William Bingley
Travels in North America, From Modern Writers

Travels in North America, From Modern Writers
William Bingley

Travels in North America, From Modern Writers With Remarks and Observations; Exhibiting a Connected View of the Geography and Present State of that Quarter of the Globe

First Day's Instruction.


This division of the great western continent is more than five thousand miles in length; and, in some latitudes, is four thousand miles wide. It was originally discovered by Europeans, about the conclusion of the fifteenth century; and, a few years afterwards, a party of Spanish adventurers obtained possession of some of the southern districts. The inhabitants of these they treated like wild animals, who had no property in the woods through which they roamed. They expelled them from their habitations, established settlements; and, taking possession of the country in the name of their sovereign, they appropriated to themselves the choicest and most valuable provinces. Numerous other settlements have since been established in different parts of the country; and the native tribes have nearly been exterminated, while the European population and the descendants of Europeans, have so much increased that, in the United States only, there are now more than ten millions of white inhabitants.

The surface of the country is extremely varied. A double range of mountains extends through the United States, in a direction, from south-west to north-east; and another range traverses nearly the whole western regions, from north to south. No part of the world is so well watered with rivulets, rivers, and lakes, as this. Some of the lakes resemble inland seas. Lake Superior is nearly 300 miles long, and is more than 150 miles wide; and lakes Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario, and Champlain, are all of great size. The principal navigable rivers of America are the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri, and the Illinois. Of these the Mississippi flows from the north, and falls into the Gulf of Mexico. The Ohio flows into the Mississippi: it extends in a north-easterly direction, and receives fifteen large streams, all of which are navigable. The Missouri and the Illinois also flow into the Mississippi: and, by means of these several rivers, a commercial intercourse is effected, from the ocean to vast distances into the interior of the country. Other important rivers are the Delaware and the Hudson, in the United States, and the St. Lawrence, in Canada. The bays and harbours of North America are numerous, and many of them are well adapted for the reception and protection of ships. Hudson's Bay is of greater extent than the whole Baltic sea. Delaware Bay is 60 miles long; and, in some parts, is so wide, that a vessel in the middle of it cannot be seen from either bank. Chesapeak Bay extends 270 miles inland. The Bay of Honduras is on the south-eastern side of New Spain, and is noted for the trade in logwood and mahogany, which is carried on upon its banks.

The natural productions of North America are, in many respects, important. The forests abound in valuable timber-trees; among which are enumerated no fewer than forty-two different species of oaks. Fruit-trees of various kinds are abundant; and, in many places, grapes grow wild: the other vegetable productions are numerous and important. Among the quadrupeds are enumerated some small species of tigers, deer, elks of immense size, bisons, bears, wolves, foxes, beavers, porcupines, and opossums. The American forests abound in birds; and in those of districts that are distant from the settlements of men, wild turkeys, and several species of grouse are very numerous. In some of the forests of Canada, passenger-pigeons breed in myriads; and, during their periodical flight, from one part of the country to another, their numbers darken the air. The coasts, bays, and rivers, abound in fish; and various species of reptiles and serpents are known to inhabit the interior of the southern districts. Among the mountains most of the important metals are found: iron, lead, and copper, are all abundant; and coals are not uncommon.


That part of North America which is under the government of the United States, now constitutes one of the most powerful and most enlightened nations in the world. The inhabitants enjoy the advantage of a vast extent of territory, over which the daily increasing population is able, with facility, to expand itself; and much of this territory, though covered with forests, is capable of being cleared, and many parts of it are every day cleared, for the purposes of cultivation.

The origin of the United States may be dated from the time of the formation of an English colony in Virginia, about the year 1606. Other English colonies were subsequently formed; and, during one hundred and fifty years, these gradually increased in strength and prosperity, till, at length, the inhabitants threw off their dependance upon England, and established an independent republican government. This, after a long and expensive war, was acknowledged by Great Britain, in a treaty signed at Paris on the 30th of November, 1782.

