William Priest.

Travels in the United States of America Commencing in the Year 1793, and Ending in 1797. With the Author's Journals of his Two Voyages Across the Atlantic online

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Online LibraryWilliam PriestTravels in the United States of America Commencing in the Year 1793, and Ending in 1797. With the Author's Journals of his Two Voyages Across the Atlantic → online text (page 8 of 9)
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I bring you a tribute - rejoice thus to find,
So many are living, and meet with us here.

"May health be confirm'd, and sickness remov'd;
May no sweeping flames take place in this state;
We sympathise deeply with neighbouring friends,
Whose cup has run over with this bitter fate.

"May _teachers_ this day find _help from above_
To publish glad news, as _heralds of grace_,
While _Zion_ is mourning her light shall break forth,
And shadows of midnight away from her chase.

"I wish through this year _God's presence_ may smile
On all your just schemes at home or abroad;
I wish you his protection, by sea or by land;
May your _theatrical works_ find favour in _God_.
[Footnote: The boy must surely mean the _gods_.]

"Gentlemen and ladies, accept these wishes sincere,
And I wish you all a happy new year."

_Boston, January 1st, 1797._


To answer your last, wherein you desire me to send you the exact state of
negro slavery in this country, is a task to which I am unequal.

You will conceive the great difficulty of obliging you in this request,
when you are informed, that on this subject each individual state has it's
own laws. The only point in which they are unanimous, is to prohibit their
importation, either from the Coast of Africa, or the West Indies. I can
only inform you in general terms, that in the _southern states_ there
is little alteration in the negro code since the revolution; of course the
laws are nearly the same as in the British West India islands. In the
_middle states_, though negro slavery is allowed, their situation has
been considerably meliorated, by a variety of laws in their favour, some
tending to their gradual emancipation, others to render their servitude
less irksome, &c.

Societies are formed in several of the large towns to enforce these
lenient laws, and to purchase the freedom of a few of the most deserving
slaves. The quakers, beside liberating all their negroes, have contributed
liberally towards the funds these societies have established, for carrying
their benevolent intentions into effect. In consequence of these measures,
there are a number of free negroes in Philadelphia, whose situation is
very comfortable. A handsome episcopalian church has been built for their
use, and one of the most respectable negroes ordained, who performs all
the duties of his office with great solemnity and fervour of devotion,
assisted occasionally by his white brethren; and there are also two
schools, where the children of people of colour are educated gratis; one
supported by the quakers, the other by the abolition society.

Negro slavery, under any modification or form, is prohibited in this state
(Massachusetts,) also in New Hampshire, the province of Maine, and, _I
believe_, in all the _New England states_.

As to your other queries respecting the negroes, I send you my sentiments,
infinitely better expressed by Jefferson, notwithstanding all that Imlay,
Wilberforce, and other authors, have written against his assertion, viz.,
that "Negroes are _inferiour_ to the whites, both in the endowments of
_body_ and _mind_." I am clearly and decidedly of his opinion. A strict
attention to this subject, during three years residence in these states,
has convinced me of the truth of every tittle of the following extract
from his Virginia, which I enclose for your perusal, and am, most

Yours, &c.

"The first difference that strikes us is colour. Whether the black of the
negro reside in the reticular membrane, between the skin and scarf skin,
or in the scarf skin itself; whether it proceed from the colour of the
blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the
difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if it's seat and cause
were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it
not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races?
Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expression of every
passion by a greater or less suffusion of colour in the one, preferable to
that eternal monotony, that immovable veil of black, which covers all the
emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant
symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by
their preference to them, as uniformly as is the preference of the
oroonowtang for the black women over those of his own species? The
circumstance of superiour beauty is thought worthy attention in the
propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in
that of man?

"Beside those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical
distinctions, proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the
face and body. They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of
the skin; which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This
greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and
less so of cold, than the whites. Perhaps a difference of structure in the
pulmonary aparatus, which a late ingenious experimentalist, (Crawford) has
discovered to be the principal regulator of animal heat, may have disabled
them from extricating, in the act of inspiration, so much of that fluid
from the outer air; or obliged them, in expiration, to part with more of

