence, with that of his brother John Schuyler, was exerted to conciliate the wandering tribes of Indians; and by fair traffic, for he too was a trader, and by fair liberal dealing they attained their object. They also strengthened the league already formed with the five Mohawk nations, by procuring for them some assistance against their enemies, the Onondagoes of the Lakes.
Queen Ann had by this time succeeded to the Stadholder. The gigantic ambition of Lewis the Fourteenth actuated the remotest parts of his extensive dominions; and the encroaching spirit of this restless nation began to discover itself in hostilities to the infant colony. A motive for which could scarce be discovered, possessing, as they did, already, much more territory then they were able to occupy, the limits of which were undefined. But the province of New-York was a frontier; and, as such, a kind of barrier to the southern colonies. It began also to compete for a share of the fur trade, then very considerable, before the beavers were driven back from their original haunts. In short, the province daily rose in importance; and being in a great measure protected by the Mohawk tribes, the policy of courting their alliance, and impressing their minds with an exalted idea of the power and grandeur of the British empire, became obvious. I cannot recollect the name of the governor at this time; but whoever he was, he, as well as the succeeding ones, visited the settlement at Albany, to observe its wise regulations, and growing prosperity, and to learn maxims of sound policy from those whose interests and happiness were daily promoted by the practice of it.
Colonel Schuyler persuades four Sachems to accompany him to England—Their reception and return.
It was thought advisable to bring over some of the heads of tribes to England to attach them to that country; but to persuade the chiefs of a free and happy people, who were intelligent, sagacious, and aware of all probable dangers; who were strangers to all maritime concerns, and had never beheld the ocean; to persuade such independent and high-minded warriors to forsake the safety and enjoyments of their own country, to encounter the perils of a long voyage, and trust themselves among entire strangers, and this merely to bind closer an alliance with the sovereign of a distant country, a female sovereign too; a mode of government that must have appeared to them very incongruous. This was no common undertaking, nor was it easy to induce these chiefs to accede to the proposal. The principal motive for urging it was to counteract the machinations of the French, whose emissaries in these wild regions had even then begun to style us, in effect, a nation of shopkeepers; and to impress the tribes dwelling in their boundaries with vast ideas of the power and splendour of their grand monarque, while our sovereign, they say, ruled over a petty island, and was himself a trader. To counterwork those suggestions, it was thought requisite to give the leaders of the nation (who then in fact protected our people) an adequate idea of our power, and the magnificence of our court. The chiefs at length consented on this only condition, that their brother Philip, who never told a lie, or spoke without thinking, should accompany them. However this gentleman's wisdom and integrity might qualify him for this employment, it did not suit his placid temper, simple manners, and habits of life, at once pastoral and patriarchal, to travel over seas, and mingle in the bustle of a world, the customs of which were become foreign to those primitive inhabitants of new and remote regions, was to him no pleasant undertaking. The adventure, however, succeeded beyond his expectation; the chiefs were pleased with the attentions paid them, and with the mild and gracious manners of their queen, who at different times admitted them to her presence. With the good Philip she had many conversations, and made him some valuable presents, among which, I think, was her picture; but this with many others was lost, in a manner which will appear hereafter. Colonel Schuyler too was much delighted with the courteous affability of this princess; she offered to knight him, which he respectfully, but positively refused; and being pressed to assign his reasons, he said he had brothers and near relations in humble circumstances, who, already his inferiors in property, would seem as it were depressed by his elevation; and though it should have no such effect on her mind, it might be the means of awakening pride or vanity in the female part of his family. He returned, however, in triumph, having completely succeeded in his mission. The kings, as they were called in England, came back in full health, deeply impressed with esteem and attachment for a country which to them appeared the centre of arts, intelligence, and wisdom; where they were treated with kindness and respect; and neither made the objects of perpetual exhibition, nor hurried about to be continually distracted with a succession of splendid, and to them incomprehensible sights, the quick shifting of which rather tends to harrass minds which have enough of native strength to reflect on what they see, without knowledge sufficient to comprehend it. It is to this childish and injudicious mode of treating
those uncivilized beings, this mode of rather extorting from them a tribute to our vanity, than taking the necessary pains to inform and improve them, that the ill success of all such experiments since have been owing. Instead of endeavouring to conciliate them by genuine kindness, and by gradually and gently unfolding to them simple and useful truths, our manner of treating them seems calculated to dazzle, oppress, and degrade them with a display of our superior luxuries and refinements; which, by the elevated and self-denying Mohawk, would be regarded as unmanly and frivolous objects, and which the voluptuous and low-minded Otaheitean would so far relish, that the privation would seem intolerable, when he returned to his hogs and his cocoas. Except such as have been previously inoculated, (a precaution which voyagers have rarely had the prudence or humanity to take,) there is scarcely an instance of savages brought to Europe that have not died of the small pox; induced either by the infection to which they are exposed from the indiscriminate crowds drawn about them, or the alteration in their blood, which unusual diet, liquors, close air, and heated rooms, must necessarily produce.