The boundaries of the States were determined by this treaty; but, some important acquisitions of territory have since been made. In April, 1803, Louisiana was ceded to them by France; and this district, in its most limited extent, includes a surface of country, which, with the exception of Russia, is equal to the whole of Europe. Florida, by its local position, is connected with the United States: it belonged to Spain, but, in the year 1820, it was annexed to the territories of the republic.

Geographical writers have divided the United States into three regions: the lowlands or flat country; the highlands, and the mountains. Of these, the first extend from the Atlantic ocean to the falls of the great rivers. The highlands reach from the falls to the foot of the mountains; and the mountains stretch nearly through the whole country, in a direction from south-west to north-east. Their length is about 900 miles, and their breadth from 60 to 200. They may be considered as separated into two distinct chains; of which the eastern chain has the name of Blue Mountains, and the western is known, at its southern extremity, by the name of Cumberland and Gauley Mountains, and afterwards by that of the Alleghany Mountains. The Alleghanies are about 250 miles distant from the shore of the Atlantic. Towards the north there are other eminences, called the Green Mountains and the White Mountains. The loftiest summits of the whole are said to be about 7000 feet in perpendicular height above the level of the sea.

Few countries can boast a greater general fertility of soil than North America. The soil of the higher lands consists, for the most part, of a brown loamy earth, and a yellowish sandy clay. Marine shells, and other substances, in a fossil state, are found at the depth of eighteen or twenty feet below the surface of the ground. Some of these are of very extraordinary description. In the year 1712, several bones and teeth of a vast nondescript quadruped, were dug up at Albany in the state of New York. By the ignorant inhabitants these were considered to be the remains of gigantic human bodies. In 1799 the bones of other individuals of this animal, which has since been denominated the Mastodon or American Mammoth, were discovered beneath the surface of the ground, in the vicinity of Newburgh, on the river Hudson. Induced by the hope of being able to obtain a perfect skeleton, a Mr. Peale, of Philadelphia, purchased these bones, with the right of digging for others. He was indefatigable in his exertions, but was unable, for some time, to procure any more. He made an attempt in a morass about twelve miles distant from Newburgh, where an entire set of ribs was found, but unaccompanied by any other remains. In another morass, in Ulster county, he found several bones; among the rest a complete under jaw, and upper part of the head. From the whole of the fragments that he obtained, he was enabled to form two skeletons. One of these, under the name of mammoth, was exhibited in London, about a year afterwards. Its height at the shoulder was eleven feet; its whole length was fifteen feet; and its weight about one thousand pounds. This skeleton was furnished with large and curved ivory tusks, different in shape from those of an elephant, but similar in quality. In 1817 another skeleton was dug up, from the depth of only four feet, in the town of Goshen, near Chester. The tusks of this were more than nine feet in length.

In a region so extensive as the United States, there must necessarily be a great variety of climate. In general, the heat of summer and the cold of winter are more intense, and the transitions, from the one to the other, are more sudden than in the old continent. The predominant winds are from the west; and the severest cold is felt from the north-west. Between the forty-second and forty-fifth degrees of latitude, the same parallel as the south of France, the winters are very severe. During winter, the ice of the rivers is sufficiently strong to bear the passage of horses and waggons; and snow is so abundant, as to admit the use of sledges. In Georgia the winters are mild. South Carolina is subject to immoderate heat, to tremendous hurricanes, and to terrific storms of thunder and lightning.

The United States are usually classed in three divisions: the northern, the middle, and the southern. The northern states have the general appellation of New England: they are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The middle states are New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The southern states are Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tenessee, and Louisiana.

Besides these, the United States claim the government of the territories of the Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi. By a public ordinance, passed in the year 1787, a territory cannot be admitted into the American Union, until its population amounts to 60,000 free inhabitants. In the mean time, however, it is subject to a regular provisional form of government. The administration of this is entrusted to a governor, who is appointed by the president and congress of the United States; and who is invested with extensive powers, for protection of the interests of the States, and the observance of a strict faith towards the Indians, in the exchange of commodities, and the purchase of lands.

