PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Chapter IV Petersburgh—Richmond—Westover.” (1828)

CONTEXT

In this chapter of the Marquis de Chastellux’s Travels in North-America, in the years 1780-81-82, he describes his observations of his travels in Petersburg, Richmond, and Westover Plantation after the American Revolution. Chastellux served in the American Revolution as a military officer in the French expeditionary forces under Comte de Rochambeau. The book’s translator, George Grieve, an Englishman who resided in America at the time, has written extensive footnotes.

FULL TEXT

We left Powhatan the 24th, early in the morning, and, after having stopped twice, the first time to breakfast in a poor little house, eight miles from Powhatan, and the last, twenty-four miles farther, at a place called Chesterfield court-house, where we saw the ruins of the barracks formerly occupied by Baron Steuben, since burnt by the English, arrived in good time at Petersburgh. This day’s journey was also forty-four miles. The town of Petersburgh is situated on the right bank of the Apamatock; there are some houses on the opposite shore, but this kind of suburb is a district independent of Petersburgh, and called Pocahunta. We passed the river in a ferry-boat, and were conducted to a little public-house about thirty steps from thence, which had an indifferent appearance; but, on entering, we found an apartment very neatly furnished; a tall woman, handsomely dressed, and of a genteel figure, who gave the necessary orders for our reception, and a young lady, equally tall, and very elegant, at work. I inquired their names, which I found were not less entitled to respect than their appearance. The mistress of the house, already twice a widow, was called Spencer, and her daughter, by her first husband, Miss Saunders. I was shown my bed-chamber; and the first thing which struck me was a large magnificent harpsichord, on which lay also a guitar. These musical instruments belonged to Miss Saunders, who knew very well how to use them; but as we stood more in need of a good supper, than a concert, I was apprehensive at first of finding our landladies too good company, and that we should have fewer orders to give than compliments to make. Mrs. Spencer, however, happened to be the best woman in the world; a gay cheerful creature, no common disposition in America; and her daughter, amidst the elegance of her appearance, was mild, polite, and easy in conversation. But to hungry travellers all this could, at the best, be considered but as a good omen for the supper, for which we had not long to wait; for scarcely had we time to admire the neatness and beauty of good dishes, particularly some very large and excellent fish. We were very good friends with our charming

— Page 267 —

landladies before we went to bed, and breakfasted with them the next morning. We were just going out to take a walk, when we received a visit from Mr. Victor, whom I had seen at Williamsburgh; he is a Prussian, who had formerly been in the army, and, after having travelled a great deal in Europe, came and settled in this country, where by his talents, he first made his fortune; and, like every body else, finished by turning planter. He is an excellent musician, and plays every kind of instrument, which makes his company in great request by the whole neighbourhood. He told us he was come to pass a few days with Mrs. Bowling, one of the greatest landholders in Virginia, and proprietor of half the town of Petersburgh. He added, that she had heard of our arrival, and hoped we would come and dine with her, which invitation we accepted, and put ourselves under the guidance of Mr. Victor, who first took us to the ware-houses or magazines of tobacco. These ware-houses of which there are numbers in Virginia, though, unfortunately, great part of them has been burned by the English, are under the direction of public authority. There are inspectors nominated to prove the quality of the tobacco brought by the planters, and if found good, they give a receipt for the quantity. The tobacco may then be considered as sold, these authentic receipts circulating as ready money in the country. For example: suppose I have deposited twenty hogsheads of tobacco at Petersburgh, I may go fifty leagues thence to Alexandria or Fredericksburgh, and buy horses, cloths, or any other article, with these receipts, which circulate through a number of hands before they reach the merchant who purchases the tobacco for exportation. This is an excellent institution, for by this means tobacco becomes not only a sort of bank-stock, but current coin. You often hear the inhabitants say, “This watch cost me two hogsheads of tobacco; this horse fifteen hogsheads; or, I have been offered twenty,” &c. It is true that the price of this article, which seldom varies in peace, is subject to fluctuations in time of war; but then, he who receives it in payment, makes a free bargain, calculates the risks and expectations, and runs the hazard; in short, we may look on this as a very useful establishment; it gives to commodities value and circulation, as soon as they are manufactured, and, in some measure, renders the planter independent of the merchant.

The warehouses at Petersburgh belong to Mrs. Bowling. They were spared by the English, either because the Generals Phillips and Arnold, who lodged with her had some respect for her property, or because they wished to preserve the tobacco contained in them in expectation of selling it for their profit. Phillips died in Mrs. Bowling’s house, by which event the su-