The presents made to these adventurous warriors were judiciously adapted to their taste and customs. They consisted of showy habits, of which all these people are very fond, and arms made purposely in the form of those used in their own country. It was the fortune of the writer of these memoirs, more than thirty years after, to see that great warrior and faithful ally of the British crown the redoubted King Hendrick, then sovereign of the Five Nations, splendidly arrayed in a suit of light blue, made in an antique mode, and trimmed with broad silver lace; which was probably an heirloom in the family, presented to his father by his good ally and sister, the female king of England.
I cannot exactly say how long Mr. Schuyler and his companions staid in England, but think they were nearly a year absent In those primeval days of the settlement, when our present rapid modes of transmitting intelligence were unknown, in a country so detached and inland as that at Albany, the return of these interesting travellers was like the first lighting of lamps in a city.
Return of Colonel Schuyler and the Sachems to the interior—Literary Acquisitions—Distinguishes and instructs his favourite Niece—Manners of the Settlers.
This sagacious and intelligent patriot thus brought to the foot of the British throne the high spirited rulers of the boundless wild, who, alike heedless of the power and splendour of distant monarchs, were accustomed to say with Fingal, “sufficient for me is the desert, with all deer and woods.” It may easily be supposed that such a mind as Philip's was equally fitted to acquire and communicate intelligence. He who had conversed with Addison, Marlborough, and Godolphin, who had gratified the curiosity of Oxford and Bolingbroke, of Arbuthnot and of Gay, with accounts of nature in her pristine garb, and of her children in their primitive simplicity; he who could do all this, no doubt received ample returns of various information from those best qualified to give it, and was besides a diligent observer. Here he improved a taste for literature, native to him, for it had not yet taken root in this uncultivated soil. He brought home the Spectator and the tragedy of Cato, Windsor Forest, Young's poem on the Last Day, and in short all the works then published of that constellation of wits which distinguished the last female reign. Nay more, and better, he brought Paradise Lost; which in after-times afforded such delight to some branches of his family, that to them
“Paradise (indeed) seemed opened in the wild.”
But to return to our Sachems, from whom we have too long digressed; when they arrived at Albany, they did not, as might be expected, hasten home to communicate their discoveries, or display their acquisitions. They summoned a congress there, not only of the elders of their own nation, but the chiefs of all those with whom they were in alliance. This solemn meeting was held in the Dutch church. In the present depressed and diminished state of these once powerful tribes, so few traces of their wonted energy remain, that it could scarce be credited, were I able to relate with what bold and flowing eloquence they clothed their conceptions; powerful reasoning, emphatic language, and graceful action, added force to their arguments; while they persuaded their adherents to renounce all connexion with the tribes under the French influence; and form a lasting league, offensive and defensive, with that great queen, whose mild majesty had so deeply impressed them; and the mighty people whose kindness had gratified, and whose power had astonished them, whose populous cities swarmed with arts and commerce, and in whose floating castles they had rode safely over the ocean. I have seen a volume of the speeches of these Mohawks preserved by Colonel Schuyler; they were literally translated, so that the native idiom was preserved; which, instead of appearing uncouth, seemed to add to their strength and sublimity.
