Thomas Anburey was a British explorer and author of this narrative of his travels in North America in the 1770s-1780s. Anburey served under General John Burgoyne in the Battle of Saratoga. The travel narrative consists of more than eighty letters and draws a picture of life in America in the late 18th century.
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Travels through the interior parts of America
Travels through the interior parts of America, T. Anburey
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
LETTER X.. 31
LETTER XX.. 66
LETTER XXX.. 91
LETTER XL.. 124
LETTER L.. 161
LETTER LX.. 213
LETTER LXX.. 256
LETTER LXXIX.. 288
SEVERAL years ago while delving in Virginia history, I found in the Library of Congress “Travels through the Interior Parts of America. By an Officer.” Upon examining the work I was amazed to find it embraced in a series of letters an intimate and detailed account of Burgoyne's expedition, including the experiences of the captured British and Hessian soldiers during their march to Boston, and thence to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they were held as prisoners of war until the close of hostilities. The author, Lieutenant Thomas Anburey, recorded his observations of Canadians, Indians, and Americans in turn, and his impressions make most interesting reading nearly a century and a half later.
Considering that Lieutenant Anburey had been trained for the Army, it is remarkable how cleverly he appraised America, its forests, lands, animals, game, fruits, and foods, its roads, or lack of roads, and the qualities and habits of its people. His pen has preserved for us, in fascinating detail, the personal observations and incidents of the writer's travels on foot for more than a thousand miles from Montreal to Virginia.
Lieutenant Anburey's book first appeared in England in 1789. A French translation was published
in France in 1790, and republished in 1792 and in 1793 with very definite reference to the disaster incident to paper-money issues. A German translation was published in Berlin in 1792. In those days it was regarded as a mine of current information. Now, after lying dormant for considerably more than a century, it has been rediscovered, as it were, and presents us with a vivid picture of America in Revolutionary days. The republication of Lieutenant Anburey's letters should be welcomed by all students of early American history.
William Harding Carter,
Major-General United States Army.
COLONEL OF THE TWENTY-NINTH-REGIMENT OF FOOT.
HAVING had the honor to serve under your Lordship, it was my fortune, in common with all who were in the same situation, to become attached to your Lordship by personal obligations; and it is a consequence which I hope will be thought equally natural, that I should take this occasion to acknowledge them.
In laying before the Public uncommon scenes of difficulty, danger and distress, I might be further tempted, had I talents for the undertaking, to particularize the unremitting fortitude, which, in several of the most trying instances, distinguished your Lordship's conduct: but examples of bravery, though none can be more conspicuous than those your Lordship shewed, abound in every class of a British army: more rare though not less worthy of imitation, is the sort of attachment your Lordship has always shewn to your corps.
It has been your praise, my Lord, when out of the field, to forego the pleasures which high rank, fortune, youth, and accomplishments opened to your view, and to brave the severity of climate, through tedious winters, in mere military fellowship.
In retired quarters, you found the care of your men to be at once the true preparation for your country's service, and a most gratifying enjoyment to your own benevolence: while on their parts, they considered their leader as their best friend and benefactor. Discipline was thus placed upon a basis that mechanical valor can never establish, upon a principle worthy of troops who can think and feel, confidence and gratitude.
Duly impressed with these and many other of your virtues — many more than you would permit me.to enumerate; I have the honor to be
Your Lordship's most obedient,
And most devoted
THE following letters were written to gratify private friendship, and would never have been intruded upon the Public, but from the entreaties of some of the most respectable Subscribers to the Work, who flattered the Author, that as they contained much authentic information, relative to America, little known on this side of the Atlantic, they could not fail of being interesting to the Public.
Their style and manner will clearly evince them to be the actual result of a familiar correspondence, and by no means void of those inaccuracies necessarily arising from the rapid effusions of a confessedly inexperienced Writer, which will scarcely be wondered at, by those who consider how widely different are the qualifications necessary to form the Soldier and the Author.
Every thing the Reader may meet with will not appear strictly
nouvelle; but this is a circumstance unavoidably attending the writer of a tour through a country, which has been already the subject of so much discussion; but there are certainly many new circumstances related, which will serve to point out the true character and manners of the Americans.
The facts came within his own knowledge, or are supported by some honourable authority; and his motto has ever been,
—— Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in Malice.
They will strike every man with the greater force, after the evident partiality of a late Author, who has been led to represent the Favorers of Independence as possessed of every amiable qualification, and those who espoused the rights of the Mother Country, as destitute of common feelings, and humanity itself.
The Author, sensible how much those Subscribers, whose generosity has exceeded the limits of the subscription, would be hurt by a particular distinction, cojointly renders them those thanks,
“Which the tried heart that feels alone can give.”
Cork, August 8th, 1776
My dear friend,
I RECEIVED your letter, dated the 2d instant, and surely nothing can be more flattering than the warm testimony of regard and friendship every line of it speaks. — It was with great reluctance you consented to my going into the army, but a dull inactive life neither suited my circumstances nor my inclination, and an early love of a military one, soon determined my choice. My time and poor abilities cannot be so well employed, as in the service of my King and country.
I have no regrets at quitting England, but the loss I must sustain in your pleasant and improving conversation; and am persuaded you will alleviate as many of those painful reflections as possible, by taking every opportunity of writing to me.—
None shall be omitted, on my part, of assuring you how often I think of you, and the implicit attention I shall ever pay to your commands, in giving you a description of persons, places, and various occurrences — and should I sometimes be too particular on trivial subjects, you must excuse it, and remember the two prevailing motives you assigned for this kind of correspondence — the pleasure you was so obliging to say it would afford you, and the utility you thought it would be of to me, by calling my attention to whatever became in the least worthy of observation.
This is the last you must expect from me on this side the Atlantic, as in a few days we sail, with the care of some recruits for the 47th regiment.