— Page 268 —

preme command devolved upon Arnold; and I heard it said, that Lord Cornwallis, on his arrival, found him at great variance with the navy, who pretended that the booty belonged to them. Lord Cornwallis terminated the dispute, by burning the tobacco; but not before Mrs. Bowling, by her interest, had time sufficient to get it removed from her warehouses. She was lucky enough, also, to save her valuable property in the same town, consisting of a mill, which turns such a number of mill-stones, bolting machines, cribbles, &c. and, in so simple and easy a manner, that it produces above 800l. a year sterling. I passed upwards of an hour in examining its various parts, and admiring the carpenter’s work, and the construction. It is turned by the waters of the Apamatock, which are conveyed to it by a canal excavated in the rock. Having continued our walk in the town, where we saw a number of shops, many of which were well stocked, we thought it time to pay our respects to Mrs. Bowling, and begged Mr. Victor to conduct us to her. Her house, or rather houses, for she has two on the same line resembling each other, which she proposes to join together, are situated on the summit of a considerable slope, which rises from the level of the town of Petersburgh, and corresponds so exactly with the course of the river, that there is no doubt of its having formerly formed one of its banks. This slope, and the vast platform on which the house is built, are covered with grass, which afford excellent pasturage, and are also her property. It was formerly surrounded with rails, and she raised a number of fine horses there; but the English burned the fences, and carried away a great number of the horses. On our arrival we were saluted by Miss Bowling, a young lady of fifteen, possessing all the freshness of her age; she was followed by her mother, brother, and sister-in-law. The mother, a lady of fifty, has but little resemblance to her countrywomen; she is lively, active, and intelligent; knows perfectly well how to manage her immense fortune, and what is yet more rare, knows how to make good use of it. Her son and daughter-in-law I had already seen at Williamsburgh. The young gentleman appears mild and polite, but his wife, of only seventeen years of age, is a most interesting acquaintance, not only from her face and form, which are exquisitely delicate, and quite European, but from her being also descended from the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, daughter of king Powhatan, of whom I have already spoken. We may presume that it is rather the disposition of that amiable American woman, than her exterior beauty, which Mrs. Bowling inherits.

Perhaps they who are not particularly acquainted with the history of Virginia, may be ignorant, that Pocahontas was the protectress of the English, and often screened them from the

— Page 269 —

cruelty of her father. She was but twelve years old when Captain Smith, the bravest, the most intelligent, and the most humane of the first colonists, fell into the hands of the savages; he already understood their language, had traded with them several times, and often appeased the quarrels between the Europeans and them; often had he been obliged also to fight them, and to punish their perfidy. At length, however, under the pretext of commerce, he was drawn into an ambush, and the only two companions who accompanied him, fell before his eyes; but, though alone, by his dexterity he extricated himself from the troop which surrounded him, until, unfortunately, imagining he could save himself by crossing a morass, he stuck fast, so that the savages, against whom he had no means of defending himself, at last took and bound him, and conducted him to Powhatan. The king was so proud of having Captain Smith in his power, that he sent him in triumph to all the tributary princes, and ordered that he should be splendidly treated, till he returned to suffer that death which was prepared for him.*

*Dr. Robertson, Mr. Adair, and a number of writers have given an account of the cruel mode by which the Indians torture their prisoners of war, before they put them to death. During my residence near Alexandria, in Virginia, in 1782, I had the following relation of their barbarous treatment, from a gentleman who had just escaped out of the hands of these infernal furies. Colonel Crawford, and his son, two great land surveyors, and most respectable planters in Virginia, in heading a party against the Indians and Tories, aided by some light horse from the British frontiers, who had spread horror and devastation through the infant back settlements of the United States, were defeated and made prisoners. The gentleman, from whom I had this account, was surgeon to the party, and was conducted with Mr. Crawford, the father, who was delivered over to the women, and being fastened to a stake, in the centre of a circle formed by the savages and their allies, the female furies, after the preamble of a war song, began by tearing out the nails of his toes and fingers, then proceeded, at considerable intervals, to cut off his nose and ears; after which they stuck his lacerated body full of pitch pines; to all of which they set fire, and which continued burning, amidst the inconceivable tortures of the unhappy man, for a considerable time. After thus glutting their revenge, by acts of the most horrible barbarity, the success of which was repeatedly applauded by the surrounding demons, they rushed in upon him, finished his misery with their tomahawks, and hacked his body limb from limb. This dreadful scene passed in the presence of the son of the unhappy sufferer, and the surgeon, who were to be conveyed to different villages to undergo the

— Page 270 —

The fatal moment at last arrived, Captain Smith was laid upon the hearth of the savage king, and his head placed upon a large stone to receive the stroke of death, when Pocahontas, the youngest and darling daughter of Powhatan, threw herself upon his body, clasped him in her arms, and declared, that if the cruel sentence were executed, the blow should fall on her. All savages, (absolute sovereigns and tyrants not excepted,) are invariably more affected by the tears of infancy, than the voice of humanity. Powhatan could not resist the tears and prayers of his daughter: Captain Smith obtained his life, on condition of paying for his ransom a certain quantity of muskets, powder, and iron utensils; but how were they to be obtained? They would neither permit him to return to Jamestown, nor let the English know where he was, lest they should demand him sword in hand. Captain Smith, who was as sensible as courageous, said, that if Powhatan would permit one of his subjects to carry to Jamestown a little board which he would give him, he should find under a tree, at the day and hour appointed, all the articles demanded for his ransom. Powhatan consented, but without having much faith in his promises, believing it to be only an artifice of the captain’s to prolong his life. But he had written on the board a few lines sufficient to give an account of his situation. The messenger returned. The King sent to the place fixed upon, and was greatly astonished to find everything which had been demand-

