CASTLE GARDEN, NEW YORK. 1824. On the Necessity of Male Chaperons.
I shall close this long and discursive epistle with one more distinctive custom, that may serve to give you an idea of the tone and simplicity of this society. There is something repugnant to the delicacy of American ideas in permitting a lady to come, in any manner in contact with the world. A woman of almost any rank above the labouring classes, is averse to expose herself to the usual collisions, bargainings &c. &c., of ordinary travelling. Thus, the first thing an American woman requires to commence a journey, is a suitable male escort; the very thing that with us would be exceptionable. Nothing is more common, for instance, when a husband or a brother hears that a respectable acquaintance is about to go in the same steam-boat, stage, or on the same route, as that in which his wife or sister intends to journey, than to request the former to become her protector. The request is rarely refused, and the trust is always considered flattering, and commonly sacred. Here you see that the very custom which in Europe would create scandal, is here resorted to, under favour of good morals and directness of thought, to avert it. Cadwallader assures me that he was pained, and even shocked, at meeting well-bred women running about Europe attended only by a footman and a maid, and that for a long time he could not divest himself of the idea, that they were unfortunate in having lost all those male friends, whose natural duty it was to stand between their helplessness and the cold calculating selfishness of the world.
STEAMBOAT CLINTON ON THE OHIO. May 31, 1828. Character of travel by steamboat.
Our first inquiry at Louisville was about the stage to Lexington, but it was so full, and several persons well acquainted with the road gave such discouraging accounts of it that tired as we were with the jolting we had experienced from St. Louis and our bones still aching we had little mind to encounter such another journey, we next walked down to the wharf to learn what steamboats were going to Cincinnati. We found that there were three named to start as yesterday so we stepped on board the Clinton, whose time of starting the clock told us would be four in the afternoon. She was already crammed full of passengers, and there seemed to be no way of stowmg us so we walked off, not well knowing what to do. However, on a second visit Basil interested the clerk so much in us that he volunteered to give up his own little stateroom to Mrs. Cownie and Eliza whilst Basil and I were to be accommodated with two berths in the gentlemen's cabin, which we were to screen off as we best could. We were suffering under an attack of the travellers' fever and I believe would have taken our passage under any circumstances, so we dined, got ready, and were on board and off by half past four. The boat and its accommodations are of the same description of magnificence as in all the other much vaunted boats in these western waters. We were disturbed by the dressing bell at half past four this morning and to try to sleep longer was in vain for the passengers began walking and clattering like the hens and geese in a poultry yard roused by the first crowing of the cock. To be sure it was two hours and a half before we got breakfast and then not a drop of milk was there to be had altho' they had stopped several times in the night and might have procured it, I think, had they been desirous of doing so. But they are not anxious to provide any such luxuries, and it is not surprising that they should be indifferent when they find their passengers put up with anything they choose to give them. The Americans are the most extraordinary people in that respect I ever saw. I have seen them over and over again sit down and eat a dinner barely eatable as to cookery or diet and not above half sufficient for the size of the party without uttering a word of complaint or seeming to find out that anything was wrong.
ON STEAMBOAT FROM CINCINNATI TO WHEELING. March 1830. Travel by steamboat; Separation of the Sexes; Comparison to a European steamboat Journey.
WE quitted Cincinnati the beginning of March, 1830, and I believe there was not one of our party who did not experience a sensation of pleasure in leaving it. We had seen again and again all the queer varieties of its little world; had amused ourselves with its consequence, its taste, and its ton, till they had ceased to be amusing. Not a hill was left unclimbed, nor a forest path unexplored; and, with the exception of two or three individuals, who bore heads and hearts peculiar to no clime, but which are found scattered through the world, as if to keep us every where in good humour with it, we left nought to regret at Cincinnati. The only regret was, that we had ever entered it; for we had wasted health, time, and money there.
We got on board the steam-boat which was to convey us to Wheeling at three o'clock. She was a noble boat, by far the finest we had seen. The cabins were above, and the deck passengers, as they are called, were accommodated below. In front of the ladies' cabin was an ample balcony, sheltered by an awning; chairs and sofas were placed there, and even at that early season, nearly all the female passengers passed the whole day there. The name of this splendid vessel was the Lady Franklin. By the way, I was often amused by the evident fondness which the Americans show for titles. The wives of their eminent men constantly receive that of "Lady." We heard of Lady Washing ton, Lady Jackson, and many other "ladies." The eternal recurrence of their militia titles is particularly ludicrous, met with, as they are, among the tavern-keepers, market-gardeners, &c. But I think the most remarkable instance which we noticed of this sort of aristocratical longing occurred at Cincinnati. Mr. T in speaking of a gentleman of the neighbourhood, called him Mr. M . "General M, sir," observed his companion. "I beg his pardon," rejoined Mr. T, " but I was not aware of his being in the army." "No, sir, not in the army," was the reply, "but he was surveyor-general of the district."