I once more intreat you, my dear friend, to take every opportunity of writing to me, and believe that time and distance can never abate the respect and friendship with which I am,
On board the Howe,on the Banks of Newfoundland. Sept. 11th,1776
My dear friend,
IT would be very ungrateful indeed not to embrace the opportunity, by a ship that is bound for England, now lying too for letters, to send you a hasty account of the events that have happened since my departure from Ireland.
You know I had the care of some recruits for the 47th regiment; and as they were composed of that nation, no less famous for their characteristic errors, than their spirit and unbounded hospitality, let me relate a casual occurrence or two, in place of novelty, which cannot be expected, situated as I am, between sky and water.
There were continually some little disputes among these Hibernians. One day, on hearing a more than usual noise upon deck, I went up to enquire the occasion of it, and learnt it was a quarrel between two of them. Upon asking the cause of him who appeared the transgressor, he exclaimed, “Oh! and plaise your Honor, I did nothing to him “at all, at all” — when the other hastily replied, “Oh yes, and plaise your Honor, he said as how he “would take up a stick and blow my brains out.” The peculiar manner in which it was vociferated, was so truly comic, that I could not refrain from laughter, and merely reprimanding them, overlooked the offence.
The weather has been very pleasant, 'till a few days previous to our coming on these Banks, when there ensued a most dreadful storm. The ship was unable to carry the least sail, being left to the fury of the driving tempest, it was impossible for any one to keep the deck, and the helm was lashed hard of weather.
About the third day the storm began to abate, and the evening became almost calm. But there was such a prodigious swell of the sea, that the ship was expected every moment to roll her masts overboard: she had driven so much to the leeward, that although we could not discern land, the yards and rigging were covered with birds, that were blown from it by the storm.
At this time, one of my recruits coming upon deck, not observing any one there, and the sea so tremendous, immediately went below, and cried out to his companions, “Oh! by my soul, honeys, “the sea is very dreadful, and we are all sure to be “drowned, for the ship's a sinking. However, I “have this consolation, that if she goes to the bottom, “ the Captain must be accountable for us “when we get to Quebec.” And his fears operated so powerfully, that he gave a groan, and fainted away.
A few days after this the sea, which before had been so tremendous, and to use the technical phrase, run mountains high, was now become as calm as a mill-pond. It is customary, on such weather, in a fleet, for one ship to invite the Captains and passengers of others to dinner. The mode of invitation on these occasions, is by hoisting a table-cloth to the ensign-staff.
We hung out this signal, and the Captain of the nearest ship, with an officer, came on board. After dinner, so sudden and strong a breeze sprung up, as to render their return very unsafe, and it was two days before they could venture, when even then they accomplished it with imminent danger.
This is a little anecdote I cannot help wishing to be much noticed, as it might be a caution to young officers and captains of ships, how they make nautical visits, or upon any occasion quit their vessels.
These Banks may be ranked amongst the many surprising and wonderful works of nature, being a mountain formed under water, by the slime that is continually washing away from the Continent. Its extent has never yet been ascertained, but is generally reckoned to be about 160 leagues long, and 90 broad. About the middle of it is a kind of bay, called the Ditch. The depth of water varies considerably, being in some places only five, and in others sixty fathom. The sun is scarcely ever to be discerned, a cold thick fog generally covering the whole atmosphere, which renders it extremely dangerous to a fleet; for it is at times a state of total darkness, where a continual firing of guns, or incessant noise of the drum, can alone prevent the ships running foul of each other.
The winds around these Banks are generally very impetuous; the constant agitation of the waves, I am informed, is occasioned from the sea being driven by irregular currents, that beat sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, striking with great force against the borders of these Banks, which are every where almost perpendicular, and repel them with equal violence: and yet, on the Banks themselves, a little from the coast, it is as quiet as in a bay, except there happens to be a strong and forced wind coming from a great distance.
When we found we were upon these Banks, which is perceptible without sounding, as the water changes from an azure blue to a white sandy color, we laid too in order to fish for cod, the process of which is no less entertaining than surprizing to Europeans.
After baiting the hooks with the entrails of a fowl, in a few minutes we caught a fish, when the sailors made use of some part of the entrails, as being a better bait, and then drew up the cod as fast as you can possibly imagine; for though we remained there only half an hour, we caught as many as would serve the ship's crew the rest of the voyage.
You may wonder by what means they are certain of having caught a fish, with so many fathom of line out. When it has been a little while in the water, they gently pull it with the finger and thumb, and if there is a fish, the struggling of it occasions a vibration of the line, which is very perceptible, though so many fathoms deep. They then haul it in, and as soon as the fish comes in view, the water magnifies it to such a size, that it appears almost impossible to get it on board; and indeed it requires some dexterity, for on hauling them out of the water they struggle with such violence, as frequently to work themselves off the hooks, by entangling the line in the rigging, before they can be got up the ship's side.
But those vessels which particularly follow this business, avoid the inconvenience by erecting galleries on the outside, from the main-mast to the stern, and sometimes the whole length of the ship, in which are placed barrels with the tops struck out, and the fishermen get into these to shelter themselves from the weather. Their stay, I imagine, cannot be long, as the method of curing is equally as expeditious as the catching them; for as soon as the cod is caught, they cut out its tongue, and give it to one who immediately strikes off its head, plucks out its liver and entrails, and giving it to another, the bone is drawn out as far as the navel; it is then thrown into the hold of the ship, where it is salted and ranged in piles. The person who salts it is careful to leave sufficient salt between the rows of fish, to prevent them touching each other, and yet not too much, as either excess would spoil the cod.
