Letters from an American Farmer
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur

Part 3 out of 4

coast of America abounds. By degrees they went a-whaling to
Newfoundland, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the Straits of
Belleisle, the coast of Labrador, Davis's Straits, even to Cape
Desolation, in 70 degrees of latitude; where the Danes carry on some
fisheries in spite of the perpetual severities of the inhospitable
climate. In process of time they visited the western islands, the
latitude of 34 degrees famous for that fish, the Brazils, the coast
of Guinea. Would you believe that they have already gone to the
Falkland Islands, and that I have heard several of them talk of
going to the South Sea! Their confidence is so great, and their
knowledge of this branch of business so superior to that of any
other people, that they have acquired a monopoly of this commodity.
Such were their feeble beginnings, such the infancy and the progress
of their maritime schemes; such is now the degree of boldness and
activity to which they are arrived in their manhood. After their
examples several companies have been formed in many of our capitals,
where every necessary article of provisions, implements, and timber,
are to be found. But the industry exerted by the people of
Nantucket, hath hitherto enabled them to rival all their
competitors; consequently this is the greatest mart for oil,
whalebone, and spermaceti, on the continent. It does not follow
however that they are always successful, this would be an
extraordinary field indeed, where the crops should never fail; many
voyages do not repay the original cost of fitting out: they bear
such misfortunes like true merchants, and as they never venture
their all like gamesters, they try their fortunes again; the latter
hope to win by chance alone, the former by industry, well judged
speculation, and some hazard. I was there when Mr.----had missed one
of his vessels; she had been given over for lost by everybody, but
happily arrived before I came away, after an absence of thirteen
months. She had met with a variety of disappointments on the station
she was ordered to, and rather than return empty, the people steered
for the coast of Guinea, where they fortunately fell in with several
whales, and brought home upward of 600 barrels of oil, beside bone.
Those returns are sometimes disposed of in the towns on the
continent, where they are exchanged for such commodities as are
wanted; but they are most commonly sent to England, where they
always sell for cash. When this is intended, a vessel larger than
the rest is fitted out to be filled with oil on the spot where it is
found and made, and thence she sails immediately for London. This
expedient saves time, freight, and expense; and from that capital
they bring back whatever they want. They employ also several vessels
in transporting lumber to the West Indian Islands, from whence they
procure in return the various productions of the country, which they
afterwards exchange wherever they can hear of an advantageous
market. Being extremely acute they well know how to improve all the
advantages which the combination of so many branches of business
constantly affords; the spirit of commerce, which is the simple art
of a reciprocal supply of wants, is well understood here by
everybody. They possess, like the generality of Americans, a large
share of native penetration, activity, and good sense, which lead
them to a variety of other secondary schemes too tedious to mention:
they are well acquainted with the cheapest method of procuring
lumber from Kennebeck river, Penobscot, etc., pitch and tar, from
North Carolina; flour and biscuit, from Philadelphia; beef and pork,
from Connecticut. They know how to exchange their cod fish and West-
Indian produce, for those articles which they are continually either
bringing to their island, or sending off to other places where they
are wanted. By means of all these commercial negotiations, they have
greatly cheapened the fitting out of their whaling fleets, and
therefore much improved their fisheries. They are indebted for all
these advantages not only to their national genius but to the
poverty of their soil; and as proof of what I have so often
advanced, look at the Vineyard (their neighbouring island) which is
inhabited by a set of people as keen and as sagacious as themselves.
Their soil being in general extremely fertile, they have fewer
navigators; though they are equally well situated for the fishing
business. As in my way back to Falmouth on the main, I visited this
sister island, permit me to give you as concisely as I can, a short
but true description of it; I am not so limited in the principal
object of this journey, as to wish to confine myself to the single
spot of Nantucket.



This island is twenty miles in length, and from seven to eight miles
in breadth. It lies nine miles from the continent, and with the
Elizabeth Islands forms one of the counties of Massachusetts Bay,
known by the name of Duke's County. Those latter, which are six in
number, are about nine miles distant from the Vineyard, and are all
famous for excellent dairies. A good ferry is established between
the Edgar Town, and Falmouth on the main, the distance being nine
miles. Martha's Vineyard is divided into three townships, viz.
Edgar, Chilmark, and Tisbury; the number of inhabitants is computed
at about 4000, 300 of which are Indians. Edgar is the best seaport,
and the shire town, and as its soil is light and sandy, many of its
inhabitants follow the example of the people of Nantucket. The town
of Chilmark has no good harbour, but the land is excellent and no
way inferior to any on the continent: it contains excellent
pastures, convenient brooks for mills, stone for fencing, etc. The
town of Tisbury is remarkable for the excellence of its timber, and
has a harbour where the water is deep enough for ships of the line.
The stock of the island is 20,000 sheep, 2000 neat cattle, beside
horses and goats; they have also some deer, and abundance of sea-
fowls. This has been from the beginning, and is to this day, the
principal seminary of the Indians; they live on that part of the
island which is called Chapoquidick, and were very early
christianised by the respectable family of the Mahews, the first
proprietors of it. The first settler of that name conveyed by will
to a favourite daughter a certain part of it, on which there grew
many wild vines; thence it was called Martha's Vineyard, after her
name, which in process of time extended to the whole island. The
posterity of the ancient Aborigines remain here to this day, on
lands which their forefathers reserved for themselves, and which are
religiously kept from any encroachments. The New England people are
remarkable for the honesty with which they have fulfilled, all over
that province, those ancient covenants which in many others have
been disregarded, to the scandal of those governments. The Indians
there appeared, by the decency of their manners, their industry, and
neatness, to be wholly Europeans, and nowise inferior to many of the
inhabitants. Like them they are sober, laborious, and religious,
which are the principal characteristics of the four New England
provinces. They often go, like the young men of the Vineyard, to
Nantucket, and hire themselves for whalemen or fishermen; and indeed
their skill and dexterity in all sea affairs is nothing inferior to
that of the whites. The latter are divided into two classes, the
first occupy the land, which they till with admirable care and
knowledge; the second, who are possessed of none, apply themselves
to the sea, the general resource of mankind in this part of the
world. This island therefore, like Nantucket, is become a great
nursery which supplies with pilots and seamen the numerous coasters
with which this extended part of America abounds. Go where you will
from Nova Scotia to the Mississippi, you will find almost everywhere
some natives of these two islands employed in seafaring occupations.
Their climate is so favourable to population, that marriage is the
object of every man's earliest wish; and it is a blessing so easily
obtained, that great numbers are obliged to quit their native land
and go to some other countries in quest of subsistence. The
inhabitants are all Presbyterians, which is the established religion
of Massachusetts; and here let me remember with gratitude the
hospitable treatment I received from B. Norton, Esq., the colonel of
the island, as well as from Dr. Mahew, the lineal descendant of the
first proprietor. Here are to be found the most expert pilots,
either for the great bay, their sound, Nantucket shoals, or the
different ports in their neighbourhood. In stormy weather they are
always at sea, looking out for vessels, which they board with
singular dexterity, and hardly ever fail to bring safe to their
intended harbour. Gay-Head, the western point of this island,
abounds with a variety of ochres of different colours, with which
the inhabitants paint their houses.

The vessels most proper for whale fishing are brigs of about 150
tons burthen, particularly when they are intended for distant
latitudes; they always man them with thirteen hands, in order that
they may row two whale-boats; the crews of which must necessarily
consist of six, four at the oars, one standing on the bows with the
harpoon, and the other at the helm. It is also necessary that there
should be two of these boats, that if one should be destroyed in
attacking the whale, the other, which is never engaged at the same
time, may be ready to save the hands. Five of the thirteen are
always Indians; the last of the complement remains on board to steer
the vessel during the action. They have no wages; each draws a
certain established share in partnership with the proprietor of the
vessel; by which economy they are all proportionately concerned in
the success of the enterprise, and all equally alert and vigilant.
None of these whalemen ever exceed the age of forty: they look on
those who are past that period not to be possessed of all that
vigour and agility which so adventurous a business requires. Indeed
if you attentively consider the immense disproportion between the
object assailed and the assailants; if you think on the diminutive
size, and weakness of their frail vehicle; if you recollect the
treachery of the element on which this scene is transacted; the
sudden and unforeseen accidents of winds, etc., you will readily
acknowledge that it must require the most consummate exertion of all
the strength, agility, and judgment, of which the bodies and minds
of men are capable, to undertake these adventurous encounters.

As soon as they arrive in those latitudes where they expect to meet
with whales, a man is sent up to the mast head; if he sees one, he
immediately cries out AWAITE PAWANA, here is a whale: they all
remain still and silent until he repeats PAWANA, a whale, when in
less than six minutes the two boats are launched, filled with every
implement necessary for the attack. They row toward the whale with
astonishing velocity; and as the Indians early became their fellow-
labourers in this new warfare, you can easily conceive how the
Nattick expressions became familiar on board the whale-boats.
Formerly it often happened that whale vessels were manned with none
but Indians and the master; recollect also that the Nantucket people
understand the Nattick, and that there are always five of these
people on board. There are various ways of approaching the whale,
according to their peculiar species; and this previous knowledge is
of the utmost consequence. When these boats are arrived at a
reasonable distance, one of them rests on its oars and stands off,
as a witness of the approaching engagement; near the bows of the
other the harpooner stands up, and on him principally depends the
success of the enterprise. He wears a jacket closely buttoned, and
round his head a handkerchief tightly bound: in his hands he holds
the dreadful weapon, made of the best steel, marked sometimes with
the name of their town, and sometimes with that of their vessel; to
the shaft of which the end of a cord of due length, coiled up with
the utmost care in the middle of the boat, is firmly tied; the other
end is fastened to the bottom of the boat. Thus prepared they row in
profound silence, leaving the whole conduct of the enterprise to the
harpooner and to the steersman, attentively following their
directions. When the former judges himself to be near enough to the
whale, that is, at the distance of about fifteen feet, he bids them
stop; perhaps she has a calf, whose safety attracts all the
attention of the dam, which is a favourable circumstance; perhaps
she is of a dangerous species, and it is safest to retire, though
their ardour will seldom permit them; perhaps she is asleep, in that
case he balances high the harpoon, trying in this important moment
to collect all the energy of which he is capable. He launches it
forth--she is struck: from her first movements they judge of her
temper, as well as of their future success. Sometimes in the
immediate impulse of rage, she will attack the boat and demolish it
with one stroke of her tail; in an instant the frail vehicle
disappears and the assailants are immersed in the dreadful element.
Were the whale armed with the jaws of a shark, and as voracious,
they never would return home to amuse their listening wives with the
interesting tale of the adventure. At other times she will dive and
disappear from human sight; and everything must give way to her
velocity, or else all is lost. Sometimes she will swim away as if
untouched, and draw the cord with such swiftness that it will set
the edge of the boat on fire by the friction. If she rises before
she has run out the whole length, she is looked upon as a sure prey.
The blood she has lost in her flight, weakens her so much, that if
she sinks again, it is but for a short time; the boat follows her
course with almost equal speed. She soon re-appears; tired at last
with convulsing the element; which she tinges with her blood, she
dies, and floats on the surface. At other times it may happen that
she is not dangerously wounded, though she carries the harpoon fast
in her body; when she will alternately dive and rise, and swim on
with unabated vigour. She then soon reaches beyond the length of the
cord, and carries the boat along with amazing velocity: this sudden
impediment sometimes will retard her speed, at other times it only
serves to rouse her anger, and to accelerate her progress. The
harpooner, with the axe in his hands, stands ready. When he observes
that the bows of the boat are greatly pulled down by the diving
whale, and that it begins to sink deep and to take much water, he
brings the axe almost in contact with the cord; he pauses, still
flattering himself that she will relax; but the moment grows
critical, unavoidable danger approaches: sometimes men more intent
on gain, than on the preservation of their lives, will run great
risks; and it is wonderful how far these people have carried their
daring courage at this awful moment! But it is vain to hope, their
lives must be saved, the cord is cut, the boat rises again. If after
thus getting loose, she re-appears, they will attack and wound her a
second time. She soon dies, and when dead she is towed alongside of
their vessel, where she is fastened.

