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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter V


OBSERVATIONS IN SOUTHERN PENNSYLVANIA—THE Onio COUNTRY—MARYLAND VIRGINIA.—OBSERVATIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA—THE EASTERN SHORE OF MARYLAND.—PURCHASE OF RYEGATE.

This journal of Mr. Whitelaw’s is made up of extracts by himself from his letters to Scotland. Copies of some of these were found among the Whitelaw papers, and give many additional particulars, although the most important of them are here given. They visited some spots which, later, became historic. Not only did they cross the estate of Mount Vernon, and might have seen Washington himself, then a retired colonel of Virginia militia, but they crossed the site of the present city of Washington.

At Saratoga they traversed the region where, four years later, General Burgoyne was overthrown. His account of places which, then in their infancy, afterwards became great and opulent cities, is very interesting.

On the 19th, after dining with the President, we left this place and arrived at Philadelphia on the 20th, in the afternoon. Here we stayed till the 26th, which time we spent informing ourselves about this and the Southern Provinces, in which we was much assisted by Mssrs. Semple, Sproat, Milliken, Stewart and Marshal, who gave us letters themselves, and also caused others of their acquaintances to give us letters to their several correspondents, to give us any assistance or advice that they could.

On the 26th in the afternoon we left this place and proceeded on our way to Shamokin or Fort Augusta, and arrived there on the 30th. The lands on this road are pretty flat and also good for the most part for about 50 miles from Philadelphia, and the houses mostly built of stone and mostly possessed by Dutch and Germans, but as you advance the country it is mountainous and exceeding rockey so that it is scarce fit for settling, tho the lands are all taken up and surveyed till you come within 8 miles of the fort, where the land becomes more flat and very good. We had a good deal of difficulty to find provisions on this road, as at one place we had 17 miles without a house and the next stage we had 23 miles, and little to be got when we came to these houses at fort Augusta. We lodged with one Mr. Hunter till the 2d of August, which time we employed in informing ourselves about the lands here and on the other parts of the Susquhanna, which had -been much recommended to us by some people in Philadelphia but we found that there was no one place large enough for our purpose but plenty too large for our money, as wood lands sells here from 20 to 50 shillings pr. acre. Here they have laid out a new town much after the plan of Philadelphia which is building very fast. Here we met with some more of our old friends, the Indians, who spoke English very well, and were likewise very courteous, particularly one John Hendrick, son to King Hendrick, one of the Mohawk Sachems, who was much renowned for a great warrior.

On the 2d of August we left this place and set out for Carlile. We rode the Susquehanna a little below the new town (which is called Sanbury) where it was upwards of half a mile broad, as it took us 22 minutes to cross it, and it is about 2 feet deep upon an average from side to side, and the stream pretty rapid, and at this time it is at its lowest pitch.

The ground along the banks of this river is very flat and good for about 8 miles, and watered by two small rivers, called Penns Creek and Middle Creek, then it is rocky for several miles, then tolerable flat and good till you come to the Blue Mountain, and well watered by Juniatta river, after Crossing the blue Mountain we came into the County of Carlile, which is pretty level and good land about the town and all well settled. This, like all other American towns, is laid out in squares, with straight streets, and contains a good deal of inhabitants.

On Thursday, the 5th, we set out on our way to Alexander Thomson’s, and on our way lodged with Allan Scrogg, a farmer from Scotland, to whom we had been recommended. Here we met with an uncommon large spring, which in the dryest season of the year affords sufficient water for two breast milns. From this we went to Alexr. Scrogg’s who is brother to the former, they have both got large plantations, and Alexander in particular told us that about 36 years ago they came over young men and he had only twenty pounds of stock and went along viewing the country till he spent a great part of it, then went to labour for some time after, after which he bought a large plantation, and when his oldest son married, he gave him one half of it, and bought another to his second son for 700 pounds, and what he has yet in his own hand free of debt he says he will not part with for a thousand pounds.

From this we came to Shippensburgh which is a small town containing 50 or 60 houses,—here we got directions for finding Alexander Thomson’s which is about seven miles from this place, and we arrived at his house in the afternoon, where we was kindly entertained, as he had been looking for us a long time. Here we stayed ten days to refresh our horses, which was in very much need of it by this time. He has got an excellent plantation of 400 acres of land for which he paid 500£ currency, which is nigh 300£ ster: It lies about 150 miles from Philadelphia, but their nighest landing is Baltimore in Maryland, which is only 90 miles from him, though they have to cross the blue ridge in going to it. This is a fertile soil and all lying upon limestone and this valley continues through all the Provinces of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and lies between the Blue ridge and North Mountain, and as it goes southward grows wider till it is so broad that one can scarce see over it. The south side of it is all limestone and exceeding good land, and the north part of it is what they call slate land and is not very good.