same fate. The next day, accordingly, young Crawford was sacrificed with the same circumstances of horror; after which, the surgeon, being entrusted to the care of four of the savages, who fortunately got drunk with some rum, given them as a recompense by their European friends, escaped from them in the woods, and, bound as he was, wandered for four or five and twenty days, subsisting on leaves and berries, before he reached the neighbourhood of Winchester, whence he got down to Alexandria. Among these wretches was one Simon Girty, a native of Virginia, who was formerly well acquainted with Colonel Crawford, and had been employed by the assembly of Virginia to conciliate the savages, and obtain their neutrality; but who having been detected by the Governor in some malversations of the public money entrusted to him, and his duplicity discovered, went over to the British and became more merciless than the worst of these infernal hell-hounds. Mr. Crawford in the midst of his tremendous sufferings, seeing Girty standing in the circle, with a gun, called to him by his name, and implored him as an old friend, a Christian, and a countryman, to shoot him, and by that act of mercy to relieve him from his misery; but the inhuman monster tauntingly replied, “No, Crawford, I have got no powder, your assembly did not choose to trust me, and you must now pay for it,” and continued to feast his eyes with the bloody sacrifice.—Trans.

— Page 271 —

ed. Powhatan could not conceive this mode of transmitting thoughts, and Captain Smith was henceforth looked upon as a great magician, to whom they could not show too much respect. He left the savages in this opinion, and hastened to return home. Two or three years after, some fresh differences arising amidst them and the English, Powhatan, who no longer thought them sorcerers, but still feared their power, laid a horrid plan to get rid of them altogether. His project was to attack them in profound peace, and cut the throats of the whole colony. The night of this intended conspiracy, Pocahontas took advantage of the obscurity, and in a terrible storm which kept the savages in their tents, escaped from her father’s house, advised the English to be upon their guard, but conjured them to spare her family, to appear ignorant of the intelligence she had given, and terminate all their differences by a new treaty. It would be tedious to relate all the services which this angel of peace rendered to both nations. I shall only add, that the English, I know not from what motives, but certainly against all faith and equity, thought proper to carry her off. Long and bitterly did she deplore her fate, and the only consolation she had was Captain Smith, in whom she found a second father. She was treated with great respect, and married to a planter of the name of Rolle, who soon after took her to England. This was in the reign of Hames the First; and, it is said, that this monarch, pedantic and ridiculous in every point, was so infatuated with the prerogatives of royalty, that he expressed his displeasure, that one of his subjects should dare to marry the daughter even of a savage king. It will not perhaps be difficult to decide on this occasion, whether it was the savage king who derived honour from finding himself placed upon a level with the chief of the savages. Be that as it will, Captain Smith, who had returned to London before the arrival of Pocahontas, was extremely happy to see her again, but dared not to treat her with the same familiarity as at Jamestown. As soon as she saw him, she threw herself into his arms, calling him her father; but finding that he neither returned her caresses with equal warmth, nor the endearing title od daughter, she turned aside her head and wept bitterly, and it was a long time before they could obtain a single word from her. Captain Smith inquired several time what could be the cause of her affliction.—“What!” said she, “did I not save thy life in America? When I was torn from the arms of my father, and conducted among thy friends, didst thou not promise to be a father to me? Didst thou not assure me, that if I went into the country thou wouldst be my father, and that I

— Page 272 —

should be thy daughter? Thou hast deceived me, and behold me, now here, a stranger and an orphan.” It was not difficult for the captain to make his peace with this charming creature, whom he tenderly loved. He presented her to several people of the first quality, but never dared take her to court, from which however she received several favours. After a residence of several years in England, an example of virtue and piety, and attachment to her husband, she died as she was on the point of embarking on her return to America. She left an only son, who was married, and left only daughters; these daughters, others; and thus, with the female line, the blood of the amiable Pocahontas now flows in the veins of the young and charming Mrs. Bowling.

I hope I shall be pardoned this long digression, which may be pleasing to some readers. My visit to Mrs. Bowling and her family, having convinced me, that I should pass part of the day with them agreeably, I continued my walk, with a promise of returning at two o’clock. Mr. Victor conducted me to the camp formerly occupied by the enemy, and testified his regret that I could not take a nearer view of Mr. Bannister’s handsome country-house, which was in sight; there being no other obstacle however than the distance, about a mile and a half, and the noonday heat, we determined that this should not stop us; and walking slowly, we reached, without fatigue, this house, which is really worth seeing. It is decorated rather in the Italian, than the English or American style, having three porticos at the three principal entries, each of them supported by four columns.*  It was then occupied by an inhabitant of

*The Italian architecture, that of porticos in particular, is admirably adapted to all hot climates, and of course to the southern states of America. The same motives, therefore, which induced the invention of this mode of building in ancient Greece and Rome, and in general throughout the Eastern world, would naturally give rise to the same inventions of convenience in similar climates; and, in fact, though the richer and more polished descendants of Britain, in the New World, may be supposed to adopt these porticos from Italy, as the cultivated mind of the author imagines; the very poorest settler, nay even the native Indian, invariably attempts some kind of substitute for this necessary protection from the sun and weather. Every tavern or inn is provided with a covered a portico for the convenience of its guests, and this evidently from the necessity of the case. We have only to examine the resources of the savage islander in the Pacific ocean, and recur to the origin of all architecture, from the fluted Corinthian in the hall of empire, to the rustic prop of the thatched roof, to discover the natural progress of the human mind, and the similarity of human genius.—Trans.