When Mr. Schuyler returned from England, about the year 1709, his niece Catalina, the subject of this narrative, was about seven years old; he had a daughter and sons, yet this child was early distinguished above the rest for docility, a great desire of knowledge, and an even and pleasing temper; this her uncle early observed. It was at that time very difficult to procure the means of instruction in those inland districts; female education of consequence was conducted on a very limited scale; girls learnt needle work (in which they were indeed both skilful and ingenious) from their mothers and aunts; they were taught too at that period to read, in Dutch, the bible and a few Calvinistic tracts of the devotional kind. But in the infancy of the settlement few girls read English; when they did, they were thought accomplished; they generally spoke it, however imperfectly, and few were taught writing. This confined education precluded elegance; yet, though there was no polish, there was no vulgarity. The dregs of the people, who subside to the bottom of the mass, are not only degraded by abject poverty, but so utterly shut out from intercourse with the more enlightened, and so rankling with envy at feeling themselves so, that a sense of their condition gradually debases their minds; and this degradation communicates to their manners, the vulgarity of which we complain. This more particularly applies to the lower class in towns; for mere simplicity, or even a rustic bluntness, I would by no means call vulgarity. At the same time these unembellished females had more comprehension of mind, more variety of ideas, more in short of what may be called original thinking, than could easily be imagined. Their thoughts were not like those of other illiterate women, occupied by the ordinary details of the day, and the gossiping tattle of the neighbourhood. The life of new settlers, in a situation like this, where the very foundations of society were to be laid, was a life of exigencies. Every individual took an interest in the general welfare, and contributed their respective shares of intelligence and sagacity to aid plans that embraced important objects relative to the common good. Every day called forth some new expedient, in which the comfort or advantage of the whole was implicated; for there were no degrees but those assigned to worth and intellect. This singular community seemed to have a common stock, not only of sufferings and enjoyments, but of information and ideas; some pre-eminence, in point of knowledge and abilities, there certainly was, yet those who possessed it seemed scarcely conscious of their superiority; the daily occasions which called forth the exertions of mind, sharpened sagacity and strengthened character; avarice and vanity were there confined to very narrow limits; of money there was little; and dress was, though in some instances valuable, very plain, and not subject to the caprice of fashion. The wolves, the bears, and the enraged or intoxicated savages, that always hung threatening on their boundaries, made them more and more endeared to each other. In this calm infancy of society, the rigour of the law slept, because the fury of turbulent passions had not awakened it. Fashion, that capricious tyrant over adult communities, had not erected her standard; that standard, to which the looks, the language, the very opinions of her subjects must be adjusted. Yet no person appeared uncouth, or ill bred, because there was no accomplished standard of comparison. They viewed no superior with fear or envy; and treated no inferior with contempt or cruelty; servility and insolence were thus equally unknown; perhaps they were less solicitous either to please or to shine than the members of more polished societies; because, in the first place, they had no motive either to dazzle or deceive; and in the next, had they attempted it, they felt there was no assuming a character with success, where their native one was so well known. Their manners, if not elegant and polished, were at least easy and independent; the constant efforts necessary to extend their commercial and agricultural possessions, prevented indolence; and industry was the certain path
to plenty. Surrounded on all sides by those whom the least instance of fraud, insolence, or grasping meanness, would have rendered irreconcileable enemies, they were at first obliged to “assume a virtue if they had it not;” and every circumstances that renders virtue habitual, may be accounted a happy one. I may be told that the virtues I describe were chiefly those of situation. I acknowledge it. It is no more to be expected that this equality, simplicity, and moderation, should continue in a more advanced state of society, than that the sublime tranquillity and dewy freshness which add a nameless charm to the face of nature, in the dawn of a summer morning, should continue all day. Before increased wealth and extended territory, these “wassel days” quickly receded; yet it is pleasing to indulge the remembrance of a spot, where peace and felicity, the result of moral excellence, dwelt undisturbed, alas! hardly for a century.