The right of fishing upon the Great Bank, by the law of nature, ought to have been common to all mankind; but England and France, being the only two powers that had colonies in North America, made no scruple to appropriate to themselves, what Spain certainly had the greatest claim to, as the original discoverers of it; and who, from the number of her monks and priests, as well as her religion, might have pleaded the necessity of keeping. Yet at the conclusion of the last peace, they entirely gave up all pretensions to it: since which time England and France are the only nations that frequent those latitudes, and both have frigates continually cruizing, to prevent the encroachments of other nations.
The produce of this fishery is certainly a most inexhaustible wealth to both countries, and it is no wonder they are so very tenacious of it: yet it is surprizing what a large circuit the ships are obliged to take before their voyage is compleated, and the profits resulting from this fishery returns to either, nearly traversing by water half the globe: for, in the first instance, they sail from their respective ports in Europe to these Banks, from whence they proceed with their cargoes to the Mediterranean and African islands, where they dispose of their fish for the produce of those islands, then go to the West Indies to exchange that cargo, and return home laden with sugars and rum.
It appears a very singular circumstance, that these Banks should abound with cod, and no other fish; and that the greatest philosophers have never been able to account for it.
The Captain of the ship that is waiting for our letters growing impatient, obliges me to make a hasty conclusion, with wishing you health and happiness, and assuring you that you shall hear from me as soon as I arrive at Quebec. I am,
Quebec, Oct. 8th, 1776
AFTER a fatiguing passage of eleven weeks, attended with no little danger, we are safe arrived at Quebec, which before I proceed to give you any description of, it will be more methodical to relate the occurrences that befel us the remainder of our voyage.
I told you in my last, that we had frigates cruizing on the Banks, one of which informed us, that there were several privateers in the river Saint Laurence. Had we been less attentive to them, and more apprehensive of the shoals and sands that river abounds with, rendering its navigation difficult and dangerous, it would have been better for us; for a few days after we had passed Cape Rosier, a favorable wind springing up, the Captain crouded all the sail he possibly could, in order to get the next morning to the isle of Bec, where he might find a pilot, being very uneasy, as he had never been up that river before.
But to our great surprize and astonishment, about one o'clock in the morning, we run right upon a shoal (which is called Mille Vache) with amazing violence.
A ship belonging to the fleet that had gone a head in the day time, and perceived the shoal, (being low water) had immediately brought too, to warn us of our danger, which they did, by firing signal guns. But the Captain mistaking them for those of a privateer, returned the shot.
The ship beat with great violence, and was every moment expected to go to pieces; but the tide soon turning, she rested upon the ground, and to our great astonishment, at the break of day, we found ourselves so near the shore, that, to use a sea phrase, we could almost chuck a biscuit on it.
Upon the clearing up of a fog, a ship was discerned, which proved to be the same that had fired guns in the night time: she was then about three leagues distant. We immediately fired guns of distress, of which she took no notice, and imagined she had, as too frequently is the case, deserted us, because we were in distress and stood in need of her assistance.
However, we found friends in a quarter we little expected, for a canoe with three men paddled from the shore, one of whom came on board and told us, we were very fortunate to have struck at the time of spring-tides, or there would be no probability of the ship's being got off. He directed us, when the tide was coming in, to carry out the bow anchor the length of the cable, and then made no doubt, but at the full, the ship would float again, and we might warp off.
After having given every proper instruction, he took his leave, requesting, at the same time, that in case we were so unfortunate as not to effect it, we would come ashore to his house, offering every assistance to save the cargo, and with a sloop of his to take us up the river.
At the return of the tide some men were sent out with the anchor, according to the directions given; at the heighth of it we floated, and to the joyful satisfaction of every one, got clear off, sustaining no other damage than the loss of two anchors: yet such was the Captain's care and anxiety for his owners, that, I am persuaded, he would not have expressed half the concern for the loss of the whole ship's burthen and company, that he did for his anchors: as with Captains of hired transports, the crew and the cargo are but secondary objects.
This is one instance of the numberless accidents that await transports, by which, I am convinced, the service is retarded, and many operations, however critical, which depend on troops and provision, are often frustrated, either by design or negligence. For only figure to yourself what a situation an army of so many thousands as that we have upon the Continent, and those chiefly fed with provisions from the Mother Country, must be in, upon the slightest delay.
It is much to be lamented, therefore, that all transports are not commanded by King's officers, or at least the master made more subject to controul, when under convoy, or naval orders; as it would prevent the inconvenience and hazard that is continually happening to the King's service.
You will suppose it surprizing that this has never been noticed and remedied by those in power. I should have thought the affair of the powdership that went into Boston, would have occasioned a thorough investigation of this iniquitous business.
The Captains of transports in general, are a set of people who have their own interest much more at heart than the welfare of their country; and it is well known that many of them are disaffected to Government, which was the case of the Captain of the ship just alluded to, but where the blame is to be imputed, is not for me to say. As in all probability you may not have heard of this affair, or the real truth of it may not have reached you, I shall relate the matter, as I had it from a Captain of a ship who sailed in the same fleet, whose veracity can be relied on, and from the amazing strange circumstances which attended the loss of that ship, you may form your own opinions.
It seems this vessel was an immense charge, containing 1500 barrels of gunpowder, besides a great quantity of other warlike stores. Several persons well disposed to Government, and who were perfectly acquainted with the Captain's principles, informed those who had the direction of transports at Cork, that this man would, the very first opportunity, leave the convoy and join the Americans, but no attention was paid to the information; upon which they expressed their apprehensions to the Captain of the frigate who was to convoy them out, who promised to take all possible care of that ship during the voyage: and every one in the fleet thought he was not the man represented, as he kept close under the stern of the frigate.
When the fleet came off Boston harbour, a frigate that was cruizing for the purpose, informed them, that the King's troops had evacuated Boston, and gone to Halifax; and in the fleet's sailing to that place, in one of those fogs that I have already described to you, the Captain of the powder-ship seized the opportunity, left the fleet, and sailed back for Boston, at the mouth of which harbour was stationed a fifty-gun ship, to prevent any vessel from going in, that might have escaped any of the frigates that were cruizing.
