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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter IV


THE VOYAGE.—PHILADELPHIA.—NEW YORK.—ALBANY.—MOHAWK RIVER.—RYEGATE.—CHARLESTOWN TO NEW YORK.—SUSQUEHANNAH RIVER .—PENNSYLVANIA.—SIR WILLIAM JOHNS0N.—DARTMOUTH COLLEGE.

WHITELAW’S narrative of their journey through the seaboard states as far south as Halifax, North Carolina, is one of the best descriptions of a portion of the American Colonies just before the revolutionary war, which we possess. The original manuscript volume was, in 1878, presented to the Vermont Historical Society by Oscar L., and Robert H. Whitelaw of St. Louis, great-grandsons of James White-law. In 1907 the journal was printed among the collections of the Society.’ In the manuscript volume as preserved at Montpelier, the first leaf is missing, which we are able to supply, errors have been corrected, and from Mr. Whitelaw’s letters and other data, a few notes are added. His spelling of proper names has been retained.

JOURNAL OF JAMES WHITELAW.

On Friday, March 19, We went to Greenock.

March 25, sailed on the Brigantine Matty, Capt. Thomas Cochran, commander, and about 6 o’clock in the evening passed Ailsa Craig. The weather was mild and the wind brisk from the N. W.

March 26, we continued on our ‘way and passed along the Irish coast which here seems very beautiful.

On Sat. March 27, we had our last view of Scotland, just before sunset.

Sun. March 28, we had a very hard gale of wind which made most of our female passengers wish themselves on shore again. We were a little sea sick ourselves, but not long.

March 30, a ship was in sight going N. W. but at a great distance.

From March 30 to April 8, we had fair weather and a good breeze. The captain is a very sensible and discreet man, and the sailors are merry fellows, and a great deal more sober than they are commonly represented. We have had very sociable young men for our companions.

Thursday, April 8th, on the morning the weather turned calm, by which time we were in Lat. 400 and Lon. about 18° during which time nothing passed worth remarking, excepting that we saw the main mast of a ship go along our side one morning.

It remained calm till Saturday, the 10th, on the morning of which the wind shifted N. E., from which point we had a good breeze, and continued a S. W. course till Sunday, the 25th, when we were in Lat 30° and Lon. 46° 30’.

Sunday, the 9th of May, we spoke a sloop from Virginia, bound for Nevis, John Robertson, Master, fifteen days out, and in Lon. 62° 30’ by his account, though by ours we were only in 61° 48’. We had not seen any other vessel since Saturday, Aprile 10th.

We kept sailing between the Lat. of 30° and 33° from the 25th of April till Friday, the 14th of May, at which time we were in Lon. 68°. We stood then to the N. W., and on Wednesday, the 19th, we spoke the brigantine Carpenter, from Philadelphia, bound for Lisbon, Samuel Williams, Master, 35 leagues, E. S. E. of Cape Henlopen.

Thursday, the 20th, about 3 o'clock afternoon, we had the first sight of America, and about 9 o’clock at night we came to an anchor in Delaware bay in order to wait for a pilot.

Friday, the 21st, about 7 o’clock in the morning, we got our pilot aboard, when we loosed, and at night we came again to an anchor at the head of the bay.

Saturday, the 22nd, we loosed again about 7 o’clock in the morning, and about 3 o’clock we came to an anchor about a mile below Newcastle; about 6 o’clock same night the wind springing up fair we again loosed and got as far as the high lands of Crastine, where we again anchored.

Sunday, the 23d, we had the wind all down the river, and was obliged to turn up with the tide, and about 12 o’clock at night, came to an anchor below Philadelphia, where we were obliged to stay till the health officer came on board to visit the passengers, each of which had to pay to him one shilling sterling.

Monday, the 24, at 12 o’clock, we came to one of the wharfs, the whole distance we sailed being about 5000 miles by the log.