The weather was delightful; all trace of winter had disappeared, and we again found ourselves moving rapidly up the stream, and enjoying all the beauty of the Ohio.
Of the male part of the passengers we saw nothing, excepting at the short silent periods allotted for breakfast, dinner, and supper, at which we were permitted to enter their cabin, and place ourselves at their table.
In the Lady Franklin we had decidedly the best of it, for we had our beautiful balcony to sit in. In all respects, indeed, our accommodations were very superior to what we had found in the boat which brought us from New Orleans to Memphis, where we were stowed away in a miserable little chamber close aft, under the cabin, and given to understand by the steward, that it was our duty there to remain "till such time as the bell should ring for meals."
The separation of the sexes, so often mentioned, is no where more remarkable than on board the steam-boats. Among the passengers on this occasion we had a gentleman and his wife, who really appeared to suffer from the arrangement. She was an invalid, and he was extremely attentive to her, as far, at least, as the regulations permitted. When the steward opened the door of communication between the cabins, to permit our approaching the table, her husband was always stationed close to it, to hand her to her place; and when he accompanied her again to the door, he always lingered for a moment or two on the forbidden threshold, nor left his station, till the last female had passed through. Once or twice he ventured, when all but his wife were on the balcony, to sit down beside her for a moment in our cabin, but the instant either of us entered, he started like a guilty thing and vanished.
While mentioning the peculiar arrangements which are thought necessary to the delicacy of the American ladies, or to the comfort of the American gentlemen, I am tempted to allude to a story which I saw in the papers respecting the visits which it was stated Captain Basil Hall persisted in making to his wife and child on board a Mississippi steam-boat, after being in formed that doing so was contrary to law. Now I happen to know that neither himself or Mrs. Hall ever entered the ladies' cabin during the whole voyage, as they occupied a stateroom which Captain Hall had secured for his party. The veracity of newspaper statements is, perhaps, nowhere quite unimpeachable, but if I am not greatly mistaken, there are more direct falsehoods circulated by the American newspapers than by all the others in the world, and the one great and never-failing source of these voluminous works of imagination is England and the English.
How differently would such a voyage as we were now making be managed on the other side the Atlantic, were such a mode of travelling possible there. Such long calm river excursions would be perfectly delightful, and parties would be perpetually formed to enjoy them. Even were all the parties strangers to each other, the knowledge that they were to eat, drink, and steam away together for a week or fortnight, would induce something like a social feeling in any other country.
It is true that the men became sufficiently acquainted to game together, and we were told that the opportunity was considered as so favourable, that no boat left New Orleans without having as cabin passengers one or two gentlemen from that city whose profession it was to drill the fifty-two elements of a pack of cards to profitable duty. This doubtless is an additional reason for the strict exclusion of the ladies from their society. The constant drinking of spirits is another, for though they do not scruple to chew tobacco and to spit incessantly in the presence of women, they generally prefer drinking and gaming in their absence.
I often used to amuse myself with fancying the different scene which such a vessel would display in Europe. The noble length of the gentlemen's cabin would be put into requisition for a dance, while that of the ladies', with their delicious balcony, would be employed for refreshments' instead of sitting down in two long silent melancholy rows, to swallow as much coffee and beef-steak as could be achieved in ten minutes.
WHEELING, VIRGINIA [West Virginia]. March 1830. Travel by Stagecoach
THE weather was bleak and disagreeable during the two days we were obliged to remain at Wheeling. I had got heartily tired of my gifted friend; we had walked up every side of the rugged hill, and I set off on my journey towards the mountains with more pleasure than is generally felt in quitting a pillow before day-light, for a cold corner in a rumbling stage-coach.
This was the first time we had got into an American stage, though we had traversed above two thousand miles of the country, and we had all the satisfaction in it, which could be derived from the conviction that we were travelling in a foreign land. This vehicle had no step, and we climbed into it by a ladder; when that was removed I remembered, with some dismay, that the females at least were much in the predicament of sailors, who, "in danger have no door to creep out:" but when a misfortune is absolutely inevitable, we are apt to bear it remarkably well; who would utter that constant petition of ladies on rough roads, "let me get out," when compliance would oblige the pleader to make a step of five feet before she could touch the ground?