The next operation is to cut with axes and spades, every part of her
body which yields oil; the kettles are set a boiling, they fill
their barrels as fast as it is made; but as this operation is much
slower than that of cutting up, they fill the hold of their ship
with those fragments, lest a storm should arise and oblige them to
abandon their prize. It is astonishing what a quantity of oil some
of these fish will yield, and what profit it affords to those who
are fortunate enough to overtake them.

The river St. Lawrence whale, which is the only one I am well
acquainted with, is seventy-five feet long, sixteen deep, twelve in
the length of its bone, which commonly weighs 3000 lbs., twenty in
the breadth of their tails and produces 180 barrels of oil: I once
saw 16 boiled out of the tongue only. After having once vanquished
this leviathan, there are two enemies to be dreaded beside the wind;
the first of which is the shark: that fierce voracious fish, to
which nature has given such dreadful offensive weapons, often comes
alongside, and in spite of the people's endeavours, will share with
them their prey; at night particularly. They are very mischievious,
but the second enemy is much more terrible and irresistible; it is
the killer, sometimes called the thrasher, a species of whales about
thirty feet long. They are possessed of such a degree of agility and
fierceness, as often to attack the largest spermaceti whales, and
not seldom to rob the fishermen of their prey; nor is there any
means of defence against so potent an adversary. When all their
barrels are full, for everything is done at sea, or when their
limited time is expired and their stores almost expended, they
return home, freighted with their valuable cargo; unless they have
put it on board a vessel for the European market. Such are, as
briefly as I can relate them, the different branches of the economy
practised by these bold navigators, and the method with which they
go such distances from their island to catch this huge game.

The following are the names and principal characteristics of the
various species of whales known to these people:

The St. Lawrence whale, just described.

The disko, or Greenland ditto.

The right whale, or seven feet bone, common on the coasts of this
country, about sixty feet long. The spermaceti whale, found all over
the world, and of all sizes; the longest are sixty feet, and yield
about 100 barrels of oil.

The hump-backs, on the coast of Newfoundland, from forty to seventy
feet in length.

The finn-back, an American whale, never killed, as being too swift.

The sulphur-bottom, river St. Lawrence, ninety foot long; they are
but seldom killed, as being extremely swift.

The grampus, thirty feet long, never killed on the same account.

The killer or thrasher, about thirty feet; they often kill the other
whales with which they are at perpetual war.

The black fish whale, twenty feet, yields from eight to ten barrels.

The porpoise, weighing about 160 lb.

In 1769 they fitted out 125 whalemen; the first fifty that returned
brought with them 11,000 barrels of oil. In 1770 they fitted out 135
vessels for the fisheries, at thirteen hands each; four West-
Indiamen, twelve hands; twenty-five wood vessels, four hands;
eighteen coasters, five hands; fifteen London traders, eleven hands.
All these amount to 2158 hands, employed in 197 vessels. Trace their
progressive steps between the possession of a few whale-boats, and
that of such a fleet!

The moral conduct, prejudices, and customs of a people who live two-
thirds of their time at sea, must naturally be very different from
those of their neighbours, who live by cultivating the earth. That
long abstemiousness to which the former are exposed, the breathing
of saline air, the frequent repetitions of danger, the boldness
acquired in surmounting them, the very impulse of the winds, to
which they are exposed; all these, one would imagine must lead them,
when on shore, to no small desire of inebriation, and a more eager
pursuit of those pleasures, of which they have been so long
deprived, and which they must soon forego. There are many appetites
that may be gratified on shore, even by the poorest man, but which
must remain unsatisfied at sea. Yet notwithstanding the powerful
effects of all these causes, I observed here, at the return of their
fleets, no material irregularities; no tumultuous drinking
assemblies: whereas in our continental towns, the thoughtless seaman
indulges himself in the coarsest pleasures; and vainly thinking that
a week of debauchery can compensate for months of abstinence,
foolishly lavishes in a few days of intoxication, the fruits of half
a year's labour. On the contrary all was peace here, and a general
decency prevailed throughout; the reason I believe is, that almost
everybody here is married, for they get wives very young; and the
pleasure of returning to their families absorbs every other desire.
The motives that lead them to the sea, are very different from those
of most other sea-faring men; it is neither idleness nor profligacy
that sends them to that element; it is a settled plan of life, a
well founded hope of earning a livelihood; it is because their soil
is bad, that they are early initiated to this profession, and were
they to stay at home, what could they do? The sea therefore becomes
to them a kind of patrimony; they go to whaling with as much
pleasure and tranquil indifference, with as strong an expectation of
success, as a landsman undertakes to clear a piece of swamp. The
first is obliged to advance his time, and labour, to procure oil on
the surface of the sea; the second advances the same to procure
himself grass from grounds that produced nothing before but hassocks
and bogs. Among those who do not use the sea, I observed the same
calm appearance as among the inhabitants on the continent; here I
found, without gloom, a decorum and reserve, so natural to them,
that I thought myself in Philadelphia. At my landing I was cordially
received by those to whom I was recommended, and treated with
unaffected hospitality by such others with whom I became acquainted;
and I can tell you, that it is impossible for any traveller to dwell
here one month without knowing the heads of the principal families.
Wherever I went I found a simplicity of diction and manners, rather
more primitive and rigid than I expected; and I soon perceived that
it proceeded from their secluded situation, which has prevented them
from mixing with others. It is therefore easy to conceive how they
have retained every degree of peculiarity for which this sect was
formerly distinguished. Never was a bee-hive more faithfully
employed in gathering wax, bee-bread, and honey, from all the
neighbouring fields, than are the members of this society; every one
in the town follows some particular occupation with great diligence,
but without that servility of labour which I am informed prevails in
Europe. The mechanic seemed to be descended from as good parentage,
was as well dressed and fed, and held in as much estimation as those
who employed him; they were once nearly related; their different
degrees of prosperity is what has caused the various shades of their
community. But this accidental difference has introduced, as yet,
neither arrogance nor pride on the one part, nor meanness and
servility on the other. All their houses are neat, convenient, and
comfortable; some of them are filled with two families, for when the
husbands are at sea, the wives require less house-room. They all
abound with the most substantial furniture, more valuable from its
usefulness than from any ornamental appearance. Wherever I went, I
found good cheer, a welcome reception; and after the second visit I
felt myself as much at my ease as if I had been an old acquaintance
of the family. They had as great plenty of everything as if their
island had been part of the golden quarter of Virginia (a valuable
track of land on Cape Charles): I could hardly persuade myself that
I had quitted the adjacent continent, where everything abounds, and
that I was on a barren sand-bank, fertilised with whale oil only. As
their rural improvements are but trifling, and only of the useful
kind, and as the best of them are at a considerable distance from
the town, I amused myself for several days in conversing with the
most intelligent of the inhabitants of both sexes, and making myself
acquainted with the various branches of their industry; the
different objects of their trade; the nature of that sagacity which,
deprived as they are of every necessary material, produce, etc., yet
enables them to flourish, to live well, and sometimes to make
considerable fortunes. The whole is an enigma to be solved only by
coming to the spot and observing the national genius which the
original founders brought with them, as well as their unwearied
patience and perseverance. They have all, from the highest to the
lowest, a singular keenness of judgment, unassisted by any
academical light; they all possess a large share of good sense,
improved upon the experience of their fathers; and this is the
surest and best guide to lead us through the path of life, because
it approaches nearest to the infallibility of instinct. Shining
talents and University knowledge, would be entirely useless here,
nay, would be dangerous; it would pervert their plain judgment, it
would lead them out of that useful path which is so well adapted to
their situation; it would make them more adventurous, more
presumptuous, much less cautious, and therefore less successful. It
is pleasing to hear some of them tracing a father's progress and
their own, through the different vicissitudes of good and adverse
fortune. I have often, by their fire-sides, travelled with them the
whole length of their career, from their earliest steps, from their
first commercial adventure, from the possession of a single whale-
boat, up to that of a dozen large vessels! This does not imply,
however, that every one who began with a whale-boat, has ascended to
a like pitch of fortune; by no means, the same casualty, the same
combination of good and evil which attends human affairs in every
other part of the globe, prevails here: a great prosperity is not
the lot of every man, but there are many and various gradations; if
they all do not attain riches, they all attain an easy subsistence.
After all, is it not better to be possessed of a single whale-boat,
or a few sheep pastures; to live free and independent under the
mildest governments, in a healthy climate, in a land of charity and
benevolence; than to be wretched as so many are in Europe,
possessing nothing but their industry: tossed from one rough wave to
another; engaged either in the most servile labours for the smallest
pittance, or fettered with the links of the most irksome dependence,
even without the hopes of rising?

The majority of those inferior hands which are employed in this
fishery, many of the mechanics, such as coopers, smiths, caulkers,
carpenters, etc., who do not belong to the society of Friends, are
Presbyterians, and originally came from the main. Those who are
possessed of the greatest fortunes at present belong to the former;
but they all began as simple whalemen: it is even looked upon as
honourable and necessary for the son of the wealthiest man to serve
an apprenticeship to the same bold, adventurous business which has
enriched his father; they go several voyages, and these early
excursions never fail to harden their constitutions, and introduce
them to the knowledge of their future means of subsistence.



As I observed before, every man takes a wife as soon as he chooses,
and that is generally very early; no portion is required, none is
expected; no marriage articles are drawn up among us, by skilful
lawyers, to puzzle and lead posterity to the bar, or to satisfy the
pride of the parties. We give nothing with our daughters, their
education, their health, and the customary out-set, are all that the
fathers of numerous families can afford: as the wife's fortune
consists principally in her future economy, modesty, and skilful
management; so the husband's is founded on his abilities to labour,
on his health, and the knowledge of some trade or business. Their
mutual endeavours, after a few years of constant application, seldom
fail of success, and of bringing them the means to rear and support
the new race which accompanies the nuptial bed. Those children born
by the sea-side, hear the roaring of its waves as soon as they are
able to listen; it is the first noise with which they become
acquainted, and by early plunging in it they acquire that boldness,
that presence of mind, and dexterity, which makes them ever after
such expert seamen. They often hear their fathers recount the
adventures of their youth, their combats with the whales; and these
recitals imprint on their opening minds an early curiosity and taste
for the same life. They often cross the sea to go to the main, and
learn even in those short voyages how to qualify themselves for
longer and more dangerous ones; they are therefore deservedly
conspicuous for their maritime knowledge and experience, all over
the continent. A man born here is distinguishable by his gait from
among an hundred other men, so remarkable are they for a pliability
of sinews, and a peculiar agility, which attends them even to old
age. I have heard some persons attribute this to the effects of the
whale oil, with which they are so copiously anointed in the various
operations it must undergo ere it is fit either for the European
market or the candle manufactory.