— Page 273 —

Carolina, called Nelson, who had been driven from his country by the way, which followed him to Petersburgh. He invited me to walk in, and whilst he made me, according to custom, drink a glass of wine, another Carolinian, of the name of Bull, arrived to dine with him. The latter was a militia general, and came from General Greene’s army, where his time of service was expired. The history of Mr. Bull, which is not long, will give a general idea of the state of the southern provinces. Possessed of a great number of negroes, large personal property, particularly in plate, previous to, and during the war, he did not think proper, after the capture of Charleston, to expose his wealth to the rapacity of the English. He set off therefore with two hundred negroes, followed by a great number of wagons laden with his effects, and provisions for his little army, and travelled, in this manner, through South and North-Carolina, and part of Virginia, pitching his camp every evening in the most commodious situations. At length he arrived at Tukakoe, on James river, the seat of his old friend Mr. Randolph, a rich planter of Virginia, who gave him a spot of ground near his house, on which his negroes built one for himself. Here he lived in tranquility, surrounded by his slaves and his flocks, until Arnold and Phillips invaded Virginia, and approached his new asylum. Mr. Bull once more departed with his wealth, his flocks, and negroes, to retire into the upper country near Fredericksburg. On my asking him what he would have done, had we not opportunely arrived to expel the English, who intended to complete the conquest of Virginia, “I should have retired to Maryland,” he replied, —and if they had gone thither?—“I should have proceeded to Pennsylvania, and so on, even to New-England.” Does not this recall to mind the ancient patriarchs emigrating with their family and flocks, with a certainty of finding everywhere a country to receive and nourish them?* General Bull was

*I have already said, that I had the happiness of a particular acquaintance with many of the principal gentlemen of South-Carolina. The reflection on the pleasing hours I passed with them in their exiled situation at Philadelphia, and the warm friendship with which they honoured me, whilst it reconciles me to the world, and soothes the memory of past sufferings, touches the tenderest affections of a sensible and grateful heart. My bosom beat high with genuine ardour in the cause for which they sacrificed every personal consideration, but I had frequently the opportunity of appreciating that sacrifice. Seeing what I saw, I want no instances of Greek and Roman virtue to stimulate my feelings, or excite my emulation; and it will ever be matter of congratulation with me, to have witnessed in the principal inhabitants of Carolina, all the blandishments of civilized

— Page 274 —

preparing to return to Carolina in hopes, henceforth, of passing happier days. After putting many questions to him respecting affairs to the southward, which he answered with great frankness and good sense, I returned to Mrs. Bowling’s where I was not disappointed in finding a good dinner, the honours of which she did with much cordiality, without restraint or ceremony. After dinner, Miss Bowling played on the harpsichord, and sung like an adept in music, although her voice was not agreeable; whilst the descendant of Pocahontas touched a guitar, and sung like a person unskilled in music, but with a charming voice. On my return home, I had another concert; Miss Saunders singing some airs, which she accompanied sometimes with the harpsichord, and sometimes with the guitar.

Next day we were obliged to quit this good house and agreeable company; but before I left Petersbugh, I observed that it was already a flourishing town, and must become more so, every day from its favourable situation with respect to commerce. First, because it is placed immediately below the Falls, or Rapids of Apamatock, and the river can here float vessels of fifty or sixty tons burthen. Secondly, because the productions of the southern part of Virginia have no other outlet, and those even of North-Carolina are gradually taking this way, the navigation of the Roanoke and Albemarle Sound being by no means so commodious as that of the Apamatock and James river. But these advantages are unfortunately balanced by the insalubrity of the climate; for I have been assured, that of all the inhabitants of the three little burghs of Pocahunta, of Blandford and Petersburgh, which may be considered as forming one town, not two persons are to be found who are natives of the country. Commerce and navigation, notwith-

society, the love of life and all its blessings, a humanity void of reproach, an hospitality not exceeded in the patriarchal ages, contrary to the paradoxes of systematic writers, blended with the inflexible virtue which distinguished the best and purest ages of the world. From the number, I shall only select the brilliant examples of Major Pierce Butler, and Mr. Arthur Middleton. Wealth, honour, interest, domestic happiness, their children, were nothing in the eyes of such men, though calculated to enjoy, and communicate happiness in every sphere, when put in competition with the great objects of universal public happiness, and sacred Freedom’s holy cause. How painful is it to be compelled to add, that such was the cold, selfish spirit of too many of the inhabitants of Philadelphia towards their Carolina brethren, who had every claim upon their sympathy and good offices, as to merit the indignation of every feeling mind, and to fix an indelible stain upon their character as men and citizens.—Trans.

— Page 275 —

standing, produce a concourse of strangers. The situation, besides, is agreeable, and the climate may probably be rendered more salubrious by draining some morasses in the neighbourhood.

