THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN AMERICA
THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN AMERICA
ISABELLA LUCY BIRD
FOREWORD AND NOTES BY ANDREW HILL CLARK
Prefatory and explanatory--The voyage out--The sentimental--The actual
--The oblivious--The medley--Practical joking--An unwelcome companion--
American patriotism--The first view--The departure.
An inhospitable reception--Halifax and the Blue Noses--The heat--
Disappointed expectations--The great departed--What the Blue Noses might
be--What the coach was not--Nova Scotia and its capabilities--The roads
and their annoyances--A tea dinner--A night journey and a Highland cabin
--A nautical catastrophe--A joyful reunion.
Popular ignorance--The garden island--Summer and winter contrasted--A
wooden capital--Island politics and their consequences--Gossip--"Blowin-
time"--Religion and the clergy--The servant nuisance--Colonial society--An
evening party--An island premier--Agrarian outrage--A visit to the
Indians--The pipe of peace--An Indian coquette--Country hospitality--A
missionary--A novel mode of lobster-fishing--Uncivilised life--Far away in
the woods--Starvation and dishonesty--An old Highlander and a Highland
welcome--Hopes for the future.
From St. George's Cross to the Stars and Stripes--Unpunctuality--
Incompetence--A wretched night--Colonial curiosity--The fashions--A
night in a buffalo robe--A stage journey--A queer character--Politics--
Chemistry--Mathematics--Rotten bridges--A midnight arrival--Colonial
ignorance--Yankee conceit--What ten-horse power chaps can do--The
pestilence--The city on the rock--New Brunswick--Steamboat peculiarities
--Going ahead in the eating line--A storm--Stepping ashore.
First experiences of American freedom--The "striped pig" and "Dusty Ben"
--A country mouse--What the cars are like--Beauties of New England--The
land of apples--A Mammoth hotel--The rusty inkstand exiled--Eloquent eyes
--Alone in a crowd.
A suspected bill--A friend in need--All aboard for the Western cars--
The wings of the wind--American politeness--A loquacious conductor--
Three minutes for refreshments--A conversation on politics--A
confession--The emigrant car--Beauties of the woods--A forest on fire--
Dangers of the cars--The Queen City of the West.
The Queen City continued--Its beauties--Its inhabitants human and
equine--An American church--Where chairs and bedsteads come from--Pigs
and pork--A peep into Kentucky--Popular opinions respecting slavery--
The curse of America.
The hickory stick--Chawing up ruins--A forest scene--A curious questioner
--Hard and soft shells--Dangers of a ferry--The western prairies--
Nocturnal detention--The Wild West and the Father of Rivers--Breakfast in
a shed--What is an alligator?--Physiognomy and its uses--The ladies'
parlour--A Chicago hotel its inmates and its horrors--A water-drinking
people--The Prairie City--Progress of the West.
A vexatious incident--John Bull enraged--Woman's rights--Alligators
become hosses--A popular host--Military display--A mirth-provoking gun
--Grave reminiscences--Attractions of the fair--Past and present--A
floating palace--Black companions--A black baby--Externals of Buffalo--
The flag of England.
The Place of Council--Its progress and its people--English hearts--
"Sebastopol is taken"--Squibs and crackers--A ship on her beam-ends--
Selfishness--A mongrel city--A Scot--Constancy rewarded--Monetary
difficulties--Detention on a bridge--A Canadian homestead--Life in the
clearings--The bush on fire--A word on farming--The "bee" and its produce
--Eccentricities of Mr. Haldimands--A ride on a troop-horse--Scotch
patriotism--An English church--The servant nuisance--Richard Cobden.
"I've seen nothing"--A disappointment--Incongruities--Hotel gaieties and
"doing Niagara"--Irish drosky-drivers--"The Hell of Waters"--Beauties of
Niagara--The picnic party--The white canoe--A cold shower-bath--"The
Thunder of Waters"--A magic word--"The Whirlpool"--Story of "Bloody Run"--
Yankee opinions of English ladies--A metamorphosis--The nigger guide--A
terrible situation--Termination Rock--Impressions of Niagara--Juvenile
precocity--A midnight journey--Street adventures in Hamilton.
A scene at starting--That dear little Harry--The old lady and the race
--Running the Rapids--An aside--Snow and discomfort--A new country--An
extemporised ball--Adventure with a madman--Shooting the cataract--
First appearance of Montreal--Its characteristics--Quebec in a fog--
"Muffins"--Quebec gaieties--The pestilence--Restlessness--St. Louis and
St. Roch--The shady side--Dark dens--External characteristics--Lord
Elgin--Mistaking a senator.