But you may perhaps be solicitous to ask, what becomes of that
exuberancy of population which must arise from so much temperance,
from healthiness of climate, and from early marriage? You may justly
conclude that their native island and town can contain but a limited
number. Emigration is both natural and easy to a maritime people,
and that is the very reason why they are always populous,
problematical as it may appear. They yearly go to different parts of
this continent, constantly engaged in sea affairs; as our internal
riches increase, so does our external trade, which consequently
requires more ships and more men: sometimes they have emigrated like
bees, in regular and connected swarms. Some of the Friends (by which
word I always mean the people called Quakers) fond of a
contemplative life, yearly visit the several congregations which
this society has formed throughout the continent. By their means a
sort of correspondence is kept up among them all; they are generally
good preachers, friendly censors, checking vice wherever they find
it predominating; preventing relaxations in any parts of their
ancient customs and worship. They everywhere carry admonition and
useful advice; and by thus travelling they unavoidably gather the
most necessary observations concerning the various situations of
particular districts, their soils, their produce, their distance
from navigable rivers, the price of land, etc. In consequence of
informations of this kind, received at Nantucket in the year 1766, a
considerable number of them purchased a large track of land in the
county of Orange, in North Carolina, situated on the several spring
heads of Deep River, which is the western branch of Cape Fear, or
North-West River. The advantage of being able to convey themselves
by sea, to within forty miles of the spot, the richness of the soil,
etc., made them cheerfully quit an island on which there was no
longer any room for them. There they have founded a beautiful
settlement, known by the name of New Garden, contiguous to the
famous one which the Moravians have at Bethabara, Bethamia, and
Salem, on Yadkin River. No spot of earth can be more beautiful; it
is composed of gentle hills, of easy declivities, excellent low
lands, accompanied by different brooks which traverse this
settlement. I never saw a soil that rewards men so early for their
labours and disbursements; such in general with very few exceptions,
are the lands which adjoin the innumerable heads of all the large
rivers which fall into the Chesapeak, or flow through the provinces
of North and South Carolina, Georgia, etc. It is perhaps the most
pleasing, the most bewitching country which the continent affords;
because while it preserves an easy communication with the sea-port
towns, at some seasons of the year, it is perfectly free from the
contagious air often breathed in those flat countries, which are
more contiguous to the Atlantic. These lands are as rich as those
over the Alleghany; the people of New Garden are situated at the
distance of between 200 and 300 miles from Cape Fear; Cape Fear is
at least 450 from Nantucket: you may judge therefore that they have
but little correspondence with this their little metropolis, except
it is by means of the itinerant Friends. Others have settled on the
famous river Kennebeck, in that territory of the province of
Massachusetts, which is known by the name of Sagadahock. Here they
have softened the labours of clearing the heaviest timbered land in
America, by means of several branches of trade which their fair
river, and proximity to the sea affords them. Instead of entirely
consuming their timber, as we are obliged to do, some parts of it
are converted into useful articles for exportation, such as staves,
scantlings, boards, hoops, poles, etc. For that purpose they keep a
correspondence with their native island, and I know many of the
principal inhabitants of Sherburn, who, though merchants, and living
at Nantucket, yet possess valuable farms on that river; from whence
they draw great part of their subsistence, meat, grain, fire-wood,
etc. The title of these lands is vested in the ancient Plymouth
Company, under the powers of which the Massachusetts was settled;
and that company which resides in Boston, are still the granters of
all the vacant lands within their limits.

Although this part of the province is so fruitful, and so happily
situated, yet it has been singularly overlooked and neglected: it is
surprising that the excellence of that soil which lies on the river
should not have caused it to be filled before now with inhabitants;
for the settlements from thence to Penobscot are as yet but in their
infancy. It is true that immense labour is required to make room for
the plough, but the peculiar strength and quality of the soil never
fails most amply to reward the industrious possessor; I know of no
soil in this country more rich or more fertile. I do not mean that
sort of transitory fertility which evaporates with the sun, and
disappears in a few years; here on the contrary, even their highest
grounds are covered with a rich moist swamp mould, which bears the
most luxuriant grass, and never-failing crops of grain.

If New Gardens exceeds this settlement by the softness of its
climate, the fecundity of its soil, and a greater variety of produce
from less labour; it does not breed men equally hardy, nor capable
to encounter dangers and fatigues. It leads too much to idleness and
effeminacy; for great is the luxuriance of that part of America, and
the ease with which the earth is cultivated. Were I to begin life
again, I would prefer the country of Kennebeck to the other, however
bewitching; the navigation of the river for above 200 miles, the
great abundance of fish it contains, the constant healthiness of the
climate, the happy severities of the winters always sheltering the
earth with a voluminous coat of snow, the equally happy necessity of
labour: all these reasons would greatly preponderate against the
softer situations of Carolina; where mankind reap too much, do not
toil enough, and are liable to enjoy too fast the benefits of life.
There are many I know who would despise my opinion, and think me a
bad judge; let those go and settle at the Ohio, the Monongahela, Red
Stone Creek, etc., let them go and inhabit the extended shores of
that superlative river; I with equal cheerfulness would pitch my
tent on the rougher shores of Kennebeck; this will always be a
country of health, labour, and strong activity, and those are
characteristics of society which I value more than greater opulence
and voluptuous ease.

Thus though this fruitful hive constantly sends out swarms, as
industrious as themselves, yet it always remains full without having
any useless drones: on the contrary it exhibits constant scenes of
business and new schemes; the richer an individual grows, the more
extensive his field of action becomes; he that is near ending his
career, drudges on as well as he who has just begun it; nobody
stands still. But is it not strange, that after having accumulated
riches, they should never wish to exchange their barren situation
for a more sheltered, more pleasant one on the main? Is it not
strange, that after having spent the morning and the meridian of
their days amidst the jarring waves, weary with the toils of a
laborious life, they should not wish to enjoy the evenings of those
days of industry in a larger society, on some spots of terra firma,
where the severity of the winters is balanced by a variety of more
pleasing scenes, not to be found here? But the same magical power of
habit and custom which makes the Laplander, the Siberian, the
Hottentot, prefer their climates, their occupations, and their soil,
to more beneficial situations, leads these good people to think,
that no other spot on the globe is so analagous to their
inclinations as Nantucket. Here their connections are formed; what
would they do at a distance removed from them? Live sumptuously, you
will say, procure themselves new friends, new acquaintances, by
their splendid tables, by their ostentatious generosity, and by
affected hospitality. These are thoughts that have never entered
into their heads; they would be filled with horror at the thought of
forming wishes and plans so different from that simplicity, which is
their general standard in affluence as well as in poverty. They
abhor the very idea of expending in useless waste and vain luxuries,
the fruits of prosperous labour; they are employed in establishing
their sons and in many other useful purposes: strangers to the
honours of monarchy they do not aspire to the possession of affluent
fortunes, with which to purchase sounding titles, and frivolous

Yet there are not at Nantucket so many wealthy people as one would
imagine after having considered their great successes, their
industry, and their knowledge. Many die poor, though hardly able to
reproach Fortune with a frown; others leave not behind them that
affluence which the circle of their business and of their prosperity
naturally promised. The reason of this is, I believe, the peculiar
expense necessarily attending their tables; for as their island
supplies the town with little or nothing (a few families excepted)
every one must procure what they want from the main. The very hay
their horses consume, and every other article necessary to support a
family, though cheap in a country of so great abundance as
Massachusetts; yet the necessary waste and expenses attending their
transport, render these commodities dear. A vast number of little
vessels from the main, and from the Vineyard, are constantly
resorting here, as to a market. Sherburn is extremely well supplied
with everything, but this very constancy of supply, necessarily
drains off a great deal of money. The first use they make of their
oil and bone is to exchange it for bread and meat, and whatever else
they want; the necessities of a large family are very great and
numerous, let its economy be what it will; they are so often
repeated, that they perpetually draw off a considerable branch of
the profits. If by any accidents those profits are interrupted, the
capital must suffer; and it very often happens that the greatest
part of their property is floating on the sea.

There are but two congregations in this town. They assemble every
Sunday in meeting houses, as simple as the dwelling of the people;
and there is but one priest on the whole island. What would a good
Portuguese observe?--But one single priest to instruct a whole
island, and to direct their consciences! It is even so; each
individual knows how to guide his own, and is content to do it, as
well as he can. This lonely clergyman is a Presbyterian minister,
who has a very large and respectable congregation; the other is
composed of Quakers, who you know admit of no particular person, who
in consequence of being ordained becomes exclusively entitled to
preach, to catechise, and to receive certain salaries for his
trouble. Among them, every one may expound the Scriptures, who
thinks he is called so to do; beside, as they admit of neither
sacrament, baptism, nor any other outward forms whatever, such a man
would be useless. Most of these people are continually at sea, and
have often the most urgent reasons to worship the Parent of Nature
in the midst of the storms which they encounter. These two sects
live in perfect peace and harmony with each other; those ancient
times of religious discords are now gone (I hope never to return)
when each thought it meritorious, not only to damn the other, which
would have been nothing, but to persecute and murther one another,
for the glory of that Being, who requires no more of us, than that
we should love one another and live! Every one goes to that place of
worship which he likes best, and thinks not that his neighbour does
wrong by not following him; each busily employed in their temporal
affairs, is less vehement about spiritual ones, and fortunately you
will find at Nantucket neither idle drones, voluptuous devotees,
ranting enthusiasts, nor sour demagogues. I wish I had it in my
power to send the most persecuting bigot I could find in----to the
whale fisheries; in less than three or four years you would find him
a much more tractable man, and therefore a better Christian.

Singular as it may appear to you, there are but two medical
professors on the island; for of what service can physic be in a
primitive society, where the excesses of inebriation are so rare?
What need of galenical medicines, where fevers, and stomachs loaded
by the loss of the digestive powers, are so few? Temperance, the
calm of passions, frugality, and continual exercise, keep them
healthy, and preserve unimpaired that constitution which they have
received from parents as healthy as themselves; who in the
unpolluted embraces of the earliest and chastest love, conveyed to
them the soundest bodily frame which nature could give. But as no
habitable part of this globe is exempt from some diseases,
proceeding either from climate or modes of living; here they are
sometimes subject to consumptions and to fevers. Since the
foundation of that town no epidemical distempers have appeared,
which at times cause such depopulations in other countries; many of
them are extremely well acquainted with the Indian methods of curing
simple diseases, and practise them with success. You will hardly
find anywhere a community, composed of the same number of
individuals, possessing such uninterrupted health, and exhibiting so
many green old men, who show their advanced age by the maturity of
their wisdom, rather than by the wrinkles of their faces; and this
is indeed one of the principal blessings of the island, which richly
compensates their want of the richer soils of the south; where iliac
complaints and bilious fevers, grow by the side of the sugar cane,
the ambrosial ananas, etc. The situation of this island, the purity
of the air, the nature of their marine occupations, their virtue and
moderation, are the causes of that vigour and health which they
possess. The poverty of their soil has placed them, I hope, beyond
the danger of conquest, or the wanton desire of extirpation. Were
they to be driven from this spot, the only acquisition of the
conquerors would be a few acres of land, inclosed and cultivated; a
few houses, and some movables. The genius, the industry of the
inhabitants would accompany them; and it is those alone which
constitute the sole wealth of their island. Its present fame would
perish, and in a few years it would return to its pristine state of
barrenness and poverty: they might perhaps be allowed to transport
themselves in their own vessels to some other spot or island, which
they would soon fertilise by the same means with which they have
fertilised this.

One single lawyer has of late years found means to live here, but
his best fortune proceeds more from having married one of the
wealthiest heiresses of the island, than from the emoluments of his
practice: however he is sometimes employed in recovering money lent
on the main, or in preventing those accidents to which the
contentious propensity of its inhabitants may sometimes expose them.
He is seldom employed as the means of self-defence, and much
seldomer as the channel of attack; to which they are strangers,
except the fraud is manifest, and the danger imminent. Lawyers are
so numerous in all our populous towns, that I am surprised they
never thought before of establishing themselves here: they are
plants that will grow in any soil that is cultivated by the hands of
others; and when once they have taken root they will extinguish
every other vegetable that grows around them. The fortunes they
daily acquire in every province, from the misfortunes of their
fellow-citizens, are surprising! The most ignorant, the most
bungling member of that profession, will, if placed in the most
obscure part of the country, promote litigiousness, and amass more
wealth without labour, than the most opulent farmer, with all his
toils. They have so dexterously interwoven their doctrines and
quirks with the laws of the land, or rather they are become so
necessary an evil in our present constitutions, that it seems
unavoidable and past all remedy. What a pity that our forefathers,
who happily extinguished so many fatal customs, and expunged from
their new government so many errors and abuses, both religious and
civil, did not also prevent the introduction of a set of men so
dangerous! In some provinces, where every inhabitant is constantly
employed in tilling and cultivating the earth, they are the only
members of society who have any knowledge; let these provinces
attest what iniquitous use they have made of that knowledge.

They are here what the clergy were in past centuries with you; the
reformation which clipped the clerical wings, is the boast of that
age, and the happiest event that could possibly happen; a
reformation equally useful is now wanted, to relieve us from the
shameful shackles and the oppressive burthen under which we groan;
this perhaps is impossible; but if mankind would not become too
happy, it were an event most devoutly to be wished.

