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Art. IX. American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806. By Abiel Holmes, D.D. Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Minister of the First Church in Cambridge. 2 vols. 8vo. Cambridge (in America).

[pp. 319-337] [original article in PDF format]

  1. NOT many years ago an American published an Essay advising his countrymen to change their name, or rather to assume one, because in fact they have none which properly and peculiarly belongs to them. He proposed Freden for the country, from which there would be the regular derivatives Frede and Fredish: for the poets there was Fredonia, a word, it was thought, not less sonorous than Britannia,—and its adjective Fredonian, to which the English would have nothing comparable. There is something whimsical in the fancy of changing the name of a nation, yet many inconveniences in literature arise from the anomaly of calling a part of the American continent by the appellation of the whole. There is an instance in this work of Dr. Holmes:—as Fredish annals (if we may be allowed to accommodate ourselves from the essayist's nomenclature) it displays great industry and research, and is exceedingly valuable; but if it be considered according to the full import of its title as American Annals, it is meagre and miserably imperfect. Few [319] of the Spanish writers have been consulted, those few only in translation, and Herrera, the most important of all, in a very mutilated one. The author's collection of French authorities is equally incomplete; and of the many important works which the Ex-Jesuits have bequeathed to the world, as the legacy of their illustrious order, not one appears in his catalogue. Whoever has attempted to form an historical collection relating to any particular country, will have learnt how difficult a task it is, and what a length of time and persevering search it requires; but of all collections there is none so difficult as that of American history, because its materials are in so many languages, most of them are very rare, and the old books of one country are seldom to be obtained in another. In America the difficulty must be insuperable. Dr. Holmes will do well therefore in a subsequent edition to restrict his subject to the History of the United States, beginning with the first voyage of Cabot. Whoever writes concerning the new world begins with Columbus now, just as two centuries ago every body that wrote concerning the old one began with Adam, or at least with Noah. It is time to have done with this; the History of Columbus is as well known to all who read history, as that of Noah himself;—books are now too numerous, paper too dear, and time too valuable to allow of these unnecessary repetitions.

  2. Raleigh was the first person who attempted to form a settlement on what is now the United States. The second and successful attempt was projected by Hakluyt, a man to whose political foresight and literary zeal Europe and America are equally indebted. Sound political wisdom established the colony. The next in order of time owes its origin to a yet higher principle. The Puritans, who had fled into Holland to avoid intolerance at home, carried with them English hearts: they could not bear to think that their little community should be absorbed and lost in a foreign nation; they had forsaken their birth-place and their family-graves, but they loved their country and their mother tongue, and rather than their children should become subjects of another state and speak another language, they exposed themselves to all the hardships and dangers of colonizing in a savage land. No people on earth may so justly pride themselves upon their ancestors as the New-Englanders. 'Their humorous ignorance,' says the Captain Smith, who is so conspicuous in Virginian history, 'caused them for more than a year to endure a wonderful deal of misery with an infinite patience.' Within the first three months, half their number was swept off by the mortality to which new Colonists are always subject. The dead were buried in the bank, at a little distance from the rock on which they [320] landed; and their graves were levelled and sown, lest the Indians should discover the loss which they had sustained, and attack the weak and wretched survivors. The rock was covered over about 70 years ago, in the erection of a wharf. An old man was then living, almost in his hundredth year, who remembered the first settlers, and he wept when he heard that this rock, which should have been preserved with religious veneration, as the spot on which their fathers first set foot, had been thus carelessly put out of sight. His tears, says Dr. Holmes, perhaps saved it from oblivion. Having said thus much of this relic, it is remarkable that he has not given the remainder of its history. At the commencement of the Revolution it was determined to bring it again to light: the sand with which it had been covered to the depth of twenty feet was cleared away, and as the rock in being laid bare was split into two parts, that circumstance was regarded as ominous of a separation between the Colonies and the Mother Country. The larger half was left in its natural site, the other removed with great labour to the market place of the town of Plymouth: and though no inscription has yet been placed upon them, both are pointed out to all strangers with the reverence which they deserve.

  3. While these truly patriotic men were struggling with their first difficulties, the Virginians were making a rapid progress. Some curious methods were adopted to forward the growth of this colony. Upon the motion of Sir Edwin Sandys, Treasurer of the Company in London, ninety girls, young and uncorrupt, 'were shipped off in one consignment, by the grace of God and in good condition,' and in the year following a cargo of sixty men, all 'handsome, and well recommended for their virtuous education.' How these women were bought in England does not appear, they were, however, literally sold in Virginia for the benefit of the Company, which had never speculated in so marketable a commodity. The price of a wife was at first an hundred pounds of tobacco, but rose by degrees to a hundred and fifty, tobacco being worth three shillings a pound. The system of transporting criminals began at the same time. Transportation should be the punishment of state offences, and of no other. A man is not disqualified by his anti-patriotic feelings towards one country from being a valuable member of society elsewhere,—change of climate is specific for treason and sedition; but habits of profligacy render the moral criminal a bad subject any where. All that can be said in favour of the system is, that it is better to use men in this way than to waste them at the gallows; but it is the most expensive and least efficacious method of colonization. [321]