Alexander Thomson had 50 acres Clear when he bought his plantation, and has cleared other 50 himself, he has plenty of all kinds of grain and he seems to be exceedingly well pleased with his situation, and they have never one of his family been sick since he came to this place, and he says he thinks people are in general more healthy there than in Scotland. He told us that all the lands in or nigh that place was taken up but he could buy plenty of single plantations with improvements on them for about three pounds sterling an acre, as he told us that many people in that neighborhood was selling their plantations and going back to the Ohio, and he thought that would be the best place for us. But after we made all the enquiry about it that we could, we did not. think it a fit place for us. For though it is allowed by all to be the best land in America, yet it lies entirely out of the way of all trade, being 300 miles of land carriage from the nearest navigation, and the river itself is fit for no other vessels but canoes or battoes of two or three tons burden, and the lowest settlements on the Ohio are above 2000 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, and tho two men can go down with one of those battoes in twenty days, yet twelve men will have much adoe to bring it up again in five months, so that there is little probability of ever having much trade there, and though the people can have some sale for their produce in the meantime to new settlers, yet in a few years that market will naturally cease, and though they can raise all the necesarys of life, they can never have any money for their grain, as the price of two bushels will have adoe to bring one to market, and salt sells there just now at 20 shillings a bushel. Rum, and all other things which are brought from the sea coast sells at the like extravagant price.

The province of Pennsylvania seems the most desirable to live in of any place we have yet seen, but it is mostly settled where it is good, and what is to settle is very dear as you cannot have an acre of good land within 150 miles of any landing for less than twenty or thirty shillings.

Here the people are kind and discreet, except the Dutch or Germans who inhabit the best lands in this province, who are a set of people that mind nothing of gayety.but live niggardly and gather together money as fast as they can without having any intercourse with anybody but among themselves. Most of the people in this Province look fresh and healthy, except the women who have for the most part lost their teeth, with eating too many fruits which they have here in great plenty.

Here they have plenty of good horses and all other kinds of cattle, and the ground produces wheat, barley, Rye, Indian Corn, oats, buckwheat, flax, peas and beans of various kinds. They have likewise Melons, Cucumbers, squashes, gourds and pumpkins -growing in the open fields, and their gardens are well supplied with all kinds of roots and other garden stuffs that are to be found in Europe.

The air is commonly clear, and the country is as healthy as any place in Europe, excepting only where there are large Marshes or ponds of stagnated water, which is dangerous for agues but we have not yet seen one have the ague since we came to the Country. The summer is pretty hot, but not to such a degree as people at home are taught to believe. They tell us the winters are mostly frosty, but clear, sun shine weather, which prevents it from being so cold as it would otherways be.

On Tuesday, August 17, we left Alexander Thomsons and set out towards the south, and after passing a very small town called Chamberstown, we came into the Province of Maryland, and lodged at night in a handsome little town of about 150 houses, called Heagerstown. We left this in the morning, and came next to Sharpsburg, which is about the same bigness, and about midday came to Potomack river, and crossed over to Sheepherdstown in Virginia.

This small part of Maryland which we came through is part of the forementioned valley and is very good land and all settled.

Sheepherdstown is upon the banks of the Potomack (but about 70 miles above the falls) and contains about 70 or 80 houses. Here we met with Thomas White, and he and us spent the evening in viewing the town and the country about it, and in the morning went along with us to his acquaintances through the country to make what inquiry we could about lands, hut could hear of none in this government without going 2 or 300 miles from navigation. The country here is very good and the people healthy.

We next set out for Carolina and after Crossing Shanadore river we came over the blue ridge and down to the heart of Virginia, and we went down the south side of Potomack river and came through several towns such as Alexandria, Colchester, Dumfriee and Aquaia, and then across the Country and crossed Rappahanock River between Falmouth and Fredericksburgh and next we crossed the head of York River at Herrs bridge, then over James river and so through the country and over Roanoak at Taylor’s Ferry, after which we came into North Carolina.

The people in the lower parts of Virginia complain much of sickness at this season of the year, but higher up they are pretty healthy. Here they have excellent Indian Corn in some places, but the ground is mostly sandy and poor, and the places that are good are all planted with Tobacco, and here is but little wheat or other grain. The planters here live well and are all quite idle, as none but negroes work here, of which some planters will have several hundreds, which at an average are worth 60 or 70 pounds ster: apiece, and in these all their riches consists, for there are few of them but are in debt to the storekeepers, and it commonly takes all their Crops to Cloath themselves and their negroes. But those that are industrious and labour themselves, and particularly they who make grain, can make a good deal of money, as the grain sells pretty well and does not require one half of the labour that tobacco does.