The House of Commons--Canadian gallantry--The constitution--Mr. Hincks--
The ex-rebel--Parties and leaders--A street row--Repeated disappointments
--The "habitans"--Their houses and their virtues--A stationary people--
Progress and its effects--Montmorenci--The natural staircase--The Indian
summer--Lorette--The old people--Beauties of Quebec--The _John Munn_--Fear
and its consequences--A gloomy journey.
Concluding remarks on Canada--Territory--Climate--Capabilities--Railways
and canals--Advantages for emigrants--Notices of emigration--Government--
The franchise--Revenue--Population--Religion--Education--The press--
Literature--Observations in conclusion.
Preliminary remarks on re-entering the States--Americanisms--A little
slang--Liquoring up--Eccentricities in dress--A 'cute chap down east--
Conversation on eating--A Kentucky gal--Lake Champlain--Delaval's--A
noisy serenade--Albany--Beauties of the Hudson--The Empire City.
Position of New York--Externals of the city--Conveyances--
Maladministration--The stores--The hotels--Curiosities of the hospital--
Ragged schools--The bad book--Monster schools--Amusements and oyster
Palaces--Dress--Figures--Manners--Education--Domestic habits--The ladies--
The gentlemen--Society--Receptions--Anti-English feeling--Autographs--The
The cemetery--Its beauties--The "Potter's Field"--The graves of children--
Monumental eccentricities--Arrival of emigrants--Their reception--Poor
dwellings--The dangerous class--The elections--The riots--Characteristics
of the streets--Journey to Boston--The sights of Boston--Longfellow--
Origin of the Constitution--The Executive--Congress--Local Legislatures--
The army and navy--Justice--Slavery--Political corruption--The foreign
element--Absence of principle--Associations--The Know-nothings--The press
and its power--Religion--The church--The clergy.
General remarks continued--The common schools--Their defect--Difficulties
--Management of the schools--The free academy--Hallways--Telegraphs--
Poverty--Literature--Advantages for emigrants--Difficulties of emigrants--
Peace or war--Concluding observations.
The _America_--A gloomy departure--An ugly night--Morning at Halifax--Our
new passengers--Babies--Captain Leitch--A day at sea--Clippers and
steamers--A storm--An Atlantic moonlight--Unpleasant sensations--A gale--
THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN AMERICA. [Footnote: It is necessary to state that this
volume is not by the Authoress of the '_Englishwoman in Russia_.']
Prefatory and explanatory--The voyage out--The sentimental--The actual--
The oblivious--The medley--Practical joking--An unwelcome companion--
American patriotism--The first view--The departure.
As a general dislike of prefaces is unmistakeably evidenced by their uncut
leaves and as unknown readers could scarcely be induced to read a book by
the most cogent representations of an unknown author and as apologies for
"rushing into print" are too trite and insincere to have any effect I
will merely prefix a few explanatory remarks to my first chapter.
Circumstances which it is unnecessary to dwell upon led me across the
Atlantic with some relatives; and on my return I was requested by
numerous friends to give an account of my travels. As this volume has been
written with a view to their gratification there is far more of personal
narrative than is likely to interest the general reader.
With respect to the people of the United States I have given those
impressions which as a traveller I formed; if they are more favourable
than those of some of my predecessors the difference may arise from my
having taken out many excellent introductions which afforded me greater
facilities of seeing the best society in the States than are usually
possessed by those who travel merely to see the country.
Where I have offered any opinions upon the effect produced by the
institutions of America or upon any great national question I have done
so with extreme diffidence giving _impressions_ rather than
_conclusions_ feeling the great injustice of drawing general inferences
from partial premises as well as the impossibility of rightly estimating
cause and effect during a brief residence in the United States. I have
endeavoured to give a faithful picture of what I saw and heard avoiding
the beaten track as much as possible and dwelling principally on those
things in which I knew that my friends were most interested.
Previously to visiting the United States I had read most of the American
travels which had been published; yet from experience I can say that even
those who read most on the Americans know little of them from the
disposition which leads travellers to seize and dwell upon the ludicrous
points which continually present themselves.
We know that there is a vast continent across the Atlantic first
discovered by a Genoese sailing under the Spanish flag and that for many
years past it has swallowed up thousands of the hardiest of our
population. Although our feelings are not particularly fraternal we give
the people inhabiting this continent the national cognomen of "_Brother
Jonathan_" while we name individuals "_Yankees_." We know that they are
famous for smoking spitting "gouging" and bowie-knives--for monster
hotels steamboat explosions railway collisions and repudiated debts. It
is believed also that this nation is renowned for keeping three millions
of Africans in slavery--for wooden nutmegs paper money and "fillibuster"
expeditions--for carrying out nationally and individually the maxim
"That they may take who have the power
And they may keep who can."