The government of the United States is denominated a "Federal Republic." Each state has a constitution for the management of its own internal affairs; and, by the federal constitution, they are all formed into one united body. The legislative power is vested in a congress of delegates from the several states; this congress is divided into two distinct bodies, the senate and the house of representatives. The members of the latter are elected every two years, by the people; and the senators are elected every six years, by the state legislatures. A senator must be thirty years of age, an inhabitant of the state in which he is elected, and must have been nine years a citizen of the United States: the present number of senators is thirty-eight. The executive power is vested in a president, who is chosen every four years. In the election both of members of congress, and of the president of the United States, it is asserted, that there is much manœuvering, and much corrupt influence exerted. In the electioneering addresses of the defeated parties, these are, perhaps, as often made a subject of complaint and reproach, as they are in those of defeated candidates for the representation of counties or boroughs in the British House of Commons.

Washington is the seat of government; and the president, when there, lives in a house destined for his use, and furnished at the expense of the nation. His annual salary is 25,000 dollars, about £.5600 sterling. The president, in virtue of his office, is commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and also of the militia, whenever it is called into actual service. He is empowered to make treaties, to appoint ambassadors, ministers, consuls, judges of the supreme court, and all military and other officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by the law.

The national council is composed of the President and Vice President; and the heads of the treasury, war, navy, and post-office establishment.

The inhabitants of the United States (says Mr. Warden[1 - Statistical, political, and historical account of the United States.]) have not that uniform character which belongs to ancient nations, upon whom, time and the stability of institutions, have imprinted a particular and individual character. The general physiognomy is as varied as its origin is different. English, Irish, Germans, Scotch, French, and Swiss, all retain some characteristic of their ancient country.

The account given by Mr. Birkbeck is somewhat different from this. He asserts that, as far as he had an opportunity of judging, the native inhabitants of the towns are much alike; nine out of ten (he says) are tall and long limbed, approaching or even exceeding six feet. They are seen in pantaloons and Wellington boots; either marching up and down, with their hands in their pockets, or seated in chairs poised on the hind feet, and the backs rested against the walls. If a hundred Americans, of any class, were to seat themselves, ninety-nine (observes this gentleman) would shuffle their chairs to the true distance, and then throw themselves back against the nearest prop. The women exhibit a great similarity of tall, relaxed forms, with consistent dress and demeanour; and are not remarkable for sprightliness of manners. Intellectual culture has not yet made much progress among the generality of either sex; but the men, from their habit of travelling, and their consequent intercourse with strangers, have greatly the advantage, in the means of acquiring information. Mr. Birkbeck says that, in every village and town, as he passed along, he observed groups of young able-bodied men, who seemed to be as perfectly at leisure as the loungers of Europe. This love of indolence, where labour is so profitable, is a strange affection. If these people be asked why they so much indulge in it, they answer, that "they live in freedom; and need not work, like the English."

In the interior of the United States, and in the back settlements, land may be purchased, both of individuals and of the government, at very low rates. The price of uncleared land, or of land covered with trees, and not yet in a state fit for cultivation, is, in many instances, as low as two dollars an acre. The public lands are divided into townships of six miles square; each of which is subdivided into thirty-six sections, of one mile square, or 640 acres; and these are usually offered for sale, in quarter sections, of 160 acres. The purchase money may be paid by four equal instalments; the first within forty days, and the others within two, three, and four years after the completion of the purchase.

Mr. Birkbeck thus describes the mode in which towns are formed in America. On any spot, (says he,) where a few settlers cluster together, attracted by ancient neighbourhood, or by the goodness of the soil, or vicinity to a mill, or by whatever other cause, some enterprising proprietor perhaps finds, in his section, what he deems a good site for a town: he has it surveyed, and laid out in lots, which he sells, or offers to sale by auction. When these are disposed of, the new town assumes the name of its founder: a store-keeper builds a little framed store, and sends for a few cases of goods; and then a tavern starts up, which becomes the residence of a doctor and a lawyer, and the boarding house of the store-keeper, as well as the resort of the traveller. Soon follow a blacksmith, and other handicraftsmen, in useful succession. A school-master, who is also the minister of religion, becomes an important acquisition to this rising community. Thus the town proceeds, if it proceed at all, with accumulating force, until it becomes the metropolis of the neighbourhood. Hundreds of these speculations may have failed, but hundreds prosper; and thus trade begins and thrives, as population increases around favourite spots. The town being established, a cluster of inhabitants, however small it may be, acts as a stimulus on the cultivation of the neighbourhood: redundancy of supply is the consequence, and this demands a vent. Water-mills rise on the nearest navigable streams, and thus an effectual and constant market is secured for the increasing surplus of produce. Such are the elements of that accumulating mass of commerce which may, hereafter, render this one of the most important and most powerful countries in the world.