  4. During that unhappy war for which we have cause to feel shame, but they perhaps will have most reason to feel sorrow, a Grenadier said of the Americans, 'the Adam and Eve of this young nation came out of Newgate.' The wit of the saying would have tempted many a man to the falsehood; but the soldier was probably ignorant enough to believe that his sarcasm was fairly applicable to the whole people. There are, however, few states whose origin is on the whole so respectable, none whose history is sullied with so few crimes. As for the usurpation of territory from the natives, he must be a feeble moralist who regards that as an evil:—the same principle upon which that usurpation is condemned would lead to the nonsensical opinion of the Brahmins, that agriculture is an unrighteous employment, because worms must sometimes be cut by the ploughshare and the spade. It is the order of nature that beasts should give place to man, and among men the savage to the civilized; and no where has this order been carried into effect with so little violence as in North America. Sir Thomas More admits it to be a justifiable cause of war even in Utopia, if a people who have territory to spare will not cede it to those who are in want of room. The Quakers of Pennsylvania have proved the practicability of a more perfect system than he had imagined, and the treaty which the excellent founder of the province made with the Indians has never been broken. Only one Quaker has fallen by hands of the Indians since the foundation of the state, and his death was the consequence of deviating from the principles of the community to which he belonged—the savages believing him not to be a Quaker because he carried a gun. If the conduct of the other states towards the natives be fairly examined, there will be found a great aggregate of individual wickedness on the part of the traders and back-settlers, but little which can be considered as national guilt. They have never been divided among the colonists, like serfs; they have never been consumed in mines, nor in indigo works; they have never been hunted down for slaves, nor has war ever been made upon them for the purpose of conquest, though the infernal cruelties which they exercise upon their prisoners might excuse and almost justify a war of extermination.

  5. Dr. Holmes makes some remarks which are honourable to his feelings on the great war with Metacom, Sachem of Pokanoket, famous by his title of K. Philip, which was the decisive contest between the red and white races in this part of America. 'The death of Philip, in retrospect,' he says, 'makes different impressions from what were made at the time of the event. It was then considered as the extinction of a virulent and implacable [322] enemy: it is now viewed as the fall of a great warrior, a penetrating statesman, and a mighty prince. It then excited universal joy and congratulation as a prelude to the close of a merciless war: it now awakens sober reflections on the instability of empire, the peculiar destiny of the aboriginal race, and the inscrutable decrees of Heaven. The patriotism of the man was then overlooked in the cruelty of the savage, and little allowance was made for the natural jealousy of the sovereign, on account of the barbarities of the warrior.' Whenever America produces a Homer, this must be the subject of his poem. 'In this short but tremendous war, about six hundred of the inhabitants of New England, composing its principal strength, were either killed in battle or murdered by the enemy; twelve or thirteen towns were entirely destroyed; and about six hundred buildings, chiefly dwelling houses, were burnt.' It ended, however, in complete victory, and the ascendancy of the white race was for ever established.

  6. This war affords in every respect a finer subject for the poet than that upon which Ercilla composed his famous Araucana,—it has a good cause, an entire action, and a decisive event,—all of which the Spanish poet wanted. There are also in its progress many circumstances peculiarly fitted for poetry. The character of Metacom himself is very striking; he and his chief old men were at first averse to the war, but he was prest into it by the irresistible importunity of the young warriors; he is even said to have wept at the news of the first English who were killed,—but when he had taken up the hatchet, he displayed all the craft and cruelty of the savage. It was commonly reported that he killed some Mohawks in the woods, and imputed their death to the English, for the purpose of drawing their nation into the alliance: one, however, who had been left for dead, recovered and informed his countrymen of the truth. His death was occasioned by his own ferocity. After his last defeat, he took refuge in a swamp: there were two brothers among his companions, one of them gave him some advice which displeased the fierce Sachem, and in his anger he killed him; the other immediately fled to the English, and guided Church, who was the hero of the New-Englanders, with a handful of volunteers to the swamp, in hopes of revenging his brother with his own hand. It was by an Indian hand that he fell, but whether this was the man who shot him is not explained. The death of Nanuntenoo, his chief ally, was even more striking. Being made prisoner by the Indian allies of the English, his life was offered him on condition that he should make peace, but he refused: when informed that his death, in consequence, was determined, his answer was, 'I like it well; [303] I shall die before my heart is soft, or I shall have spoken any thing unworthy of myself.'