State of Religion among the Settlers—Instruction of Children devolved on Females—to whom the Charge of Gardening, &c. was also committed—Sketch of the State of the Society at New-York.
I must finish this general outline, by saying something of that religion which gave stability and effect to the virtues of this infant society. Their religion, then, like their original national character, had in it little of fervour or enthusiasm; their manner of performing religious duties was regular and decent, but calm, and to more ardent imaginations might appear mechanical. None ever doubted of the great truths of revelation, yet few seemed to dwell on the result with that lively delight which devotion produces in minds of keener sensibility. If their piety, however, was without enthusiasm, it was also without bigotry; they wished others to think as they did, without showing rancour or contempt towards those who did not. In many individuals, whose lives seemed governed by the principles of religion, the spirit of devotion seemed to be quiescent in the heart, and to break forth in exigencies; yet that monster in nature, an impious woman, was never heard of among them.
Indeed it was on the females that the task of religious instruction generally devolved; and in all cases where the heart is interested, who ever teaches, at the same time learns.
Before I quit this subject, I must observe a singular coincidence; not only the training of children, but of plants, such as needed peculiar care or skill to rear them, was the female province. Every one in town or country had a garden; but all the more hardy plants grew in the field, in rows, amidst the hills, as they were called, of Indian corn. These lofty plants sheltered them from the sun, while the same hoeing served for both; their cabbages, potatoes, and other esculent roots, with variety of gourds, grew to a great size, and were of an excellent quality. Kidney-beans, asparagus, celery, great variety of sallads and sweet herbs, cucumbers, &c., were only admitted into the garden, into which no foot of man intruded, after it was dug in spring. Here were no trees, those grew in the orchard in high perfection. Strawberries and many high flavoured wild fruits of the shrub kind abounded so much in the woods, that they did not think of cultivating them in their gardens, which were extremely neat, but small, and not by any means calculated for walking in. I think I yet see what I have so often beheld both in town and country, a respectable mistress of a family going out to her garden, in an April morning, with her great calash, her little painted basket of seeds, and her rake over her shoulder, to her garden labours. These were by no means figurative,
“From morn till noon, from noon till dewy eve.”
A woman, in very easy circumstances, and abundantly gentle in form and manners, would sow, and plant, and rake, incessantly. These fair gardeners too were great florists; their emulation and solicitude in this pleasing employment, did indeed produce “flowers worthy of Paradise.” These, though not set in “curious knots,” were arranged in beds, the varieties of each kind by themselves; this, if not varied and elegant, was at least rich and gay. To the Schuylers this description did not apply; they had gardeners, and their gardens were laid out in the European manner.