Though the Americans boast of the freedom which they personally enjoy, they, most inconsistently, allow the importation and employment of slaves; and, with such unjust detestation are these unhappy beings treated, that a negro is not permitted to eat at the same table, nor even to frequent the same place of worship, as a white person. The white servants, on the contrary, esteem themselves on an equality with their masters. They style themselves "helps," and will not suffer themselves to be called "servants." When they speak to their masters or mistresses, they either call them by their names; or they substitute the term "boss," for that of master. All this, however, is a difference merely of words; for the Americans exhibit no greater degree of feeling, nor are they at all more considerate in their conduct towards this class of society, than the inhabitants of other nations. Indeed the contrary is very often the case. Most persons, in America, engage their servants by the week, and no enquiry is ever made relative to character, as is customary with us.

The constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech and liberty of the press. By law all the inhabitants are esteemed equal. The chief military strength of the country is in the militia; and, whenever this is embodied, every male inhabitant beyond a certain age, is compellable either to bear arms, or to pay an equivalent to be excused from this service. Trial by jury is to be preserved inviolate. A republican form of government is guaranteed to all the states, and hereditary titles and distinctions are prohibited by the law. With regard to religion, it is stipulated that no law shall ever be passed to establish any particular form of religion, or to prevent the free exercise of it; and, in the United States, no religious test is required as a qualification to any office of public trust.

In commerce and navigation the progress of the States has been rapid beyond example. Besides the natural advantages of excellent harbours, extensive inland bays, and navigable rivers, the Americans assert that their trade is not fettered by monopolies, nor by exclusive privileges of any description. Goods or merchandise circulate through the whole country free of duty; and a full drawback, or restitution of the duties of importation, is granted upon articles exported to a foreign port, in the course of the year in which they have been imported. Commerce is here considered a highly honourable employment; and, in the sea-port towns, all the wealthiest members of the community are merchants. Nearly all the materials for manufactures are produced in this country. Fuel is inexhaustible; and the high wages of the manufacturers, and the want of an extensive capital, alone prevent the Americans from rivalling the English in trade. The produce of cultivation in America is of almost every variety that can be named: wheat, maize, rye, oats, barley, rice, and other grain; apples, pears, cherries, peaches, grapes, currants, gooseberries, plums, and other fruit, and a vast variety of vegetables. Lemons, oranges, and tropical fruits are raised in the southern States. Hops, flax, and hemp are abundant. Tobacco is an article of extensive cultivation in Virginia, Maryland, and some other districts. Cotton and sugar are staple commodities in several of the states. The northern and eastern states are well adapted for grazing, and furnish a great number of valuable horses, and of cattle and sheep; and an abundance of butter and cheese.

It will be possible to describe nearly all the most important places within the limits of the United States, by reciting, in succession, the narratives of different travellers through this interesting country. In so doing, however, it may perhaps be found requisite, in a few instances, to separate the parts of their narrations, for the purpose of more methodical illustration; but this alteration of arrangement will not often occur.

Second Day's Instruction.


An account of New York and its vicinity. From Sketches of America by Henry Bradshaw Fearon

Mr. Fearon was deputed by several friends in England, to visit the United States, for the purpose of obtaining information, by which they should regulate their conduct, in emigrating from their native country, to settle in America. He arrived in the bay of New York, about the beginning of August, 1817.