When we arrived here Alexander Semple was standing on the wharf ready to receive us in order to conduct us to his brother’s house, where accidentally we met with Dr. Witherspoon, who informed us that he had a township of land called Ryegate, in the Province of New York, upon Connecticut River, containing about 23,000 acres, which he was ready to dispose of, in order to serve us, in case we thought it would suit our purpose, but in the meantime desired us to make every other trial, and not be too hasty in making a bargain, and instantly desired us to call for him at Princetown, on our way to New York.

We stayed in Philadelphia three days, where we were very kindly entertained by our friends and acquaintances, part of which time we spent in viewing this city, which perhaps is the best laid out in the world, the streets are all broad and straight, and all cross each other at right angles, extending itself upon the banks of the Delaware between two or three miles, and about one mile back here is an excellent market for every article that farmers or others have to sell and commonly ready money. We had several offers of lands in this province, but deferred the viewing of them at this time as by our commission we were first to begin at New York, for which place we set out with the stage on Thursday, the 27, at six o’clock in she morning, and arrived at Princetown at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, where we again met with Dr. Witherspoon, Robert and John Hyndman and James Findlay; we stayed here till the next stage day, which time we spent in viewing Doctor Witherspoon’s plantations, as also receiving particular intelligence about the township of Ryegate from James Findlay and John Hyndman, who had both been lately on the ground.

We set off again with the stage and arrived at New York on Tuesday the first of June in the afternoon. On the road from Philadelphia to New York we came through several handsome little towns and crossed several navigable rivers.

The country here is generally well cleared & makes a very pleasant appearance especially in the province of Pensilvania.

On our arrival at New York we were conducted to one Mr. Winter’s house for lodging, by Mr. Robert Hyslop, one of our fellow passengers, who had been eight years in this place before.

Wednesday, June 2d, we were directed to Mr. Mason by the same person, where we had the pleasure to meet with Mr. Marshal from Philadelphia, and having delivered our letters of recommendation to them, they promised to do everything in their power to serve us, being exceedingly well pleased with our plan, and went immediately along with us to several gentlemen in this city who they knew had lands to dispose of and desired them to make out their proposals to us as soon as possible, on account that we wanted soon to leave the town.

We stayed here eight days, which time we employed in informing ourselves where lands was to be got from surveyors and others that was acquaint in the country, and several gentlemen in this place have given us letters to their correspondents in the country to show us their lands.

Saturday, the 5th, the Matty arrived here from Philadelphia, & on the 8th we wrote home.

Wednesday, the 9th, having got our business over in this place, we set off in a sloop for Albany, commanded by one Captain Cuyler, and on Thursday, the 10th about 4 o’clock in the morning, the wind being contrary, we came to an anchor at a place called the butterhill about 66 miles above New York, and on Friday night we came to Pokeepsie wharf, which is 33 miles from York from whence we loosed on Saturday morning, and at night we arrived at Albany, and was conducted to the house of Mr. Cartwright for lodging by our Captain.

The banks of Hudson’s River from a little above New York to within twelve miles of Albany appears to be very barren, being mostly rocky on both sides, and in some places exceeding high and all covered with small wood.

Albany is much about the size of Port Glasgow, the houses built of brick and wood, and the streets very broad, and pretty regular, and the country on the rjver side is very pleasant.

On Monday, the 14th, we delivered the letters we had from our friends in N. York to several men in this place, especially one to Mr. Campbell,. who informed us that he knew a good many lands

in several parts of the Province, but the best he knew of was on the Mohawk river belonging to Sir William Johnson [Note. Sir William Johnson was born in Ireland in 1713, and was a nephew of Sir Peter Warren, by whom he was sent to take charge of his great estate in the Mohawk Valley, thirty miles north of Schenectady. He became an Indian trader, and married a sister of Joseph Brant, the great chief of the Six Nations. He was appointed superintendent of lndian Affairs in 1755, and acquired great influence over the Indian tribes. In the Old French War he was an officer of great fame. He died about a year after Whitelaw’s visit. His son who succeeded him became tory, and settled in Canada. Johnson Hall is still standing.], Bart., and was so good as to give us a letter of recommendation to him.