Here, happily, unoppressed with any civil bondage, this society of
fishermen and merchants live, without any military establishments,
without governors or any masters but the laws; and their civil code
is so light, that it is never felt. A man may pass (as many have
done whom I am acquainted with) through the various scenes of a long
life, may struggle against a variety of adverse fortune, peaceably
enjoy the good when it comes, and never in that long interval, apply
to the law either for redress or assistance. The principal benefit
it confers is the general protection of individuals, and this
protection is purchased by the most moderate taxes, which are
cheerfully paid, and by the trifling duties incident in the course
of their lawful trade (for they despise contraband). Nothing can be
more simple than their municipal regulations, though similar to
those of the other counties of the same province; because they are
more detached from the rest, more distinct in their manners, as well
as in the nature of the business they pursue, and more unconnected
with the populous province to which they belong. The same simplicity
attends the worship they pay to the Divinity; their elders are the
only teachers of their congregations, the instructors of their
youth, and often the example of their flock. They visit and comfort
the sick; after death, the society bury them with their fathers,
without pomp, prayers, or ceremonies; not a stone or monument is
erected, to tell where any person was buried; their memory is
preserved by tradition. The only essential memorial that is left of
them, is their former industry, their kindness, their charity, or
else their most conspicuous faults.

The Presbyterians live in great charity with them, and with one
another; their minister as a true pastor of the gospel, inculcates
to them the doctrines it contains, the rewards it promises, the
punishments it holds out to those who shall commit injustice.
Nothing can be more disencumbered likewise from useless ceremonies
and trifling forms than their mode of worship; it might with great
propriety have been called a truly primitive one, had that of the
Quakers never appeared. As fellow Christians, obeying the same
legislator, they love and mutually assist each other in all their
wants; as fellow labourers they unite with cordiality and without
the least rancour in all their temporal schemes: no other emulation
appears among them but in their sea excursions, in the art of
fitting out their vessels; in that of sailing, in harpooning the
whale, and in bringing home the greatest harvest. As fellow subjects
they cheerfully obey the same laws, and pay the same duties: but let
me not forget another peculiar characteristic of this community:
there is not a slave I believe on the whole island, at least among
the Friends; whilst slavery prevails all around them, this society
alone, lamenting that shocking insult offered to humanity, have
given the world a singular example of moderation, disinterestedness,
and Christian charity, in emancipating their negroes. I shall
explain to you farther, the singular virtue and merit to which it is
so justly entitled by having set before the rest of their fellow-
subjects, so pleasing, so edifying a reformation. Happy the people
who are subject to so mild a government; happy the government which
has to rule over such harmless, and such industrious subjects!

While we are clearing forests, making the face of nature smile,
draining marshes, cultivating wheat, and converting it into flour;
they yearly skim from the surface of the sea riches equally
necessary. Thus, had I leisure and abilities to lead you through
this continent, I could show you an astonishing prospect very little
known in Europe; one diffusive scene of happiness reaching from the
sea-shores to the last settlements on the borders of the wilderness:
an happiness, interrupted only by the folly of individuals, by our
spirit of litigiousness, and by those unforeseen calamities, from
which no human society can possibly be exempted. May the citizens of
Nantucket dwell long here in uninterrupted peace, undisturbed either
by the waves of the surrounding element, or the political commotions
which sometimes agitate our continent.



The manners of the Friends are entirely founded on that simplicity
which is their boast, and their most distinguished characteristic;
and those manners have acquired the authority of laws. Here they are
strongly attached to plainness of dress, as well as to that of
language; insomuch that though some part of it may be ungrammatical,
yet should any person who was born and brought up here, attempt to
speak more correctly, he would be looked upon as a fop or an
innovator. On the other hand, should a stranger come here and adopt
their idiom in all its purity (as they deem it) this accomplishment
would immediately procure him the most cordial reception; and they
would cherish him like an ancient member of their society. So many
impositions have they suffered on this account, that they begin now
indeed to grow more cautious. They are so tenacious of their ancient
habits of industry and frugality, that if any of them were to be
seen with a long coat made of English cloth, on any other than the
first-day (Sunday), he would be greatly ridiculed and censured; he
would be looked upon as a careless spendthrift, whom it would be
unsafe to trust, and in vain to relieve. A few years ago two single-
horse chairs were imported from Boston, to the great offence of
these prudent citizens; nothing appeared to them more culpable than
the use of such gaudy painted vehicles, in contempt of the more
useful and more simple single-horse carts of their fathers. This
piece of extravagant and unknown luxury almost caused a schism, and
set every tongue a-going; some predicted the approaching ruin of
those families that had imported them; others feared the dangers of
example; never since the foundation of the town had there happened
anything which so much alarmed this primitive community. One of the
possessors of these profane chairs, filled with repentance, wisely
sent it back to the continent; the other, more obstinate and
perverse, in defiance to all remonstrances, persisted in the use of
his chair until by degrees they became more reconciled to it; though
I observed that the wealthiest and the most respectable people still
go to meeting or to their farms in a single-horse cart with a decent
awning fixed over it: indeed, if you consider their sandy soil, and
the badness of their roads, these appear to be the best contrived
vehicles for this island.

Idleness is the most heinous sin that can be committed in Nantucket:
an idle man would soon be pointed out as an object of compassion:
for idleness is considered as another word for want and hunger. This
principle is so thoroughly well understood, and is become so
universal, so prevailing a prejudice, that literally speaking, they
are never idle. Even if they go to the market-place, which is (if I
may be allowed the expression) the coffee-house of the town, either
to transact business, or to converse with their friends; they always
have a piece of cedar in their hands, and while they are talking,
they will, as it were instinctively, employ themselves in converting
it into something useful, either in making bungs or spoyls for their
oil casks, or other useful articles. I must confess, that I have
never seen more ingenuity in the use of the knife; thus the most
idle moments of their lives become usefully employed. In the many
hours of leisure which their long cruises afford them, they cut and
carve a variety of boxes and pretty toys, in wood, adapted to
different uses; which they bring home as testimonies of remembrance
to their wives or sweethearts. They have showed me a variety of
little bowls and other implements, executed cooper-wise, with the
greatest neatness and elegance. You will be pleased to remember they
are all brought up to the trade of coopers, be their future
intentions or fortunes what they may; therefore almost every man in
this island has always two knives in his pocket, one much larger
than the other; and though they hold everything that is called
fashion in the utmost contempt, yet they are as difficult to please,
and as extravagant in the choice and price of their knives, as any
young buck in Boston would be about his hat, buckles, or coat. As
soon as a knife is injured, or superseded by a more convenient one,
it is carefully laid up in some corner of their desk. I once saw
upwards of fifty thus preserved at Mr.----'s, one of the worthiest
men on this island; and among the whole, there was not one that
perfectly resembled another. As the sea excursions are often very
long, their wives in their absence are necessarily obliged to
transact business, to settle accounts, and in short, to rule and
provide for their families. These circumstances being often
repeated, give women the abilities as well as a taste for that kind
of superintendency, to which, by their prudence and good management,
they seem to be in general very equal. This employment ripens their
judgment, and justly entitles them to a rank superior to that of
other wives; and this is the principal reason why those of Nantucket
as well as those of Montreal [Footnote: Most of the merchants and
young men of Montreal spend the greatest part of their time in
trading with the Indians, at an amazing distance from Canada; and it
often happens that they are three years together absent from home.]
are so fond of society, so affable, and so conversant with the
affairs of the world. The men at their return, weary with the
fatigues of the sea, full of confidence and love, cheerfully give
their consent to every transaction that has happened during their
absence, and all is joy and peace. "Wife, thee hast done well," is
the general approbation they receive, for their application and
industry. What would the men do without the agency of these faithful
mates? The absence of so many of them at particular seasons, leaves
the town quite desolate; and this mournful situation disposes the
women to go to each other's house much oftener than when their
husbands are at home: hence the custom of incessant visiting has
infected every one, and even those whose husbands do not go abroad.
The house is always cleaned before they set out, and with peculiar
alacrity they pursue their intended visit, which consists of a
social chat, a dish of tea, and an hearty supper. When the good man
of the house returns from his labour, he peaceably goes after his
wife and brings her home; meanwhile the young fellows, equally
vigilant, easily find out which is the most convenient house, and
there they assemble with the girls of the neighbourhood. Instead of
cards, musical instruments, or songs, they relate stories of their
whaling voyages, their various sea adventures, and talk of the
different coasts and people they have visited. "The island of
Catharine in the Brazil," says one, "is a very droll island, it is
inhabited by none but men; women are not permitted to come in sight
of it; not a woman is there on the whole island. Who among us is not
glad it is not so here? The Nantucket girls and boys beat the
world." At this innocent sally the titter goes round, they whisper
to one another their spontaneous reflections: puddings, pies, and
custards never fail to be produced on such occasions; for I believe
there never were any people in their circumstances, who live so
well, even to superabundance. As inebriation is unknown, and music,
singing, and dancing, are held in equal detestation, they never
could fill all the vacant hours of their lives without the repast of
the table. Thus these young people sit and talk, and divert
themselves as well as they can; if any one has lately returned from
a cruise, he is generally the speaker of the night; they often all
laugh and talk together, but they are happy, and would not exchange
their pleasures for those of the most brilliant assemblies in
Europe. This lasts until the father and mother return; when all
retire to their respective homes, the men re-conducting the partners
of their affections.

Thus they spend many of the youthful evenings of their lives; no
wonder therefore, that they marry so early. But no sooner have they
undergone this ceremony than they cease to appear so cheerful and
gay; the new rank they hold in the society impresses them with more
serious ideas than were entertained before. The title of master of a
family necessarily requires more solid behaviour and deportment; the
new wife follows in the trammels of Custom, which are as powerful as
the tyranny of fashion; she gradually advises and directs; the new
husband soon goes to sea, he leaves her to learn and exercise the
new government, in which she is entered. Those who stay at home are
full as passive in general, at least with regard to the inferior
departments of the family. But you must not imagine from this
account that the Nantucket wives are turbulent, of high temper, and
difficult to be ruled; on the contrary, the wives of Sherburn in so
doing, comply only with the prevailing custom of the island: the
husbands, equally submissive to the ancient and respectable manners
of their country, submit, without ever suspecting that there can be
any impropriety. Were they to behave otherwise, they would be afraid
of subverting the principles of their society by altering its
ancient rules; thus both parties are perfectly satisfied, and all is
peace and concord. The richest person now in the island owes all his
present prosperity and success to the ingenuity of his wife: this is
a known fact which is well recorded; for while he was performing his
first cruises, she traded with pins and needles, and kept a school.
Afterward she purchased more considerable articles, which she sold
with so much judgment, that she laid the foundation of a system of
business, that she has ever since prosecuted with equal dexterity
and success. She wrote to London, formed connections, and, in short,
became the only ostensible instrument of that house, both at home
and abroad. Who is he in this country, and who is a citizen of
Nantucket or Boston, who does not know Aunt Kesiah? I must tell you
that she is the wife of Mr. C----n, a very respectable man, who,
well pleased with all her schemes, trusts to her judgment, and
relies on her sagacity, with so entire a confidence, as to be
altogether passive to the concerns of his family. They have the best
country seat on the island, at Quayes, where they live with
hospitality, and in perfect union. He seems to be altogether the
contemplative man.

To this dexterity in managing the husband's business whilst he is
absent, the Nantucket wives unite a great deal of industry. They
spin, or cause to be spun in their houses, abundance of wool and
flax; and would be for ever disgraced and looked upon as idlers if
all the family were not clad in good, neat, and sufficient home-spun
cloth. First Days are the only seasons when it is lawful for both
sexes to exhibit some garments of English manufacture; even these
are of the most moderate price, and of the gravest colours: there is
no kind of difference in their dress, they are all clad alike, and
resemble in that respect the members of one family.