  7. The most impressive circumstance in the course of this war occurred at Hadley: the Indians having laid Deersfield in ashes, surprised that town during the time of public worship. The men of the town had long been in the habit of taking their arms with them when they attended divine service,—they were, however, panic-striken and confused, and in all human probability not a soul would have escaped alive, had not an old and venerable man, whose dress was different from that of the inhabitants, and whom no one had seen before, suddenly appeared among them; he rallied them, put himself at their head, gave his orders like one accustomed to battle, led them on, routed the enemy, and when the victory was complete, was no longer to be found. This deliverer, whom the people, thus preserved from death and torments, long believed to be an angel, was General Goffe, one of the men who sate in judgment upon Charles I. His adventures in America are deeply interesting. He and his father-in-law General Whalley, another of the King's judges, left England a few days before the Restoration; they landed at Boston, waited on Endicot the Governor, to inform him who they were, took up their residence in a neighbouring village, and were greatly respected, till the hue and cry followed them from Barbadoes. They were then warned to make their escape, and accordingly they removed to Newhaven, a place about an hundred and fifty miles distant. Here they owed their lives to the intrepidity of the minister, John Davenport, who, when their pursuers arrived, preached to the people from this text:—'Take counsel, execute judgment, make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noon day, hide the outcasts, bewray not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab,—be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler.' (Isaiah xvi. 3, 4.) Large rewards were offered for their apprehension, or for any information which might lead to it. Davenport was threatened, for it was known that he had harboured them:—upon hearing that he was in danger, they offered to deliver themselves up, and actually gave notice to the Deputy Governor of the place of their concealment; but their friend had not preached in vain, and the magistrate took no other notice than to let them be advised not to betray themselves. Their hiding-place was a cave on the top of West Rock, some two or three miles from the town. Once, when they ventured out for provisions, they hid themselves under a bridge while their pursuers past over it:—once they met the sheriff who had the warrant for their apprehension in his pocket,—but they fought for their lives, and before he could procure [324] help, escaped into the woods. After lurking two or three years in the cave, or in the houses of their friends, they found it necessary to remove, and were received at Hadley by Russell, the minister of the place, with whom they were concealed fifteen or sixteen years. Whalley sunk into second childhood. Goffe speaks of him thrice in a letter to his wife, with whom he corresponded under a feigned name,—'he is scarce capable of any rational discourse; his understanding, memory, and speech doth so much fail him, that he seems not to take much notice of any thing that is either done or said, but patiently bears all things, and never complains of any thing.—Being asked whether it was not a great refreshment to him to hear such a gracious spirit breathing in your letters, he said it was none of his least comforts; and indeed he scarce speaks of any thing but in answer to the questions that are put to him, which are not of many kinds, because he is not capable to answer to them. The common and very frequent question is to know how he doth, and his answer for the most part is, "very well, I praise God," which he utters in a very low and weak voice.—When he wants anything, he cannot speak well for it, because he forgets the name of it, and sometimes asks for one thing when he means another, so that his eye or his finger is his tongue: but his ordinary wants are so well known to us, that most of them are supplied without asking or making signs for them. I bless the Lord that gives me such a good measure of health and strength, and an opportunity and a heart to use it in so good and necessary a work; for though my help be poor and weak, yet that ancient servant of Christ could not well subsist without it, and I do believe, as you are pleased to say very well, that I do enjoy the more health for his sake. I have sometimes wondered much at this dispensation of the Lord towards him, and have some expectation of more than ordinary grace. The Lord help us to profit by all, and to wait with patience upon him, till we see what end he will make with us.—I will now ask him what he would have me say to his friends concerning him.—The question being asked, he saith, I am better than I was. And being asked what I should say more to his cousin R. or any other friends; after a long pause he again saith, the Lord hath visited me in much mercy, and hath answered his visitation upon me. I give you his own words. Being desirous to draw more from him, I proposed several questions, and the sum of his answers was, that he earnestly desires the continuance of the fervent prayers of all friends for him.' Whalley died at Hadley, in 1688, and about a year afterwards all tradition of Goffe is lost;—one is willing to hope that he returned to England. Colonel Dixwell, another of the King's judges, found [325] shelter also in America;—he visited his fellow-exiles in their concealment, and being himself unknown, settled and married at Newhaven, under the name of James Davids. By that name he signed his will; but there he adds to it his own, and his tomb-stone is shown at Newhaven with only the initials J. D. Esq., deceased March 18, in the 82nd year of his age, 1688. Another stone, with the initials E. W. Esq., is traditionally supposed to mark the grave of Whalley:—if it be so, his bones must have been removed there by Dixwell; an affecting act of pious friendship.

