William Cullen Bryant.

Letters of a Traveller Notes of Things Seen in Europe and America online

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the fragrance of young orange-trees in flower, the glossy leaves of
which, green at all seasons, were trembling in the wind. A troop of negro
children were at play at a little distance from the cabins, and one of
them ran along with us to show us a grove of sour oranges which we were
looking for. He pointed us to a copse in the middle of a field, to which
we proceeded. The trees, which were of considerable size, were full of
flowers, and the golden fruit was thick on the branches, and lay scattered
on the ground below. I gathered a few of the oranges, and found them
almost as acid as the lemon. We stopped to look at the buildings in which
the sugar was manufactured. In one of them was the mill where the cane was
crushed with iron rollers, in another stood the huge cauldrons, one after
another, in which the juice was boiled down to the proper consistence; in
another were barrels of sugar, of syrup - a favorite article of consumption
in this city - of molasses, and a kind of spirits resembling Jamaica rum,
distilled from the refuse of the molasses. The proprietor was absent, but
three negroes, well-clad young men, of a very respectable appearance and
intelligent physiognomy, one of whom was a distiller, were occupied about
the buildings, and showed them to us. Near by in the open air lay a pile
of sugar cane, of the ribbon variety, striped with red and white, which
had been plucked up by the roots, and reserved for planting. The negroes
of St. Augustine are a good-looking specimen of the race, and have the
appearance of being very well treated. You rarely see a negro in ragged
clothing, and the colored children, though slaves, are often dressed with
great neatness. In the colored people whom I saw in the Catholic church, I
remarked a more agreeable, open, and gentle physiognomy than I have been
accustomed to see in that class. The Spanish race blends more kindly with
the African, than does the English, and produces handsomer men and women.

I have been to see the quarries of coquina, or shell-rock, on the island
of St. Anastasia, which lies between St. Augustine and the main ocean. We
landed on the island, and after a walk of some distance on a sandy road
through the thick shrubs, we arrived at some huts built of a frame-work of
poles thatched with the radiated leaves of the dwarf palmetto, which had a
very picturesque appearance. Here we found a circular hollow in the earth,
the place of an old excavation, now shaded with red-cedars, and the
palmetto-royal bristling with long pointed leaves, which bent over and
embowered it, and at the bottom was a spring within a square curb of
stone, where we refreshed ourselves with a draught of cold water. The
quarries were at a little distance from this. The rock lies in the ridges,
a little below the surface, forming a stratum of no great depth. The
blocks are cut out with crowbars thrust into the rock. It is of a delicate
cream color, and is composed of mere shells and fragments of shells,
apparently cemented by the fresh water percolating through them and
depositing calcareous matter brought from the shells above. Whenever
there is any mixture of sand with the shells, rock is not formed.

Of this material the old fort of St. Mark and the greater part of the city
are built. It is said to become harder when exposed to the air and the
rain, but to disintegrate when frequently moistened with sea-water. Large
blocks were lying on the shore ready to be conveyed to the fort, which is
undergoing repairs. It is some consolation to know that this fine old work
will undergo as little change in the original plan as is consistent with
the modern improvements in fortification. Lieutenant Benham, who has the
charge of the repairs, has strong antiquarian tastes, and will preserve as
much as possible of its original aspect. It must lose its battlements,
however, its fine mural crown. Battlements are now obsolete, except when
they are of no use, as on the roofs of churches and Gothic cottages.

In another part of the same island, which we visited afterward, is a
dwelling-house situated amid orange-groves. Closely planted rows of the
sour orange, the native tree of the country, intersect and shelter
orchards of the sweet orange, the lemon, and the lime. The trees were all
young, having been planted since the great frost of 1835, and many of them
still show the ravages of the gale of last October, which stripped them of
their leaves.

"Come this way," said a friend who accompanied me. He forced a passage
through a tall hedge of the sour orange, and we found ourselves in a
little fragrant inclosure, in the midst of which was a tomb, formed of
the artificial stone of which I have heretofore spoken. It was the
resting-place of the former proprietor, who sleeps in this little circle
of perpetual verdure. It bore no inscription. Not far from this spot, I
was shown the root of an ancient palm-tree, the species that produces the
date, which formerly towered over the island, and served as a sea-mark to
vessels approaching the shore. Some of the accounts of St. Augustine speak
of dates as among its fruits; but I believe that only the male tree of the
date-palm has been introduced into the country.