About four miles from Roanoak we came into North Carolina, and went right to Mr. Allason’s house. The land from the line of the province to this place is for the greatest part very sandy and much of it covered with pines, and in some places a kind of red clay mixed with sand, and the wood mostly oak here. Mr. Allason has got a good plantation lying along the side of a creek, and he tells us he has bought two other good plantations, and could buy plenty more very reasonably, but he does not think that our scheme will suit this place well, as there are no tracts of good land to be had in one place, as the good lands lie mostly in narrow strips along the water sides, and the people settle on these places and keep the high grounds for range to their Cattle, for which they are excellent, as these pine grounds are all covered with excellent grass. (We arrived here on Tuesday, August the 31 in the afternoon). The lands here sells from ten to twenty shillings P. acre, and we can hear of no person that has any large tract in one place to dispose of.

On Wednesday, the 8th of September, we left Mr. Allasons and at night arrived at Bute, where we were kindly entertained by Mr. William Park, from Renfrew and after telling him our plan, he advised us to Call upon one Mr. Montfort, in Halifax, who he told us had the best tract of land to dispose of that he knew of in that country. Mr. Park was so kind as to give us a letter of recommendation to him, we had likewise a letter of recommendation to him from Mr. David Sproat in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, the 9th, we left Bute and arrived at Hallifax on Friday forenoon when we went and Called for the above mentioned Mr. Montfort who used us very civilly and told us of several tracts of land that he had to dispose of, one of which lay in Bute County and was the one recommended to us by Mr. Park. He told us that it contained nearly 6000 acres, the whole as well watered as any tract of the same quantity in America, having many very constant and fresh running streams through it. There is not 200 acres in the whole but what he told us is fit for tillage and much of it excellent for wheat and tobacco. He told us there were 4 plantations Cleared and tended thereon, perhaps the 4 Containing in all about 400 acres of cleared land, all the rest wood land. He told us likewise that there was a good grist miln on a fine constant stream, which has never too much or too little water, and that there are several barns & small houses on the different plantations and his price is 9000£ Virginia Currency or 7000£ sterling. He likewise told us that he had a tract of land in Halifax County of about 2400 acres, one part of which is within 4 miles of Halifax town, and the farthest part of it is about 7 or 8 miles from said town. There is in this tract a great variety of kinds of soil, it is all level and pretty well watered, is mostly wood land, some a light sandy soil, some a very strong Marley soil, and very stiff, other parts a mixture between the two, finely timbered with Pine, oak and Hickory, a great deal of it proper for making the finest meadows. This land he will sell for 1000 pounds ster. if taken soon, and he says is worth a great deal more.

He told us also of another tract of land that he had on the head of Broad River, in Tryon County, Containing nearly 7000 acres, and all of it as rich, fine land as any yet discovered in America, being all of it Cane land or high low grounds, which never overflows and grows full of Cane reeds, well timbered and watered and most excellent for raising cattle and Horses. It is all naturally enclosed by the steep, high mountains from the west side round by the north by the east, and is only open to the southeast where a waggon road may go easy and level along the river side into the land. This place was formerly known by the name of the great cove and is of late years known by the name of Montfort’s Cove. This land pays to the Crown four shillings Proclamation money of North Carolina P. hundred quit rent P. annum.

He will take one thousand five hundred pounds ster. for this tract of land if a purchaser offers soon and pays down at the time of agreement and receiving title, but unless that happens within six or seven months of this time, he says he will not take under two thousand that money. He says if the whole is not as good land as to be found in the upper, he will not desire any person to be bound by the bargain they make for it.

About 80 miles from this land there are one or two places of trade on rivers Navigable for large Boats—it lies 200 miles to Charlestown on a fine waggon road.

After having dined with Mr. Montfort we set out on our way for Edinton, where we arrived on Monday, the 13th. The country a good way down from Halifax is nothing but barren sand, and when you go lower down the ground is low, flat and marshy and along the banks of the Roanoak the lands are very rich, but so low and flat that in great freshets the river overflows it for several miles and sweeps all before it. The land about Edinton is all either barren sand or watery swamps. When we came to Edinton we called for Mr. Smith, to whom we had been recommended by Mr. Sproat in Philadelphia. He told us of large tracts of good land upon pretty good navigation, but the price high and the Climate sickly. As to the soil of Carolina we have told in the beginning of our description of it that there are strips of good ground along the sides of rivers and creeks, and the rest sandy and mostly Covered with pines and fit for nothing but raising of cattle which is the only thing the people in this country depend upon. The grass in the woods is rank and good, and the winter being short they can rear cattle without much cost or care. The soil will produce Indian Corn pretty well, which is the only grain the people live upon. Some of their ground will produce wheat, but in small quantitys and it must be thrashed out immediately when cut, or else they lose it by being eat by a small insect called a wevle. They have cotton, tobacco and some small quantitys of indigo and rice in some places, but the Culture of indigo is so unhealthy that they reason if a negro lives ten years and works among it they have a good bargain of him.