  8. Dr. Holmes is censurable for endeavouring to palliate the persecution of the Quakers in New England. 'The prevalent opinion,' he says, 'among all sects of Christians at that day, that toleration is sinful, ought to be remembered.' He ought to have remembered that one state in North America had then been established on the broad basis of freedom in religion. 'Nor may it be forgotten,' he adds, 'that the first Quakers in New England, beside speaking and writing what was deemed blasphemous, reviled magistrates and ministers, and disturbed religious assemblies; and that the tendency of their tenets and practices was to the subversion of the commonwealth, in that period of its infancy.' It is absolutely false that the Quaker tenets ever tended to the subversion of government, in any other manner than Christianity itself may be said to tend to subvert all governments, by recommending a purity of life which would render them useless. The manner in which he relates the most remarkable of these martyrdoms must not be past over without reprehension. 'William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and Mary Dyer, Quakers, were brought to trial before the general court of Massachusetts, and sentenced to die. The two first were executed.' To which he adds, in a note, 'they received this sentence for their rebellion, sedition, and presumptuous obtruding themselves after banishment, on pain of death.' Mary Dyer was reprieved on condition of her departure from the jurisdiction in forty-eight hours, and if she returned, to suffer the sentence. She was, however, carried to the gallows, and stood with a rope about her neck, until the others were executed. This infatuated woman returned, and was executed in 1660. A declaration of the general court, in justification of these proceedings, was soon after printed. And Dr. Holmes informs the reader where this justification is to be found. This account is as reprehensible for its inaccuracy as for the want of right feeling which it displays. Mary Dyer was led to execution with the two men,—they went hand in hand, she 'being the middlemost, which made the Marshal say to her, who was pretty aged and stricken in years, are not you ashamed to [306] walk hand in hand between two young men? No, replied she. This is to me an hour of the greatest joy I could enjoy in this world. No eye can see, no ear can hear, no tongue can utter, and no heart can understand the sweet incomes or influence, and the refreshings of the spirit of the Lord which now I feel.—When the men had been executed, she 'seeing now her companions hanging dead before her, also stept up the ladder, but after her coats were tied about her feet, the halter put about her neck, and her face covered with a handkerchief, which the Priest Wilson lent the hangman, just as she was to be turned off, a cry was heard stop, for she is reprieved. Her feet then being loosed they bade her come down. But she, whose mind was already as it were in heaven, stood still and said she was there willing to suffer as her brethren did, when they would annul their wicked laws.' This is the account given by the plain and faithful historian of the Quakers: it is not the less interesting for the enthusiasm of the parties, nor for the sympathy of the writer. No condition was made with Mary Dyer, nor would she have assented to any such condition. Madness never makes conditions; and that this was madness we are as willing to admit as Dr. Holmes, though our pity for such insanity is not without some reverence and admiration of the principle which could produce it. The letter which she addressed to the court the day after the reprieve, proves that she did not accept her life on any condition. 'Once more,' she says, 'to the general court assembled in Boston, speaks Mary Dyer, even as before. My life is not accepted, neither availeth me in comparison of the lives and liberty of the truth and servants of the living God. Yet nevertheless with wicked hands have you put two of them to death, which makes me to feel that the mercies of the wicked are cruelty. I rather chuse to die than to live as from you, as guilty of their innocent blood. When I heard your last order read, it was a disturbance with me that was so freely offering up my life to him that gave it me.' These are not times when any palliation of such intolerance is to be lightly past over, or noticed only with contempt. There is too much fanaticism abroad, and be it remembered that the Quakers are the only sectarians in whom fanaticism is not inseparably connected with the spirit of persecution. The penal laws against heresy have been circulated in terrorem by the Society for the Suppression of Vice; a defence of Calvin for burning Servetus has been published by an English Methodist within these few years;—and Mrs. More herself, to whose natural liberality and excellent qualities all who know her will cheerfully bear witness, speaks of 'Egyptian points of doctrine which are to be cut off by the edge of the sword.' Catholics [307]  have been burnt as Jews, and if such hints as these do not give the alarm in time, Englishmen must not be surprised if, at no very distant period, they should find themselves voted Egyptians in their own country.