On our return to the city, in crossing the Matanzas sound, so named
probably from some sanguinary battle with the aborigines on its shores; we
passed two Minorcans in a boat, taking home fuel from the island. These
people are a mild, harmless race, of civil manners and abstemious habits.
Mingled with them are many Greek families, with names that denote their
origin, such as Geopoli, Cercopoli, &c., and with a cast of features
equally expressive of their descent. The Minorcan language, the dialect of
Mahon, _el Mahones_, as they call it, is spoken by more than half of the
inhabitants who remained here when the country was ceded to the United
States, and all of them, I believe, speak Spanish besides. Their children,
however, are growing up in disuse of these languages, and in another
generation the last traces of the majestic speech of Castile, will have
been effaced from a country which the Spaniards held for more than two
hundred years.

Some old customs which the Minorcans brought with them from their native
country are still kept up. On the evening before Easter Sunday, about
eleven o'clock, I heard the sound of a serenade in the streets. Going out,
I found a party of young men, with instruments of music, grouped about the
window of one of the dwellings, singing a hymn in honor of the Virgin in
the Mahonese dialect. They began, as I was told, with tapping on the
shutter. An answering knock within had told them that their visit was
welcome, and they immediately began the serenade. If no reply had been
heard they would have passed on to another dwelling. I give the hymn as it
was kindly taken down for me in writing by a native of St. Augustine. I
presume this is the first time that it has been put in print, but I fear
the copy has several corruptions, occasioned by the unskillfulness of the
copyist. The letter _e_, which I have put in italics, represents the
guttural French _e_, or perhaps more nearly the sound of _u_ in the word
but. The _sh_ of our language is represented by _sc_ followed by an _i_ or
an _e_; the _g_ both hard and soft has the same sound as in our language.

Disciarem lu dol,
Cantarem anb' alagria,
Y n'arem a dá
Las pascuas a Maria.
O Maria!

Sant Grabiel,
Qui portaba la anbasciada;
Des nostre rey del cel
Estarau vos preñada.
Ya omiliada,
Tu o vais aqui serventa,
Fia del Deu contenta,
Para fe lo que el vol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Y a milla nit,
Pariguero vos regina;
A un Deu infinit,
Dintra una establina.
Y a millo dia,
Que los Angles van cantant
Pau y abondant
De la gloria de Deu sol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Y a Libalam,
Allá la terra santa,
Nu nat Jesus,
Anb' alagria tanta.
Infant petit
Que tot lu mon salvaria;
Y ningu y bastaria,
Nu mes un Deu tot sol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Cuant d'Orien lus
Tres reys la stralla veran,
Deu omnipotent,
Adorá lo vingaran.
Un present inferan,
De mil encens y or,
A lu beneit Señó,
Que conesce cual se vol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Tot fu gayant
Para cumpli lu prumas;
Y lu Esperit sant
De un angel fan gramas.
Gran foc ences,
Que crama lu curagia;
Deu nos da lenguagia,
Para fe lo que Deu vol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Cuant trespasá
De quest mon nostra Señora,
Al cel s'empugiá
Sun fil la matescia ora.
O emperadora,
Que del cel sou eligida!
Lu rosa florida,
Mé resplanden que un sol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c.

Y el tercer giorn
Que Jesus resuntá,
Deu y Aboroma,
Que la mort triumfá.
De alli se ballá
Para perldrá Lucife,
An tot a seu peudá,
Que de nostro ser el sol.
Disciarem lu dol, &c[1]

After this hymn, the following stanzas, soliciting the customary gift of
cakes or eggs, are sung:

Ce set sois que vain cantant,
Regina celastial!
Dunus pan y alagria,
Y bonas festas tingau.
Yo vos dou sus bonas festas,
Danaus dinés de sus nous;
Sempre tarem lus mans llestas
Para recibí un grapat de ous.

Y el giorn de pascua florida
Alagramos y giuntament;
As qui es mort par darnos vida
Ya viú gloriosament.

Aquesta casa está empedrada,
Bien halla que la empedró;
Sun amo de aquesta casa
Baldria duná un do.
Furmagiada, o empanada,
Cucutta o flaó;
Cual se vol cosa me grada,
Sol que no me digas que no[2].