The coach had three rows of seats, each calculated to hold three persons, and as we were only six, we had, in the phrase of Milton, to "inhabit lax" this exalted abode, and, accordingly, we were for some miles tossed about like a few potatoes in a wheel-barrow. Our knees, elbows, and heads required too much care for their protection to allow us leisure to look out of the windows; but at length the road became smoother, and we became more skilful in the art of balancing ourselves, so as to meet the concussion with less danger of dislocation.
STAGECOACH TO LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY. August 19, 1836. Women Travelers on the Coach>
Took leave of my friends in Frankfort and started by the stage for Louisville. Company in the coach--the Sheriff of the County, a cadaverous looking gentleman who bore a strong resemblance to a Turkey Buzzard-- two or three substantial farmers--a doctor, whose plump round about appearonce, showed that he took few of his own prescriptions--and the doctor's lady, a very angular piece ofmortality, tightly laced up in a faded black silk gown. She also wore a tawdry white bonnet. not very clean and bedecked with a profusion of artificial flowers. Her features were sharp and vixen looking, her bright little black eyes were continually glancing about as if in search of something, her thin prim lips looked as if they had been stuped in a composition of starch and vinegar and to complete her charms her voice sounded like the creaking of a door. It was a very disagreeable voice and I have no doubt the doctor also thought so from the involuntary start he gavewhenever its notes fell upon his ears.
After some conversation about the roads, the weather and the crops one of the gentlemen in the usual inquisition style ofAmericans addressed me. "I reckon Sir, you're not from this section of the country?" I replied in the negative. "You’re from the South I expect?" "I am an Irishman." "Hum, ha, from Ireland," said the doctor. " Oh, my," said the lady. "You speak English tolerably plain," pursued my first querist. "Oh, ! sir," said I. "Ihave been in the country six months, and have paid much attention to the language. I don't despair of mastering it yet." "Well, stranger," said he, in an encouraging tone, "when you have been among us a year or two, you will speak it nearly as well as ourselves."
They asked me many questions aboutIreland, of which they had very curious ideas. The lady chimed in and displayed great fluency of speech. She was a learned lady, moreover, and seemed to pride herself on the fund of general information which she possessed. She took pity on my ignorance and enlightened me on many points. Among other things, I learned from her that Holland is the chief town of Germany.
HUDSON RIVER, NEW YORK. Sept. 27. 1841. Steamboat Travel; Treatment of Women Travelers in General.
We embarked once more on the Hudson, to sail from Albany to New York, with several hundred passengers on board, and thought the scenery more beautiful than ever. The steamboat is a great floating hotel, of which the captain is landlord. He presides at meals, taking care that no gentlemen take their places at table till all the ladies, or, as we should say in England, the women of every class, are first seated. The men, by whom they are accompanied, are then invited to join them, after which, at the sound of a bell, the bachelors and married men travelling en garcon pour into the saloon, in much the same style as members of the House of Commons rush into the Upper House to hear a speech from the throne.
One of the first peculiarities that must strike a foreigner in the United States is the deference paid universally to the sex, without regard to station. Women may travel alone here in stage-coaches, steam-boats, and railways, with less risk of encountering disagreeable behaviour, and of hearing coarse and unpleasant conversation, than in any country I have ever visited. The contrast in this respect between the Americans and the French is quite remarkable. There is a spirit of true gallantry in all this, but the publicity of the railway car, where all are in one long room, and of the large ordinaries, whether on land or water, is a great protection, the want of which has been felt by many a female traveller without escort in England. As the Americans address no conversation to strangers, we soon became tolerably reconciled to living so much in public.
RAILWAY FROM NORFOLK TO WELDON, NORTH CAROLINA. December 23, 1841. Separate Arrangements for Men and Women on Railway Cars.
Our car, according to the usual construction in this country, was in the shape of a long omnibus, with the seats transverse, and a passage down the middle, where, to the great relief of the traveller, he can stand upright with his hat on, and walk about, warming himself when he pleases at the stove, which is in the centre of the car. There is often a private room fitted up for the ladies, into which no gentleman can intrude, and where they are sometimes supplied with rocking-chairs, so essential to the comfort of the Americans, whether at sea or on land, in a fashionable drawing-room or in the cabin of a ship. It is singular enough that this luxury, after being popular for ages all over Lancashire, required transplantation to the New World before it could be improved and become fashionable, so as to be reimported into its native land.