A singular custom prevails here among the women, at which I was
greatly surprised; and am really at a loss how to account for the
original cause that has introduced in this primitive society so
remarkable a fashion, or rather so extraordinary a want. They have
adopted these many years the Asiatic custom of taking a dose of
opium every morning; and so deeply rooted is it, that they would be
at a loss how to live without this indulgence; they would rather be
deprived of any necessary than forego their favourite luxury. This
is much more prevailing among the women than the men, few of the
latter having caught the contagion; though the sheriff, whom I may
call the first person in the island, who is an eminent physician
beside, and whom I had the pleasure of being well acquainted with,
has for many years submitted to this custom. He takes three grains
of it every day after breakfast, without the effects of which, he
often told me, he was not able to transact any business.

It is hard to conceive how a people always happy and healthy, in
consequence of the exercise and labour they undergo, never oppressed
with the vapours of idleness, yet should want the fictitious effects
of opium to preserve that cheerfulness to which their temperance,
their climate, their happy situation so justly entitle them. But
where is the society perfectly free from error or folly; the least
imperfect is undoubtedly that where the greatest good preponderates;
and agreeable to this rule, I can truly say, that I never was
acquainted with a less vicious, or more harmless one.

The majority of the present inhabitants are the descendants of the
twenty-seven first proprietors, who patenteed the island; of the
rest, many others have since come over among them, chiefly from the
Massachusetts: here are neither Scotch, Irish, nor French, as is the
case in most other settlements; they are an unmixed English breed.
The consequence of this extended connection is, that they are all in
some degree related to each other: you must not be surprised
therefore when I tell you, that they always call each other cousin,
uncle or aunt; which are become such common appellations, that no
other are made use of in their daily intercourse: you would be
deemed stiff and affected were you to refuse conforming yourself to
this ancient custom, which truly depicts the image of a large
family. The many who reside here that have not the least claim of
relationship with any one in the town, yet by the power of custom
make use of no other address in their conversation. Were you here
yourself but a few days, you would be obliged to adopt the same
phraseology, which is far from being disagreeable, as it implies a
general acquaintance and friendship, which connects them all in
unity and peace.

Their taste for fishing has been so prevailing, that it has
engrossed all their attention, and even prevented them from
introducing some higher degree of perfection in their agriculture.
There are many useful improvements which might have meliorated their
soil; there are many trees which if transplanted here would have
thriven extremely well, and would have served to shelter as well as
decorate the favourite spots they have so carefully manured. The red
cedar, the locust, [Footnote: A species of what we call here the
two-thorn acacia: it yields the most valuable timber we have, and
its shade is very beneficial to the growth and goodness of the
grass.] the button wood, I am persuaded would have grown here
rapidly and to a great size, with many others; but their thoughts
are turned altogether toward the sea. The Indian corn begins to
yield them considerable crops, and the wheat sown on its stocks is
become a very profitable grain; rye will grow with little care; they
might raise if they would, an immense quantity of buck-wheat.

Such an island inhabited as I have described, is not the place where
gay travellers should resort, in order to enjoy that variety of
pleasures the more splendid towns of this continent afford. Not that
they are wholly deprived of what we might call recreations, and
innocent pastimes; but opulence, instead of luxuries and
extravagancies, produces nothing more here than an increase of
business, an additional degree of hospitality, greater neatness in
the preparation of dishes, and better wines. They often walk and
converse with each other, as I have observed before; and upon
extraordinary occasions, will take a ride to Palpus, where there is
an house of entertainment; but these rural amusements are conducted
upon the same plan of moderation, as those in town. They are so
simple as hardly to be described; the pleasure of going and
returning together; of chatting and walking about, of throwing the
bar, heaving stones, etc., are the only entertainments they are
acquainted with. This is all they practise, and all they seem to
desire. The house at Palpus is the general resort of those who
possess the luxury of a horse and chaise, as well as of those who
still retain, as the majority do, a predilection for their primitive
vehicle. By resorting to that place they enjoy a change of air, they
taste the pleasures of exercise; perhaps an exhilarating bowl, not
at all improper in this climate, affords the chief indulgence known
to these people, on the days of their greatest festivity. The
mounting a horse, must afford a most pleasing exercise to those men
who are so much at sea. I was once invited to that house, and had
the satisfaction of conducting thither one of the many beauties of
that island (for it abounds with handsome women) dressed in all the
bewitching attire of the most charming simplicity: like the rest of
the company, she was cheerful without loud laughs, and smiling
without affectation. They all appeared gay without levity. I had
never before in my life seen so much unaffected mirth, mixed with so
much modesty. The pleasures of the day were enjoyed with the
greatest liveliness and the most innocent freedom; no disgusting
pruderies, no coquettish airs tarnished this enlivening assembly:
they behaved according to their native dispositions, the only rules
of decorum with which they were acquainted. What would an European
visitor have done here without a fiddle, without a dance, without
cards? He would have called it an insipid assembly, and ranked this
among the dullest days he bad ever spent. This rural excursion had a
very great affinity to those practised in our province, with this
difference only, that we have no objection to the sportive dance,
though conducted by the rough accents of some self-taught African
fiddler. We returned as happy as we went; and the brightness of the
moon kindly lengthened a day which had past, like other agreeable
ones, with singular rapidity.

In order to view the island in its longest direction from the town,
I took a ride to the easternmost parts of it, remarkable only for
the Pochick Rip, where their best fish are caught. I past by the
Tetoukemah lots, which are the fields of the community; the fences
were made of cedar posts and rails, and looked perfectly straight
and neat; the various crops they enclosed were flourishing: thence I
descended into Barrey's Valley, where the blue and the spear grass
looked more abundant than I had seen on any other part of the
island; thence to Gib's Pond; and arrived at last at Siasconcet.
Several dwellings had been erected on this wild shore, for the
purpose of sheltering the fishermen in the season of fishing; I
found them all empty, except that particular one to which I had been
directed. It was like the others, built on the highest part of the
shore, in the face of the great ocean; the soil appeared to be
composed of no other stratum but sand, covered with a thinly
scattered herbage. What rendered this house still more worthy of
notice in my eyes, was, that it had been built on the ruins of one
of the ancient huts, erected by the first settlers, for observing
the appearance of the whales. Here lived a single family without a
neighbour; I had never before seen a spot better calculated to
cherish contemplative ideas; perfectly unconnected with the great
world, and far removed from its perturbations. The ever raging ocean
was all that presented itself to the view of this family; it
irresistibly attracted my whole attention: my eyes were
involuntarily directed to the horizontal line of that watery
surface, which is ever in motion, and ever threatening destruction
to these shores. My ears were stunned with the roar of its waves
rolling one over the other, as if impelled by a superior force to
overwhelm the spot on which I stood. My nostrils involuntarily
inhaled the saline vapours which arose from the dispersed particles
of the foaming billows, or from the weeds scattered on the shores.
My mind suggested a thousand vague reflections, pleasing in the hour
of their spontaneous birth, but now half forgot, and all indistinct:
and who is the landman that can behold without affright so singular
an element, which by its impetuosity seems to be the destroyer of
this poor planet, yet at particular times accumulates the scattered
fragments and produces islands and continents fit for men to dwell
on! Who can observe the regular vicissitudes of its waters without
astonishment; now swelling themselves in order to penetrate through
every river and opening, and thereby facilitate navigation; at other
times retiring from the shores, to permit man to collect that
variety of shell fish which is the support of the poor? Who can see
the storms of wind, blowing sometimes with an impetuosity
sufficiently strong even to move the earth, without feeling himself
affected beyond the sphere of common ideas? Can this wind which but
a few days ago refreshed our American fields, and cooled us in the
shade, be the same element which now and then so powerfully
convulses the waters of the sea, dismasts vessels, causes so many
shipwrecks, and such extensive desolations? How diminutive does a
man appear to himself when filled with these thoughts, and standing
as I did on the verge of the ocean! This family lived entirely by
fishing, for the plough has not dared yet to disturb the parched
surface of the neighbouring plain; and to what purpose could this
operation be performed! Where is it that mankind will not find
safety, peace, and abundance, with freedom and civil happiness?
Nothing was wanting here to make this a most philosophical retreat,
but a few ancient trees, to shelter contemplation in its beloved
solitude. There I saw a numerous family of children of various ages-
-the blessings of an early marriage; they were ruddy as the cherry,
healthy as the fish they lived on, hardy as the pine knots: the
eldest were already able to encounter the boisterous waves, and
shuddered not at their approach; early initiating themselves in the
mysteries of that seafaring career, for which they were all
intended: the younger, timid as yet, on the edge of a less agitated
pool, were teaching themselves with nut-shells and pieces of wood,
in imitation of boats, how to navigate in a future day the larger
vessels of their father, through a rougher and deeper ocean. I
stayed two days there on purpose to become acquainted with the
different branches of their economy, and their manner of living in
this singular retreat. The clams, the oysters of the shores, with
the addition of Indian Dumplings, [Footnote: Indian Dumplings are a
peculiar preparation of Indian meal, boiled in large lumps.]
constituted their daily and most substantial food. Larger fish were
often caught on the neighbouring rip; these afforded them their
greatest dainties; they had likewise plenty of smoked bacon. The
noise of the wheels announced the industry of the mother and
daughters; one of them had been bred a weaver, and having a loom in
the house, found means of clothing the whole family; they were
perfectly at ease, and seemed to want for nothing. I found very few
books among these people, who have very little time for reading; the
Bible and a few school tracts, both in the Nattick and English
languages, constituted their most numerous libraries. I saw indeed
several copies of Hudibras, and Josephus; but no one knows who first
imported them. It is something extraordinary to see this people,
professedly so grave, and strangers to every branch of literature,
reading with pleasure the former work, which should seem to require
some degree of taste, and antecedent historical knowledge. They all
read it much, and can by memory repeat many passages; which yet I
could not discover that they understood the beauties of. Is it not a
little singular to see these books in the hands of fishermen, who
are perfect strangers almost to any other? Josephus's history is
indeed intelligible, and much fitter for their modes of education
and taste; as it describes the history of a people from whom we have
received the prophecies which we believe, and the religious laws
which we follow.

Learned travellers, returned from seeing the paintings and
antiquities of Rome and Italy, still filled with the admiration and
reverence they inspire, would hardly be persuaded that so
contemptible a spot, which contains nothing remarkable but the
genius and the industry of its inhabitants, could ever be an object
worthy attention. But I, having never seen the beauties which Europe
contains, cheerfully satisfy myself with attentively examining what
my native country exhibits: if we have neither ancient
amphitheatres, gilded palaces, nor elevated spires; we enjoy in our
woods a substantial happiness which the wonders of art cannot
communicate. None among us suffer oppression either from government
or religion; there are very few poor except the idle, and
fortunately the force of example, and the most ample encouragement,
soon create a new principle of activity, which had been extinguished
perhaps in their native country, for want of those opportunities
which so often compel honest Europeans to seek shelter among us. The
means of procuring subsistence in Europe are limited; the army may
be full, the navy may abound with seamen, the land perhaps wants no
additional labourers, the manufacturer is overcharged with
supernumerary hands; what then must become of the unemployed? Here,
on the contrary, human industry has acquired a boundless field to
exert itself in--a field which will not be fully cultivated in many



Charles-town is, in the north, what Lima is in the south; both are
Capitals of the richest provinces of their respective hemispheres:
you may therefore conjecture, that both cities must exhibit the
appearances necessarily resulting from riches. Peru abounding in
gold, Lima is filled with inhabitants who enjoy all those gradations
of pleasure, refinement, and luxury, which proceed from wealth.
Carolina produces commodities, more valuable perhaps than gold,
because they are gained by greater industry; it exhibits also on our
northern stage, a display of riches and luxury, inferior indeed to
the former, but far superior to what are to be seen in our northern
towns. Its situation is admirable, being built at the confluence of
two large rivers, which receive in their course a great number of
inferior streams; all navigable in the spring, for flat boats. Here
the produce of this extensive territory concentres; here therefore
is the seat of the most valuable exportation; their wharfs, their
docks, their magazines, are extremely convenient to facilitate this
great commercial business. The inhabitants are the gayest in
America; it is called the centre of our beau monde, and is always
filled with the richest planters of the province, who resort hither
in quest of health and pleasure. Here are always to be seen a great
number of valetudinarians from the West Indies, seeking for the
renovation of health, exhausted by the debilitating nature of their
sun, air, and modes of living. Many of these West Indians have I
seen, at thirty, loaded with the infirmities of old age; for nothing
is more common in those countries of wealth, than for persons to
lose the abilities of enjoying the comforts of life, at a time when
we northern men just begin to taste the fruits of our labour and
prudence. The round of pleasure, and the expenses of those citizens'
tables, are much superior to what you would imagine: indeed the
growth of this town and province has been astonishingly rapid. It is
pity that the narrowness of the neck on which it stands prevents it
from increasing; and which is the reason why houses are so dear. The
heat of the climate, which is sometimes very great in the interior
parts of the country, is always temperate in Charles-Town; though
sometimes when they have no sea breezes the sun is too powerful. The
climate renders excesses of all kinds very dangerous, particularly
those of the table; and yet, insensible or fearless of danger, they
live on, and enjoy a short and a merry life: the rays of their sun
seem to urge them irresistibly to dissipation and pleasure: on the
contrary, the women, from being abstemious, reach to a longer period
of life, and seldom die without having had several husbands. An
European at his first arrival must be greatly surprised when he sees
the elegance of their houses, their sumptuous furniture, as well as
the magnificence of their tables. Can he imagine himself in a
country, the establishment of which is so recent?