"They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labour through the
day, will be induced by the slightest amusement, to sit up till midnight,
or later, though knowing he must be out with the dawn of the morning. They
are at least as brave, and more adventurous; but this may proceed from
want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be
present; when present, they do not go through it with more coolness and
steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after the female; but
love seems with them more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture
of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless
afflictions which render it doubtful, whether Heaven has given life to us
more in mercy, or in wrath, are less felt and sooner forgotten with them.
In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than
reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep, when
abstracted from their diversions, or unemployed in labour. An animal,
whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep
of course. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and
imagination, it appears to me that in memory, they are equal to the
whites; in reason much inferiour. As I think one could scarcely be found
capable of tracing, and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and
that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be
unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider
them here, on the same stage with the whites. And where the facts are not
apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed, it will be right to make
allowances for the difference of condition, of conversation, and of the
sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and
born in America. Most of them indeed have been confined to tillage, to
their own homes, and their own society; yet many have been so situate,
that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their
masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that
circumstance have always been associated with the whites; some have been
liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and
sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before
their eyes samples of the best work from abroad. The Indians with no
advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes, not
destitute of merit and design. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or
a country, so as to prove the existence of a germe in their minds, which
only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most
sublime oratory, such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their
imagination glowing and elevated; but never yet could I find a black, that
had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration[Footnote: "Sleep
hab no massa," was the answer of a sleepy negro, who was told that his
massa called him. - See Edward's History of Jamaica, 2d Vol.]; never see
even an elementary trait of painting, or sculpture. In music they are more
generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune, and time;
and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch[Footnote: "The
instrument proper to them is the _banjore_, which they brought here
from Africa, and which is the origin of the guitar, it's chords being
precisely the four lower chords of that instrument." J - - N.]. Whether
they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody,
or of complicated harmony[Footnote: From this circumstance, I conceive our
author's _catch_ was improperly so called.], is yet to be proved.
Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. Among
the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the
peculiar oestrum of the poet: their love is ardent; but it kindles the
senses only, not the imagination. Religion, or rather fanaticism,
has produced a _Phyllis Wheatly_; but it could not produce a poet.
Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition; yet his
letters do more credit to the heart than the head; supposing them to have
been genuine, and to have received amendment from no other hand; points
which would not be easy of investigation. The improvement of the blacks in
body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has
been observed by every one, and proves their inferiority is not the effect
merely of their condition in life.

"The white slaves, among the Romans, were often their rarest artists; they
excelled too in science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to
their masters' children. Epictetus, Terence, and Phoedrus, were slaves.
Whether further observation will, or will not, verify the conjecture, that
Nature has been less bountiful to them, in the endowments of the head, I
believe in those of the heart she will be found to have done them justice.
That disposition to theft, with which they have been branded, must be
ascribed to their situation, and not to any depravity of the moral sense.
The man, in whose favour no laws of property exist, probably feels himself
less bound to respect those made in favour of others. When arguing for
ourselves, we lay it down as a fundamental, that laws, to be just, must
give a reciprocation of right; that without this, they are mere arbitrary
rules of conduct, founded in force, and not in conscience. And it is a
problem which I give the master to solve, whether the religious precepts
against the violation of property, were not formed for _him_, as well
as his slave, and whether the slave may not as justifiably take a little
from one who has taken _all_ from him, as he would slay one that
would slay him?

"That a change in the relation in which a man is placed should change his
ideas of moral right and wrong, is neither new, nor confined to the
blacks; Homer tells us, it was so 2600 years ago: - 'Jove fixed it certain,
that whatever day makes a man a slave, takes half his worth away.' But the
slaves Homer speaks of were whites.

"But to return to the blacks. Notwithstanding this consideration, which
must weaken their respect for the laws of property, we find among them
numerous instances of the most rigid integrity; and as many as among their
better instructed masters, of benevolence, gratitude, and unshaken

"The opinion that they are inferiour in the faculties of reason and
imagination, must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a general
conclusion requires many observations, even where the subject may be
submitted to the anatomical knife, to optical glasses, to analysis by fire
or solvents: how much more, then, when it is a faculty, not a substance,
we are examining; where it eludes the research of all the senses; where
the conditions of it's existence are various, and variously combined;
where the effects of those which are present or absent bid defiance to
calculation; let me add too, in a circumstance where our conclusions would
degrade a whole race of men from the rank in the scale of beings, which
their Creator may perhaps have given them! To our reproach it must be
said, though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races
of black and red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of
natural history. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the
blacks[Footnote: Where Jefferson makes use of the word _Black_, in
this extract, it is rigidly confined to the _Negroes_ originally from
the coast of Africa, or their descendants.], whether originally a distinct
race, or made so by time and circumstances, are inferiour to the whites in
the endowments both of body and mind."

* * * * *

_Boston, December 29th, 1796._


Upon my arrival here, I had once more the mortification to find myself in
the neighbourhood of the yellow fever, which had lately been imported. The
uncommon, early, and severe north-west winds entirely prevented it from
spreading; a fortunate circumstance for the inhabitants of Boston, as,
from the narrowness of their streets, great population, and other
circumstances, it must have been very fatal, had it not been by this means

In order to give you the most regular account of this disorder I could
procure, I must repeat several circumstances from former letters.