  9. One of the men who most distinguished themselves in America by persecuting the Quakers, was John Perrot, who had himself been the most extravagant of the sect. In the days of his honesty he went to Rome to convert the Pope: he began this hopeful undertaking by calling upon the Pope's chaplain, who happened to be an Irishman, and telling him upon what errand he 'John, the servant of Jesus, in the holy and blessed calling of the quaking and trembling at the word of the Lord God,' was arrived in that city. The next night he was taken out of his bed by the chief Marshal and carried to prison, from whence in a few days he was removed to the inquisition. This was in 1658; the Inquisitors at Rome were less cruel than they had been half a century before: they furnished him with pen, ink, and paper, and desired him to write whatever he pleased. John began by an Epistle General to the Romans, and another to 'Fabius Guisius, Pope of Rome.' 'Friend,' he said, 'my message is not unto any part of the natural, either wit, will, or wisdom; it is neither meat for serpents, nor air for camelions.—Behold Overturn cometh, and Overturn followeth, until the last Overturn be fulfilled.—Be thou henceforth no more called Pope, for that was never promised nor prophesied of by the word of the Lord;—I am Peter's successor, who am of his spirit.' He then addressed two and forty queries to all the colleges in Rome. 'Having received no answer from any of them,' says he to his friend the Pope, 'I now query to thee—whether hast thou the true eye of discerning, to trace the way of a serpent over a rock, dost thou know the course of a dolphin in the deeps, or the path of a young dolphin in the shallow waters? If thou knowest not this, how knowest thou to take the wings of the morning, to meet the sun in the south, to be at rest with the children of the day, when the light of the moon is as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of seven days, the everlasting Sabbath of God?' If such queries did not very clearly explain the opinions of poor John, they sufficiently explained his case. After eighteen weeks confinement in the Inquisition he was transferred to a mad-house, and delivered over to medical tormentors, who chained him by the neck and beat him from head to foot. At length he was judged incurable, and they had humanity enough to let him return to his own country. Here he was in great glory—his manuscripts had been returned to him, and finding that his epistles and queries had not profited the Pope and the Italians, he published them for the benefit [328] of other Catholics, with the title of 'Battering Rams against Rome, or the Battle of John, the Follower of the Lamb, fought with the Pope and his Priests, whilst he was a Prisoner in the Inquisition Prison of Rome: also a certain Remonstrance of Righteous Reason, written in Rome's Prison of Madmen, unto all Rome's Rulers.' The respect which was shown him as a Confessor puffed him up, and he made a schism among the Quakers; for he insisted that it was a formality to put off their hats in a meeting when any one prayed; and he let his beard grow. This man outgrew his madness; but when he recovered his senses he lost all that was good in him. He went to America, led a licentious life, got a place under government, and became a severe persecutor of the people among whom he had been so conspicuous for enthusiasm.

  10. It is curious that Locke should be a predecessor of the Abbé Sieyes in the art of constitution-making, and that the one which he made for Carolina was in as bad taste as the Consular Constitution of France, affixing, in the same manner, old titles to new and inappropriate offices. His President was called Palatine; and his Earls and Barons, Landgraves and Caciques. This mongrel nomenclature expired with the system, having subsisted only three and twenty years. The Landgraveship with which Locke had been requited for his legislative labours expired also; and his four domains, each of six thousand acres, seem to have been of little value, for some of his biographers neither mention them nor his title. There is an interesting anecdote respecting the charter of one of the other States. When James II. was proceeding as despotically with the colonies as with the mother country, Sir Edmund Andros was sent with a body of troops to demand the charter of Connecticut and dissolve the existing government. The Assembly, unwilling to produce it, prolonged the time in debate till evening; then it was brought forth and laid on the table, and instantly the lights were all put out. There was no disturbance; but when the candles were relighted the charter was gone: Capt. Wadsworth had carried it off and secreted it in the hollow of an oak. This venerable oak, which was in its prime before ever European set foot in America, is still a fine tree. Its trunk is one and twenty feet in circumference. The cavity, wherein the charter was preserved till better times, was near the root. 'Within the space of eight years,' says a daughter of the family before whose house it stands, 'that cavity has closed, as if it had fulfilled the Divine purpose for which it was appointed!'

  11. The subsequent part of these annals is uninteresting till it begins to be painful, by entering upon a subject which neither we [329] nor our transatlantic brethren should wish to remember. We turn to the history of Anglo-American literature as a happier topic. The first English work written in America was Sandy's Translation of the Metamorphoses; a version, says the translator, 'limned by that imperfect light which was snatched from the hours of night and repose; and doubly a stranger, being sprung from an ancient Roman stock, and bred up in the New World, of the rudeness of which it could not but participate; especially as it was produced among wars and tumults, instead of under the kindly and peaceful influence of the Muses.' Dr. William Vaughan's poem of the Golden Fleece was written in Newfoundland about the same time. Jocelyn, who wrote the New England Rarities, and the account of his two voyages, took over with him a version of part of the Psalms by Quarles, which, if they had received the minister of Boston's approbation, were to have succeeded Sternhold and Hopkins in the New World. The first printing press was set up at Cambridge in 1639. Glover, at whose expense it was established, died on his passage out; the printer's name was Daye. The first thing which was printed was the Freeman's Oath; the second was an Almanack calculated for New England by Pierce, a sea-faring man; the third was the Psalms newly turned into metre. Such were the beginnings of literature among the Anglo-Americans; its progress has not been rapid. No work of distinguished merit in any branch has yet been produced among them; that which lies before us is perhaps one of the most meritorious; and this is of an inferior class. Their life of Washington is ill-proportioned, nor can much praise be bestowed upon its execution. Their drama is so bad—as almost to reconcile us to the present state of our own. Of their two best poets, Dwight has failed because he imitated bad models, and Barlow because he formed a bad style for himself. It is no great reproach to the Americans that they have not as yet done more; more ought not to be expected from their circumstances and population. Some blame, however, is due to their government for the little encouragement which it holds out to literature. It is especially incumbent upon a nation which professes to despise factitious distinctions, to acknowledge intellectual rank with everything short of ostentation, and to set other countries an example by patronizing and promoting those efforts of genius which all civilized nations consider as their proudest boast, and their only permanent glory.

