NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK. July 1837. Shaker Worship Service.
I went out to see the Shakers at Niskayuna. So much has already been said about their tenets that I shall not repeat them, further than to observe that all their goods are in common, and that although the sexes mix together, they profess the vows of celibacy and chastity. Their lands are in excellent order, and they are said to be very rich.
We were admitted into a long room on the ground-door, where the Shakers were seated on forms, the men opposite to the women, and apart from each other. The men were in their waistcoats and shirt-sleeves, twiddling their thumbs, and looking awfully puritanical. The women were attired in dresses of very light striped cotton, which hung about them like full dressing-gowns, and concealed all shape and proportions. A plain mob cap on their heads, and a thick muslin handkerchief in many folds over their shoulders, completed their attire. They each held in their hands a pockethandkerchief as large as a towel, and of almost the same substance. But the appearance of the women was melancholy and unnatural; I say unnatural because it required to be accounted for. They had all the advantages of exercise and labour in the open air, good food, and good clothing; they were not overworked, for they are not required to work more than they please; and yet there was something so pallid, so unearthly in their complexions, that it gave you the idea that they had been taken up from their coffins a few hours alter their decease: not a hue of health, not a vestige of colour in any check or lip; one cadaverous yellow tinge prevailed. And yet there were to be seen many faces very beautiful, as far as regarded outline, but they were the features of the beautiful in death. The men, on the contrary, were ruddy, strong, and vigorous. Why, then, this difference between the sexes, where they each performed the same duties, where none were taxed beyond their strength, and all were well fed and clothed?
After a silence of ten minutes, one of the men of the community, evidently a coarse illiterate person, rose and addressed a few words to the spectators, requesting them not to laugh at what they saw, but to behave themselves properly, &c. and then he sat down.
One of the leaders then burst out into a hymn, to a jigging sort of tune, and all the others joined chorus. After the hymn was sung they all rose, put away the forms on which they had been seated, and stood in lines, eight in a row, men and women separate, facing each other, and about ten feet apart; the ranks of men being flanked by the boys, and those of the women by the girls. They commenced their dancing by advancing in rows, just about as far as profane people do in when they dance quadrilles, and then retreated the same distance, all keeping regular time, and turning back to back after every third advance. The movement was rather quick, and they danced to their own singing of the following beautiful composition:
Law, law, de lawdel law,
Law, law, de law,
Law, law, de lawdel law,
Lawdel, lawdel, law--
keeping time also with the hands as well as feet, the former raised up to the chest, and hanging down like the forepaws of a dancing bear. After a quarter of an hour they sat down again, and the women made use of their large towel pocket-handkerchiefs to wipe off the perspiration. Another hymn was sung, and then the same person addressed the spectators, requesting them not to laugh, and inquiring if any of them felt a wish to be saved, adding "Not one of you, I don't think." He looked round at all of us with the most ineffable contempt, and then sat down; and they sang another hymn, the burden of which was--
"Our souls are saved, and we are free
From vice and all in-i-qui-ty."
which was a very comfortable delusion, at all events.
They then rose again, put away the forms as before, and danced in another fashion. Instead of LĠete, it was Grande ronde. About ten men and women stood in two lines in the centre of the room, as a vocal band of music, while all the others, two and two, women first and men following, promenaded round, with a short quick step, to the tune chaunted in the centre. As they went round and round, shaking their paws up and down before them, the scene was very absurd, and I could have laughed had I not felt disgusted at such a degradation of rational and immortal beings. This dance lasted a long while, until the music turned to croaking, and the perspiration was abundant; they stopped at last, and then announced that their exercise was finished. I waited a little while after the main body had dispersed, to speak with one of the elders. "I will be with you directly," replied he, walking hastily away; but he never came back.
I never heard the principle upon which they dance. David danced before the ark; but it is to be presumed that David danced as well as he sung. At least he thought so; for when his wife Michal laughed at him, he made her conduct a ground of divorce.
Every community which works in common, and is provided for in the mass, must become rich, especially when it has no children to maintain. It is like receiving a person's labour in exchange for victuals and clothing only, and this is all I can perceive that can be said in favour of these people. Suffice it to say, I have a very bad opinion of them: and were I disposed to dilate on the subject, I should feel no inclination to treat them with the lenity shewn to them by other travellers.