Upon the Captain of the transport's being interrogated by the man of war, he acknowledged himself bound for Boston, that he had not heard of the troops evacuating it, and several more excuses; but some doubts and suspicions arising from the man's conversation, and she being found a ship of such an immense treasure, an officer was sent on board her, and as the evening was coming on, lashed her to his main-mast, intending to sail her the next morning for Halifax, under the best convoy he could afford.
But to shew you what a determined villain the Captain of the transport was, in the night time, he confined the Lieutenant, who was sent on board, cut away from the man of war, and under cover of the night, made all possible expedition to get into Boston.
The tide would not answer his purpose that time, and the man of war could not come up to her, for want of a sufficient depth of water. The Captain manned his pinnace, and sent another Lieutenant on board her. Upon the officer's attempting it, the Captain struck a harpoon into his skull; he fell into the boat, and the rest finding a great resistance, and that they were likely to be overpowered, rowed back again.
The tide now turned, and he got the ship safe under the cannon of the Americans, before a greater force could be dispatched to retake possession of her. The loss on our side was great indeed, but the advantage to the Americans was tenfold, as they were in the utmost distress for those materials, and which event may in some measure procrastinate this unfortunate war.
Two days after our late accident, we arrived off the isle of Condre, where we got a pilot, and three days after anchored safe in the bason of this city.
Fearful of being too late to send this by a ship that is just sailing for England, there is only time to assure you, that I shall embrace every opportunity of convincing you, with how much sincerity and friendship I am,
Quebec, October 15th, 1776
My dear friend,
BEFORE you have any account of this city and its environs, I shall describe to you the river Saint Laurence, which, upon their first sailing up it, is the astonishment and admiration of every European. In forming an idea of a river, people in general are apt to judge by comparison: those who have made the tour of Europe, instantly call to mind the Rhine and the Danube; those who have not, the Thames. What will you say, when you are informed that these, though very noble and beautiful, are but mere rivulets, when put in competition with that of Saint Laurence.
This river issues from lake Ontario, taking its course north-east, washing Montreal, where it receives the Outtuais, forming many fertile islands, and a lake which is called St. Pierre. It continues the same course, and meets the tide 400 miles from the sea, where it is navigable for large vessels. After receiving in its progress innumerable streams, this great river falls into the ocean at Cape Rosier; it is there 90 miles broad, where the cold in general is severe, and the sea rather boisterous. In its progress it forms variety of bays, harbours and islands, many of the latter being extremely fruitful and pleasant.
The river Saint Laurence has ever been looked upon as a good defence to this province, for in the neighbourhood of Quebec, it abounds with hidden rocks, with strong currents in many places, which force the ships to make various windings. From the time that Quebec was besieged by Sir William, Phipps, in the year 1690, who was obliged to retire with a great loss of shipping, this river was very little known to the English till the year 1759, when Sir Charles Saunders, with a fleet of 50 English men of war, and near 300 sail of transports, arrived off Quebec, without the loss of a single ship, which clearly proves those dangers were not so great as had been represented. Since that time it has been better known; and though we have not at present at this place so many men of war, yet there are near as many transports, notwithstanding the navigation up this river from the sea is rendered very dangerous, by the strength of the current and the number of sand-banks, which frequently arise in places where they never appeared before; the fatal consequences of which several vessels have experienced this war.
There are abundance of porpoises in the river St. Laurence, which are mostly white, and when they rise to the surface of the water, have the appearance of an hog swimming. At night, if I may be allowed the expression, without being accused of an Iricism, they cause most beautiful fire works in the water: for being in such abundance, and darting with amazing velocity, a continued stream of light glides through the water, and as shoals of them frequently cross each other, the luminous appearance is so picturesque, that no description can reach it.
On our entering the river St. Laurence, we saw, off the island of Anticosti, a great number of seals, one of which we caught. This animal is generally ranked amongst the class of fish, although produced on land, and living more there than in water. Its head resembles that of a mastiff, it has four paws which are very short, especially the hinder ones, serving rather to crawl, than to walk upon, and resembling fins; but the fore feet have claws; the skin is exceeding hard and covered with short hair; they are first white, but as they grow up turn to sandy or black, and some of them are of three different colours.
There are two sorts, the larger weighing near two thousand pounds, and have a sharper snout than the others. I have been told that the Indians have the art of taming these creatures, so as to make them follow like a dog.
I am led to imagine they couple and bring forth their young on the rocks, from this reason, wherein the powerful instinct of nature shewed itself very predominantly: one day, several large ones that had got their young on their backs, dropt them now and then into the water and took them up again, which no doubt, as being brought forth upon land, was to teach them to swim; it is not very surprizing, when it is considered this animal is amphibious: but the mode is exactly the same, only changing the element, with that of the feathered creation, whose little ones flutter from spray to spray, before they venture to fly abroad. The eagle carries her young, to train them up to encounter boisterous winds.
These animals are caught on the coast of Labrador. The Canadians go to this frozen and almost uninhabitable coast, in the middle of October, and remain there till June; their mode of catching them is by placing nets between the continent and a few small islands, where coming in shoals from the east, in attempting to pass these straights, they are caught; they then convey them to land, where they remain frozen till the month of May; the oil is then extracted from them, and it is said that seven or eight of these animals will yield a hogshead. The use of its skin is so generally known, it needs no description; its flesh is allowed to be very good, but if you had partaken of it, as I have done, you would coincide with me in opinion, that it turns to better account when converted into blubber.