  12. Two centuries have but just elapsed since the first English settlement was formed in America. The colonies took with them the opinions, and feelings, and manners of their country; none of those political earthquakes which subvert every thing [310] have visited either the colony or the parent state, and yet the Americans have acquired a distinct national character, and even a national physiognomy. An Englishman indeed may pass for an American on the continent; but in England it rarely happens that Nathan could be mistaken for John Bull. The family likeness has been lost. God forbid that the family feeling should be lost also. To what is this specific and striking difference to be attributed? It is not to any mixture of nations; there has been little of this in America—not more than has taken place during the same time in our own island. The Germans, who are more numerous than any other emigrants, intermarry among themselves. The French settlers are inconsiderable in number, and they hate the Americans; even their own countryman, the Duke de Liancourt, complains that this insolent dislike is general among them, and tells us that some of the French boasted they would never learn the language of the country, nor enter into conversation with the people. There is scarcely any mixture of Indian blood: in this the Anglo-Americans differ from all other white men, and the difference is greatly to their honour. It has been observed that the French accommodate themselves more easily than any other Europeans to the habits of savage life; more of them have connected themselves with Indian women, and more have become savages. The reason is obvious: a Frenchman has no respect for himself, because he has no sense of moral dignity; to become a savage he has nothing to do but to put off the coxcomb, or rather to change the coxcomb's fashions; and he remains with his craft and his cruelty; his shallow feelings and his profound dissimulation; his animal activity and the inexhaustible resources of his ingenuity; all the bad qualities of the savage, and a few of the good ones.

  13. There is, however, both in the physical and intellectual features of the Americans a trace of savage character, not produced by crossing the breed, but by the circumstance of society and of external nature. It is only in the great cities and their immediate vicinity that the accompaniments of civilization are found; in the new settlements everything partakes more of savage than of civilized life. The back settlers, useful as they are when considered as the pioneers of civilization, are a worse race than the Indians upon whose border they trespass; inasmuch as they have been better taught, possess greater power of doing mischief, and are without principle. The succeeding classes for many steps upward, find themselves without the priest, without the physician, and without any other law than serves for the purpose of litigation. The execution of justice they take into their own hands; the man whose horse is stolen pursues the thief, and [311] frequently kills him on the spot, to save the trouble of lodging him in prison. There is a sort of wildness which is caught by living in a forest; even in England it is exemplified. Just as our mountain mutton approaches to the flavour of beasts of the chase, so is man altered in his moral and physical nature by woods and wildernesses. Their different effect upon the horse is very interesting. 'However wild,' says Mr. Ashe,* 'the horse of the western country may be at his home, and when turned into inclosed pastures, he never wanders from his rider in the woods. He will graze about and pick up shrubs and provender from the roots of trees, but never loses sight of his camp, or the light of its fire. He too is sensible of fear and protection; he trembles in the gloom of the woods, and on the most distant howl of the wolf, approaches the fire, and often draws up and looks into the tent of his master.' The horse is perhaps of all animals most subject to violent fear; man is of all animals the bravest, and circumstances of danger increase his courage. An American's first plaything is the rattle-snake's tail: if he strays out of sight of his father's door he is lost—an accident which frequently happens: but hence, like the savage, he acquires an early habit of tracing his way by signs imperceptible to another's eyes. As he grows up he lays traps for opossums, and shoots squirrels for his breakfast; he cuts down a tree on which the wild pigeons have built their nests, and picks up a horse-load of young birds. He notches his pigs in the ear, and lets them run in the woods; when the pork season comes, the neighbourhood assemble to hunt the wild swine, and each man knows his own by its marks. He takes his pigeons or his pork to the nearest town; sell them he cannot. The words buy and sell are nearly unknown in the new settlements; he trades them, and takes in exchange, not what he wants, but what he can get. 'I have known a person,' says Ashe, 'ask for a pair of shoes, and receive for answer, that there were no shoes in the store, but some capital gin that could be recommended to him. I have heard another ask for a rifle-gun, and be answered that there were no rifles, but that he could be accommodated with the best Dutch looking-glasses and German flutes in the western country. Another was directed by his wife to bring her a warming-pan, smoothing-irons, and scrubbing-brushes; but these were denied, and a wooden cuckoo-clock, which the children would not take a week to demolish, was sent home in their stead. I rode an excellent horse to the head of [332] the waters, and finding him of no further use, from my having to take boat there, I proposed selling him to the best bidder. I was offered in exchange for him salt, flour, hogs, land, Indian corn, whiskey—in short everything but what I wanted, which was money. The highest offer made was cast-iron salt-pans to the amount of a hundred and thirty dollars. I asked the proprietor of this heavy commodity how much cash he would allow me instead of such an incumbrance; his answer was, without any shame or hesitation, forty dollars at most. I preferred the pans, though they are to be exchanged again for glass bottles at Pittsburg, become tobacco or hemp in Kentucky, and dollars in New Orleans.'