Five miles from Petersburgh, we passed the small river of Randolph, over a stone bridge; and travelling, through a rich and well peopled country, arrived at a fork of roads, where we were unlucky enough precisely to make choice of that which did not lead to Richmond, the place of our destination. But we had no reason to regret our error, as it was only two miles about and we skirted James river to a charming place called Warwick, where a groupe of handsome houses form a sort of village, and there are several superb ones in the neighbourhood; among others, that of Colonel Carey, on the right bank of the river, and Mr. Randolph’s on the opposite shore/ One must be fatigued with hearing the name of Randolph mentioned in travelling in Virginia, (for it is one of the most ancient families in the country,) a Randolph being among the first settlers, and is likewise one of the most numerous and rich. It is divided into seven or eight branches, and I am not afraid of exaggerating, when I say, that they possess an income of upwards of a million of livres. It is only twenty-five miles from Petersburgh to Richmond, but as we had lost our way, and travelled but slowly, it was near three o’clock when we reached Manchester, a sort of suburb to Richmond, on the right bank of the river, where you pass the ferry. The passage was short, there being two boats for the accommodation of travellers. Though Richmond be already an old town, and well situated for trade being built on the spot where James river begins to be navigable, that is, just below the Rapids, it was, before the war, one of the least considerable in Virginia, where they are all, in general, very small; but the seat of government having been removed from Williamsburgh, it is become a real capital, and is augmenting every day. It was necessary, doubtless, to place the legislative body at a distance from the sea-coast, where it was exposed to the rapid and unexpected inroads of the English; but Williamsburgh had the still farther inconvenience of being part of the delegates to make a long journey to the assembly; besides, that from its position between James and York rivers, it has no port nor communication with them but by small creeks very difficult for navigation, whilst vessels of 200 tons come up to Richmond. This new capital is divided into three parts, one of which is on the edge of the river, and may be considered as the port; the two others are built on two eminences, which are separated by a little valley. I was conducted to that on the west, where I found a

— Page 276 —

good inn, and my lodgings and dinner ordered by a servant whom I had sent on two days before, with a lame horse. We were served, therefore, immediately, but with such magnificence and profusion, that there would have been too much for twenty persons. Every plate that was brought us produced a burst of laughter, but not without considerable alarm for the bill of the next day; for I had been apprized that the inns at Richmond were uncommonly extravagant. I escaped, however for seven or eight Louis d’or, which was not enormous, considering our expenditure. A short time before Mr. de Rochambeau had paid five and twenty Louis, at another inn, for some horses which remained there for four or five days, although he neither ate nor slept in it himself. Mr. Formicalo, my landlord, was more honest; his only error was the exalted idea he had formed of the manner in which French General Officers must be treated. He is a Neapolitan, who came to Virginia with Lord Dunmore, as his Maitre d’Hotel, but he had gone rather round about, having been before in Russia. At present he has a good house, furniture, and slaves, and will soon become a man of consequence in his new country. He still, however, recollects his native land with pleasure, and I have no doubt that my attention in addressing him only in Italian, saved me a few Louis.

After dinner I went to pay a visit to Mr. Harrison, then Governor of the State. I found him in a homely, but spacious enough house, which was fitted up for him. As the assembly was not then sitting, there was nothing to distinguish him from other citizens. One of his brothers, who is a Colonel of Artillery, and one of his sons, who acts as his Secretary, were with him. The conversation was free and agreeable, which he was even desirous of prolonging; for on my rising in half an hour, lest I might interrupt him, he assured me that the business of the day was at an end, and desired me to resume my seat. We talked much of the first Congress in America, in which he sat for two years, and which, as I have already said, was composed of every person distinguished for virtue and capacity on the continent. This subject led us naturally to that which is the most favourite topic among Americans, the origin and commencement of the present revolution. It is a circumstance peculiar to Virginia, that the inhabitants of that country were certainly in the best situation of all the colonists under the English government. The Virginians were planters, rather than merchants, and the objects of their culture were rather valuable than the result of industry. They possessed, almost exclusively, the privileged article of tobacco, which the English came in quest of into the very heart of the country, bringing in exchange every article of utility, and even of luxury.

— Page 277 —

They had a particular regard and predilection for Virginia, and favoured accordingly the peculiar disposition of that country, where cupidity and indolence go hand-in-hand, and serve only as boundaries to each other. It was undoubtedly no easy matter therefore, to persuade this people to take up arms, because the town of Boston did not choose to pay a duty upon tea, and was in open rupture with England. To produce this effect, it was necessary to substitute activity for indolence, and foresight for indifference. That idea was to be awakened at which every man, educated in the principles of the English constitution, shudders, at the idea of a servile submission to a tax to which he has not himself consented. The precise case however relative to them, had not yet occurred, though every enlightened mind foresaw that such was the object, and would be the inevitable consequence of the early measures of the government: but how were the people to be convinced of this? By what other motive could they be brought to adopt decisive measures, if not by the confidence they reposed in their leaders? Mr. Harrison informed me, that when he was on the point of setting out with Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Lee to attend the first Congress at Philadelphia, a number of respectable, but uninformed inhabitants, waited upon, and addressed them as follows: “You assert that there is a fixed intention to invade our rights and privileges; we own that we do not see this clearly, but since you assure us that it is so, we believe the fact. We are about to take a very dangerous step, but we confide in you, and are ready to support you in every measure you shall think proper to adopt.” Mr. Harrison added, that he found himself greatly relieved by a speech made by Lord North soon after, in which he could not refrain from avowing, in the clearest manner, the plan of the British government.* This speech was