The tide goes a league beyond Trois Rivieres, which is thirty leagues higher up the river. The difference of the tide at this place is generally between forty-five and forty-eight feet, but at the new and full moon, from fifty-four to fifty-seven, which is very considerable.
The river is three quarters of a mile broad here, and as the sea water, though it does not come up immediately to the town, renders it somewhat brackish, the inhabitants make use of it only for culinary purposes, having spring water for their beverage.
In sailing up the river St. Laurence, the first plantations you meet with are about fifty leagues on the south, and twenty on the north side of the river, below Quebec: they are but thinly scattered, and their produce very indifferent. The fertile fields commence near the capital, which I am informed grow better, the nearer you advance to Montreal.
About half way up the river, we came to the
Isles aux Oiseaux, and passed them about the distance of a cannon shot; they are two rocks that rise up in a conical form, about 60 feet above the surface of the water, the largest of which appeared to be about two or three hundred feet in circumference; they are very near one another, and there does not appear a sufficient depth of water between them for a small shallop. It is difficult to say what color these are of, as both surface and banks are entirely covered with the dung of the birds that resort thither; however, there were discernable in places some veins of a reddish cast.
One of the mates of the ship said he had been on them, and had loaded a small shallop with eggs, which were of different sorts, and that the stench arising from the dung was almost insupportable. Besides the sea-gulls, and other fowls from the neighbouring lands, there is found a species that cannot fly. It appears to me wonderful, in so prodigious a multitude of nests, how every one finds its own. At my request, the Captain of the ship fired a cannon shot, which spread the alarm over all this feathered commonwealth, when there arose over the two islands a thick cloud of fowl, at least two or three leagues in circuit.
One material circumstance I forgot to mention to you, happened in our voyage to this place. In the middle of August, after we had been incommoded for several days with excessive heats, one morning, soon after we got up, we felt such an intense cold, that both the Captain and myself were obliged to put on our great coats. We could by no means imagine the cause of this alteration, the weather being extremely fine, and particularly as the wind did not blow from the north. But on the third morning, just before day-break, a sailor called out with all his might, “luff, luff,” which the man at the helm had scarcely done, when an enormous piece of ice passed along-side of the vessel, which infallibly must have dashed her to pieces, had she struck against it. At day-break we saw it, when it appeared to be about six times as large as our ship, and twice the heighth of its masts. You well know that only one third of ice, while swimming, appears above water, and when that is considered, I do not wonder that the ignorant should not readily assent to the relations given by travellers, of these frozen productions of nature.
Having already swelled this letter beyond its intended limits, and wishing to avoid, as much as
possible, being too diffuse on trivial subjects, I shall conclude it with my best wishes for your welfare and happiness, assuring you that I am, with friendship and esteem,
Quebec, Oct. 24th, 1776
AGREEABLE to my promise in a former letter, I shall now proceed in the description of the river St. Laurence, with some occurrences which befel us, previous to our arrival at Quebec.
One of the finest bays to be met with in going up the river, is that of St. Paul, and as we were under the necessity of anchoring opposite to it, till the return of tide, I prevailed on the Captain to go on shore.
Upon our landing, the Priest of the parish came and invited us to his house, treating us with much hospitality. He was a man rather advanced in years, a native of France, and possessed of great learning; he had been recommended by the French Court to the Bishop of Quebec, while this province was under their government, and, as I am afraid is the case with too many well deserving characters, was poorly rewarded, by being made Priest of this small parish, for some essential services he had rendered the French, which, however, has many privileges annexed to it.
From the great veneration and respect that was shewn him, one would naturally conclude he was much beloved by his parishioners, and his conversation turned upon making them happy, by instructing them both in religious and moral duties, encouraging industry, and divesting them of those innate savage dispositions, which, he observed, the lower sort of Canadians are but too prone to.
It was impossible to say which should be most admired, his smile of welcome, the neatness of the repast, or the hilarity of his conversation; all of which gave me the greater pleasure, when put in contrast with the other French Priests I have met with, who are austere and contracted, and so disgusting, that rather than sit down with them, I would eat hay with my horse.
This bay is about eighteen leagues below Quebec, containing only this small parish, which is some distance from the shore of the bay, on a low plain, formed by the river. It is surrounded with exceeding high mountains on every side, excepting one large gap, which runs parallel to the river. The farms are at some distance from each other, and the church is reckoned one of the most ancient in Canada, which seems confirmed by its bad architecture, and the want of ornaments; the walls are formed of pieces of timber, erected at two feet distance, which support the roof, and between these timbers the space is filled up with a kind of limeslate. The church has no steeple, its roof is flat, and above this roof a bell is fixed in the open air. Most of the country around this bay belongs to the Priest, who lets it to the farmers.
The inhabitants chiefly live by agriculture, and the profits arising from their commerce in tar, which they extract from the red pine, by making an incision into the tree in the spring of the year, when the sap is rising, and before the tree has stopped running, it will produce several gallons of turpentine, which they easily manufacture into tar.
It may be conjectured, that the country situated upon the bay of this river being low, it was originally part of the bottom of the river, and was formed either by the decrease of water, or increase of earth, carried from the brooks, or thrown on it by storms, as a great part of the plants that grow here are marine. But in order fully to inform myself whether it was really as I apprehended, I enquired of several of the inhabitants, if ever they had found any shells in digging, who answered, that they had never met with any thing but different kinds of earth and sand.
There is one thing very remarkable, of which we had a proof: the wind is generally different in the bay to what it is in the river, for upon sailing into the bay we had as favourable a wind as could blow, but in the moment of entrance, it was directly the reverse, which is thus accounted for: the bay being surrounded on all sides, except one, with high mountains, and covered with tall woods, when the wind comes from the river, it strikes against some of these mountains, where it is repelled, and consequently takes an opposite direction.