Perhaps I should reserve my description of the manner of living in that country for that period, when by the exertions of a few humane and enlightened individuals it assumed a more regular and determinate form. Yet as the same outline was preserved through all the stages of its progression, I know not but that it may be best to sketch it entirely, before I go further; that the few and simple facts which my narrative affords may not be clogged by explanations relative to the customs, or any other peculiarities which can only be understood by a previous acquaintance with the nature of the country, its political relations, and the manners of the people; my recollection all this while has been merely confined to Albany, and its precincts. At New-York there was always a governor, a few troops, and a kind of little court kept; there too was a mixed, and in some degree, polished society. To this the accession of many families of French huguenots, rather above the middling rank, contributed not a little; those conscientious exiles had more knowledge and piety than any other class of the inhabitants; their religion seemed indeed endeared to them, by what they had suffered for adhering to it. Their number and wealth was such, as enabled them to build not only a street, but a very respectable church in the new city. In this place of worship service continued to be celebrated in the French language within my recollection, though the original congregation was by that time much blended in the mass of general society. It was the custom of the inhabitants of the upper settlement, who had any pretensions to superior culture or polish, among which number Mr. Schuyler stood foremost, to go once in a year to New-York, where all the law-courts were held, and all the important business of the province transacted; here too they sent their children occasionally to reside with their relations, and to learn the more polished manners and language of the capital. The inhabitants of that city, on the other hand, delighted in a summer excursion to Albany. The beautiful, and in some places highly singular banks of the river, rendering a voyage to its source both amusing and interesting, while the primitive manners of the inhabitants diverted the gay and idle, and pleased the thoughtful and speculative.
Let me now be indulged in drawing a picture of the abode of my childhood just as, at this time, it presents itself to my mind.
Description of Albany—Manner of living there—Hermitage, &c.
The city of Albany was stretched along the banks of the Hudson; one very wide and long street lay parallel to the river, the intermediate space between it and the shore being occupied by gardens. A small, but steep hill rose above the centre of the town, on which stood a fort, intended (but very ill adapted) for the defence of the place, and of the neighbouring country. From the foot of this hill, another street was built, sloping pretty rapidly down till it joined the one before mentioned that ran along the river. This street was still wider than the other; it was only paved on each side, the middle being occupied by public edifices. These consisted of a market-place, or guard-house, a town hall, and the English and Dutch churches. The English church, belonging to the Episcopal persuasion, and in the diocese of the bishop of London, stood at the foot of the hill, at the upper end of the street. The Dutch church was situated at the bottom of the descent where the street terminated; two irregular streets, not so broad, but equally long, ran parallel to those, and a few even ones open between them. 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; many of their 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 ignorant, very rude or very polished individual; to see all these children of nature enjoying in easy indolence, or social intercourse,
“The cool, the fragrant, and the dusky hour,” clothed in the plainest habits, and with minds as undisguised and artless. These primitive beings were dispersed in porches grouped according to similarity of years and inclinations. At one door young matrons, at another the 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 near the cows, for the chief ingredient of their frugal supper, which they generally ate sitting on the steps in the open air. This picture, so familiar to my imagination, has led me away from my purpose, which was to describe the rural economy, and modes of living in this patriarchal city. At one end of the town, as I observed before, 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, where, being treated with a few vegetables and a little salt, which is indispensably necessary for cattle in this country, they patiently waited the night; and 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 flour and other grain they purchased from farmers in the vicinity. Above the town, a long stretch to the westward was occupied first by sandy hills, on which grew bilberries of uncommon size and flavour in prodigious quantities; beyond, rise heights of a poor hungry soil, thinly covered with stunted pines, or dwarf oak. Yet in this comparatively barren tract, there were several wild and picturesque spots, where small brooks,
running in deep and rich bottoms, nourished on their banks every vegetable beauty; there, some of the most industrious early settlers had cleared the luxuriant wood from these charming little glens, and built neat cottages for their slaves, surrounded with little gardens and orchards, sheltered from every blast, wildly picturesque, and richly productive. Those small sequestered vales had an attraction that I know not how to describe, and which probably resulted from the air of deep repose that reigned there, and the strong contrast which they exhibited to the surrounding sterility. One of these was in my time inhabited by a hermit. He was a Frenchman, and did not seem to inspire much veneration among the Albanians. They imagined, or had heard, that he retired to that solitude in remorse for some fatal duel in which he had been engaged; and considered him as an idolater because he had an image of the Virgin in this hut. I think he retired to Canada at last; but I remember being ready to worship him for the sanctity with which my imagination invested him, and being cruelly disappointed because I was not permitted to visit him. These cottages were in summer occupied by some of the negroes who cultivated the grounds about them, and served as a place of joyful liberty to the children of the family on holidays, and a nursery for the young negroes, whom it was the custom to rear very tenderly, and instruct very carefully.