*I cannot here resist transcribing a passage from Mr. Payne’s celebrated letter to the Abbé Raynal, which merits preservation, and may serve to illustrate the ideas of America respecting the general views of Britain, in hopes that every reflecting Englishman is at length dispassionate enough to hear the observation. “I shall now take my leave of this passage of the Abbé, with an observation, which until something unfolds itself to convince me of the contrary, I cannot avoid believing to be true; which is, that it was the fixed determination of the British cabinet to quarrel with America at all events. They (the members who compose the cabinet,) had no doubt of success, if they could once bring it to the issue of a battle; and they expected from a conquest, what they could neither propose with decency, nor hope for by negotiation. The charters and constitutions of the colonies were become to them matters of offence, and their rapid progress in property and population were beheld with disgust, as the growing

— Page 278 —

Printed in the public papers, and all America rang with its contents. Returning afterwards to Virginia, he saw the same persons who had thus addressed him on his departure, who now confessed that he had not deceived them, and that henceforward they were resolutely determined upon war. These particular details cannot but be useful to such Europeans as are desirous of forming a just idea of those great events, in which they took so deep an interest; for they would be much deceived in imagining that all the Thirteen States of America were invariably animated by the same spirit, and affected by the same sentiments. But they would commit a still greater error, did they imagine, that these people resembled each other in their forms of government, their manners and opinions. One must be in the country itself; one must be acquainted with the language, and take a pleasure in conversing, and in listening, to be qualified to form, and that slowly, a proper opinion and a decisive judgment.* After this reflection, the reader will

and natural means of independence. They saw no way to retain them long, but by reducing them in time. A conquest would at once have made them lords and landlords; and put them in possession both of the revenue and the rental. The whole trouble of government would have ceased in a victory, and a final end been put to remonstrance and debate. The experience of the stamp act had taught them how to quarrel, with the advantages of cover and convenience, and they had nothing to do but to renew the scene, and put contention into motion. They hoped for a rebellion, and they made one. They expected a declaration of independence, and they were not disappointed. But after this, they looked for victory, and they obtained a defeat. If this be taken as the generating cause of the contest, then is every part of the conduct of the British ministry consistent, from the commencement of the dispute, until the signing the treaty of Paris, (the American and French alliance,) after which, conquest becoming doubtful, they had recourse to negotiation, and were again defeated. If we take a review of what part Britain has acted, we shall find every thing which ought to make a nation blush. The most vulgar abuse, accompanied by that species of haughtiness which distinguishes the hero of a mob from the character of a gentleman; it was as much from her manners, as from her injustice, that she lost the colonies. By the latter she provoked their principles, by the former she exhausted their patience. And it ought to be helf out to the world, to show, how necessary it is to conduct the business of government with civility.”—Trans.

*The same ingenious author of Common Sense, makes another observation, in his answers to the very ignorant, or very prejudiced work of the Abbé Raynal on the revolution of America, to which, however it may militate against the utility of the present publication, or the notes of the translator, he cannot avoid perfectly publication, or the notes of the translator, he cannot avoid perfectly subscribing, viz.: “I never yet saw an European description of America that was true,

— Page 279 —

Not to be subscribed at the pleasure I took in conversing with Mr. Harrison. Besides that I was particularly happy to form an acquaintance with a man of so estimable a character in every respect, and whose best eulogium it is to stay, that he is the intimate friend of Dr. Franklin.* He pressed me to dine with him next day, and to pass another day at Richmond; but as there was nothing to excite curiosity in that town, and I was desirous of stopping at Westover before I returned to Williamsburgh, where I was anxious to arrive, we set out the 27th at eight in the morning, under the escort of Colonel Harrison, who accompanied us to a road from which it was impossible to go astray. We travelled six and twenty miles without halting in very hot weather, but by a very agreeable road, with magnificent houses in view at every instant; for the banks of James river form the garden of Virginia. That of Mrs. Bird, to which I was going, surpasses them all in the magnificence of the buildings, the beauty of its situation, and the pleasures of society.†

neither can any person gain a just idea of it, but by coming to it.—Trans.

*The illustrious and amiable character of Dr. Franklin is far beyond my praise. To have known him; to have been a frequent witness to the distinguished acts of his great mind; to have been in a situation to learn, and to admire his comprehensive views, and benevolent motives; to have heard the profound maxims of wise philosophy and sound politics, drop from his lips with all the unaffected simplicity of the most indifferent conversation; to have heard him deviate from the depths of reason, and adopt his instructive discourse to the capacity and temper of the young and the gay; to have heard him deviate from the depths of reason, and adopt his instructive discourse to the capacity and temper of the young and the gay; to have enjoyed in short, the varied luxuries of his delightful society, is a subject of triumph and consolation, of which nothing can deprive me. He too as well as the envious and interested enemies of his transcendent merit, must drop from off the scene, but his name, aere perennius, is inscribed in indelible characters on the immortal roll of philosophy and freedom, for the ardentia verba of the most honest advocate of freedom, of the present age, the late Serjeant Glynn, on a great occasion; the action against Lord Halifax for the false imprisonment of Mr. Wilkes, may with peculiar justice be applied to this great man. “Few men in whole revolving ages can be found, who dare oppose themselves to the force of tyranny, and whose single breasts contain the spirit of nations.” —Trans.

†The post perfect ease and comfort characterize the mode of receiving strangers in Virginia, but no where are these circumstances more conspicuous than at the house of General Washington. Your apartments are your home, the servants of the house are yours, and whilst every inducement is held out to bring you into the general society in the drawing-room, or at the table, it rests with yourself to be served or not with everything in your own chamber.—Trans.

