Charles Lyell.

Travels in North America, in the years 1841-2; with geological observations on the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia (Volume 1) online

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IN THE YEARS 1841-2 ;









VOL. 1,









My dear Mr. Ticknor,

I am glad to have your permission to dedicate
these volumes to you, in remembrance of the many
happy days spent in your society, and in that of your
family and literary friends at Boston ; a remembrance
which would be without alloy, were it not for my
frequent regrets that the broad Atlantic should sep-
arate so many congenial souls whom we both of us
number among our friends in Europe and America.
Believe me,

With feelings of great regard,
Ever faithfully yours,

Charles Lyell.
London, June 12, 1845.




/Voyage.— Harbour of Halifax. — Excursions near Boston.— Dif-
ference of Plants from European Species, and Correspon-
dence of Marine Shells. — Resemblance of Drift, Erratics,
and Furrowed Rocks, to those of Sweden. — Springfield. —
New Haven.— Scenery of the Hudson. — Albany.— Geologi-
cal Surveys. — Mohawk Valley. — Ancient or Silurian Forma-
tions. — Prosperity and rapid Progress of the People. —
Lake Ontario. — Tortoises.— Fossil Remains of Mastodon 1


Distant and near View of the Falls of Niagara. — Whether
the Falls have receded from Queenston to their present
Site.— Geographical Features of the Region.— Course of
the River above and below the Falls. — Recent Proofs of
Erosion. — Historical Data in the Works of Hennepin and
Kalm. — Geological Evidence derived from Fluviatile Strata
or Remnants of an old River-bed in Goat-Island and else-
where. — Difficulty of computing the Rate of the Retrograde
Movement. — Varying Hardness and Thickness of the Rocks
undermined. — Future Recession. — Age of the Drift and Lime-
stone Escarpments. — Successive changes which preceded
and accompanied the origin of the Falls.— Reflections on the
Lapse of past Time 22


Tour from the Niagara to the Northern Frontier of Pennsyl-
vania. — Ancient Gypsiferous Formation of New York. —
Fossil Mastodon at Geneseo. — Scenery. — Sudden Growth of



Coal-Measures. — Sticinaria. — Humming Birds. — Nomencla-
ture of Places.— HeUlerborg Mountains and Fossils. — Re-
fractory Tenants. — Travelling in the States. — Politeness
of Women. — Canal Boat. — Domestic Service. — Progress of
Civilisation.— Philadelphia. — Fire-engines 44

Excursion to New Jersey. — Cretaceous Rocks compared to
European. — General Analogy of Fossils, and Distinctness of
Species. — Tour to the Anthracite Region of tlie AUoghanies
in Pennsylvania. — Long parallel Ridges and Valleys of these
Mountains. — Pottsville. — Absence of Smoke. — Fossil Plants
same as in Bituminous Coal. — Stigmari<p. — Great Thickness
of Strata. — Origin of Anthracite. — Vast Area of the Appala-
chian Coal-Field. — Progressive Debituminization of coal
from West to East. — General Remarks on the different
Groups of Rocks between the Atlantic and the Mississippi. —
Law of Structure of the Appalachian chain discovered by
the Professors Rogers. — Increased Folding and Dislocation
of Strata on the South-eastern flank of the Appalachians. —
Theory of the Origin of this Mountain chain 62


Wooded Ridges of the Alleghany Mountains. — German Patois
in Pennsylvania. — Lehigh Summit Mine. — Effects of Ice
during a Flood in the Delaware. — Election of a Governor
at Trenton and at Philadelphia. — Journey to Boston. —
Autumnal Tints of the Foliage. — Boston the Seat of Com-
merce, of Government, and of a University. — Lectures at the
Lowell Institute.— Influence of Oral Instruction in Litera-
ture and Science. — Fees of Public Lecturers.— Education
Funds sunk in costly Buildings.— Advantages of anti-build-
ing clauses —Blind Asylum.— Lowell Factory. — National
Schools.— Eijuality of Sects. — Society in Boston