Gentle treatment of slaves among the Albanians—Consequent attachment of domestics—Reflections on servitude.
In the society I am describing, even the dark aspect of slavery was softened into a smile. And I must, in justice to the best possible masters, say, that a great deal of that tranquillity and comfort, to call them by no higher names, which distinguish this society from all others, was owing to the relation between master and servant being better understood here than in any other place. Let me not be detested as an advocate for slavery, when I say that I think I have never seen people so happy in servitude as the domestics of the Albanians. One reason was, (for I do not now speak of the virtues of their masters,) that each family had few of them, and that there were no field negroes. They would remind one of Abraham's servants, who were all born in the house, which was exactly their case. They were baptised too, and shared the same religious instruction with the children of the family; and, for the first years, there was little or no difference with regard to food or clothing between their children and those of their masters.
When a negro-woman's child attained the age of three years, the first New-Year's day after, it was solemnly presented to a son or daughter, or other young relative of the family, who was of the same sex with the child so presented. The child to whom the young negro was given, immediately presented it with some piece of money and a pair of shoes; and from that day the strongest attachment subsisted between the domestic and the destined owner. I have no where met with instances of friendship more tender and generous, than that which here subsisted between the slaves and their masters and mistresses. Extraordinary proofs of them have been often given in the course of hunting or Indian trading, when a young man and his slave have gone to the trackless woods together, in the cases of fits of the ague, loss of a canoe, and other casualties happening near hostile Indians. The slave has been known, at the imminent risk of his life, to carry his disabled master through trackless woods with labour and fidelity scarce credible; and the master has been equally tender on similar occasions of the humble friend who stuck closer than a brother; who was baptised with the same baptism, nurtured under the same roof, and often rocked in the same cradle with himself. These gifts of domestics to the younger members of the family were not irrevocable; yet they were very rarely withdrawn. If the kitchen family did not increase in proportion to that of the master, young children were purchased from some family where they abounded, to furnish those attached servants to the rising progeny. They were never sold without consulting their mother, who, if expert and sagacious, had a great deal to say in the family, and would not allow her child to go into any family with whose domestics she was not acquainted. These negro-women piqued themselves on teaching their children to be excellent servants, well knowing servitude to be their lot for life, and that it could only be sweetened by making themselves particularly useful, and excelling in their department. If they did their work well, it is astonishing, when I recollect it, what liberty of speech was allowed to those active and prudent mothers. They would chide, reprove, and expostulate in a manner that we would not endure from our hired servants; and sometimes exert fully as much authority over the children of the family as the parents, conscious that they were entirely in their power. They did not crush freedom of speech and opinion in those by whom they knew they were beloved, and who watched with incessant care over their interest and comfort.
Affectionate and faithful as these home-bred servants were in general, there were some instances (but very few) of those who, through levity of mind, or a love of liquor or finery, betrayed their trust, or habitually neglected their duty. In these cases, after every means had been used to reform them, no severe punishments were inflicted at home. But the terrible sentence, which they dreaded worse than death, was passed—they were sold to Jamaica. The necessity of doing this was bewailed by the whole family as a most dreadful calamity, and the culprit was carefully watched on his way to New-York, lest he should evade the sentence by self-destruction.
One must have lived among those placid and humane people to be sensible that servitude—hopeless, endless servitude—could exist with so little servility and fear on the one side, and so little harshness or even sternness of authority in the other. In Europe, the footing on which service is placed in consequence of the corruptions of society, hardens the heart, destroys confidence, and embitters life. The deceit and venality of servants not absolutely dishonest, puts it out of one's power to love or trust them. And if in hopes of having people attached to us, who will neither betray our confidence, nor corrupt our children, we are at pains to rear them from childhood, and give them a religious and moral education; after all our labour, others of their own class seduce them away to those who can afford to pay higher for their services. This is not the case in a few remote districts, where surrounding mountains seeming to exclude the contagion of the world, some traces of fidelity and affection among domestics still remain. But it must be remarked that, in those very districts, it is usual to treat inferiors with courtesy and kindness, and to consider those domestics who marry out of the family as holding a kind of relation to it, and still claiming protection.