The yellow fever, which has lately been so fatal, is a _new disorder_,
first brought to the West Indies, in a slave-ship from the coast of
Africa, late in the year 1792. It spread rapidly from island to island,
and in July, 1793, was first imported to the continent in a french
schooner to Philadelphia. The physicians of that city, naturally
concluding it was the usual yellow fever of the West Indies, applied the
common remedies in that case: viz., bark, and other astringents. In nine
cases out of ten, death was the inevitable consequence to all who took
these medicines. The disease was equally fatal to the faculty. A universal
despondency took place, till doctor Rush, suspecting this was a new
disorder, applied an opposite method of cure, by mercurial medicines, and
copious bleedings; which, when administered in the first or second stage
of the disorder, had the desired effect.

I send you an extract from the doctor's pamphlet, wherein he explains his
motives for adopting this method of cure, &c.

Speaking of the effect of the lancet, he says, "It was at this time my old
master reminded me of Dr. Sydenham's remark, that _moderate_ bleeding
did harm in the plague, where _copious_ bleeding was indicated, and
that, in the cure of that disorder, we should leave Nature wholly to
herself, or take the cure altogether out of her hands."

The truth of this observation was obvious: - By taking away as much blood
as restored the blood-vessels to a morbid degree of action, without
reducing this action afterward, pain, congestion, and inflammation, were
greatly increased; all of which were prevented, or occurred in a less
degree, when the system rose gradually from the state of depression which
had been induced by indirect debility. Under the influence of the facts
and reasonings which have been mentioned, I bore the same testimony in
acute cases against what was called _moderate_ bleeding, that I did
against bark, wine, and laudanum, in this fever. - I drew from many persons
seventy or eighty ounces of blood in five days.

* * * * *

After the cold weather had completely destroyed this disorder, it did not
appear again in the United States till the next year, when it was imported
to Baltimore and New Haven; a distance from each other of more than five
hundred miles. The cold weather again destroyed it, till carried, in 1795,
to Charleston and New York, equally distant from each other; and this
summer it was imported to Charleston, New York, Boston, and Newbery Port;
a distance of one thousand five hundred miles along the coast; but
fortunately the early N.W. winds destroyed it in all these places before
it had made any considerable progress.

A quarantine upon vessels from the infected islands would effectually
prevent the importation of this plague; but if performed in the _literal
sense of the word_, it would materially hurt the West India trade of
the Americans.

You have little to fear from this disorder being brought to England;
experience has clearly proved, this fever cannot exist in a _cold_
climate; but was it to be imported to the south of Europe, the
consequences would be dreadful indeed. I before told you, the negroes were
not afflicted with the yellow fever, though universally employed as nurses
to the sick.

A disease that will affect but _one_ species of men is not new. About the
year 1652, a very dreadful and uncommon plague ravaged this part of
America, and actually extirpated several nations of the Indians, without,
in a single instance, affecting the _white_ emigrants, though continually
among them. This strange circumstance the fanatics of New England
accounted for in their usual way, as appears from several of their
sermons, still preserved: -

"It was a just judgment of God upon these heathenish and idolatrous
nations; the Lord took this method of destroying them, that he might make
the more room for his _chosen people_." A _philosopher_ would perhaps
demand a better reason. Apropos of philosophers - An american writer has
been endeavouring to investigate the age of the world, from the _Falls of
Niagara!_ According to _his_ calculation (which, by the by, is not a
little curious) it is _36960_ years since the first rain fell upon the
face of the earth!

Yours, &c.

_Boston, December 19th, 1796._


I before hinted to you, that the Americans pay very little attention to
their fisheries.

Exclusive of the shad fishery, which is only two months in the year, there
is not _one_ individual, either in the city of Philadelphia, or it's
vicinity, who procures a livelihood by catching fish in the Delaware,
though that river abounds with sturgeon, perch, cat-fish, eels, and a vast
variety of others, which would meet with a sure sale in the Philadelphia
markets: but this is a trifle to their neglect of the greatest fishery in
the universe; for such certainly is that on the banks of Newfoundland.

The Americans now being at peace with most of the piratical states
of Barbary, will find an excellent market for their fish in the
Mediterranean. This circumstance may induce congress to pay some attention
to the hints thrown out by Dr. Belknap, in his Account of the American
Newfoundland Fishery, which I transcribe for you perusal: -

"The cod-fishery is either carried on by boats or schooners. The boats in
the winter season go out in the morning, and return at night. In the
spring they do not return till they are filled. The schooners make three
trips to the banks of Newfoundland in a season; the first, or spring
cargo, are large, thick fish, which, after being properly salted and
dried, are kept alternately above and under ground, till they become so
mellow as to be denominated _dumb fish_. These, when boiled, are red,
and of an excellent quality; they are chiefly consumed in these states.
The fish caught in the other two trips, during the summer and fall, are
white, thin, and less firm; these are exported to Europe and the West
Indies; they are divided into two sorts; one called merchantable, and the
other Jamaica fish.