Fall of Snow and Sleigh-driving at Boston. — Journey to New
Haven. — Ichthyolites of Durham, Connecticut.— Age of
Red Sandstone. — Income of Farmers. — Baltimore. — Wash-
ington. — National Mu.s«nim. — Natural Impediments to the
Growth of Washintrfon.— Why chosen for the Capital. -
Richmond, Virginia. — KtliHts of Slave Labour. — Low Region



The reader is reminded that the general map of the geology
of the United States and Canada forms the frontispiece of the
second volume, and that the line of my route is traced upon it
in the manner described in the explanation of the map at Vol
II. p. 238

As the present work embraces a great variety of subjects to
which my thoughts were turned during my travels in North
America, I have endeavoured to confine myself as far as possi-
ble to the communication of such scientific matter as I thought
might be of interest to the general reader. For a more detailed
account of my geological observations alluded to in the course
of these volumes, I must refer to the following published papers
and abstracts of memoirs read to the Geological Society of Lon-

1. Letter to Dr. Fitton on the Blossberg Coal District and

Stigmaria : Proceedings of the Geological Society, vol.
iii. p. 554. 1841.

2. Recession of the Falls of Niagara : Ihid. vol. iii. p. 595.

1842. Resumed, vol. iv. p. 19. 1843.

3. Tertiary Formations in Virginia and other parts of the
United States : Ihid. vol. iii. p. 735. 1842.

4. Fossil Foot-Prints of Birds and Impressions of Rain-drops

in Connecticut Valley. Ihid. vol. iii. p. 793. 1842.

5. Tertiary Strata of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts :
Ihid. vol, iv. p. 31. 1843.

6. On the Geological Position of the Mastodon giganteus,

and other Remains at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, and
other Locahties in the United States. Ihid. vol. iv. p.
36. 1843.



7. On upri;ilit Fossil Trees found in tlie Coal Strata of Cum-
berland, Nova Scotia : Silliman's Journal, vol. xlv. No.
2. p. ;io3. 164.3.

8. Coal P^onnations, (lypsuni, and Marine Limestones of

Nova Scotia : Ibid. p. 356.

9. Bed of Plumbago and Anthracite in Mica-schist, near Wor-

cester, Massachusetts, with Appendix containing Analysea
by Dr. Percy : Quarterly Journ. of Gcol. Soc. No. 2. p.
41G. May, 1845.

10. Cretaceous Strata of New Jersey, with Appendix, on the
Fossil Corals of the same, by Mr. Lonsdale : Ibid. No.
1. p. 301. Feb. 1845.

11. Miocene Formations of Virginia and North Carolina, &c.,
with Appendix, on Fossil Corals, by Mr. Lonsdale : read
to the Geol. Soc., March, 1845. Preparing for pubhca-
tion, Ibid. No. 4.

12. On the White Limestone of South Carolina and Georgia,

and the Eocene Strata of other parts of the U. S., with
Appendix, on the Corals, by Mr. Lonsflale : rend to the
Geol. Soc., March, 1845. Preparing for publication. Ibid.
No. 4.
Abstracts of most of these papers have also appeared in Sil-
liman's " American Journal of Science and Arts." for the cor-
responding years.