On Tuesday, the 15th, we set out for Johnstown, and arrived there on Wednesday, the 16th, about 5 o’clock afternoon, and lodged with one Mr. Tice. From Albany to Scenectady, which is 16 miles, the country is barren sand covered with pine. Scenectady is a handsome little town, and stands on the south bank of the Mohawk river, at which place we ferried over the river. The flats upon this river from this to Johnstown are all very fine land, but as you ascend the country it is very stoney, tho the soil is good and covered with oak, beech, walnut, and hickory and divers other kinds of wood. About an hour after we came to Johnstown we met with Sir William Johnson at our lodging, who told us that he had plenty of lands either to set or sell, and appointed to-morrow at 9 o’clock to meet with him at his house which appointment we kept, but he being taken ill of a cholic we could have no access to him till Friday afternoon, at which time he ordered a surveyor to go along with us to show us the lands of which Mr. Campbell spoke, which is one of the places which he had a mind to sell.

On Saturday morning we set off along with the surveyor to view the above mentioned lands, and having passed over a large patent of very fine land, which he only leases on the following terms, viz.:

The first five years free, and ever after at six pounds the hundred acres, York currency, reserving to himself all coals or other minerals which may be found in the ground. We next came upon the lands he proposed selling to us, which also is tolerable good land tho not so good as the last mentioned tract. The situation seemed to us not very agreeable, being about 12 or 14 miles from the Mohawk river and over a high hill, and some large swamps, also the price we thought high, being a dollar an acre. While we stayed here we bought two horses, viz.: one from Dr. Adams at eight pounds, and the other from Billy Luckey at nine York currency

On Monday, the 21st. we set off from Johnstown by the same road we went up, till we came to Scenectady from whence we went along the south bank of the Mohawk river through an old Dutch settlement of excellent low land abounding with wheat and all other kinds of grain, and at night lodged at Loudons ferry.

(Two things very remarkable happened since we left York, viz.: on the 12th of June the frost was so strong that the ice in many places was as thick as a dollar and did a deal of harm to Indian Corn, potatoes and other tender plants, and on the 17th Colonel Johnson’s house was burnt by lightning, both things are very uncommon in this place.—Whitelaw’s letter.)

On the 22nd we set out from Loudon’s ferry, and after crossing the Mohawk river we came through a large tract of barren land, after which we came into a fine, large, well inhabited fiat of good land on the banks of Hudsons river, and going up the river we went through Stillwater and Saratoga, a little above which we crossed the Hudsons river, and went along through a large fiat covered with pines for three or four miles, then crossed Battenkill, which is a pretty large river and good land in many places on its banks, and at night we came to the house of Mr. Reid at White-creek, where John White stays, where we lodged till the 23d, on which we set out for Dr. Clark’s where we were kindly entertained, and he gave us many friendly advices how to behave concerning our affairs, and several letters of recommendation to his acquaintances in several parts of America, and he told us he had some good lots of land to dispose of but not so much as to serve our purpose. (From there we were to have gone to Crown Point, but Dr. Clark told us that all the lands about Lake Champlain were in dispute between the two governors of York and New Hampshire, indeed all the land in the province between the Lake and Connecticut River.—Whitelaw’s letter to the Company.)

On the 24th we set out from Dr. Clarks and came along the banks of Battenkill a great way, which is all high ground, and the settlers here apply themselves mostly to raising stock. By night we got as far as Manchester, where we lodged with one Mr. Allan.