Here every object was interesting to him. The pilot brought on board the ship the newspapers of the morning. In these, many of the advertisements had, to Mr. Fearon, the character of singularity. One of them, announcing a play, terminated thus: "gentlemen are informed that no smoking is allowed in the theatre." Several sailing boats passed, with respectable persons in them, many of whom wore enormously large straw hats, turned up behind. At one o'clock, the vessel was anchored close to the city; and a great number of persons were collected on the wharf to witness her arrival. Many of these belonged to the labouring class; others were of the mercantile and genteeler orders. Large straw hats prevailed, and trowsers were universal. The general costume of these persons was inferior to that of men in the same rank of life in England: their whole appearance was loose, slovenly, careless, and not remarkable for cleanliness. The wholesale stores, which front the river, had not the most attractive appearance imaginable. The carts were long and narrow, and each was drawn by one horse. The hackney-coaches were open at the sides, an arrangement well suited to this warm climate; and the charge was about one fourth higher than in London.

This city, when approached from the sea, presents an appearance that is truly beautiful. It stands at the extreme point of Manhattan, or York island, which is thirteen miles long, and from one to two miles wide; and the houses are built from shore to shore. Vessels of any burden can come close up to the town, and lie there in perfect safety, in a natural harbour formed by the East and Hudson's rivers. New York contains 120,000 inhabitants, and is, indisputably, the most important commercial city in America.

The streets through which Mr. Fearon passed, to a boarding-house in State-street, were narrow and dirty. The Battery, however, is a delightful walk, at the edge of the bay; and several of the houses in State-street are as large as those in Bridge-street, Blackfriars, London. At the house in which Mr. Fearon resided, the hours of eating were, breakfast, eight o'clock; dinner half-past three, tea seven, and supper ten; and the whole expence of living amounted to about eighteen dollars per week.

The street population of New York has an aspect very different from that of London, or the large towns in England. One striking feature of it is formed by the number of blacks, many of whom are finely dressed: the females are ludicrously so, generally in white muslin, with artificial flowers and pink shoes. Mr. Fearon saw very few well-dressed white ladies; but this was a time of the year when most of them were absent at the springs of Balston and Saratoga, places of fashionable resort, about 200 miles from New York.

All the native inhabitants of this city have sallow complexions. To have colour in the cheeks is here considered a criterion by which a person is known to be an Englishman. The young men are tall, thin, and solemn: they all wear trowsers, and most of them walk about in loose great coats.

There are, in New York, many hotels; some of which are on an extensive scale. The City Hotel is as large as the London Tavern. The dining-room and some of the private apartments seem to have been fitted up regardless of expense. The shops, or stores, as they are here called, have nothing in their exterior to recommend them to notice: there is not even an attempt at tasteful display. In this city the linen and woollen-drapers expose great quantities of their goods, loose on boxes, in the street, without any precaution against theft. This practice, a proof of their carelessness, is at the same time an evidence as to the political state of society which is worthy of attention. Great masses of the population cannot be unemployed, or robbery would be inevitable.

There are, in New York, many excellent private dwellings, built of red painted brick, which gives them a peculiarly neat and clean appearance. In Broadway and Wall-street, trees are planted along the side of the pavement. The City Hall is a large and elegant building, in which the courts of law are held. Most of the streets are dirty: in many of them sawyers prepare their wood for sale, and all are infested with pigs.

On the whole, a walk through New York will disappoint an Englishman: there is an apparent carelessness, a laziness, an unsocial indifference, which freezes the blood and disgusts the judgment. An evening stroll along Broadway, when the lamps are lighted, will please more than one at noonday. The shops will look rather better, but the manners of the proprietors will not greatly please an Englishman: their cold indifference may be mistaken, by themselves, for independence, but no person of thought and observation will ever concede to them that they have selected a wise mode of exhibiting that dignified feeling.

[There is, in New York, a seminary for education, called Columbia College. This institution was originally named "King's College," and was founded in the year 1754. Its annual revenue is about 4000 dollars. A botanic garden, situated about four miles from the city, was, not long ago, purchased by the state, of Dr. Hosach, for 73,000 dollars, and given to the college. The faculty of medicine, belonging to this institution, has been incorporated under the title of "The College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of New York."]