London, Jtuip 14l]i, 1845.



on the Atlantic Border, occupied by Tertiary Strata,— In
fusorial Bed at Richmond. — Miocene Shells and Corals in
the Cliffs of the James River compared with Fossils of the
European Crag and Faluns. — Analogy of Forms and Differ-
ence of Species. — Proportion of Species. — Commencement
of the present Geographical Distribution of Mollusca 99

Pine Barrens of Virginia and North Carolina. — Railway Train
stopped by Snow and Ice. — The great Dismal Swamp. —
Soil formed entirely of Vegetable Matter.— Rises higher than
the contiguous firm Land.— Buried Timber.— Lake in the
Middle. — The Origin of Coal illustrated by the Great Dis-
mal. — Objections to the Theory of an ancient Atmosphere
highly charged with Carbonic Acid 112


Tour to Charleston, South Carolina. — Facilities of Locomo-
tion. — Augusta. — Voyage down the Savannah River. — Shell
Bluff. — Slave Labour. — Fever and Ague. — Millhaven. — Pine
Forests of Georgia. — Alligators and Land Tortoises. — Warmth
of Climate in January. — Tertiary Strata on the Savannah. —
Fossil Remains of Mastodon and Mylodon near Savannah. —
Passports required of Slaves. — Cheerfulness of the Negroes. 122

Return to Charleston.— Fossil Human Skeleton.— Geographical
Distribution of Quadrupeds in North America.— Severe
Frost in 1835 in South Carolina. — White Limestone of the
Cooper River and Santee Canal. — Referred to the Eocene
Period, not intermediate between Tertiary and Chalk. —
Lime-sinks. — Species of Shells common to Eocene Strata in
America and Europe. — Causes of the increased Insalubrity
of the Low Region of South Carolina. — Condition of the
Slave Population.— Cheerfulness of the Negroes, their
Vanity. — State of Animal Existence —Invalidity of Mar-
riages. — The coloured Population multiply faster than the
Whites. — Effect of the Interference of Abolitionists. — Law
against Education. — Gradual Emancipation equally desirable
for the Whites and the Coloured Race 136



Wilmington, North Carolina. — Mount Vernon, — Return Jto
Philadelpliia. — Reception of Mr. Dickens. — Museum and
Fossil Human Bones— Penitentiary.— Churches.— Reli^jious
Excitement. — Coloured People of Fortune. — Obstacles to
their obtaining Political and Social Equality.— No natural
Antipathy between the Races. — Negro Reservations 156


Philadelphia. — Financial Crisis. — Payment of State Dividends
suspended. — General Distress and Private Losses of tlxe
Americans. — Debt of Pennsylvania.— Public Works. — Direct
Taxes. — Deficient Revenue. — Bad Faith and Confiscations. —
Irresponsible Executive. — Loan Refused by European Capi-
talists in 1842. — Good Faith of Congress during the War in /
1S12-14. — Effects of Universal Suffrage.- Fraudulent Vot-
ing. — Aliens. — Solvency and Good Faith of the Majority of
the States. — Confidence of American Capitalists. — Reform
of the Electoral Body. — General Progress of Society, and
Prospects of the Republic 171

New York City. — Geology. — Distribution of Erratic Rocks in
Long Island. — Residence in New York. — Effects on Society
of increased Intercourse of distant States. — Separation of the
Capital and Metropolis. — Climate. — Geology of the Taconic
Mountains. — Stratum of Pliunbago and Anthracite in the
Mica Schist of Worcester. — Theory of its Origin. — Lectures
for the Working Classes. — Fossil F'oot-Prints of Birds in
Red Sandstone. — Mount Holyoke. — Visit to the Island of
Martha's Vineyard. — Fossil Walrus. — Indias 1S9

Meeting of Association of American Geologists at Boston. —
Popular Libraries in New England. — Large Sale of Literary
Works in the United States. — American Universities.—
Harvard College, near Boston. — English Universities. — Pecu-
liarities of their System. — Historical Sketch of the Causes
of the Peculiarities not of Medieval Origin. — Collegiate
Corporations.- Their altered Relations to the English Uni-
versities after the Reformation. — Constitution given to
Oxford by Leicester and Laud.— System of Public Teaching,



how superseded by the Collegiate.— Effects of the Change. —
Oxford Examination Statute of 1800.— Its subsequent Modi-
fication and Results.— Rise of Private Tutors at Oxford and
Cambridge. — Consequences of this Innovation. — Struggle at
Oxford in 1839 to restore the Professional System.— Causes
of its Rejection. — Tractarianism.— Supremacy of Ecclesias-
tics. — Youthful Examiners. — Cambridge, advocacy of the
System followed there. — Influence of the English Academi-
cal Plan on the Cultivation of the Physical Sciences, and
all Branches of Progressive Knowledge. — Remedies and
Reforms 208




IN 1841—2.