— Page 280 —

Mrs. Bird is the widow of a Colonel who served in the war of 1756, and was afterwards one of the council under the British government. His talents, his personal qualities, and his riches, for he possessed an immense territory, rendered him one of the principal personages of the country; but being a spendthrift and a gambler, he left his affairs, at his death, in very great disorder. He had four children by his first wife, who were already settled in the world, and has left eight by his second, of whom the widow takes care. She has preserved his beautiful home, situated on James river, a large personal property, a considerable number of slaves, and some plantations which she has rendered valuable She is about two and forty, with an agreeable countenance, and great sense. Four of her eight children are daughters, two of whom are near twenty, and they are all amiable and well educated. Her care and activity have in some measure repaired the effects of her husband’s dissipation, and her house is still the most celebrated, and the most agreeable of the neighborhood. She has experienced however, fresh misfortunes; three times have the English landed at Westover, under Arnold and Cornwallis; and though these visits cost her dear, her husband’s former attachment to England, where his eldest son is now serving in the army, her relationship with Arnold, whose cousin german she is, and perhaps too, the jealousy of her neighbors, have given birth to suspicions, that war alone was not the object which induced the English always to make their descents at her habitation. She has been accused even of connivance with them, and the government have once put their seal upon her papers; but she has braved the tempest, and defended herself with firmness; and though her affair be not yet terminated it does not appear as if she was likely to suffer any other inconvenience than that of bring disturbed and suspected. Her two eldest daughters passed the last winter at Williamsburgh, where they were greatly complimented by M. de Rochambeau and the whole army.*  I had also received them in the best

*The prudent conduct of the French officers, and the strict discipline of their troops in a country with different manners, language, and religion, full of inveterate prejudices, and wherein they had very lately been regarded as natural enemies, must ever be considered as an epocha and a phenomenon, in the history of policy and subordination. Whilst all ranks of officers were making it their study successfully to conciliate the good opinion of the higher classes, nothing could exceed the probity, and urbanity of the common soldiers; not only did they live with the American troops in a harmony, hitherto unknown to allied armies, even of kindred language, interest, and religion, but their conduct was irreproachable, and even delicate to the inhabitants of the

— Page 281 —

manner I could, and received the thanks of Mrs. Bird, with a pressing invitation to come and see her; I found myself in consequence, quite at home. I found here also my acquaintance the young Mrs. Bowling, who was on a visit to Mr. Mead, a friend and neighbour of Mrs. Bird’s, who had invited him and his company to dinner. I passed this day therefore very agreeably, and Mr. and Mrs. Mead, whom I had also known at Williamsburgh, engaged the company to dine with them the next day. The river alone separates the two hours, which are not withstanding, upwards of a mile distant from each other; but as there is very little current, the breadth of the water between them does not prevent it from being soon passed. Mr. Mead’s house is by no means so handsome as that of Westover but it is extremely well fitted up within, and stands on a charming situation; for it is directly opposite to Mrs. Bird’s, which with its surrounding appendages, has the appearance of a small town, and forms a most delightful prospect. Mr. Mead’s garden, like that of Westover, is in the nature of a terrace on the bank of the river, and is capable of being made still more beautiful, if Mr. Mead preserves his house, and gives some attention to it; for he is a philosopher of a very amiable but singular turn of mind, and such as is particularly uncommon in Virginia, since he rarely attends to affairs of interest, and cannot prevail upon himself to make his negroes work.* He is even so disgusted with a culture wherein it is necessary to make use of slaves, that he is tempted to sell his possessions in Virginia and remove to New-England. Mrs. Bird, who has a numerous family to provide for, cannot carry her philosophy so far; but

country. They who predicted discord on the introduction of a French army, had reason and experience on their side, but the spirit of policy and wisdom which presided in the French councils had gone forth, and diffusing itself through every subordinate class of men, persuaded even the meanest actors in the war, and baffled foresight. Nor was this one of the least extraordinary circumstances of this wonderful revolution.—Trans.

*Whilst the Translator was employed in this passage, he read in the public prints, the exultation of a friend to his fellow-creatures, that a Mr. Pleasants, a quaker on James river in Virginia, had liberated his slaves, and made a sacrifice of 3000l. sterling to this noble act of humanity. The Translator knows the country too well not to feel the force of the Author’s subsequent reasoning on the difficulty and danger of a general emancipation of the negroes, nor after mature reflection now, and on the spot, is he able to overcome his objections. But God, in his divine providence, forbid that so splendid an example of active virtue, should clash with the unavoidable policy, or the necessary welfare of society!—Trans.

— Page 282 —

She takes great care of her negroes, makes them as happy as their situation will admit, and serves them herself as a doctor in time of sickness. She has even made some interesting discoveries on the disorders incident to them, and discovered a very salutary method of treating a sort of putrid fever which carries them off commonly in a few days, and against which the physicians of the country have exerted themselves without success.