ALBANY, NEW YORK. July 1837. Examination of Pupils at the Female Academy.
I set off for Albany, where I had an engagement, having been invited to attend at the examination of the young ladies at the seminary. Here again is a rivalry between Albany and Troy, each of them glorying in possessing the largest seminary for the education of young ladies, who are sent from every State of the Union, to be finished off at one or the other of them. Here, and indeed in many other establishments, the young ladies upon quitting it have diplomas given to them, if they pass their examinations satisfactorily. They are educated upon a system which would satisfy even Miss Martineau, and prepared to exercise the rights of which she complains that women have been so unjustly deprived. Conceive three hundred modern Portias, who regularly take their degrees and emerge from the portico of the seminary full of algebra, equality, and the theory ofthe constitution! The quantity and variety crammed into them is beyond all calculation. The examination takes place yearly, to prove to the parents that the preceptors have done their duty, and is in itself very innocent, as it only causes the young ladies to blush a little.
This afternoon they were examined in algebra, and their performance was very creditable. Under a certain age girls are certainly much quicker than boys, and I presume would retain what they learnt if it were not for their subsequent duties in making puddings, and nursing babies. Yet there are affairs which must be performed by one sex or the other, and of what use can algebra and other abstruse matters be to a woman in her present state of domestic thraldom.
The theory of the American constitution was the next subject on which they were examined; by their replies, this appeared to be to them more abstruse than algebra: but the fact is, women are born tories, and admit no other than petticoat government as legitimate.
The next day we again repaired to the hall, and French was the language in which they were to be examined, and the examination afforded us much amusement.
The young ladies sat down in rows on one side of the room. In the centre, towards the end, was an easel, on which was placed a large black board on which they worked with chalk the questions in algebra, &c., a towel hanging to it, that they might wipe out and correct. The French preceptor, an old Emigre count, sat down with the examiners before the board, the visitors (chiefly composed of anxious papas and mommas) being seated on benches behind them. As it happened, I had taken my seat close to the examining board, and at some little distance from the other persons who were deputed or invited to attend. I don't know how I came there. I believe I had come in too late; but there I was, within three feet of every young lady who came up to the board.
"Now, messieurs, have the kindness to ask any question you please," said the old Count. "Mademoiselle, you will have the goodness to step forward." A question was proposed in English, which the young lady had to write down in French. The very first went wrong: I perceived it, and without looking at her, pronounced the right word, so that she could hear it. She caught it, rubbed out the wrong word with the towel, and rectified it. This was carried on through the whole sentence, and then she retreated from the board that her work might be examined. "Very well, very well, indeed, Miss, c'est parfaitement bien;" and the young lady sat down blushing. Thus were they all called up, and one alter another prompted by me; and the old Count was delighted at the success of his pupils.
Now, what amused me in this was the little bit of human nature; the tact displayed by the sex, which appears to be innate, and which never deserts them. Had I prompted a boy, he would most likely have turned his head round towards me, and thus would have revealed what I was about; but not one of the whole class was guilty of such indiscretion. They heard me, rubbed out, corrected, waited for the word when they did not know it, but never by any look or sign made it appear that there was any understanding between us. Their eyes were constantly fixed on the board, and they appeared not to know that I was in the room. It was really beautiful. When the examination was over, I received a look from them all, half comic, half serious, which amply repaid me for my assistance.
As young ladies are assembled here from every State of the Union, it was a fair criterion of American beauty, and it must be acknowledged that the American women are the prettiest in the whole world.
SAULT STE. MARIE. August 1837. Commendable Qualities in Indian Women.
There are two companies of soldiers quartered here. The rapids from which the village takes its name are just above it; they are not strong or dangerous, and the canoes descend them twenty times a day. At the foot of the rapids the men are constantly employed in taking the white fish in scoop nets, as they attempt to force their way up into Lake Superior. The majority of the inhabitants here are half-breeds. It is remarkable that the females generally improve, and the males degenerate, from the admixture of blood. Indian wives are here preferred to white, and perhaps with reason; they make the best wives for poor men; they labour hard, never complain, and a day of severe toil is amply recompensed by a smile from their lord and master in the evening. They are always faithful and devoted, and very sparing of their talk, all of which qualities are considered as recommendations in this part of the world.