Voyage. — Harbour of Halifax. — Excursions near Boston. — Differ-
ence of Plants from European Species, and Correspondence of
Marine Shells. — Resemblance of Drift, Erratics, and furrowed
Rocks, to those of Sweden. — Springfield. — New Haven. — Scenery
of the Hudson. — Albany. — Geological Surveys. — Mohawk Valley. —
Ancient or Silurian Formations. — Prosperity and rapid Progress
of the People. — Lake Ontario. — Tortoises. — Fossil Remains of

July 20, 1841.— -Sailed from Liverpool for Boston,
U. S., in the steam-ship Acadia, which held her course
as straight as an arrow from Cape Clear in Ireland to
HaUfax in Nova Scotia, making between 220 and 280
miles per day.

After the monotony of a week spent on the open
sea, we were amused when we came near the great
banks which extend from the southern point of New-
foundland, by the rapid passage of the steamer through '
alternate belts of stationary fog and clear spaces
warmed and lighted up with bright sunshine. Look-
ing at the dense fog from the intermediate surmy


regions, \vc roukl Iiaiilly Ik; piT-iiaclcd tliat we were
*not Ix'holdiiiiX land, so (li.^tinct and well-defined was its
outline, and siirji the varieties of lii2:ht and shade, that
some of our Canadian fellow-passengers compared it to
the j)atches of cleared and uncleared country on the
north shore of the St. Lawrence. These fogs are
caused hy the meeting, over the great banks, of the
warm waters of the gulf stream llowing from the south,
and colder currents, often charged with floating ice,
from the north, by which very o])posite states in the
relative temix'rature of the sea and atmosphere are pro-
liuced in spaces closely contiguous. In places where
the sea is warmer than the air, fogs are generated.

When the eye has been accustomed for many days
to the deep blue of the central Atlantic, the greener
tint of the sea over the banks is refreshing. We were
within 150 miles of the southern point of Newfound-
land when we crossed these banks, over whicli the
shallowest water is said to be about thirty-five fathoms
deep. The lx)ttom consists of fine sand, which must
be often ploughed up by icebergs, for several of them
were seen aground here by some of our passenij^ers on
the 31st of July last. The captain tells us that the
worst months for crossing the Atlantic to and from
Halifax are February and March, and the most agree-
able ones, July, August, and September. The nearer
we approached the American coast, the more beautiful
and l>rilliant were the sunsets. We sometimes com-
parrd the changing hues of the clouds and sky to the
%lue and red colours in a pigeon's neck.

Jufi/ iU. — On the eleventh day of our voyage we
sailed directly into the harl>our of Halifax, which by its
low hills of granite and slate, covered with birch and


spruce fir, reminded me more of a Norwegian fiord,
such as that of Christiania, than any other place I had
seen. I landed here for six hours, with my wife, du-
ring which we had time to drive about the town, and
see the museum, Avhere I was shown a large fossil tree
filled with sandstone, recently sent from strata contain-
ing coal in the interior. I resolved to examine these
before returning to England, as they appeared, by the
description given us, to afford the finest examples yet
known in the world of petrified trees occurring in their
natural or erect position.

Letters, which we had written on the vo)^age, being
now committed to the post-oflSce at Halifax, were taken
up next day by the Caledonia steam-ship for England,
and in less than a month from the time of our quitting
London, our friends in remote parts of Great Britain
(in Scotland and in Devonshire) were reading an
accoimt of the harbour of Halifax, of the Micmac
Indians with their Esquimaux features, paddling about
in canoes of birch bark, and other novelties seen on the
shores of the New World. It required the aid of the
recently estabhshed railroads at home, as well as the
Atlantic steam-packets, to render such rapid correspond-
ence possible.