I went to the States with that amount of prejudice which seems the
birthright of every English person but I found that under the knowledge
of the Americans which can be attained by a traveller mixing in society in
every grade these prejudices gradually melted away. I found much which is
worthy of commendation even of imitation: that there is much which is
very reprehensible is not to be wondered at in a country which for years
has been made a "cave of Adullam"--a refuge for those who have "left their
country for their country's good"--a receptacle for the barbarous the
degraded and the vicious of all other nations. It must never be forgotten
that the noble the learned and the wealthy have shrunk from the United
States; her broad lands have been peopled to a great extent by those whose
stalwart arms have been their only possession.
Is it surprising considering these antecedents that much of arrogance
coarseness and vulgarity should be met with? Is it not rather surprising
that a traveller should meet with so little to annoy--so few obvious
departures from the rules of propriety?
An Englishman bears with patience any ridicule which foreigners cast upon
him. John Bull never laughs so loudly as when he laughs at himself; but
the Americans are nationally sensitive and cannot endure that good-
humoured raillery which jests at their weaknesses and foibles. Hence
candid and even favourable statements of the _truth_ by English travellers
are received with a perfect outcry by the Americans; and the phrases
"shameful misstatements" "violation of the rights of hospitality" &c.
are on every lip.
Most assuredly that spirit of envious rivalry and depreciating criticism
in which many English travellers have written is greatly to be
deprecated no less than the tone of servile adulation which some writers
have adopted; but our American neighbours must recollect that they
provoked both the virulent spirit and the hostile caricature by the way in
which some of their most popular writers of travels have led an ungenerous
onslaught against our institutions and people and the bitter tone in
which their newspaper press headed by the _Tribune_ indulges towards the
Having made these few remarks I must state that at the time of my visit
to the States I had no intention of recording my "experiences" in print;
and as my notes taken at the time were few and meagre and have been
elaborated from memory some inaccuracies have occurred which it will not
take a keen eye to detect. These must be set down to want of correct
information rather than to wilful misrepresentation. The statistical
information given is taken from works compiled by the Americans
themselves. The few matters on which I write which did not come under my
own observation I learned from trustworthy persons who have been long
resident in the country.
Of Canada it is scarcely necessary to speak here. Perhaps an English
writer may be inclined to adopt too eulogistic a tone in speaking of that
noble and loyal colony in which British institutions are undergoing a
Transatlantic trial and where a free people is protected by British laws.
There are doubtless some English readers who will be interested in the
brief notices which I have given of its people its society and its
astonishing capabilities. [Footnote: I must here record my grateful
acknowledgments to a gentleman in a prominent public position in Canada
who has furnished me with much valuable information which I should not
otherwise have obtained.]
The notes from which this volume is taken were written in the lands of
which it treats: they have been amplified and corrected in the genial
atmosphere of an English home. I will not offer hackneyed apologies for
its very numerous faults and deficiencies; but will conclude these tedious
but necessary introductory remarks with the sincere hope that my readers
may receive one hundredth part of the pleasure from the perusal of this
volume which I experienced among the scenes and people of which it is too
imperfect a record.
* * * * *
Although bi-weekly steamers ply between England and the States and many
mercantile men cross the Atlantic twice annually on business and think
nothing of it the voyage seems an important event when undertaken for the
first time. Friends living in inland counties and those who have been
sea-sick in crossing the straits of Dover exaggerate the dangers and
discomforts of ocean travelling and shake their heads knowingly about
fogs and icebergs.
Then there are a certain number of boxes to be packed and a very
uncertain number of things to fill them while clothing has to be provided
suitable to a tropical summer and a winter within the arctic circle. But
a variety of minor arrangements and even an indefinite number of leave-
takings cannot be indefinitely prolonged; and at eight o'clock on a
Saturday morning in 1854 I found myself with my friends on the landing-
stage at Liverpool.
Whatever sentimental feelings one might be inclined to indulge in on
leaving the shores of England were usefully and instantaneously
annihilated by the discomfort and crush in the _Satellite_ steam-tender
in which the passengers were conveyed helplessly huddled together like a
flock of sheep to the _Canada_ an 1850-ton paddle-wheel steamer of the
Cunard line which was moored in the centre of the Mersey.