It is remarkable, that although the Americans treat the negro with contumely, they have a respect for the red Indian: a well- educated half-bred Indian is not debarred from entering into society; indeed, they are generally received with great attention. The daughter of a celebrated Indian chief brings heraldry into the family, for the Indians are as proud of their descent ( and with good reason ) as we, in Europe, are of ours. The Randolph family in Virginia still boast of their descent from Pocahontas, the heroine of one of the most remarkable romances in real life which was ever heard of.
NIAGARA FALLS. August 1837. Outdoor Amusements in America.
The game of nine-pins is a favourite game in America, and very superior to what it is in England. In America.; the ground is always covered properly over, and the balls are rolled upon a wooden floor, as correctly levelled as a billiard table. The ladies join in the game, which here becomes an agreeable and not too fatiguing exercise. I was very fond of frequenting their alleys, not only for the exercise, but because among the various ways of estimating character, I had made up my mind that there was none more likely to be correct, than the estimate formed by the manner in which people roll the balls, especially the ladies. There were some very delightful specimens of American females when I was this time at Niagara. We sauntered about the falls and wood in the day time, or else played at nine-pins; in the evening we looked at the moon, | | spouted verses, and drank mint juleps. But all that was too pleasant to last long: I felt that I had not come to America to play at nine-pins; so I tore myself away, and within the next twenty-four hours found myself at Toronto, in Upper Canada.
BELLOWS FALLS, VERMONT. September, 1837. Bartering among Women; Stagecoach Travel.
My fellow-passengers--both young, both good-looking, and both ladies, and evidently were total strangers to each other. One had a pretty pink silk bonnet, very fine for travelling; the other, an indifferent plush one. The young lady in the plush, eyed the pink bonnet for some time: at last Plush observed in a drawling half-indifferent way:
"That's rather a pretty bonnet of your's, miss."
"Why, yes, I calculate it's rather smart," replied Pink.
After a pause and closer survey. - "You wouldn't have any objection to part with it, miss?"
"Well now, I don't know but I might; I have worn it but three days, I reckon."
"Oh, my! I should have reckoned that you carried it longer-- perhaps it rained on them three days."
"I've a notion it didn't rain, not one. It's not the only bonnet I have, miss."
"Well now, I should not mind an exchange, and paying you the balance."
"That's an awful thing that you have on, miss."
"I rather think not, but that's as may be. Come, miss, what will you take?"
"Why I don't know, what will you give?"
"I reckon you'll know best when you answer my question.'
"Well then, I shouldn't like less than five dollars."
"Five dollars and my bonnet! I reckon two would be nearer the mark; but it's of no consequence."
"None in the least, miss, only I know the value of my bonnet. We'll say no more about it."
"Just so, miss."
A pause and silence for half a minute, when Miss Plush, looks out of the window, and says, as if talking to herself, "I shouldn't mind giving four dollars, but no more." She then fell back in her seat, when Miss Pink, put her head out of the window, and said: "I shouldn't refuse four dollars after all, if it was offered," and then she fell back to her former position.
"Did you think of taking four dollars, miss?"
"Well! I don't care, I've plenty of bonnets at home."
"Well," replied Plush, taking out her purse, and offering her the money.
"What bank is this, miss?"
"Oh, all's right there, Safety Fund, I calculate."
The two ladies exchange bonnets, and Pink pockets the balance.
FORT SNELLING. June 1838. Morality and Chastity among the Indians.