August 2. — A run of about thirty hours carried us
to Boston, which we reached in twelve and a half days
after leaving Liverpool. The heat here is intense, the
harbour and citj' beautiful, the air clear and entirely
free from smoke, so that the shipping ma}^ be seen fcyj;
off, at the end of many of the streets. The Tremonl
Hotel merits its reputation as one of the best in the
world. Recollecting the contrast of every thing French
when I first crossed the straits of Dover, I am aston-


ished, after liavine^ traversed the wide ocean, at the re-
Benihlance of every iU'ing I see and hear to things
fanjiliar at home. Il has so often liappened to me iu
our own island, wiihont trav(^llin? into those parts of
Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, where they talk a perfectly
distinct lanixuaire, to encounter provincial dialects which
it is ditlicult to comprehend, that I wonder at finding
the people here so very Enghsh. If the metro}X)lis of
New England be a type of a large part of the United
States, the industry of Sam Shck, and other writers, in
collecting togetlier so many diverting Americanisms
and so much original slang, is truly great, or their
inventive powers still greater.

I made excursions to the neighbourhood of Boston,
through Roxbury, Cambridge, and other places, with a
good botanist, to whom 1 had brought letters of intro-
duction. Although this is not the beet season for wild
flowers, the entire distinctness of the trees, shrubs, and
plants, from those on the other side of the Atlantic,
affords a constant charm to the European traveller.
AVe admired the drooping American elm, a picturesque
tree ; and saw several kinds of sumach, oaks with
deeply indented leaves, dwarf birches, and several wild
roses. Large commons without heaths reminded me
of the singidar fact that no species of heath is indige-
nous on the American continent. We missed also the
small "crimson-tipped" daisy on the green lawns, and
were told that they have been often cultivated with
care, i)ut an' found to wither when exposed to the dry
air and l)right sim of this climate. \\ hen weeds so
commn i wiih us cannot be reared here, we cease to
wondci at the dissimilarity of the native flora of the
New AVorld. V(i . whenever the aboriginal forests are


cleared, we see orchards, gardens, and arable lands,
filled with the same fruit trees, the same grain and
vegetables, as in Europe, so bountifully has Nature
provided that the plants most useful to man should be
capable, like himself, of becoming cosmopolites.

Aug. 5. — Went b}^ railway to deUver letters and pay
some visits at Nahant, situated on a promontory of
the coast, about ten miles N.E. of Boston, where I
examined the rocks of hornblende and syenite, trav-
ersed by veins of greenstone and basalt which often
intersect each other. The surface of the rocks, wher-
ever the incumbent gravel or drift has been recently
removed, is poHshed, furrowed, and striated, as in the
north of Europe, especially in Sweden, or in Switzer-
land, near the great glaciers.

On the beach or bar of sand and shingle, which
unites the peninsula with the main land, I collected
many recent shells, and was immediately struck Avith
the agreement of several of the most abundant species
with our ordinary British littoral shells. Among them
were Purimra lapillus^ Turbo {Liftorina) riidis,
Mytilus edulis, Modiola papuana, Mya arenaria,
besides others which were evidently geographical rep-
resentatives of our common species ; such as Nassa
trivittata, aUied to our N. reticulata^ Turho palliatus
Say, allied to, if not the same as, our common Turbo
neritoides^ &c. I afterwards added largely to the Ust
of corresponding species and forms, and Dr. Gould of
Boston showed me his collection of the marine shells
of Massachusetts and the adjoining ocean, and gave
me a Hst of 70 out of 197 species which he regarded as
identical with shells from Europe. After comparing
these on my return, with the aid of several able con-