The shutters are then opened by the people within, and a supply of
cheese-cakes, or other pastry, or eggs, is dropped into a bag carried by
one of the party, who acknowledge the gift in the following lines, and
then depart:

Aquesta casa está empedrada,
Empedrada de cuatro vens;
Sun amo de aquesta casa,
_Es_ omo de compliment[3].

If nothing is given, the last line reads thus:

No _es_ omo de compliment.




Letter XV.

A Voyage from St. Augustine to Savannah.



Savannah, _April_ 28, 1843.


On the morning of the 24th, we took leave of our good friends in St.
Augustine, and embarked in the steamer for Savannah. Never were softer or
more genial airs breathed out of the heavens than those which played
around us as we ploughed the waters of the Matanzas Sound, passing under
the dark walls of the old fort, and leaving it behind us, stood for the
passage to the main ocean.

It is a common saying in St. Augustine, that "Florida is the best poor
man's country in the world," and, truly, I believe that those who live on
the shores of this sound find it so. Its green waters teem with life, and
produce abundance of the finest fish,

" - - - of shell or fin,
And exquisitest name."

Clams are dug up on the pure sands along the beach, where the fishermen
drag their boats ashore, and wherever the salt water dashes, there is an
oyster, if he can find aught upon which to anchor his habitation. Along
the edge of the marshes, next to the water, you see a row - a wall I
should rather say - of oysters, apparently sprouting one out of another, as
high as the tide flows. They are called here, though I do not know why,
ratoon oysters. The abundance of fish solves the problem which has puzzled
many, how the Minorcan population of St. Augustine live, now that their
orange-trees, upon which they formerly depended, are unproductive.

In the steamboat were two or three persons who had visited Florida with a
view of purchasing land. Now that the Indian war is ended, colonization
has revived, and people are thronging into the country to take advantage
of the law which assigns a hundred and sixty acres to every actual
settler. In another year, the influx of population will probably be still
greater, though the confusion and uncertainty which exists in regard to
the title of the lands, will somewhat obstruct the settlement of the
country. Before the Spanish government ceded it to the United States, they
made numerous grants to individuals, intended to cover all the best land
of the territory. Many of the lands granted have never been surveyed, and
their situation and limits are very uncertain. The settler, therefore, if
he is not very careful, may find his farm overlaid by an old Spanish
claim.

I have said that the war is ended. Although the Seminole chief, Sam Jones,
and about seventy of his people remain, the country is in profound peace
from one end to the other, and you may traverse the parts most distant
from the white settlements without the least danger or molestation from
the Indians. "How is it," I asked one day of a gentleman who had long
resided in St. Augustine, "that, after what has happened, you can think it
safe to let these people remain?"

"It is perfectly safe," he answered. "Sam Jones professes, and I believe
truly, to have had less to do with the murders which have been committed
than the other chiefs, though it is certain that Dr. Perrine, whose death
we so much lament, was shot at Indian Key by his men. Besides, he has a
quarrel with one of the Seminole chiefs, whose relative he has killed, and
if he were to follow them to their new country, he would certainly be put
to death. It is his interest, therefore, to propitiate the favor of the
whites by the most unexceptionable behavior, for his life depends upon
being allowed to remain.

"There is yet another reason, which you will understand from what I am
about to say. Before the war broke out, the Indians of this country, those
very men who suddenly became so bloodthirsty and so formidable, were a
quiet and inoffensive race, badly treated for the most part by the whites,
and passively submitting to ill treatment without any appearance of
feeling or spirit. When they at length resolved upon war, they concealed
their families in the islands of the Everglades, whither they supposed the
whites would never be able to follow them. Their rule of warfare was
this, never to endanger the life of one of their warriors for the sake of
gaining the greatest advantage over their enemies; they struck only when
they felt themselves in perfect safety. If they saw an opportunity of
destroying twenty white men by the sacrifice of a single Indian, the
whites were allowed to escape. Acting on this principle, if their retreat
had been as inaccessible as they supposed it, they would have kept up the
warfare until they had driven the whites out of the territory.