In many customs the Sioux are closely allied to the Jewish nation; indeed, a work has been published in America to prove that the Indians were originally Jews. There is always a separate lodge for the woman to retire to before and after childbirth, observing a similar purification to that prescribed by Moses. Although there ever will be, in all societies, instances to the contrary, chastity is honoured among the Sioux. They hold what they term Virgin Feasts, and when these are held, should any young woman accept the invitation who has by her misconduct rendered herself unqualified for it, it is the duty of any man who is aware of her unfitness, to go into the circle and lead her out. A circumstance of this kind occurred the other day, when the daughter of a celebrated chief gave a Virgin Feast: a young man of the tribe walked into the circle and led her out; upon which the chief led his daughter to the lodge of the young Sioux, and told him that he gave her to him for his wife, but the young man refused to take her, as being unworthy. But what is more singular (and I have it from authority which is unquestionable), they also hold Virgin Feasts for the young men; and should any young man take his seat there who is unqualified, the woman who is aware of it must lead him out, although in so doing, she convicts herself; nevertheless it is considered a sacred duty and is done.... The [Sioux] men are tall and straight, and very finely made, with the exception of their arms, which are too small. The arms of the squaws, who do all the labour, are much more muscular. One day as I was on the prairie, I witnessed the effect of custom upon these people. A Sioux was coming up without perceiving me; his squaw followed very heavily laden, and to assist her he had himself a large package on his shoulder. As soon as they perceived me, he dropped his burden, and it was taken up by the squaw and added to what she had already. If a woman wishes to upbraid another, the severest thing she can say is, "You let your husband carry burthens."
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, VIRGINIA. August 1838. Whittling Women; Naming Slaves.
I passed many pleasant days at this beautiful spot, and was almost as unwilling to leave it as I was to part with the Sioux Indians at St. Peters.' Refinement and simplicity are equally charming. I was introduced to a very beautiful girl here, whom I should have not mentioned so particularly, had it not been that she was the first and only lady in America that I observed to whittle. She was sitting one fine morning on a wooden bench, surrounded by admirers, and as she carved away her scat with her pen-knife, so did she cut deep into the hearts of those who listened to her lively conversation. There are, as may be supposed, a large number of negro servants here attending their masters and mistresses. I have often been amused, not only here, but during my residence in Kentucky, at the high-sounding Christian names which have been given to them. "Byron, tell Ada to come here directly." "Now, Telemachus, if you don't leave Calvpso alone, you'll get a taste of the cow-hide."
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY. August 1838. Accuracy of Martineau's Account; Fear of Violence by Slaves Exaggerated.
Lexington is a very pretty town, with very pleasant society, and afforded me great relief after the unpleasant sojourn I had had at Louisville. Conversing one day with Mr. Clay, I had another instance given me of the mischief which the conduct of Miss Martineau has entailed upon all those English who may happen to visit America. Mr. Clay observed that Miss Martineau had remained with him for some time, and that during her stay, she had professed very different, or at least more modified opinions on the subject of slavery, than those she had expressed in her book: so much so, that one day, having read a letter from Boston cautioning her against being cajoled by the hospitality and pleasant society of the Western States, she handed it to him saying, "They want to make a regular abolitionist of me." "When her work came out," continued Mr. Clay, "although I read but very little of it, I turned to this subject so important with us, and I must say I was a little surprised to find that she had so changed her opinions." The fact is, Miss Martineau appears to have been what the Kentuckians call, "playing 'possum." I have met with some of the Southern ladies whose conversations on slavery are said, or supposed to have been those printed by Miss Martineau, and they deny that they are correct. That the Southern ladies are very apt to express great horror at living too long a time at the plantations, is very certain; not, however, because they expect to be murdered in their beds by the slaves, as they tell their husbands, but because they are anxious to spend more of their time at the cities, where they can enjoy more luxury and amusement than can be procured at the plantations.
Everybody rides in Virginia and Kentucky, master, man, woman, and slave, and they all ride well: it is quite as common to meet a woman on horseback as a man, and it is a pretty sight in their States to walk by the church doors and see them all arrive. The churches have stables, or rather sheds, built close to them, for the accommodation of the cattle.
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY. September 1838. Health, Mortality, and Childbearing.
That this has been a very unhealthy season is certain, but still, from all the information I could obtain, there is a great mortality every year in the districts I have pointed out; and such indeed must be the case, from the miasma created every fall of the year in these rich alluvial soils, some portions of which have been worked for fifty years without the assistance of manure, and still yield abundant crops. It will be a long while before the drainage necessary to render them healthy can be accomplished. The sickly appearance of the inhabitants establishes but too well the facts related to me; and yet, strange to say, it would appear to be a provision of Providence, that a remarkable fecundity on the part of the women in the more healthy portions of their Western States, should meet the annual expenditure of life. Three children at a birth are more common here than twins are in England; and they, generally speaking, are all reared up. There have been many instances of even four.