The 25th in the morning we set out from Mr. Allans and for ten miles we had no road but only the trees marked and some places it was almost impossible to go through by reason of rocks, boggs, high mountains and other difficultys. We saw no house till twelve o’clock when we came to one Mr. Uttlies where we dined, then set out again on a road which was cut but as there was little repair on it, it was all choaked up in many places by old trees falling across it which made it little better than the former. Here we traviled 16 miles without seeing any house (except two or three. which were forsaken by their inhabitants on account of some dispute which has subsided for some years between the Governments of New York and New Hampshire concerning their boundary line, so that the people which settled under one Government were so harrased by the other that they have left their plantations and got new ones in places where there is no dispute). At night we lodged at Chester and on the 26th we crossed Connecticut river and came to Charlestown in New Hampshire, where Mr. Church lives who is partner with Dr. Witherspoon in Ryegate, and Monday, the 28th, we set out, along with him to view it and arrived at it on Wednesday, the 30th in the morning, when we set out from the house of Mr. Hosmer, who lives on the town about a mile from the southeast corner. On our first outset we went along the River side through barren, hilly land, the wood mostly hemlock, and we crossed two pretty large brooks, both fit for mills, after which we went westward over a tract of pretty good land, the wood, beech, mapple and some Hemlock and birch, till we came to the place pitched on by John Hyndman, fit for mills, after which we went westward over a tract of pretty good land, the wood, beech, mapple and some Hemlock and birch, till we came to the place pitched on by John Hyndman, (where William Nelson, Sen., afterwards lived,) then continuing west we went over a small piece of rocky land, then over a large tract of good land, the wood mostly beech and maple, with some ash and birch, and well watered with plenty of small brooks, then over about four chains of a rockey hill, then good land as before for a considerable way, then we came to a large pond, the banks of which are steep, barren land and mostly covered with hemlock and pine. We continued westward along the side of a large hill, in many places pretty steep and stoney, tho good ground and, may be excellent pasture, the wood, beech, mapple, basswood and some ash, after which we traviled southward over a very large tract of exceeding good land, all lying towards the south and pretty level and may be very easy cleared, as the trees are at a distance from one another, and scarce any undergrowth, the wood, beech, maple and basswood, after which we went eastward over a.n excellent meadow, then over a small piece of barren, sandy ground covered with pines, then over good land till we came near the river side which is barren as before, and so ended our course.

On Friday, July 2nd, we returned and arrived at Charlestown on Saturday night. Al! this way which is about 72 miles is filled with new settlers, and the country in many places good land, but the most inconveniencey is its distance from navigation. Ryegate lies more than 200 miles above Hartford, which is the fairest that sloops come up Connecticut river, above which it is only navigable for canoes, and there are four falls which makes about ten miles of land carriage, the nearest seaport to Ryegate is Portsmouth, which is about 100 miles and the road not good, however, they can sell the produce of their farms pretty high in the meantime to new settlers, they sell wheat commonly about four shill: ster. a bushel, Rye about the same, and Indian corn about three shillings. Beef about two pence and mutton the same, and pork about five pence, butter about 6 pence and Cheese about four pence half penny per pound, all ster:

On our way to Ryegate we lodged at Hanover, where Mr. Wheelock has his Indian Academy or College.. When we went and called for him and told him what we had heard concerning his land before we left Scotland and he said he had about as much land now as would serve about 30 families, which he would give to settlers if they would but come and live upon it, and he said he would prefer Scotch people before any other, as he thought much of their religion and manner of Church government, but as the country settles so fast he expects it will all be settled in a short time, he told us he had at his College about 80 Students, above 30 of which were upon Charity and 17 of them Indians. (He invited us into prayers in his college where he prayed very earnestly for all the people who had contributed to the building and maintaining of the college.—Whitelaw to Company.)

