Thursday, October 26, 2006

Item of the Day: The Stranger in America (1807)

Full Title: The Stranger in America: containing Observations made during a long Residence in that Country on the Genius, Manners and Customs of the People of the United States; with Biographical Particulars of Public Characters; Hints and Facts relative to the Arts, Sciences, Commerce, Agriculture, Manufactures, Emigration and the Slave Trade by Charles William Janson, Esq. Published by James Cundee, Albion Press London, 1807.


Chap. II

We landed in Boston on the third of July, and the fourth was the day of Jubilee -- the anniversary of the declaration of American independence. The fatigue of getting my baggage on shore in the excessive heat of a meridian sun, had nearly exhausted me before I reached my lodgings. I, however, met with no detention or aggravating circumstances at the custom-house -- no extortion -- no demand of fees. An oath was administered to me, that the baggage was for my own private use; and this was the only ceremony I underwent.

. . .

Boston bears considerable resemblance to an old city in England, It is two miles in length, but of unequal breadth, being seven hundred and twenty-six yards at the broadest part. It contains about 3500 dwelling-houses, many of which are built of wood, besides a great number of store-houses, and nearly 28,000 inhabitants. This town is famed for a wharf, leading from State-Street into the harbor, 1743 feet in a direct line, and in breadth 104 feet. On approaching it from the sea, it appears to the greatest advantage. At the back part is Beacon Hill which greatly adds to the prospects. On the top of this hill is a column, on which are inscribed the achievements of those who fell by the swords of the British during the revolutionary war. At Boston they distill large quantities of that detestable spirit, there called New England, but in the Southern States, Yankee rum, and in this employment there are nearly forty large distilleries. It is made of the worst and the damaged molasses, and its baleful effects are severely felt in every part of the union. In Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, it foments quarrels, which produce combats like those of bears and wolves -- gouging, biting kicking, and tearing each others' flesh; of which I shall make more particular mention when I speak of those states. It is sold for about an English half-crown per gallon, is strong, and has the most execrable smell with which any kind of spirit ever assailed my nasal organ.

. . .

An excursion through Connecticut, and part of Massachusets, afforded me an opportunity of observing the mode of travelling, and the accommodations on the road. In order to view the country at my leisure, I purchased a horse, which, with a tolerable bridle and saddle, cost me sixty dollars. Upon my new purchase I set out, before the break of day, from New London, in order to arrive at Norwich before the sun acquired his full power. After riding three hours, I stopped at a decent looking house, with a vile daub of General Washington for a sign, in order to feed my nag, which had ingratiated himself in my favor by the morning's performance, and to take breakfast. I was greatly surprized to see a hot beef-steak, swimming in grease and onions, brought upon the table; and still more so to find this substantial dish followed by another of fried eggs and bacon. My ride had sharpened my appetite, so that the fume of these smoaking dishes was by no means unpleasant. They remained upon the table till nearly cold, before a single person came into the room. My patience was exhausted -- hunger drove away ceremony; I could no longer restrain its calls, and therefore commenced an attack, for the first time in my life, upon a clumsy beef-steak, at eight in the morning. I saw no appearance of tea or coffee, and concluded that I must make a dinner instead of a breakfast, but in a little time the room began to fill with country-looking people of both sexes, to my confusion -- for I was stared at with looks not very prepossessing, till I observed, that being a stranger, in haste to pursue my journey, not knowing company were expected, and above all, the steak cooling, I had begun to eat. Very little notice was taken of my apology, but each followed my example, with stomachs not a whit less keen than my own. If, methought, looking round the table, and fixing my eyes upon a pretty girl, who was too deeply engaged with a plate of eggs and bacon to notice me, -- if you make a practice of breaking your fast thus, pretty damsel, you must surely be a maiden of the days of Queen Bess, preferring "to such slip-slops as tea the leg of an ox." A few days convinced me that this is the daily custom in the morning with this class of people, who must have something hot and substantial . Besides this fare, let me not forget to mention, we were served with some most detestable coffee. I wished for ale or porter after my steak, but was offered "Yankee rum," the most execrable spirit ever distilled; and at length I allayed my thirst with a glass of sour cyder.

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