The people who inhabit this bay, as likewise those settled lower down the river, seem very poor; they have the necessaries of life in abundance, but debar themselves of the comforts that should arise from them, living chiefly upon bread and milk, and carrying their other provisions, such as butter, cheese, flesh, poultry, eggs, &c. to market, where having disposed of them, they purchase cloaths, brandy, and dresses for the women. Yet notwithstanding their pauvre manner of living, they are always chearful and in high spirits.
Our object on going on shore was not so much to gratify our curiosity, as to procure some vegetables; and as the Captain of the ship could not speak a word of French, as indifferent a Frenchman as you know me to be, I was obliged to be the interpreter on this occasion. I however made the inhabitants understand me very well, till I asked for some potatoes, by the usual school term of pommes de terre, and by which I understand they are called in France; yet, notwithstanding the Canadians are allowed to speak as pure French as at Paris, I could not make them comprehend what it was I wanted, the man continually saying,
Monsieur, je suis bien faché de ne pouvoir comprendre ce que vous souhaitez; at the same time expressing great uneasiness, as I repeatedly assured him, que j'etois bien sur qu'il en avoit, which seemed to vex him still more. However, in walking over his plantation, I happened to see a parcel in the corner of a shed; pointing to them I said,
Voila ce queje demande, upon which, with great joy in his countenance, he exclaimed,
Oh! Monsieur, ces sont des putat, putat; adding, with great heartiness,
Qu'il etoit bien aise d'etre en etat de me satisfaire.
Upon my telling him, in England we called them pommes de terre, he added, with a remark which I should not have expected,
Que ce nom leur convenoit mieux que tout autre.
As I paid him very liberally for the vegetables we had of him, he said, with great expression of gratitude,
Ah! Monsieur, je me souviendrai toujours de vos bontés et des pommes de terre.
Canada, from the fertility of its soil, and the salubrity of its climate, you would naturally imagine, contributed greatly to its own prosperity; but these, as in most other situations, are counterbalanced by its disadvantages. Canada has only one river for its exports and imports, and even this is so blocked up with ice, as not to be navigable during six months, while heavy fogs render the navigation slow and difficult the remainder of the year. And although the produce of Canada is superior to that of the other provinces, still the latter, not having similar impediments to encounter, will always have a decided advantage over this, in the convenience of almost uninterrupted navigation.
The farm houses are mostly built of timber, consisting of three or four rooms, and in one they have an iron stove, which is rendered so hot, as to communicate sufficient warmth to the rest. The roofs are covered with boards, and the crevices and chinks of the timbers are filled with clay, and their out buildings are thatched with straw.
Below the bay of Gaspey there is an island, called
Isle Percée; on your approach to it, it has the appearance of the fragment of an old wall, being a steep rock of about thirty fathoms in length, ten in heighth, and four in breadth, which the pilot told us was reported formerly to have joined
Mont Joli, which stands opposite to it upon the Continent. This rock has in the center of it an opening, in the form of an arch (through which a small schooner might pass in full sail); from which circumstance, you will easily imagine, it derives its name of Isle Percée.
The last object that attracts your attention before you enter the harbour of Quebec, is the isle of Orleans, a most beautiful large island, situated in the middle of the river St. Laurence. It is seven leagues and a half long, and two broad, in the widest part, very high, with shores extremely steep and woody, though in some places there is a gradual descent to the river, and where that is the case, it is entirely free from woods, and upon these spots there are farm houses close to the shore.
The isle itself is well cultivated, and the eye is continually amused with large stone houses, corn fields, meadows, pastures and woods, with the addition of several good stone churches, some of which stand so close to the river, and it being Sunday when we passed the island, that we heard them at mass.
The river St. Laurence, till you come to this island, is mostly four or five leagues in breadth, but after you pass it, suddenly narrows, so as to be no more than a mile broad at Quebec, and from which circumstance this city derives its name, from the Indian word Quebeio, or Quebec, which signifies a strait or narrowing.
Shortly after we had passed this island, and turned Point Levy, we entered the harbour, which has the appearance of a large bay, for Point Levy stretches itself out towards the Isle of Orleans, so as to hide the south channel; and that island projects so as to conceal the north.
On entrance, you are struck with the grandeur and confusion and variety of objects that present themselves: fronting is the city; on the right is the beautiful fall of Montmorency, and a view up the river St. Charles; on the left there is an extensive view up the river St. Laurence, and over the falls of Montmorency; a delightful prospect of several leagues round the country, interspersed with the villages of Beauport, Charlebourg, & c. a particular account of which I shall give you in my next.
I am, yours, &c.
Quebec, October 27th, 1776
My dear friend,
IN my description of this province, you must not expect a tiresome detail of distances, or a romantic description of the country, but a few general observations, as I shall pass through the different parts of it, which are deserving notice.
This city, the capital of Canada, from the singularity of its situation, boasts of having that which no other city in the known world possesses, a fresh water harbour, an hundred and twenty leagues from the sea, capable of containing an hundred ships of the line; it is built in the form of an amphitheatre, on the declivity of a peninsula, formed by the rivers St. Laurence and St. Charles, and commands a prospect over extensive fields, which appears rich, lively and beautiful.
This city suffered so much during the long siege, last winter, that it will by no means answer the beautiful description given by that elegant writer Mrs. Brookes, in her Emily Montague, for many houses were destroyed for fuel, others to prevent harbouring the enemy, and shot and shells continually defacing and burning the rest, you must easily imagine, greatly contribute to destroy all ideas of regularity.
The city is divided into two towns, distinguished by the upper and the lower, which, during the siege, were separated by a strong stockade, which proved extremely fortunate for us, as the enemy got into the lower town, but not being able to keep possession, they set it on fire, and nearly destroyed the whole of it.
There are two communications from the lower to the upper town, the one for carriages, by a serpentine road up a very steep ascent, and the other for foot passengers, up a flight of steps cut out of the rock.