On Monday, the 5, we left Charlestown and got on our way to York, and as the nearest and best road is down the east side of Connecticut River, we came through three of the New England Governments.: Newhampshire, Massachusets Bay and Connecticut, we had the river always in our view, every now and then till we came to Hartford, in the Connecticut as Government, and it has many shallows and rifts in it all that way, but is so deep below that, that small sloops come that length, we saw nothing remarkable all this way, the part of Newhamshire government which we came through for many miles below Charlestown is poor, barren ground, but toward the lower end of it the ground is good and all well settled and has several pretty large towns, of which the most remarkable are Northfield, Sunderland, old Hadly and South Hadly, after we came into the Massachusets Bay government, which has been all settled for a long time, and is a well inhabited and pleasant Country, abounding in all kinds of grain and has abundance of large orchards, and has many towns of Considerable bigness, such as Springfield, Suffield, Windsor, Hartford, Weathersfield, &c., next we came through Connecticut government, which is likewise an old, settled place, and pretty good land in many places, tho in most places very stoney, but the whole road is. almost shaded with fruit trees, so that you may pull as many cherries and apples in their season as you please without going out of your road, and it is not uncommon for one farmer to make one hundred Barrels of Cyder in one year, each barrel containing eight Scotch Gallons. There are many large towns likewise in this government, such as New Haven, Milford, Stratford, Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford and Horseneck. These are all along the Sea Coast. Next we came again into York Government, which in this place is exceeding stoney, though the soil is in many places pretty good, and they have likewise abundance of large orchards. And after coming through several small towns on the coast, such as Rye, New Rochel, East Chester, and Kingsbridge, we arrived again at New York on Monday the 12 of July, after a seven days’ ride from Charlestown.

The people here are affable and discreet and of a fair Complexion. The women in particular are very handsome and beautiful. The Indians, of which we saw plenty at Johnston, are of a tawny Complexion, and of an ordinary size, and goe almost naked excepting a kind of blanket which they wrap about their shoulders, and two pieces of skin, one of which hangs down before and another behind to cover their nakedness. They seem to be very fond of jewels, a great many of them wearing ear rings, braclets and nose jewels, which is an ear ring which they hang between their mouth and nose, the gristle of their nose being pierced for that use. They have their faces for the most part painted with red and black Stroaks. They have straight black hair, which their squas or women always wear long. We saw one man of them in particular, which besides all the forementioned jewels, had a round piece of leather hung before his breast, which was all drove full of white headed nails, and had a great number of buttons and other trinkets hung round it. He had a cap made of some beasts skin, with the hair on it, and a long tail hanging down to the small of his back and 20 or 30 womens Thimbles hung to the end of it, and as he went along made a mighty noise by the tinkling of his Thimbles, buttons and other jewels.

They have here an excellent breed of horses, black cattle, sheep, and vast numbers of hoggs, and their land produces Indian Corn, Rye, Wheat, peas, barly, oats and flax. Their indian Corn will produce 50 bushels per acre, Rye and wheat from 20 to 30 bushels per acre, barly, peas and oats about the same quantity, the common prices through this province are much the same as those which you find before in the description of Ryegate. They sow their flax very thin, as their only intention is to raise seed and they do not pull it till it be quite ripe.

The weather since we came to this country has been mostly dry and for the most part clear. The heat tho they tell us, has been for some weeks rather more than common is noways intolerable, tho a good deal warmer than at home. We stayed at New York three days, which time we spent informing ourselves about the Southern Provinces, and also to refresh our horses which were very much fatigued.

On the 15th, at noon, we set off for Philadelphia and come to Prince-town on the 16th at night, here we staid till the 19th. Dr. Witherspoon being so good as to find us pasture for our horses, which was very rare to be got on account of the great drought, the like of which has not been known these many years.

Doctor Witherspoon has now made us his proposals concerning Rye-gate, and his terms are these, if we take the whole, reserving to them 2000 acres, two shillings ster: P acre, if three-fourths reserving them 1500 acres, 3-3 York Currency, and if we take only one-half, three shillings York money. But he advised us to be at all due pains, and if we should find a better place for our purpose, to take it, as he is very fond that our scheme should succeed.

Princetown is a handsome little town and stands on a pleasant situation, and the College is said to he the best and the largest building in America, and at present contains upwards of 100 students, besides about 80 Latin scholars.


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