"When, however, General Worth introduced a new method of prosecuting the
war, following up the Indians with a close and perpetual pursuit, chasing
them into their great shallow lake, the Everglades, and to its most secret
islands, they saw at once that they were conquered. They saw that further
hostilities were hopeless, and returned to their former submissive and
quiet demeanor.

"It is well, perhaps," added my friend in a kind of postscript, "that a
few Indians should remain in Florida. They are the best hunters of runaway
slaves in the world, and may save us from a Maroon war."

The Indian name of the Everglades, I am told, signifies Grass-water, a
term which well expresses its appearance. It is a vast lake, broader by
thousands of acres in a wet than in a dry season, and so shallow that the
grass everywhere grows from the bottom and overtops its surface The bottom
is of hard sand, so firm that it can be forded almost everywhere on
horseback, and here and there are deep channels which the traveller
crosses by swimming his horse.

General Worth's success in quelling the insurrection of the Seminoles, has
made him very popular in Florida, where the energy and sagacity with which
the closing campaign of the war was conducted are spoken of in the highest
terms. He has lately fixed his head-quarters at St Augustine.

In the afternoon, our steamer put in between two sandy points of land and
we arrived at St Mary's, formerly a buccaneer settlement, but now so
zealous for good order that our captain told us the inhabitants objected
to his taking in wood for his steamboat on Sunday. The place is full of
groves of the orange and lime - young trees which have grown up since 1835,
and which, not having suffered, like those of St. Augustine, by the gale,
I found beautifully luxuriant. In this place, it was my fate to experience
the plague of sand-flies. Clouds of them came into the steamboat alighting
on our faces and hands and stinging wherever they alighted. The little
creatures got into our hair and into our eyes, and crawled up our sleeves
and down our necks, giving us no rest, until late in the night the vessel
left the wharf and stood out into the river, where the current of air
swept most of our tormentors away.

The next morning, as we were threading the narrow channels by which the
inland passage is made from St. Mary's to Savannah, we saw, from time to
time, alligators basking on the banks. Some of our fellow-passengers took
rifles and shot at them as we went by. The smaller ones were often
killed, the larger generally took the rifle-balls upon their impenetrable
backs, and walked, apparently unhurt, into the water. One of these
monstrous creatures I saw receive his death-wound, having been fired at
twice, the balls probably entering at the eyes. In his agony he dashed
swiftly through the water for a little distance, and turning rushed with
equal rapidity in the opposite direction, the strokes of his strong arms
throwing half his length above the surface. The next moment he had turned
over and lay lifeless, with his great claws upward. A sallow-complexioned
man from Burke county, in Georgia, who spoke a kind of negro dialect, was
one of the most active in this sport, and often said to the bystanders. "I
hit the 'gator that time, I did." We passed where two of these huge
reptiles were lying on the bank among the rank sedges, one of them with
his head towards us. A rifle-ball from the steamer, struck the ground just
before his face, and he immediately made for the water, dragging, with his
awkward legs, a huge body of about fifteen feet in length. A shower of
balls fell about him as he reached the river, but he paddled along with as
little apparent concern as the steamboat we were in.

The tail of the alligator is said to be no bad eating, and the negroes are
fond of it. I have heard, however, that the wife of a South Carolina
cracker once declared her dislike of it in the following terms:

"Coon and collards is pretty good fixins, but 'gator and turnips I can't
go, no how."

Collards, you will understand, are a kind of cabbage. In this country, you
will often hear of long collards, a favorite dish of the planter.

Among the marksmen who were engaged in shooting alligators, were two or
three expert chewers of the Indian weed - frank and careless spitters - who
had never been disciplined by the fear of woman into any hypocritical
concealment of their talent, or unmanly reserve in its exhibition. I
perceived, from a remark which one of them let fall, that somehow they
connected this accomplishment with high breeding. He was speaking of four
negroes who were hanged in Georgia on a charge of murdering their owner.

"One of them," said he, "was innocent. They made no confession, but held
up their heads, chawed their tobacco, and spit about like any gentlemen."

You have here the last of my letters from the south. Savannah, which I
left wearing almost a wintry aspect, is now in the full verdure of summer.
The locust-trees are in blossom; the water-oaks, which were shedding their
winter foliage, are now thick with young and glossy leaves; the Pride of
India is ready to burst into flower, and the gardens are full of roses in
bloom.