The Town Hall of this city is a noble building, of white marble; and the space around it is planted and railed off. The interior appears to be well arranged. In the rooms of the mayor and corporation, are portraits of several governors of this state, and of some distinguished officers. The state rooms and courts of justice are on the first floor. In the immediate vicinity of the hall is an extensive building, appropriated to the "New York Institution," the "Academy of fine Arts," and the "American Museum." There are also a state prison, an hospital, and many splendid churches.

When a traveller surveys this city, and recollects that, but two centuries since, the spot on which it stands was a wilderness, he cannot but be surprised at its present comparative extent and opulence.

With regard to trades in New York, Mr. Fearon remarks that building appeared to be carried on to a considerable extent, and was generally performed by contract. There were many timber, or lumber-yards, (as they are here called,) but not on the same large and compact scale as in England. Cabinet-work was neatly executed, and at a reasonable price. Chair-making was an extensive business. Professional men, he says, literally swarm in the United States; and lawyers are as common in New York as paupers are in England. A gentleman, walking in the Broadway, seeing a friend pass, called out to him, "Doctor!" and immediately sixteen persons turned round, to answer the call. It is estimated that there are, in New York, no fewer than 1500 spirit shops, yet the Americans have not the character of being drunkards. There are several large carvers' and gilders' shops; and glass-mirrors and picture-frames are executed with taste and elegance. Plate-glass is imported from France, Holland, and England. Booksellers' shops are extensive; but English novels and poetry are the primary articles of a bookseller's business. Many of the popular English books are here reprinted, but in a smaller size, and on worse paper than the original. There are, in this city, a few boarding-schools for ladies; but, in general, males and females, of all ages, are educated at the same establishment. No species of correction is allowed. Children, even at home, are perfectly independent; subordination being foreign to the comprehension of all persons in the United States.

The rents of houses are here extremely high. Very small houses, in situations not convenient for business, and containing, in the whole, only six rooms, are worth from £.75 to £.80 per annum; and for similar houses, in first-rate situations, the rents as high as from £.160 to £.200 are paid. Houses like those in Oxford-street and the best part of Holborn, are let for £.500 or £.600 pounds per annum.

Provisions are somewhat cheaper than in London; but most of the articles of clothing are dear, being chiefly of British manufacture. With regard to religion in the United States, there is legally the most unlimited liberty. There is no established religion; but the professors of the presbyterian and the episcopalian, or church of England tenets, take the precedence, both in numbers and respectability. Their ministers receive each from two to eight thousand dollars per annum. All the churches are said to be well filled. The episcopalians, though they do not form any part of the state, have their bishops and other orders, as in England.

Mr. Fearon remarks, generally, respecting the United States, that every industrious man may obtain a living; but that America is not the political elysium which it has been so floridly described, and which the imaginations of many have fondly anticipated.

In the courts of law there appears to be a perfect equality between the judge, the counsel, the jury, the tipstaff, and the auditors; and Mr. Fearon was informed that great corruption exists in the minor courts.

New York is called a "free state;" and it may perhaps be so termed theoretically, or in comparison with its southern neighbours; but, even here, there are multitudes of negroes in a state of slavery, and who are bought and sold as cattle would be in England. And so degrading do the white inhabitants consider it, to associate with blacks, that the latter are absolutely excluded from all places of public worship, which the whites attend. Even the most degraded white person will neither eat nor walk with a negro.

Long Island is a part of the state of New York, one hundred and twenty miles in length, and twelve in breadth. It is chiefly occupied by farmers; and is divided into two counties.

Mr. Fearon made several excursions into the state of New Jersey, situated opposite to that of New York, and on the southern side of the river Hudson. The valleys abound in black oaks, ash, palms, and poplar trees. Oak and hickory-nut trees grow in situations which are overflowed. The soil is not considered prolific. Newark is a manufacturing town, in this province, of considerable importance, and delightfully situated. It contains many excellent houses, and a population of about eight thousand persons, including slaves. Carriages and chairs are here made in great numbers, chiefly for sale in the southern markets.