An investigation into the state-rooms and the recital of disappointed
expectations consequent on the discovery of their very small dimensions
the rescue of "regulation" portmanteaus from sailors who were running off
with them and the indulgence of that errant curiosity which glances at
everything and rests on nothing occupied the time before the arrival of
the mail-boat with about two tons of letters and newspapers which were
consigned to the mail-room with incredible rapidity.
Then friends were abruptly dismissed--two guns were fired--the lashings
were cast off--the stars and stripes flaunted gaily from the 'fore--the
captain and pilot took their places on the paddle-boxes--the bell rang--
our huge paddle-wheels revolved and to use the words in which the same
event was chronicled by the daily press "The Cunard royal mail steamer
_Canada_ Captain Stone left the Mersey this morning for Boston and
Halifax conveying the usual mails; with one hundred and sixty-eight
passengers and a large cargo on freight."
It was an auspiciously commenced voyage as far as appearances went. The
summer sun shone brightly--the waves of the Mersey were crisp and foam-
capped--and the fields of England had never worn a brighter green. The
fleet of merchant-ships through which we passed was not without an
interest. There were timber-ships huge and square-sided unmistakeably
from Quebec or Miramichi--green high-sterned Dutch galliots--American
ships with long black hulls and tall raking masts--and those far-famed
"Black Ball" clippers the _Marco Polo_ and the _Champion of the Seas_--
in short the ships of all nations with their marked and distinguishing
peculiarities. But the most interesting object of all was the screw troop-
ship _Himalaya_ which was embarking the Scots Greys for the Crimea--that
regiment which has since earned so glorious but fatal a celebrity on the
bloody field of Balaklava.
It is to be supposed that to those who were crossing the Atlantic for the
first time to the western hemisphere there was some degree of excitement
and that regret was among the feelings with which they saw the coast of
England become a faint cloud on the horizon; but soon oblivion stole over
the intellects of most of the passengers leaving one absorbing feeling of
disgust first to the viands next to those who could partake of them and
lastly to everything connected with the sea. Fortunately this state of
things only lasted for two days as the weather was very calm and we ran
with studding-sails set before a fair wind as far as the Nova Scotian
The genius of Idleness presided over us all. There were five ample meals
every day and people ate and walked till they could eat again; while
some extended on sofas slept over odd volumes of novels from the ship's
library and others played at chess cards or backgammon from morning to
night. Some of the more active spirits played "shuffle-boards" which kept
the deck in an uproar; while others enjoyed the _dolce far niente_ in
their berths except when the bell summoned to meals. There were weather-
wise people who smoked round the funnel all day and prophesied foul
winds every night; and pertinacious querists who asked the captain every
hour or two when we should reach Halifax. Some betted on the "run" and
others on the time of reaching port; in short every expedient was
resorted to by which time could be killed.
We had about twenty English passengers; the rest were Canadians
Americans Jews Germans Dutch French Californians Spaniards and
Bavarians. Strict equality was preserved in this heterogeneous assembly.
An Irish pork-merchant was seated at dinner next a Jew who regarded the
pig _in toto_ as an abomination--a lady a scion of a ducal family found
herself next to a French cook going out to a San Franciscan eating-house--
an officer going out to high command at Halifax was seated next a rough
Californian who wore "nuggets" of gold for buttons; and there were
contrasts even stronger than these. The most conspicuous of our fellow-
voyagers was the editor of an American paper who was writing a series of
clever but scurrilous articles on England from materials gleaned in a
three weeks' tour!
Some of the Americans were very fond of practical jokes but these were
rather of a stupid description. There was a Spanish gentleman who used to
promenade the deck with a dignity worthy of the Cid Rodrigo addressing
everybody he met with the question "_Parlez-vous Francais Monsieur?_"
and at the end of the voyage his stock of English only amounted to "Dice?
Sixpence." One day at dinner this gentleman requested a French-speaking
Californian to tell him how to ask for _du pain_ in English. "My donkeys"
was the prompt reply and the joke was winked down the table while the
Spaniard was hammering away at "My donkeys" till he got the pronunciation
perfect. The waiter came round and the unhappy man in confident but
mellifluous tones pointing to the bread asked for "My donkeys."
Comic drinking-songs and satires on the English the latter to the tune
of 'Yankee Doodle' were sung in the saloon in the evenings round large
bowls of punch and had the effect of keeping many of the ladies on deck
when a refuge from the cold and spray would have been desirable; but with
this exception the conduct of the passengers on the whole was marked by
far more propriety than could have been expected from so mixed a company.
If the captain had been more of a disciplinarian even this annoyance
might have been avoided.
I had the misfortune of having for my companion in my state-room an
Englishwoman who had resided for some years at New York and who combined