The carriage road to the upper town, as well as the streets in general, are almost impassable for either man or beast, never having been paved since the siege, when the pavement was entirely torn up, that the shells might bury themselves in the ground before they burst, whereby they were rendered less dangerous.
The distresses of the inhabitants in a besieged town, at all times are very great; but here they were rendered particularly so, from the extreme severity of the weather, being deprived of fuel, and compelled to reside in their cellars, as the only place that could afford them the least shelter.
The Governor's house stands upon an high eminence, and being bomb-proof, the family thought themselves in perfect security: from its elevation too, it was imagined to be out of the reach of cannon shot. One evening, however, they were rather unpleasantly convinced of their error, by a shot passing through an adjoining room to that in which they were playing at cards; this threw them into no little confusion, and obliged them to retire to that part of the house in which the other inhabitants were compelled to reside.
You may remember, some months before my departure from England, that Mr. W—, who is a
bon vivant, jocularly remarked, if he were confined to any single room, it should be the cellar; he was then at the Governor's, enjoying his favourite wish, happy as good company and good wine could make him, the sound of every cannon being the signal for a bumper.
A Major who was here during the siege, expressed his astonishment to me that the place held out so long, having an amazing severity of weather, and numberless other difficulties to encounter; and that its safety was entirely owing to the great exertions of General Carleton, who continually encouraged the inhabitants to action, for they chiefly composed the strength of the garrison.
The suburb of St. Fauxbourg is entirely destroyed, but that, as well as the lower town, is now rebuilding, and when compleated, must add greatly to the beauty of the city. There are several quays, and a convenient place for heaving down ships to be repaired, called
Cul de Sac, where the King's ships lay up during the winter, to preserve them from danger upon the freezing and breaking up of the ice, which is more hazardous than you can imagine; for unless the ships are got into this Cul de Sac in proper time, they are very much damaged, and sometimes totally lost, by the amazing islands of ice that float down the river.
This city is at present badly accommodated as to taverns, there being but one in the upper, and another in the lower town, both of them in the worst state imaginable; for although they provide good dinners, the rest of the accommodations are such as would disgrace the meanest public-house in London. No attendance whatever from servants; no separate apartments, and fifteen or twenty people are obliged to sleep in one room, about a yard apart from each other; usually deprived of natural rest in such vile dormitories, one scarcely feels refreshed the whole day, and let me assure you, since I have been here, I have not enjoyed a good night's repose, from the sonorous music I am surrounded with, arising from that natural and almost universal wind instrument, the nose. The owners of these taverns imagine, if they give good dinners and good wine, they perform wonders. This, however, may be said in their favour, as to accommodation, that this city has been for many months past in a very deranged state, owing to the late siege.
The Canadians of the higher class are very polite and attentive to strangers; a few days since, I was invited to dine with one of the principal merchants, chez Monsieur Roberdeau; the dinner was entirely after the French fashion, and displayed with much taste, but such was the perverseness of my English stomach, that it could not relish one of their made dishes; and although I endeavoured to eat, out of compliment, the master of the house perceived I did not do it with any gusto; he then said,
Ah! Monsieur, vous ne faites qu'arriver dans ce pays; quand vous aurez été avec nous un certain tems, vous aimerez beaucoup notre cuisine. Je suis bien faché que dans ce moment il ne se trouve rien à votre gout, mais quand vous me ferez l'honneur de venir une autrefois chez moi, j'aurai soin d'avoir du
que les Anglois aiment tant.
When the desert came, which was before the cloth was removed, I made amends for my not being able to eat at dinner, which the master of the house observing, said,
Ah! Monsieur, ce n'est pas que vous ne vous souciez pas des viandes, mais c'est que vous etes un peu comme les enfans, vous aimez les friandises; when, fearful lest I should be displeased at his raillery, with a politeness truly French, he filled his glass, and added,
Allons, Monsieur, versez et vive le Roi d'Angleterre.
Fearful of losing the opportunity that now presents itself of conveying this to England, I have but just time subscribe myself,
Quebec, October 30th, 1776
My dear friend,
THE hasty conclusion I was obliged to put to my last, having prevented me from entering so fully into the description of this city as I had intended, I now transmit to you some further particulars relative to its siege, and the religion of its inhabitants.
The causeway by which General Montgomery made his attack, is not more than twenty-four feet wide; on one side is a lofty perpendicular rock, and on the other a steep precipice, without any fence, down to the river; this causeway was defended by two strong barriers, and were I induced to give an opinion, nothing but a desperate effort could justify the attack. The event fatally proved it; for upon the advance of the enemy, the first barrier was abandoned, which, after they had broke down, flushed with success, and the hopes of easily gaining the upper town, they rushed on (with an intrepidity that might expect every thing from their valor) to the second barrier, where two pieces of cannon were concealed, and upon their approach were immediately fired, when great numbers of them were killed and wounded, and in their retreat many fell down the precipice; this defeat greatly contributed to put an end to the siege, the termination of which, had nearly been frustrated, by the eager impetuosity of the sailors, who were posted with those guns, as they could scarcely be restrained from firing them when the enemy attacked the first barrier, which, if they had done, the slaughter would not have been so great, nor the enemy perhaps have lost their brave Commander. But by the threats of the officers upon duty at that post, the guns were not fired till the enemy were within a few yards of them; and as they advanced abreast, as many as the causeway would admit of, you may easily conceive what havoc there must have been amongst them.
In this daring enterprize fell a man, who lived long enough to establish a reputation,
Quod nec Jovis ira nec ignis, nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere vetustas, as no doubt it will be handed down by the Americans to the latest ages. He died too soon for the support of that unnatural faction, to which, from mistaken principles, he was deeply attached; and being a man worthy of some notice, you shall know the little history I have been able to collect of him.