cholo<jis(?j. I am convincnl ihai ilir <_:i('at(r j)art of these
idfMitiricatioiis arr roncrt ; and, in tlio place of some
coiisidt'ird as douljtfnl, tlicrr arc ollicrs not einimora-
trd in 1 )r. ( iould's calaloLTur. w liicli may l)e sulistilutcd,
so as lo <'stal)l!sli a irsidt for wliicli few E^colotrif^ts were
pirparcd. viz. that oik^ third, or ah<»iit 'Art per crnt, of
iUr maiiiic slirlls of ilii< j);irt of Amnica arr (lir same
as those on tli(^ oj)j)()site side of I lie Atlantic ; a large
piirt of the remainder consistinir of irfOirraphical repre-
sentatives, and a fraction oidy of the whole aflhrding
characteristic or peculiar forms. I shall h^ve many
opportunities of pointinuf out the geological l)earing of
this curious, and to me very unexpected, fact.

►"Several excxivations made for railways in the neigh-
honrhood of Boston, through mounds of stratified and
nnstratitied gravel and sand, and also through rock,
enahled me to recognise the exact repemhlance of this
part of New England to the less elevated regions of
Norway and Sweden, where granitic rocks are strewed
over irregularly with sand and hlocks of stone, forming
a gently undulating country with lunnerous |K>nds and
Fmall lakes. Indceil. had I not heen constantly re-
minded that I was in America, l)y the distinctness of
the plants, and the hirds llyinir ahout in the wotxls, the
geological j)henomena would liav<^ l<'d me to suppose
niys<'lf in Scotland, or some other part of Northern
lairoj)c. These heaps of sand and pehhles are en-
tirely devoid of shells or organic remains, and occasion-
ally huire rounded hlocks, hn)ught from a great distance,
rest u|M)n ihcm, or are huried in them. The hea|)s are
mainly comjX)sed, however, of the materials of neigh-
lK)urinLr nnks. At sonu* |)oints the superficial gravel
has l>een j)ierced to the depth of 10(1, and even more

Chap. I. TO THOSK OF SVVf:i)EN. 7

than 200, feet, without the sohd rock beiii^ reached ;
but more commonly the loose detritus is of moderate
thickness, and, when remov^ed, a polished surface of
granite, gneiss, or mica schist, is exposed, exhibiting a
smooth surface, with occasional scratches or straight
parallel furrows. Here and there, rounded and flat-
tened domes of smoothed rock, similar in shape to the
" roches moutonnees" which border the Alpine glaciers,
are observable. The day after I landed, an excava-
tion recently made for the monument now erecting on
Bunker's Hill, enabled me to recognise the hkeness of
this drift to that of Scandinavia, and every day since
I have seen fresh proofs of the complete correspondence
of these remote districts. Professor Hitchcock has
shown that in New England the parallel grooves or
furrows have a general direction nearly north and
south, but usually ten or fifteen degrees to the west of
north. I have already seen, at Nahant and elsewhere,
some marked deviations from this rule, which, however,
is correct in the main, and these markings have been
found to prevail at all heights in New England, even
in mountains more than 2000 feet high.

I have aheady observed several rounded boulders
with one flat side scratched and furrowed, as if it had
been held firmly in one position when frozen into ice,
and rubbed against a hard rocky bottom.

There is here, as in Sweden, so great an extent of
low country remote from any high mountains, that we
cannot attribute the effects above described to true gla-
ciers descending in the open air from the higher regions
to the plains. If we adopt the glacial theory, we must
suppose the country to have been submerged, and that
the northern drift was brought here by large bodies of

8 Dr.rAK'rrKH for NKW HAVF.N. Chap. .

floatinix i^'<'j which, by repcateilly i iimiiii!^ aground on
the l>oUom of the sen for thousands of years, and for-

Online LibraryCharles LyellTravels in North America, in the years 1841-2; with geological observations on the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 32)