The three principal classes of inhabitants are, lawyers, planters,
and merchants; this is the province which has afforded to the first
the richest spoils, for nothing can exceed their wealth, their
power, and their influence. They have reached the ne plus ultra of
worldly felicity; no plantation is secured, no title is good, no
will is valid, but what they dictate, regulate, and approve. The
whole mass of provincial property is become tributary to this
society; which, far above priests and bishops, disdain to be
satisfied with the poor Mosaical portion of the tenth. I appeal to
the many inhabitants, who, while contending perhaps for their right
to a few hundred acres, have lost by the mazes of the law their
whole patrimony. These men are more properly law givers than
interpreters of the law; and have united here, as well as in most
other provinces, the skill and dexterity of the scribe with the
power and ambition of the prince: who can tell where this may lead
in a future day? The nature of our laws, and the spirit of freedom,
which often tends to make us litigious, must necessarily throw the
greatest part of the property of the colonies into the hands of
these gentlemen. In another century, the law will possess in the
north, what now the church possesses in Peru and Mexico.

While all is joy, festivity, and happiness in Charles-Town, would
you imagine that scenes of misery overspread in the country? Their
ears by habit are become deaf, their hearts are hardened; they
neither see, hear, nor feel for the woes of their poor slaves, from
whose painful labours all their wealth proceeds. Here the horrors of
slavery, the hardship of incessant toils, are unseen; and no one
thinks with compassion of those showers of sweat and of tears which
from the bodies of Africans, daily drop, and moisten the ground they
till. The cracks of the whip urging these miserable beings to
excessive labour, are far too distant from the gay Capital to be
heard. The chosen race eat, drink, and live happy, while the
unfortunate one grubs up the ground, raises indigo, or husks the
rice; exposed to a sun full as scorching as their native one;
without the support of good food, without the cordials of any
cheering liquor. This great contrast has often afforded me subjects
of the most conflicting meditation. On the one side, behold a people
enjoying all that life affords most bewitching and pleasurable,
without labour, without fatigue, hardly subjected to the trouble of
wishing. With gold, dug from Peruvian mountains, they order vessels
to the coasts of Guinea; by virtue of that gold, wars, murders, and
devastations are committed in some harmless, peaceable African
neighbourhood, where dwelt innocent people, who even knew not but
that all men were black. The daughter torn from her weeping mother,
the child from the wretched parents, the wife from the loving
husband; whole families swept away and brought through storms and
tempests to this rich metropolis! There, arranged like horses at a
fair, they are branded like cattle, and then driven to toil, to
starve, and to languish for a few years on the different plantations
of these citizens. And for whom must they work? For persons they
know not, and who have no other power over them than that of
violence, no other right than what this accursed metal has given
them! Strange order of things! Oh, Nature, where art thou?--Are not
these blacks thy children as well as we? On the other side, nothing
is to be seen but the most diffusive misery and wretchedness,
unrelieved even in thought or wish! Day after day they drudge on
without any prospect of ever reaping for themselves; they are
obliged to devote their lives, their limbs, their will, and every
vital exertion to swell the wealth of masters; who look not upon
them with half the kindness and affection with which they consider
their dogs and horses. Kindness and affection are not the portion of
those who till the earth, who carry the burdens, who convert the
logs into useful boards. This reward, simple and natural as one
would conceive it, would border on humanity; and planters must have
none of it!

If negroes are permitted to become fathers, this fatal indulgence
only tends to increase their misery: the poor companions of their
scanty pleasures are likewise the companions of their labours; and
when at some critical seasons they could wish to see them relieved,
with tears in their eyes they behold them perhaps doubly oppressed,
obliged to bear the burden of nature--a fatal present--as well as
that of unabated tasks. How many have I seen cursing the
irresistible propensity, and regretting, that by having tasted of
those harmless joys, they had become the authors of double misery to
their wives. Like their masters, they are not permitted to partake
of those ineffable sensations with which nature inspires the hearts
of fathers and mothers; they must repel them all, and become callous
and passive. This unnatural state often occasions the most acute,
the most pungent of their afflictions; they have no time, like us,
tenderly to rear their helpless off-spring, to nurse them on their
knees, to enjoy the delight of being parents. Their paternal
fondness is embittered by considering, that if their children live,
they must live to be slaves like themselves; no time is allowed them
to exercise their pious office, the mothers must fasten them on
their backs, and, with this double load, follow their husbands in
the fields, where they too often hear no other sound than that of
the voice or whip of the taskmaster, and the cries of their infants,
broiling in the sun. These unfortunate creatures cry and weep like
their parents, without a possibility of relief; the very instinct of
the brute, so laudable, so irresistible, runs counter here to their
master's interest; and to that god, all the laws of nature must give
way. Thus planters get rich; so raw, so unexperienced am I in this
mode of life, that were I to be possessed of a plantation, and my
slaves treated as in general they are here, never could I rest in
peace; my sleep would be perpetually disturbed by a retrospect of
the frauds committed in Africa, in order to entrap them; frauds
surpassing in enormity everything which a common mind can possibly
conceive. I should be thinking of the barbarous treatment they meet
with on ship-board; of their anguish, of the despair necessarily
inspired by their situation, when torn from their friends and
relations; when delivered into the hands of a people differently
coloured, whom they cannot understand; carried in a strange machine
over an ever agitated element, which they had never seen before; and
finally delivered over to the severities of the whippers, and the
excessive labours of the field. Can it be possible that the force of
custom should ever make me deaf to all these reflections, and as
insensible to the injustice of that trade, and to their miseries, as
the rich inhabitants of this town seem to be? What then is man; this
being who boasts so much of the excellence and dignity of his
nature, among that variety of unscrutable mysteries, of unsolvable
problems, with which he is surrounded? The reason why man has been
thus created, is not the least astonishing! It is said, I know that
they are much happier here than in the West Indies; because land
being cheaper upon this continent than in those islands, the fields
allowed them to raise their subsistence from, are in general more
extensive. The only possible chance of any alleviation depends on
the humour of the planters, who, bred in the midst of slaves, learn
from the example of their parents to despise them; and seldom
conceive either from religion or philosophy, any ideas that tend to
make their fate less calamitous; except some strong native
tenderness of heart, some rays of philanthropy, overcome the
obduracy contracted by habit.

I have not resided here long enough to become insensible of pain for
the objects which I every day behold. In the choice of my friends
and acquaintance, I always endeavour to find out those whose
dispositions are somewhat congenial with my own. We have slaves
likewise in our northern provinces; I hope the time draws near when
they will be all emancipated: but how different their lot, how
different their situation, in every possible respect! They enjoy as
much liberty as their masters, they are as well clad, and as well
fed; in health and sickness they are tenderly taken care of; they
live under the same roof, and are, truly speaking, a part of our
families. Many of them are taught to read and write, and are well
instructed in the principles of religion; they are the companions of
our labours, and treated as such; they enjoy many perquisites, many
established holidays, and are not obliged to work more than white
people. They marry where inclination leads them; visit their wives
every week; are as decently clad as the common people; they are
indulged in educating, cherishing, and chastising their children,
who are taught subordination to them as to their lawful parents: in
short, they participate in many of the benefits of our society,
without being obliged to bear any of its burdens. They are fat,
healthy, and hearty, and far from repining at their fate; they think
themselves happier than many of the lower class whites: they share
with their masters the wheat and meat provision they help to raise;
many of those whom the good Quakers have emancipated have received
that great benefit with tears of regret, and have never quitted,
though free, their former masters and benefactors.

But is it really true, as I have heard it asserted here, that those
blacks are incapable of feeling the spurs of emulation, and the
cheerful sound of encouragement? By no means; there are a thousand
proofs existing of their gratitude and fidelity: those hearts in
which such noble dispositions can grow, are then like ours, they are
susceptible of every generous sentiment, of every useful motive of
action; they are capable of receiving lights, of imbibing ideas that
would greatly alleviate the weight of their miseries. But what
methods have in general been made use of to obtain so desirable an
end? None; the day in which they arrive and are sold, is the first
of their labours; labours, which from that hour admit of no respite;
for though indulged by law with relaxation on Sundays, they are
obliged to employ that time which is intended for rest, to till
their little plantations. What can be expected from wretches in such
circumstances? Forced from their native country, cruelly treated
when on board, and not less so on the plantations to which they are
driven; is there anything in this treatment but what must kindle all
the passions, sow the seeds of inveterate resentment, and nourish a
wish of perpetual revenge? They are left to the irresistible effects
of those strong and natural propensities; the blows they receive,
are they conducive to extinguish them, or to win their affections?
They are neither soothed by the hopes that their slavery will ever
terminate but with their lives; or yet encouraged by the goodness of
their food, or the mildness of their treatment. The very hopes held
out to mankind by religion, that consolatory system, so useful to
the miserable, are never presented to them; neither moral nor
physical means are made use of to soften their chains; they are left
in their original and untutored state; that very state wherein the
natural propensities of revenge and warm passions are so soon
kindled. Cheered by no one single motive that can impel the will, or
excite their efforts; nothing but terrors and punishments are
presented to them; death is denounced if they run away; horrid
delaceration if they speak with their native freedom; perpetually
awed by the terrible cracks of whips, or by the fear of capital
punishments, while even those punishments often fail of their

A clergyman settled a few years ago at George-Town, and feeling as I
do now, warmly recommended to the planters, from the pulpit, a
relaxation of severity; he introduced the benignity of Christianity,
and pathetically made use of the admirable precepts of that system
to melt the hearts of his congregation into a greater degree of
compassion toward their slaves than had been hitherto customary;
"Sir," said one of his hearers, "we pay you a genteel salary to read
to us the prayers of the liturgy, and to explain to us such parts of
the Gospel as the rule of the church directs; but we do not want you
to teach us what we are to do with our blacks." The clergyman found
it prudent to withhold any farther admonition. Whence this
astonishing right, or rather this barbarous custom, for most
certainly we have no kind of right beyond that of force? We are
told, it is true, that slavery cannot be so repugnant to human
nature as we at first imagine, because it has been practised in all
ages, and in all nations: the Lacedemonians themselves, those great
assertors of liberty, conquered the Helotes with the design of
making them their slaves; the Romans, whom we consider as our
masters in civil and military policy, lived in the exercise of the
most horrid oppression; they conquered to plunder and to enslave.
What a hideous aspect the face of the earth must then have
exhibited! Provinces, towns, districts, often depopulated! their
inhabitants driven to Rome, the greatest market in the world, and
there sold by thousands! The Roman dominions were tilled by the
hands of unfortunate people, who had once been, like their victors,
free, rich, and possessed of every benefit society can confer; until
they became subject to the cruel right of war, and to lawless force.
Is there then no superintending power who conducts the moral
operations of the world, as well as the physical? The same sublime
hand which guides the planets round the sun with so much exactness,
which preserves the arrangement of the whole with such exalted
wisdom and paternal care, and prevents the vast system from falling
into confusion; doth it abandon mankind to all the errors, the
follies, and the miseries, which their most frantic rage, and their
most dangerous vices and passions can produce?