In short, the corruption of that class of people is, doubtless, to be attributed to the example of their superiors. But how severely are those superiors punished? Why this general indifference about home; why are the household gods, why is the sacred hearth so wantonly abandoned? Alas! the charm of home is destroyed, since our children, educated in distant seminaries, are strangers in the paternal mansion; and our servants, like mere machines, move on their mercenary track, without feeling or exciting one kind or generous sentiment. Home, thus despoiled of all its charms, is no longer the scene of any enjoyments but such as wealth can purchase. At the same time we feel there, a nameless, cold privation, and conscious that money can coin the same enjoyments with more variety elsewhere. We substitute these futile and evanescent pleasures for that perennial spring of calm satisfaction, “without o'erflowing full,” which is fed by the exercise of the kindly affections, and soon indeed must those stagnate where there are not proper objects to excite them. I have been forced into this painful digression by unavoidable comparisons. To return:—
Amidst all this mild and really tender indulgence to the r negroes, these colonists had not the smallest scruple of conscience with regard to the right by which they held them in subjection. Had that been the case, their singular humanity would have been incompatible with continued injustice. But the truth is, that of law, the generality of those people knew little; and of philosophy, nothing at all. They sought their code of morality in the Bible, and there, imagined they found this hapless race condemned to perpetual slavery; and thought nothing remained for them but to lighten the chains of their fellow Christians, after having made them such. This I neither “extenuate,” nor “set down in malice,” but merely record the fact. At the same time, it is but justice to record also a singular instance of moral delicacy, distinguishing this settlement from every other in the like circumstances, though, from their simple and kindly modes of life, they were from infancy in habits of familiarity with these humble friends, yet being early taught that nature had placed between them a barrier, which was in a high degree criminal and disgraceful to pass, they considered a mixture of such distinct races with abhorrence, as a violation of her laws. This greatly conduced to the preservation of family happiness and concord. An ambiguous race, which the law does not acknowledge; and who (if they have any moral sense, must be as much ashamed of their parents as these last are of them) are certainly a dangerous, because degraded part of the community. How much more so must be those unfortunate beings who stand in the predicament of the bat in the fable, whom both birds and beasts disowned? I am sorry to say that the progress of the British army, when it arrived, might be traced by a spurious and ambiguous race of this kind. But of a mulatto born before their arrival I only remember a single instance; and from the regret and wonder it occasioned, considered it as singular. Colonel Schuyler, of whom I am to speak, had a relation so weak and defective in capacity, that he never was entrusted with any thing of his own, and lived an idle bachelor about the family. In process of time a favourite negro-woman, to the great offence and scandal of the family, bore a child to him, whose colour gave testimony to the relation. The boy was carefully educated; and when he grew up, a farm was allotted to him well stocked and fertile, but “in depth of woods embraced,” about two miles back from the family seat. A destitute white woman, who had somehow wandered from the older colonies, was induced to marry him; and all the branches of the family thought it incumbent on them now and then to pay a quiet visit to Chalk (for so, for some unknown reason, they always called him). I have been in Chalk's house myself, and a most comfortable abode it was; but considered him as a mysterious and anomalous being.
I have dwelt the longer on this singular instance of slavery, existing devoid of its attendant horrors, because the fidelity and affection resulting from a bond of union so early formed between master and servant contributed so very much to the safety of individuals, as well as the general comfort of society, as will hereafter appear.
Education and early habits of the Albanians described.
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