In the last war he was an officer in our service, and distinguished himself in several instances. At the peace he came over to this country, and married an American lady, where by his conduct and agreeable manners, he was respected as much as if he had been a native; and being, from his marriage and long residence in the country, considered as a man fit to be trusted with a command, he was appointed Brigadier General by the Congress; this commission he wished to decline, feeling a compunction, as a native of Great Britain, and once in the King's service, to bear arms against his Sovereign. His wavering inclination was unfortunately subdued, by the overpersuasion of a fond wife, whom he loved most affectionately, and the importunate solicitation of his relations and friends. When he had taken a decided part, his conduct fully corresponded with the high opinion that had been formed of his abilities and fidelity. No one who lived so short a time in their employ, could render them more important services, or do their cause more honor.
When he had been induced to sacrifice the happiness he enjoyed in private life, and enter into the service of the Congress, he was then absolved from all views adverse to their party (of which he had been suspected) and considered as a man who took a part in the cause from conscience and principle. In this light he was viewed while living, and spoken of when dead. He had the singular felicity of being equally esteemed by the friends and foes of the party he espoused; the latter acknowledged his worth, though they reprobated the cause in which he fell. To the praise of General Carleton, his remains were, by the General's order, interred with all military honors.
Very shortly after this repulse, an American soldier, in attempting to step out of his batteaux, at Wolfe's Cove, fell into the water, and catching hold of a flake of ice that was floating down the river, he got upon it, and was carried down the stream. As he passed Quebec close to the shore, he was seen by a centinel, who observing a man in distress, called out for help, when numbers flew to his assistance, and found him motionless; by the help of spirituous liquors, with some difficulty they brought him to life for a moment, and just recovering speech enough to tell them, that the city would not long be in our possession, he instantly expired.
A mile from the city is a Convent, that was once possessed of a beautiful garden, but this, as well as their chapel, with the images and other ornaments of their religion, are greatly injured. The enemy, after taking possession of the Convent, converted it into an hospital, and compelled the nuns to attend upon their sick and wounded; and what was still more persecuting to their religion than to their wishes, several of the nuns, after they had abandoned it, proved capable of in some measure making up for the ravages of war, by producing what may in future become the strength and support of their country.
There are several churches in each town, but those in the upper are the most magnificent, and have sustained the least damage. The largest of these churches, and what may be termed the cathedral, has nothing worthy of notice, except a handsome steeple; it is entirely roofed with slate, and is the only building I observed that has this advantage, they being all covered with shingles. It is much ornamented in the inside; the gallery is bold, light, and well wrought, surrounded with an iron ballustrade, painted and gilt, of curious workmanship; one thing, however, appears very singular, that the pulpit is likewise gilt, and seems to, have had more labor bestowed upon, than it is ever likely to have within it; there are three altars handsomely designed, and some good pictures; it is without any dome or cupola, having only a flat ceiling, very curiously ornamented; it is not as in most Cathedrals, paved with stone, but floored with planks, which makes this church the more supportable in winter; in others you are generally starved to death with cold. After the Romish service is over, on a Sunday, the Governor, with the officers and soldiers of the garrison, and the Protestant inhabitants of the city, resort thither to their worship. This little circumstance I mention to you, as the passing of the Quebec bill made such a noise in England; clearly to shew there is no animosity among the inhabitants, on the score of religion. Where the Canadians, who constitute the principal part of the inhabitants of this province, did not interfere with our religion, I cannot but think it was a very necessary and politic step in Government to tolerate theirs; as at the time the bill passed, it was judged proper to make this sacrifice to them, in order to gain their affections, which seemed to be wavering, whether they should not join the other provinces in rebellion against England.
For my own part, I am led to imagine, from the conversation I have had with several of the principal inhabitants, they never were in the least apprehensive of their religion being suppressed, but that idea was instilled into their minds by some party at home, who, I am sorry to observe, are more dangerous than any enemy we can possibly have abroad.
With all the advantages of the laws of our constitution, the toleration of their religion, and the blessings of liberty, the Canadians are by no means well affected to the English Government, but have a strong propensity to be under the protection of the French; and, I am confident, would assist the Americans, had we not such a powerful force in this province.
The garrison of this city, and a few inhabitants at Montreal, are staunch to the interests of Government; for their fidelity and courage have been proved; upon the commencement of the siege, the General ordered every one out of the city, that he could entertain the least suspicion of, none of whom have since made their appearance.
The army is now returning from the Lakes, and at present the garrison consists of Colonel Maclean's regiment, and the recruits lately arrived from England; the 34th regiment is daily expected, as the army is getting into winter quarters. General Carleton and General Burgoyne are both here, the latter of whom sails for England in a few days.
My friend Captain W—n, who is embarking for that country where my fondest wishes are placed, will deliver you this: he has just called upon me for my letters. I must therefore conclude. You shall hear from me by the latest ship that sails.
Quebec, Nov. 4th, 1776
My dear friend,
VISITING two or three of the villages round this city, has enabled me to give you some little description of the country and its inhabitants.
About Charlebourg and Beauport it is rather
champaign, but becomes more woody towards Lorette. The farm houses interspersed about the country are very numerous, and being generally whitened on the outside, form a neat and picturesque appearance: their houses mostly consist of one floor, very few having a story to them, which gives rise to the idea, that the Canadians will tell a story well, though they never make one.
You would be pleased to find them extremely neat in their houses, very attentive to their cattle, and careful of the stock on their farms. They are at present employed in cutting and getting in wood for the winter, for themselves and the market, for though it is so early, there has been a severe fall of snow; wood-cutting continues all this month, and in December, when the winter is set in, it is carried into the city upon sleighs over the snow, being a much easier conveyance than with carts, as the roads are so intolerably bad.
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