The history of the earth! doth it present anything but crimes of the
most heinous nature, committed from one end of the world to the
other? We observe avarice, rapine, and murder, equally prevailing in
all parts. History perpetually tells us of millions of people
abandoned to the caprice of the maddest princes, and of whole
nations devoted to the blind fury of tyrants. Countries destroyed;
nations alternately buried in ruins by other nations; some parts of
the world beautifully cultivated, returned again to the pristine
state; the fruits of ages of industry, the toil of thousands in a
short time destroyed by a few! If one corner breathes in peace for a
few years, it is, in turn subjected, torn, and levelled; one would
almost believe the principles of action in man, considered as the
first agent of this planet, to be poisoned in their most essential
parts. We certainly are not that class of beings which we vainly
think ourselves to be; man an animal of prey, seems to have rapine
and the love of bloodshed implanted in his heart; nay, to hold it
the most honourable occupation in society: we never speak of a hero
of mathematics, a hero of knowledge of humanity; no, this
illustrious appellation is reserved for the most successful butchers
of the world. If Nature has given us a fruitful soil to inhabit, she
has refused us such inclinations and propensities as would afford us
the full enjoyment of it. Extensive as the surface of this planet
is, not one half of it is yet cultivated, not half replenished; she
created man, and placed him either in the woods or plains, and
provided him with passions which must for ever oppose his happiness;
everything is submitted to the power of the strongest; men, like the
elements, are always at war; the weakest yield to the most potent;
force, subtlety, and malice, always triumph over unguarded honesty
and simplicity. Benignity, moderation, and justice, are virtues
adapted only to the humble paths of life: we love to talk of virtue
and to admire its beauty, while in the shade of solitude and
retirement; but when we step forth into active life, if it happen to
be in competition with any passion or desire, do we observe it to
prevail? Hence so many religious impostors have triumphed over the
credulity of mankind, and have rendered their frauds the creeds of
succeeding generations, during the course of many ages; until worn
away by time, they have been replaced by new ones. Hence the most
unjust war, if supported by the greatest force, always succeeds;
hence the most just ones, when supported only by their justice, as
often fail. Such is the ascendancy of power; the supreme arbiter of
all the revolutions which we observe in this planet: so irresistible
is power, that it often thwarts the tendency of the most forcible
causes, and prevents their subsequent salutary effects, though
ordained for the good of man by the Governor of the universe. Such
is the perverseness of human nature; who can describe it in all its

In the moments of our philanthropy we often talk of an indulgent
nature, a kind parent, who for the benefit of mankind has taken
singular pains to vary the genera of plants, fruits, grain, and the
different productions of the earth; and has spread peculiar
blessings in each climate. This is undoubtedly an object of
contemplation which calls forth our warmest gratitude; for so
singularly benevolent have those parental intentions been, that
where barrenness of soil or severity of climate prevail, there she
has implanted in the heart of man, sentiments which overbalance
every misery, and supply the place of every want. She has given to
the inhabitants of these regions, an attachment to their savage
rocks and wild shores, unknown to those who inhabit the fertile
fields of the temperate zone. Yet if we attentively view this globe,
will it not appear rather a place of punishment, than of delight?
And what misfortune! that those punishments should fall on the
innocent, and its few delights be enjoyed by the most unworthy.
Famine, diseases, elementary convulsions, human feuds, dissensions,
etc., are the produce of every climate; each climate produces
besides, vices, and miseries peculiar to its latitude. View the
frigid sterility of the north, whose famished inhabitants hardly
acquainted with the sun, live and fare worse than the bears they
hunt: and to which they are superior only in the faculty of
speaking. View the arctic and antarctic regions, those huge voids,
where nothing lives; regions of eternal snow: where winter in all
his horrors has established his throne, and arrested every creative
power of nature. Will you call the miserable stragglers in these
countries by the name of men? Now contrast this frigid power of the
north and south with that of the sun; examine the parched lands of
the torrid zone, replete with sulphureous exhalations; view those
countries of Asia subject to pestilential infections which lay
nature waste; view this globe often convulsed both from within and
without; pouring forth from several mouths, rivers of boiling
matter, which are imperceptibly leaving immense subterranean graves,
wherein millions will one day perish! Look at the poisonous soil of
the equator, at those putrid slimy tracks, teeming with horrid
monsters, the enemies of the human race; look next at the sandy
continent, scorched perhaps by the fatal approach of some ancient
comet, now the abode of desolation. Examine the rains, the
convulsive storms of those climates, where masses of sulphur,
bitumen, and electrical fire, combining their dreadful powers, are
incessantly hovering and bursting over a globe threatened with
dissolution. On this little shell, how very few are the spots where
man can live and flourish? even under those mild climates which seem
to breathe peace and happiness, the poison of slavery, the fury of
despotism, and the rage of superstition, are all combined against
man! There only the few live and rule, whilst the many starve and
utter ineffectual complaints: there, human nature appears more
debased, perhaps than in the less favoured climates. The fertile
plains of Asia, the rich low lands of Egypt and of Diarbeck, the
fruitful fields bordering on the Tigris and the Euphrates, the
extensive country of the East Indies in all its separate districts;
all these must to the geographical eye, seem as if intended for
terrestrial paradises: but though surrounded with the spontaneous
riches of nature, though her kindest favours seem to be shed on
those beautiful regions with the most profuse hand; yet there in
general we find the most wretched people in the world. Almost
everywhere, liberty so natural to mankind is refused, or rather
enjoyed but by their tyrants; the word slave, is the appellation of
every rank, who adore as a divinity, a being worse than themselves;
subject to every caprice, and to every lawless rage which
unrestrained power can give. Tears are shed, perpetual groans are
heard, where only the accents of peace, alacrity, and gratitude
should resound. There the very delirium of tyranny tramples on the
best gifts of nature, and sports with the fate, the happiness, the
lives of millions: there the extreme fertility of the ground always
indicates the extreme misery of the inhabitants!

Everywhere one part of the human species are taught the art of
shedding the blood of the other; of setting fire to their dwellings;
of levelling the works of their industry: half of the existence of
nations regularly employed in destroying other nations.--"What
little political felicity is to be met with here and there, has cost
oceans of blood to purchase; as if good was never to be the portion
of unhappy man. Republics, kingdoms, monarchies, founded either on
fraud or successful violence, increase by pursuing the steps of the
same policy, until they are destroyed in their turn, either by the
influence of their own crimes, or by more successful but equally
criminal enemies."

If from this general review of human nature, we descend to the
examination of what is called civilised society; there the
combination of every natural and artificial want, makes us pay very
dear for what little share of political felicity we enjoy. It is a
strange heterogeneous assemblage of vices and virtues, and of a
variety of other principles, for ever at war, for ever jarring, for
ever producing some dangerous, some distressing extreme. Where do
you conceive then that nature intended we should be happy? Would you
prefer the state of men in the woods, to that of men in a more
improved situation? Evil preponderates in both; in the first they
often eat each other for want of food, and in the other they often
starve each other for want of room. For my part, I think the vices
and miseries to be found in the latter, exceed those of the former;
in which real evil is more scarce, more supportable, and less
enormous. Yet we wish to see the earth peopled; to accomplish the
happiness of kingdoms, which is said to consist in numbers. Gracious
God! to what end is the introduction of so many beings into a mode
of existence in which they must grope amidst as many errors, commit
as many crimes, and meet with as many diseases, wants, and

The following scene will I hope account for these melancholy
reflections, and apologise for the gloomy thoughts with which I have
filled this letter: my mind is, and always has been, oppressed since
I became a witness to it. I was not long since invited to dine with
a planter who lived three miles from----, where he then resided. In
order to avoid the heat of the sun, I resolved to go on foot,
sheltered in a small path, leading through a pleasant wood. I was
leisurely travelling along, attentively examining some peculiar
plants which I had collected, when all at once I felt the air
strongly agitated, though the day was perfectly calm and sultry. I
immediately cast my eyes toward the cleared ground, from which I was
but at a small distance, in order to see whether it was not
occasioned by a sudden shower; when at that instant a sound
resembling a deep rough voice, uttered, as I thought, a few
inarticulate monosyllables. Alarmed and surprised, I precipitately
looked all round, when I perceived at about six rods distance
something resembling a cage, suspended to the limbs of a tree; all
the branches of which appeared covered with large birds of prey,
fluttering about, and anxiously endeavouring to perch on the cage.
Actuated by an involuntary motion of my hands, more than by any
design of my mind, I fired at them; they all flew to a short
distance, with a most hideous noise: when, horrid to think and
painful to repeat, I perceived a negro, suspended in the cage, and
left there to expire! I shudder when I recollect that the birds had
already picked out his eyes, his cheek bones were bare; his arms had
been attacked in several places, and his body seemed covered with a
multitude of wounds. From the edges of the hollow sockets and from
the lacerations with which he was disfigured, the blood slowly
dropped, and tinged the ground beneath. No sooner were the birds
flown, than swarms of insects covered the whole body of this
unfortunate wretch, eager to feed on his mangled flesh and to drink
his blood. I found myself suddenly arrested by the power of affright
and terror; my nerves were convoked; I trembled, I stood motionless,
involuntarily contemplating the fate of this negro, in all its
dismal latitude. The living spectre, though deprived of his eyes,
could still distinctly hear, and in his uncouth dialect begged me to
give him some water to allay his thirst. Humanity herself would have
recoiled back with horror; she would have balanced whether to lessen
such reliefless distress, or mercifully with one blow to end this
dreadful scene of agonising torture! Had I had a ball in my gun, I
certainly should have despatched him; but finding myself unable to
perform so kind an office, I sought, though trembling, to relieve
him as well as I could. A shell ready fixed to a pole, which had
been used by some negroes, presented itself to me; filled it with
water, and with trembling hands I guided it to the quivering lips of
the wretched sufferer. Urged by the irresistible power of thirst, he
endeavoured to meet it, as he instinctively guessed its approach by
the noise it made in passing through the bars of the cage. "Tanke,
you white man, tanke you, pute some poison and give me." "How long
have you been hanging there?" I asked him. "Two days, and me no die;
the birds, the birds; aaah me!" Oppressed with the reflections which
this shocking spectacle afforded me, I mustered strength enough to
walk away, and soon reached the house at which I intended to dine.
There I heard that the reason for this slave being thus punished,
was on account of his having killed the overseer of the plantation.
They told me that the laws of self-preservation rendered such
executions necessary; and supported the doctrine of slavery with the
arguments generally made use of to justify the practice; with the
repetition of which I shall not trouble you at present.--Adieu.