  14. Men in this semi-savage state crave like savages for spirituous liquors. Ale, cyder and wine are insipid to their coarse and blunted sense: they are without taste, and must have something which the palate can feel. Intoxication with them is not social hilarity betrayed into excess; it is too rapid a process for that interval of generous feeling which tempts the European on. Their pleasure is first in the fiery stimulus itself, not in its effect—not in drunkenness, but in getting drunk. In the southern states a dram, mixed with some pungent herb, and taken before breakfast, is called a sling, and they whose custom it is to begin the day with it are so many as to be distinguished by the name of slingers. Another set are called eleveners, because they take the potion an hour before noon  and there are some who eleven as well as sling. According to Dr. Rush, half the cases of madness in the Philadelphia hospital are occasioned by dram-drinking. Modern physicians, in their rage for generalizing, have involved all spirituous liquors in one sweeping sentence of condemnation, as if their effects were not specifically different like their constituent parts. Ale stupifies the drunkard, wine exhilarates him, drams make him frantic. Hence the ferocity with which the Americans decide their quarrels; their rough and tumbling; their biting and lacerating each other; and their gouging, a diabolical practice which has never disgraced Europe, and for which no other people have even a name.

  15. Living in this semi-savage state, the greater part of the Americans are so accustomed to dispense with the comforts of life which they cannot obtain, that they have learnt to neglect even those decencies which are within their reach. This is not meant to allude to the custom of bundling, which probably never was general, and which was not the consequence of any particular stage of society; but it applies to the detestable state of their inns, which are as disgraceful to America as they are disgusting to the unlucky Englishman whose fate it is to travel there. The traveller [333] must eat with the family, and must wait for their hours let him arrive when he will; every apartment is considered as common, and that room in which a stranger sits down, says* Mr. Weld, is sure to be the most frequented; his chamber is filled with beds, in which men and women, if women happen to be travelling, lie promiscuously; and when he has fallen asleep in foul sheets, he may think himself fortunate if some dirty American does not awaken him by turning in by his side. In these beastly taverns the stranger must be an unwilling spectator of riot and drunkenness, and its bloody effects. Some advancement has however been made towards a more decent system by opening houses for travellers and travellers only; the persons who do this take out no license, and do not hang up a sign. The Americans have overrun an immense country, not settled it. In this, as in everything else, the system of things is forced beyond the age of the colonies; and the state and indeed the very existence of their inns is one of the consequences. Half a century back, whoever wandered in these wilds would have been lodged in an Indian wigwam; half a century hence, perhaps, the priest, the magistrate, the neighbouring gentleman, will keep open house for every respectable traveller, as well to gratify themselves with the enjoyment of society, as to save him from the inconveniences of unclean quarters, and boorish or rather brutal manners. In Virginia this is now the case, and it must be so in the new settlements whenever they are equally advanced.

  16. In the other colonies other causes have prevailed hostile to improvement. Slavery exists in the southern states, and consequently hardens the hearts and corrupts the morals of the people. The northern states have hardly outgrown their fanaticism. We have borne a willing testimony of respect to the principles of the first colonists in New England; but it cannot be denied that their religion is in the highest degree unfavourable to arts and manners. It tolerates no music except psalm-singing; loves no poetry above the pitch of a tabernacle hymn; and not content with the exclusion of graven images, and the likeness of anything that is in heaven or earth from its churches, reduces the church itself to the appearance of a barn. You look in vain for the steeple and the weathercock, the clock, and the churchyard yew, for all that is venerable and all that is beautiful; within [314] there is neither font nor altar; and if the priest be at all distinguishable from the people, it is by an aspect even more dismal than that of his flock. Popery has its festivals as well as its autos-da-fé. It fools the people, but it sometimes makes them happy; it insults their understanding, but it cherishes and keeps alive their love of beauty. It has destroyed mighty empires; yet let it be remembered that it founded them, that it civilized the barbarians of Northern Europe, and that wherever it struck root it has left monuments not less magnificent than the grandest ruins of Greece and Rome. Calvinism has retained many of the evils of Popery, and rejected all that serves to counterbalance them. The New Englanders regulated the most indifferent things by law. Women were ordered to wear their gowns closed round the neck, and forbidden to expose the arms above the wrist. Men were compelled to crop their hair, that they might not resemble women. No person was permitted to take tobacco publicly, and the indulgence of a single pipe or quid was to be atoned by the fine of one penny. To drink a health was condemned as a heathen libation. Even in Virginia, a colony which was not established upon Puritanical principles, it was enacted, 'that every person should go to church on Sundays and holidays, or be kept confined the night succeeding the offence, and be a slave to the colony the following week; for the second offence a slave for a month; and for the third a year and a day.' Stage coaches are at this time prohibited in Connecticut from running on the Sabbath, and if Mr. Janson's authority is to be relied on, horsemen, whose way lies by a meeting-house, are sometimes dismounted, and, in literal obedience to the precept of the parable, compelled to go in. In Massachusetts every kind of amusement on Sunday is prohibited by a law enacted so late as 1794; even the act of walking for pleasure is included in the prohibition. Quakerism has never appealed to positive law, but even this system, excellent as it is in other respects, has hitherto tended to keep the people ignorant and unimproved. If a Quaker, says Paine, had been consulted at the creation, what a drab-coloured world it would have been!