Note: John Wilson, an early settler of Ryegate, and a native of Scotland, whence he went to sea; and, about 1815, was living at Edinton (Edmandton) wrote to General Whitelaw.

As to the climate, it is exceedingly hot in June, July and August, and very Cold in January and February, and the rest of the year temperate, and in the back parts the people are healthy, but after we came below Halifax we did not enter one single house but we found sick persons, and in some we could not find one whole person to feed our horses. As to religion, we scarce saw any appearance of it in this Country, but the establishment is Episcopal.

Finding that we could do nothing there, we left Edinton on Monday afternoon, and returned on our way to the North Country again, and in our way passed through Suffolk, which is a handsome little town in the lower parts of Virginia, and on Wednesday, the 15th, we got to Norfolk, which is the largest town in Virginia, and stands on a river deep enough to bring large ships up to the town. This town seems to be about the bigness of Greenock, and seems to have a good deal of trade. Here we was obliged to stay till Saturday before we could get a fair wind to Carry us over the Bay. This passage is about 60 miles, viz.: from Norfolk down to the Bay 25 miles; across the bay to the eastern shore 35 miles. We crossed this bay (viz. Cheesapeak) within sight of the Capes of Virginia, and by going this road we brought 14 ferrys all into one which we would have had to cross if we had gone by the post road, and we likewise shortened our road above 20 miles. After crossing at this place we went through several handsome little towns, such as Snowhill, Crossroads, Dover, Wilmington, Chester and Derby, and arrived at Philadelphia on the 26th of September. All the way from Edinton till you come within about 60 miles of Philadelphia the ground is light and sandy and for the most part does not produce above 10 or 12 bushels of wheat P. acre, but when you come within 60 miles of Philadelphia, the ground Changes from sand to good brown earth and will produce large crops of wheat or any other grain, here it is exceeding pleasant traveling at this season of the year, as the fields are all quite green with young wheat which makes a much better appearance than it does in Scotland at this time of the year.

We traveled about 500 miles (viz, from Halifax in Carolina to Dover which is within 80 miles of Philadelphia) without seeing a stone of any kind, or any sort of eminence, the ground being for the most part sandy and perfectly level, and in all that 500 miles we was not in five houses but some of the people was sick of the fever and ague or some other disease, but we have reason to bless God that though we have traveled through such a sickly country, we are now arrived in perfect health at a place where such sicknesses seldom or never appear. (I never expected to have stood the journey so well—for though we have rode niore than 500 miles since we bought our horscs, I have not been in the least weary, and the cough I had in Scotland has entirely disappeared.—Letter.)

After having refreshed ourselves and horses and discussed what business we had to do, we left Philadelphia on the first of October and came to Princetown that night, and next day we bargained with Dr. Witherspoon for one-half of the township of Ryegate.

We left Princeton on the 5th and arrived at New York on the 6th, and James Henderson arrived here from Philadelphia, with his chest and tools on the 9th and having found a sloop to carry James Henderson with his and our Chests and what Tools and other utensils we had purchased, to Hartford, On the Connecticut river, and having discussed what other business we had to do, we left New York on 19th of Oct., and arrived at Newbury or Kohass on the 1st day of November, and put up with Jacob Bayly, Esq., to whom we was recommended by John Church, Esq., one of the proprietors of Ryegate, and James Henderson arrived about a week after us in a canoe with our chests and tools and some provisions we had bought down the Country, such as Rum, Salt, Molasses, etc. On the 30th of the month Mr. Church came up and we divided the town, the south part whereof has fain to us, which in our opinion, and in the opinion of all that knows it, has the advantage of the north in many respects. 1st, it is the best land in general. 2d, nearest to provisions which we have in plenty within 3 or 4 miles and likewise within 6 of a grist and two miles of a saw miln, all of which are great advantages to a new settlement. 3d, we have several brooks with good seats for milns, and likewise Wells River runs through part of our purchase and has water enough for 2 breast milns at the driest season of the year, of which the north part is almost entirely destitute. 4th, there is a fall in Connecticut river just below our uppermost line which causeth a carrying place for goods going up or down the river. 5th, we are within six miles of a good Presbyterian meeting and there is no other minister above that place.


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