Why would you prescribe this task; you know that what we take up
ourselves seems always lighter than what is imposed on us by others.
You insist on my saying something about our snakes; and in relating
what I know concerning them, were it not for two singularities, the
one of which I saw, and the other I received from an eye-witness, I
should have but very little to observe. The southern provinces are
the countries where nature has formed the greatest variety of
alligators, snakes, serpents; and scorpions, from the smallest size,
up to the pine barren, the largest species known here. We have but
two, whose stings are mortal, which deserve to be mentioned; as for
the black one, it is remarkable for nothing but its industry,
agility, beauty, and the art of enticing birds by the power of its
eyes. I admire it much, and never kill it, though its formidable
length and appearance often get the better of the philosophy of some
people, particularly of Europeans. The most dangerous one is the
pilot, or copperhead; for the poison of which no remedy has yet been
discovered. It bears the first name because it always precedes the
rattlesnake; that is, quits its state of torpidity in the spring a
week before the other. It bears the second name on account of its
head being adorned with many copper-coloured spots. It lurks in
rocks near the water, and is extremely active and dangerous. Let man
beware of it! I have heard only of one person who was stung by a
copperhead in this country. The poor wretch instantly swelled in a
most dreadful manner; a multitude of spots of different hues
alternately appeared and vanished, on different parts of his body;
his eyes were filled with madness and rage, he cast them on all
present with the most vindictive looks: he thrust out his tongue as
the snakes do; he hissed through his teeth with inconceivable
strength, and became an object of terror to all by-standers. To the
lividness of a corpse he united the desperate force of a maniac;
they hardly were able to fasten him, so as to guard themselves from
his attacks; when in the space of two hours death relieved the poor
wretch from his struggles, and the spectators from their
apprehensions. The poison of the rattlesnake is not mortal in so
short a space, and hence there is more time to procure relief; we
are acquainted with several antidotes with which almost every family
is provided. They are extremely inactive, and if not touched, are
perfectly inoffensive. I once saw, as I was travelling, a great
cliff which was full of them; I handled several, and they appeared
to be dead; they were all entwined together, and thus they remain
until the return of the sun. I found them out, by following the
track of some wild hogs which had fed on them; and even the Indians
often regale on them. When they find them asleep, they put a small
forked stick over their necks, which they keep immovably fixed on
the ground; giving the snake a piece of leather to bite: and this
they pull back several times with great force, until they observe
their two poisonous fangs torn out. Then they cut off the head, skin
the body, and cook it as we do eels; and their flesh is extremely
sweet and white. I once saw a TAMED ONE, as gentle as you can
possibly conceive a reptile to be; it took to the water and swam
whenever it pleased; and when the boys to whom it belonged called it
back, their summons was readily obeyed. It had been deprived of its
fangs by the preceding method; they often stroked it with a soft
brush, and this friction seemed to cause the most pleasing
sensations, for it would turn on its back to enjoy it, as a cat does
before the fire. One of this species was the cause, some years ago,
of a most deplorable accident which I shall relate to you, as I had
it from the widow and mother of the victims. A Dutch farmer of the
Minisink went to mowing, with his negroes, in his boots, a
precaution used to prevent being stung. Inadvertently he trod on a
snake, which immediately flew at his legs; and as it drew back in
order to renew its blow, one of his negroes cut it in two with his
scythe. They prosecuted their work, and returned home; at night the
farmer pulled off his boots and went to bed; and was soon after
attacked with a strange sickness at his stomach; he swelled, and
before a physician could be sent for, died. The sudden death of this
man did not cause much inquiry; the neighbourhood wondered, as is
usual in such cases, and without any further examination the corpse
was buried. A few days after, the son put on his father's boots, and
went to the meadow; at night he pulled them off, went to bed, and
was attacked with the same symptoms about the same time, and died in
the morning. A little before he expired the doctor came, but was not
able to assign what could be the cause of so singular a disorder;
however, rather than appear wholly at a loss before the country
people, he pronounced both father and son to have been bewitched.
Some weeks after, the widow sold all the movables for the benefit of
the younger children; and the farm was leased. One of the
neighbours, who bought the boots, presently put them on, and was
attacked in the same manner as the other two had been; but this
man's wife being alarmed by what had happened in the former family,
despatched one of her negroes for an eminent physician, who
fortunately having heard something of the dreadful affair, guessed
at the cause, applied oil, etc. and recovered the man. The boots
which had been so fatal, were then carefully examined; and he found
that the two fangs of the snake had been left in the leather, after
being wrenched out of their sockets by the strength with which the
snake had drawn back its head. The bladders which contained the
poison and several of the small nerves were still fresh, and adhered
to the boot. The unfortunate father and son had been poisoned by
pulling off these boots, in which action they imperceptibly
scratched their legs with the points of the fangs, through the
hollow of which, some of this astonishing poison was conveyed. You
have no doubt heard of their rattles, if you have not seen them; the
only observation I wish to make is, that the rattling is loud and
distinct when they are angry; and on the contrary, when pleased, it
sounds like a distant trepidation, in which nothing distinct is
heard. In the thick settlements, they are now become very scarce;
for wherever they are met with, open war is declared against them;
so that in a few years there will be none left but on our mountains.
The black snake on the contrary always diverts me because it excites
no idea of danger. Their swiftness is astonishing; they will
sometimes equal that of a horse; at other times they will climb up
trees in quest of our tree toads; or glide on the ground at full
length. On some occasions they present themselves half in the
reptile state, half erect; their eyes and their heads in the erect
posture appear to great advantage: the former display a fire which I
have often admired, and it is by these they are enabled to fascinate
birds and squirrels. When they have fixed their eyes on an animal,
they become immovable; only turning their head sometimes to the
right and sometimes to the left, but still with their sight
invariably directed to the object. The distracted victim, instead of
flying its enemy, seems to be arrested by some invincible power; it
screams; now approaches, and then recedes; and after skipping about
with unaccountable agitation, finally rushes into the jaws of the
snake, and is swallowed, as soon as it is covered with a slime or
glue to make it slide easily down the throat of the devourer.

One anecdote I must relate, the circumstances of which are as true
as they are singular. One of my constant walks when I am at leisure,
is in my lowlands, where I have the pleasure of seeing my cattle,
horses, and colts. Exuberant grass replenishes all my fields, the
best representative of our wealth; in the middle of that tract I
have cut a ditch eight feet wide, the banks of which nature adorns
every spring with the wild salendine, and other flowering weeds,
which on these luxuriant grounds shoot up to a great height. Over
this ditch I have erected a bridge, capable of bearing a loaded
waggon; on each side I carefully sow every year some grains of hemp,
which rise to the height of fifteen feet, so strong and so full of
limbs as to resemble young trees: I once ascended one of them four
feet above the ground. These produce natural arbours, rendered often
still more compact by the assistance of an annual creeping plant
which we call a vine, that never fails to entwine itself among their
branches, and always produces a very desirable shade. From this
simple grove I have amused myself an hundred times in observing the
great number of humming birds with which our country abounds: the
wild blossoms everywhere attract the attention of these birds, which
like bees subsist by suction. From this retreat I distinctly watch
them in all their various attitudes; but their flight is so rapid,
that you cannot distinguish the motion of their wings. On this
little bird nature has profusely lavished her most splendid colours;
the most perfect azure, the most beautiful gold, the most dazzling
red, are for ever in contrast, and help to embellish the plumes of
his majestic head. The richest palette of the most luxuriant painter
could never invent anything to be compared to the variegated tints,
with which this insect bird is arrayed. Its bill is as long and as
sharp as a coarse sewing needle; like the bee, nature has taught it
to find out in the calix of flowers and blossoms, those mellifluous
particles that serve it for sufficient food; and yet it seems to
leave them untouched, undeprived of anything that our eyes can
possibly distinguish. When it feeds, it appears as if immovable
though continually on the wing; and sometimes, from what motives I
know not, it will tear and lacerate flowers into a hundred pieces:
for, strange to tell, they are the most irascible of the feathered
tribe. Where do passions find room in so diminutive a body? They
often fight with the fury of lions, until one of the combatants
falls a sacrifice and dies. When fatigued, it has often perched
within a few feet of me, and on such favourable opportunities I have
surveyed it with the most minute attention. Its little eyes appear
like diamonds, reflecting light on every side: most elegantly
finished in all parts it is a miniature work of our great parent;
who seems to have formed it the smallest, and at the same time the
most beautiful of the winged species.

As I was one day sitting solitary and pensive in my primitive
arbour, my attention was engaged by a strange sort of rustling noise
at some paces distant. I looked all around without distinguishing
anything, until I climbed one of my great hemp stalks; when to my
astonishment, I beheld two snakes of considerable length, the one
pursuing the other with great celerity through a hemp stubble field.
The aggressor was of the black kind, six feet long; the fugitive was
a water snake, nearly of equal dimensions. They soon met, and in the
fury of their first encounter, they appeared in an instant firmly
twisted together; and whilst their united tails beat the ground,
they mutually tried with open jaws to lacerate each other. What a
fell aspect did they present! their heads were compressed to a very
small size, their eyes flashed fire; and after this conflict had
lasted about five minutes, the second found means to disengage
itself from the first, and hurried toward the ditch. Its antagonist
instantly assumed a new posture, and half creeping and half erect,
with a majestic mien, overtook and attacked the other again, which
placed itself in the same attitude, and prepared to resist. The
scene was uncommon and beautiful; for thus opposed they fought with
their jaws, biting each other with the utmost rage; but
notwithstanding this appearance of mutual courage and fury, the
water snake still seemed desirous of retreating toward the ditch,
its natural element. This was no sooner perceived by the keen-eyed
black one, than twisting its tail twice round a stalk of hemp, and
seizing its adversary by the throat, not by means of its jaws, but
by twisting its own neck twice round that of the water snake, pulled
it back from the ditch. To prevent a defeat the latter took hold
likewise of a stalk on the bank, and by the acquisition of that
point of resistance became a match for its fierce antagonist.
Strange was this to behold; two great snakes strongly adhering to
the ground mutually fastened together by means of the writhings
which lashed them to each other, and stretched at their full length,
they pulled but pulled in vain; and in the moments of greatest
exertions that part of their bodies which was entwined, seemed
extremely small, while the rest appeared inflated, and now and then
convulsed with strong undulations, rapidly following each other.
Their eyes seemed on fire, and ready to start out of their heads; at
one time the conflict seemed decided; the water snake bent itself
into two great folds, and by that operation rendered the other more
than commonly outstretched; the next minute the new struggles of the
black one gained an unexpected superiority, it acquired two great
folds likewise, which necessarily extended the body of its adversary
in proportion as it had contracted its own. These efforts were
alternate; victory seemed doubtful, inclining sometimes to the one
side and sometimes to the other; until at last the stalk to which
the black snake fastened, suddenly gave way, and in consequence of
this accident they both plunged into the ditch. The water did not
extinguish their vindictive rage; for by their agitations I could
trace, though not distinguish, their mutual attacks. They soon re-
appeared on the surface twisted together, as in their first onset;
but the black snake seemed to retain its wonted superiority, for its
head was exactly fixed above that of the other, which it incessantly
pressed down under the water, until it was stifled, and sunk. The
victor no sooner perceived its enemy incapable of farther
resistance, than abandoning it to the current, it returned on shore
and disappeared.



Examine this flourishing province, in whatever light you will, the
eyes as well as the mind of an European traveller are equally
delighted; because a diffusive happiness appears in every part:
happiness which is established on the broadest basis. The wisdom of
Lycurgus and Solon never conferred on man one half of the blessings
and uninterrupted prosperity which the Pennsylvanians now possess:
the name of Penn, that simple but illustrious citizen, does more
honour to the English nation than those of many of their kings.

In order to convince you that I have not bestowed undeserved praises
in my former letters on this celebrated government; and that either
nature or the climate seems to be more favourable here to the arts
and sciences, than to any other American province; let us together,
agreeable to your desire, pay a visit to Mr. John Bertram, the first
botanist, in this new hemisphere: become such by a native impulse of
disposition. It is to this simple man that America is indebted for
several useful discoveries, and the knowledge of many new plants. I
had been greatly prepossessed in his favour by the extensive
correspondence which I knew he held with the most eminent Scotch and
French botanists; I knew also that he had been honoured with that of
Queen Ulrica of Sweden.

His house is small, but decent; there was something peculiar in its
first appearance, which seemed to distinguish it from those of his
neighbours: a small tower in the middle of it, not only helped to
strengthen it but afforded convenient room for a staircase. Every
disposition of the fields, fences, and trees, seemed to bear the
marks of perfect order and regularity, which in rural affairs,
always indicate a prosperous industry.

I was received at the door by a woman dressed extremely neat and
simple, who without courtesying, or any other ceremonial, asked me,
with an air of benignity, who I wanted? I answered, I should be glad
to see Mr. Bertram. If thee wilt step in and take a chair, I will
send for him. No, I said, I had rather have the pleasure of walking
through his farm, I shall easily find him out, with your directions.
After a little time I perceived the Schuylkill, winding through
delightful meadows, and soon cast my eyes on a new-made bank, which
seemed greatly to confine its stream. After having walked on its top
a considerable way I at last reached the place where ten men were at
work. I asked, if any of them could tell me where Mr. Bertram was?


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