The 29th, the whole of which day I spent at Westover, furnishes nothing interesting in this journal, except some information I had the opportunity of acquiring respecting two sorts of animals, of very different species, the sturgeon and humming-bird. As I was walking by the river-side, I saw two negroes carrying an immense sturgeon, and on my asking them how they had taken it, they told me at this season, they were so common as to be taken easily in a seine (a sort of fishing-net,) and that fifteen or twenty were found sometimes in the net; but that there was a much more simple method of taking them, which they had just been using. This species of monsters, which are so active in the evening as to be perpetually leaping to a great height above the surface of the water, usually sleep profoundly at mid-day.*  Two or three negroes then proceed

* From General Washington’s house , which stands on the lofty banks of the Potomac, in a situation more magnificent than I can paint to an European imagination, I have seen for several hours together, in a summer’s evening, hundreds, perhaps I might say thousands of sturgeon, at a great height from the water at the same instant, so that the quantity in the river must have been inconceivably great; but notwithstanding the rivers in Virginia abound with fish, they are by no means plentiful at table, such is the indolence of the inhabitants!

Mr. Lund Washington , a relation of the General’s, and who managed all his affairs during his nine years’ absence with the army, informed me that an English frigate having come up the Potomac, a party was landed who set fire to and destroyed some gentlemen’s houses on the Maryland side in sight of Mount Vernon, the General’s house; after which the Captain, (I think Captain Graves of the Acteon) sent a boat on shore to the General’s, demanding a large supply of provisions, &c. with a menace of burning it likewise in case of a refusal. To this message Mr. Lund Washington replied, “that when the General engaged in the contest he had put all to stake, and was well aware of the exposed situation of his house and property, in consequence of which he had given him orders by no means to comply with any such demands, for that he would make no unworthy compromise with the enemy, and was ready to meet the fate of his neighbours.” The Captain was highly incensed on receiving this answer, and removed his frigate to the Virginia shore; but before he commenced his operations, he sent another message to the same purport, offering likewise a passport

— Page 283 —

in a little boat furnished with a long cord, at the end of which is a sharp iron crook, which they hold suspended like a log line. As soon as they find this line stopped by some obstacle, they draw it forcibly towards them, so as to strike the hook into the sturgeon, which they either drag out of the water, or which, after some struggling, and losing all its blood, floats at length upon the surface, as is easily taken.

As for humming-birds, I saw them for the first time, and was never tired of beholding them. The walls of the garden and the house were covered with honeysuckles, which afforded an ample harvest for these charming little animals. I saw them perpetually flying over the flowers, on which they feed without every alighting, for it is by supporting themselves on their wings that they insinuate their beaks into the calix of the flowers. Sometimes they perch, but it is only for a moment; it is then only one has an opportunity of admiring the beauty of their plumage, especially when opposite to the sun, and when in removing their heads, they display the brilliant enamel of their red necks, which almost rival the splendour of the ruby or the diamond. It is not true that they are naturally passionate, and that they tear to pieces the flowers in which they find no honey. I have never observed any such circumstance myself, either at Westover or Williamsburgh; and the inhabitants of the country assured me, that they had never made any such observation. These birds appear only with the flowers, with which likewise they disappear, and no person can tell what

to Mr. Washington to come on board. He returned accordingly in the boat, carrying with him at a small present of poultry, of which he begged the Captain’s acceptance. His presence produced the best effect, he was hospitably received notwithstanding he repeated the same sentiments with the same firmness. The Captain expressed his personal respect for the character of the General, commending the conduct of Mr. Lund Washington, and assured him nothing but his having misconceived the terms of the first answer could have induced him for a moment to entertain the idea of taking the smallest measure offensive to so illustrious a character as the General, explaining at the same time the real or supposed provocations which had compelled his severity on the other side of the river. Mr. Washington, after spending some time in perfect harmony on board, returned, and instantly despatched sheep, hogs, and an abundant supply of other articles as a present to the English frigate. The Translator hopes that in the present state of men and measures in England, Mr. Graves, or whoever the Captain of that frigate was, will neither be offended at this anecdote, nor be afraid to own himself the actor in this generous transaction. Henry IVth supplied Paris with provisions whilst he was blockading it!—Trans.

— Page 284 —

becomes of them. Some are of opinion that they hide themselves, and remain torpid the remainder of the year. In fact, it is difficult to conceive how their wings, which are so slight and slender as to be imperceptible if not in motion, could possibly resist the winds, and transport them to distant climates. They are not intractable, for I have seen one of them, which was taken a few days before, in no wise frightened at the persons who looked at it, but flew about the room, as in a garden, and sucked the flowers which they presented to it; but it did not live above a week. These birds are so fond of motion, that it is impossible for them to live without the enjoyment of the most unrestrained liberty. It is difficult even to catch them, unless they happen, as was the case with that I am speaking of, to fly into the chamber, or be driven there by the wind. An inhabitant of the country, who amused himself in preserving them for his cabinet, has discovered a very ingenious method of killing, without disfiguring them. This is a very difficult undertaking; for a single grain of small shot is aa cannon bullet for so small a creature. This method is to load his gun with a bladder filled with water. The explosion of this water is sufficient to knock down the humming-bird, and deprive it of motion.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Jean de Chastellux, François. “Chapter IV Petersburgh—Richmond—Westover.” (1828). (2023, September 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/primary-documents/chapter-iv-petersburgh-richmond-westover-1828.
MLA Citation:
Jean de Chastellux, François. "“Chapter IV Petersburgh—Richmond—Westover.” (1828)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (11 Sep. 2023). Web. 04 Mar. 2024
Last updated: 2023, September 11
Feedback
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sponsors