  17. There is scarcely any medium in America between over-godliness and a brutal irreligion. In many parts of the southern states baptism and the burial service are dispensed with. The ceremony of marriage is performed by a justice of the peace, and pigs are suffered to root in the church-yard and sleep in the church! From superstition to infidelity is an easy transition, and it is as easy from infidelity to superstition. America has its age of reason, and it has also its Dunkers and its Shakers. The all-friend Jemima Wilkinson, and her prophet Elijah, will have a [315] chapter in the next history of heresies with our Joanna Southcote, and her four and twenty elders. Methodism is even more obstreperous there than it is with us. Our fanatics, though their name is legion, have not yet ventured to hold camp-meetings. These meetings, as the name implies, are held in the open field, and continue, day and night, sometimes for a fortnight. Thousands flock to them from far and near, and bring with them, as the official advertisement recommends, provisions, and tents, or blankets; 'all friendly ministers and praying people are invited to attend said meeting.' The friendly ministers work away, and as soon as the lungs of one fail, another relieves him. 'When signs of conversion begin to be manifest,' says Mr. Janson, 'several preachers crowd round the object, exhorting a continuance of the efforts of the spirit, and displaying in the most frightful images the horrors which attend such as do not come unto them. The signs of regeneration are displayed in the most extravagant symptoms. I have seen women jumping, striking, and kicking, like raving maniacs, while the surrounding believers could not keep them in postures of decency. This continues till the convert is entirely exhausted; but they consider the greater the resistance the more the faith, and thus they are admitted into what they term the society.'

  18. The state of law in America is as deplorable as that of religion and far more extraordinary. The people appear in the courts of justice with their hats on at the bar; they talk, they make a noise, they smoke, and they cry out against the sentence if it does not happen to please them. This last piece of conduct, says the Duc de Liancourt, is universal; and there are perhaps some petty instances of injustice in the courts, which make it to be not without its use. We have lately seen a state criminal tried there some half dozen times for the same offence; and the trials have been such that it is impossible to discover whether he was guilty or not. In the natural order of things official rank would be most respected in countries where there is no hereditary rank, but in America nothing seems to be respected. There the government is better than the people; in every part of Europe (except France, where both are equally bad), the people are better than their governments; a century will decide which situation is most favourable, or rather perhaps, which is least inimical to general improvement. The want of decorum among the Americans is not imputable to their republican government, for it has not been found in other republics; it has proceeded from the effects of the revolutionary war, from their premature independence, and from that passion for gambling which infects all orders of men, clergy as well as laity, and the [336] legislators as well as the people. A Captain drives the stage-waggon, and it puts up at the house of a Colonel;—rank therefore becomes ridiculous. When the country became independent, it had no race of educated men to fill those situations which used to be respected; and they ceased to be so when the persons who filled them were no longer respectable. This evil might soon be remedied; a generation is sufficient to educate judges and magistrates. The spirit of gambling has produced more lasting injury. It is not confined to their speculations in law, by which so many emigrants have been duped and ruined; it extends to their commercial dealings, and the American merchants have a worse character than those of any other nation.

  19. This is an unfavourable picture, yet surely not an unfair one, nor has it been drawn by an unfriendly hand. Let but the American government abstain from war, and direct its main attention to the education of the people and the encouragement of arts and knowledge, and in a very few generations their country may vie with Europe. Above all, let not that Anti-Anglican spirit be cherished, for which there no longer exists a cause. With whatever indignation they may think of the past, they ought to remember that it was from England they imbibed those principles for which they fought and by which they triumphed. There is a sacred bond between us of blood and of language, which no circumstances can break. Our literature must always continue to be theirs, and though their laws are no longer the same as ours, we have the same Bible, and we address our common Father in the same prayer. Nations are too ready to admit that they have natural enemies; why should they be less willing to believe that they have natural friends?

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Published @ RC

September 2006