Letter XVI.

An Excursion to Vermont and New Hampshire.



Addison County, Vermont, _July_ 10, 1843.


I do not recollect that I ever heard the canal connecting the Hudson with
Lake Champlain praised for its beauty, yet it is actually beautiful - that
part of it at least which lies between Dunham's Basin and the lake, a
distance of twenty-one miles, for of the rest I can not speak. To form the
canal, two or three streams have been diverted a little from their
original course, and led along a certain level in the valley through which
they flowed to pour themselves into Champlain. In order to keep this
level, a perpetually winding course has been taken, never, even for a few
rods, approaching a straight line. On one side is the path beaten by the
feet of the horses who drag the boats, but the other is an irregular bank,
covered sometimes with grass and sometimes with shrubs or trees, and
sometimes steep with rocks. I was delighted, on my journey to this place,
to exchange a seat in a stage-coach, driven over the sandy and dusty road
north of Saratoga by a sulky and careless driver, for a station on the top
of the canal-packet. The weather was the finest imaginable; the air that
blew over the fields was sweet with the odor of clover blossoms, and of
shrubs in flower. A canal, they say, is but a ditch; but this was as
unlike a ditch as possible; it was rather a gentle stream, winding in the
most apparently natural meanders. Goldsmith could find no more picturesque
epithet for the canals of Holland, than "slow;"

"The slow canal, the yellow blossomed vale - "

but if the canals of that country had been like this, I am sure he would
have known how to say something better for them. On the left bank, grassed
over to the water's edge, I saw ripe strawberries peeping out among the
clover, and shortly afterward a young man belonging to the packet leaped
on board from the other side with a large basket of very fine
strawberries. "I gathered them," said he "down in the swamp; the swamp is
full of them." We had them afterward with our tea.

Proceeding still further, the scenery became more bold. Steep hills rose
by the side of the canal, with farm-houses scattered at their feet; we
passed close to perpendicular precipices, and rocky shelves sprouting with
shrubs, and under impending woods. At length, a steep broad mountain rose
before us, its sides shaded with scattered trees and streaked with long
horizontal lines of rock, and at its foot a cluster of white houses. This
was Whitehall; and here the waters of the canal plunge noisily through a
rocky gorge into the deep basin which holds the long and narrow Lake
Champlain.

There was a young man on board who spoke English imperfectly, and whose
accent I could not with certainty refer to any country or language with
which I was acquainted. As we landed, he leaped on shore, and was
surrounded at once by half a dozen persons chattering Canadian French. The
French population of Canada has scattered itself along the shores of Lake
Champlain for a third of the distance between the northern boundary of
this state and the city of New York, and since the late troubles in
Canada, more numerously than ever. In the hotel where I passed the night,
most of the servants seemed to be emigrants from Canada.

Speaking of foreigners reminds me of an incident which occurred on the
road between Saratoga Springs and Dunham's Basin. As the public coach
stopped at a place called Emerson, our attention was attracted by a
wagon-load of persons who had stopped at the inn, and were just resuming
their journey. The father was a robust, healthy-looking man of some forty
years of age; the mother a buxom dame; the children, some six or seven, of
various ages, with flaxen hair, light-blue eyes, and broad ruddy cheeks.
"They are Irish," said one of my fellow-passengers. I maintained on the
contrary that they were Americans. "Git ap," said the man to his horses,
pronouncing the last word very long. "Git ap; go 'lang." My antagonist in
the dispute immediately acknowledged that I was right, for "git ap," and
"go 'lang" could never have been uttered with such purity of accent by an
Irishman. We learned on inquiry that they were emigrants from the
neighborhood, proceeding to the Western Canal, to take passage for
Michigan, where the residence of a year or two will probably take somewhat
from the florid ruddiness of their complexions.

I looked down into the basin which contains the waters of the Champlain,
lying considerably below the level on which Whitehall is built, and could
not help thinking that it was scooped to contain a wider and deeper
collection of waters. Craggy mountains, standing one behind the other,
surround it on all sides, from whose feet it seems as if the water had
retired; and here and there, are marshy recesses between the hills, which



Online LibraryWilliam Cullen BryantLetters of a Traveller Notes of Things Seen in Europe and America → online text (page 7 of 25)