"The places where the cod-fishery is chiefly carried on, are the Isle of
Shoals, Newcastle, Rye, and Hampton. The boats employed in this fishery
are of that light and swift kind called whale-boats; they are rowed either
with two or four oars, and steered with another; and being equally sharp
at each end, move with the utmost celerity on the surface of the ocean.
The schooners are from twenty to fifty tons, carry six or seven men, and
one or two boys. When they make a tolerable voyage, they bring over five
or six hundred quintals of fish, salted and stowed in bulk. At their
arrival, the fish is rinced in salt water, and spread on hurdles composed
of brush-wood, and raised on stakes three or four feet from the ground.
They are kept carefully preserved from the rain: they should not be wet
from the time they are first spread on the hurdle till they are boiled for
the table.

"This fishery has not of late years been prosecuted with the same spirit
it was fifty or sixty years ago, when the shores were covered with
fish-flakes, and seven or eight ships were annually loaded for Spain or
Portugal, beside what was carried to the West Indies. Afterward they found
it more convenient to cure the fish at Corscaw, which was nearer to the
banks. It was continued there to great advantage till 1744, when it was
broken up by the french war. After the peace it revived, but not in so
great a degree as before. Fish was frequently cured in the summer on the
eastern shores and islands, and in the spring and fall at home.

"Previously to the late revolution the greater part of remittances were
made to Europe by the fishery; but it has not yet recovered from the shock
which it received by the war with Britain: it is however in the power of
the Americans to make more advantage of the cod-fishery perhaps than, any
of the european nations. We can fit out vessels at less expense, and by
reason of the westerly winds, which prevail on our coasts in February and
March, can go to the banks earlier in the season than the Europeans, and
take the best fish. We can dry it in a clearer air than the foggy shores
of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. We can supply every necessary from among
ourselves; vessels, spars, sails, cordage, anchors, lines, hooks, and
provision. Salt can be imported from abroad cheaper than it can be made at
home, if it be not too much loaded with duties. Men can always be had to
go on shares, which is by far the most profitable way, both to the
employer and fisherman. The fishing banks are an inexhaustible source of
wealth; and the fishing business is a most excellent nursery for seamen;
it therefore deserves every encouragement and indulgence from an
enlightened and rational legislature."

_Boston, March 4th, 1797._


Being very busy in making preparation for my voyage to England, I have not
leisure to write you a long epistle, but enclose you one I sent to an
american friend in the south. - Farewell.

This will most likely be the last letter you will receive from me on this
side of the Atlantic. The French have already taken two hundred sail of
american vessels. I hope my next may not be dated from _Brest_.

_To Mr. - - - - ,_

_State of - - - - ._


In consequence of my promise at parting, I sit down to give you some
account of _Yankee Land_. You were perfectly right in telling me I
should find the New England states very different from your part of

The first object that would strike you is the population of the country.
In one day's journey through Connecticut, I saw as many towns, villages,
and houses, as I ever remember seeing, when travelling the same distance
in England; a prospect you _Buck-skins_ can have no idea of.

The next is the beauty of the women, (I beg their pardon; that would be
the _first_ object that would strike _you!_) Their great superiority in
that respect may be accounted for, from their being of _engllsh_ descent.
Your women have not all that _advantage_, ('True english prejudice this!'
methinks I hear you mutter): great part are of _dutch_, or _german_
descent. The close iron stoves they have introduced among you are terrible
enemies to beauty. Why you so obstinately persist in a custom so
prejudicial to health, I cannot imagine. Your plea, that the coldness of
the climate makes them indispensable, I can-not admit of; you know, that
we are here three degrees to the north of you, and that the present is the
coldest winter since the year 1780-81; and yet I have not seen a close
stove since I left New York. The tavern bills in these states are
near one hundred per cent under yours. The exorbitant charges of your
tavern-keepers are a disgrace to the country: I could never account for
your submitting so quietly to their impositions.

Whether it be owing to the abolition of negro slavery, and the sale of
irish, and german redemptioners, (which, by the by, is nearly as bad, and

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Online LibraryWilliam PriestTravels in the United States of America Commencing in the Year 1793, and Ending in 1797. With the Author's Journals of his Two Voyages Across the Atlantic → online text (page 8 of 9)