The South

“fix an innoculating hospital in their metropolis”

Continuing with posts about epidemics in America during the colonial and early national periods in the age of the coronavirus.

Some parents today do not want their children to receive certain vaccinations fearing they may cause conditions like autism. In eighteenth-century America there was controversy over smallpox inoculations. It’s true that there were at times debilitating effects. ABIGAIL ADAMS explained the lapse in correspondence with her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in 1777: “My eyes ever since the smallpox have been great sufferers. Writing puts them to great pain.” Warren replied that she too had problems: “weakness … feebleness of my limbs, and pains … sufficient to damp the vigor of thought and check … literary employments.”

Attitudes toward inoculation were mixed: some religious leaders considered it “a distrust of God’s overruling care;” some communities supported it, others passed laws against it. MARY BARTLETT reported to her husband (a doctor who was in Philadelphia having just signed the Declaration of Independence) that hospitals were being set up in New Hampshire to inoculate people.

Kingstown July 13th 1776P. S. I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly as boston is Shut up with it & People flocking in for innoculation; the Select men of portsmouth have Petitiond to the Committy of Safty now Setting in Exeter; for leave to fix an innoculating hospital in their metropolis for the Small Pox and liberty is accordingly granted and the inhabitance of Exeter intend to Petition for the Same libirty.

MARY SILLIMAN described to her parents how her husband dealt with people intent upon preventing inoculation.

[Fairfield, Connecticut] April 11, 1777You know Mr. [Gold Selleck] Silliman is state attorney … he has frequently pressing desires sent him from the neighbouring Towns that he should do something about stoping Inoculation. Then he has to send Guards to collect the infected to one place and order to let none come in or go out with out liberty. But at Stratford they have been so unruly and dispers’d the Guard, he has been oblig’d at the desire of about 80 respectable inhabitants to issue out positive orders to desist and as the civil law could have no affect they should be punnish’d by Martial. This has had its desired effect. None that we know of has transgress’d since.

As the War shifted to the South, British promises of freedom attracted thousands of runaway slaves, both male and female, who performed many useful services. This population, however, soon became a liability to the British because of their susceptibility to smallpox. Thousands contracted the disease and were cruelly quarantined and left to die. Thomas Jefferson believed that of the 30,000 Virginia slaves that had joined the British “about 27,000 died of the small pox and camp fever.”

For comments and letters by women, see In the Words of Women, pages 177 and 179. The religious objection to inoculation and Jefferson’s estimate can be found on pages 36 and 133 respectively in Pox Americana, the Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A Fenn (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), an excellent book on the subject.

“we past Christmas day very agreeably”

HENRIETTA MARCHANT LISTON arrived in the United States in 1796 with her husband Robert who had been appointed British ambassador to the new nation. They took up residence in Philadelphia, the capital. Genuinely curious about the New World, they began an extended trip from Philadelphia to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1797. (See previous posts about their journeys here and here.) Henrietta documented their trip in her journal, noting facts that she found interesting, the foods they ate, and their astonishment at the natural beauties, particularly the flora, of the countryside. Traveling on the east coast of North America was a challenge but one that the 45-year-old Mrs. Liston and her 55-year-old husband met with aplomb, courage, and even laughter.

The first night after leaving Mr. Jones’s Hospitable roof, we were obliged to take up our quarters, in what was called an Inn, Consisting of one room containing two Beds, one for the family, the other for Strangers; there were two young Men travelling on Horseback, besides several Inferior Guests, & I found that all the Party, except our Servants who were in a ruinous outKitchen, must lodge in this Chamber. the doors being all open warming oneself was out of the question … although there was a roaring fire….

One of the Group around the fire appearing intoxicated, & seemingly disposed to amuse himself with a Pistol, I took the Daughter of the House aside, & declared our readiness to be contented with any place, in order to Sleep in a separate apartment from these Men. She regretted that there was nothing but an empty Garrat, used for keeping Corn, without fire or door, & an open window. it was frost & snow, but we had taken our resolution, & we repaired to an old flat Bed, that happened to be in this miserable Place &, indeed, we were within a very little of being frozen to Death, notwithstanding an Eddadown [Eiderdown] Green silk Bedcover with which we travelled, & it was with some difficulty the Girl, next morning, could prevail on the Savages to let me approach the fire so as to thaw my fingers.

On Christmas eve, the Listons reached Fayetteville, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

[I]t is a flourishing Town, upon a Branch of the Capefear River & nearly at the head of the navigation—before the [Revolutionary] War it was called Cross Creek. We were visited by a Scotch Gentleman, named [Robert] Donaldson, with whose family we passed Christmas day very agreeably.

No doubt they were happy to spend the day with a fellow Scot, but Mrs. Liston does not give any details of the festivities. However, she does describe a particular meal she and her husband enjoyed en route.

[O]ur most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread, it happened to be the Season for killing Pork, it was fresh & most excellent meat, . . . always broiled upon the Coals, & when we happened to get a few fryed Eggs to it, it was the best food possible & with Corn bread—no other is known—baked upon a hoe, in general, & call[ed] hoe cake.

On New Year’s Eve, Henrietta and her husband arrived in Charleston, South Carolina where they spent a week before returning to Philadelphia, receiving “very marked attentions” from the “polished Society” that characterized the city. There was no specific mention of how they spent New Year’s day.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, Louise V. North, pp 26, 27, 28, 30.

posted December 28th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Charleston. SC,Christmas,Food,Liston, Henrietta Marchant,New Year's celebration,The South,Travel

“They have sold and have stripped me of everything “

Although the legal status of slavery in the South was untouched by the Revolutionary War the chaos engendered by that conflict made it possible for many slaves to escape, some to join the British with their offer of freedom, others to try to survive on their own. A few masters had manumitted their slaves and there was a small population of free blacks. These were always in danger of being seized by marauding bands or opportunistic individuals and forced back into slavery. The following petition of one Margareta Powell to the governor of Maryland in 1779 illustrates the plight of one such woman and her family.

The Humble Petition of Margareta Powell to his Excellency the Governor of the State of Maryland

Show that your Honor humble petitioner being formerly the property of a certain late John Campbell lastly living near the Fork of Potocktion near Mr.Henry Ridgley’s in the year 1764. My master John Campbell set me free and for to certify the same, I have enclosed a certificate from the gentleman whom my master employed to enter me upon the Records. At the decease of my master he left me part of 200 acres of land and part of the moveable which was left by him for support of myself and my children whom my master had set free altogether for the space of three years before my master decease. My children were free dealers throughout the neighborhood, those that were of age have taken the oath of fidelity and have entered into the service of their country and one of them having a furlong to come to see me. They who have disinherited me have taken and sold him for life time and if the other should come from the camp they threaten to do the same to him—and all the rest of my children and grandchildren throughout the neighborhood. They have sold and have stripped me of everything I had and burned me out of my house and I being old and infirm and unable to help myself I most humbly implore your honor would look into the affair and help the wronged and afflicted and I shall be in duty bound to pray and thank your excellency.
Margareta Powell

The man who claims this right from me and my children is one John Ashton, a Priest—he sold my child to a certain Thomas Snowden residing in the same neighborhood and he has sold them to others about the neighborhood Fork of Potocktion.
Ann Arundal County

It is not known whether Margareta’s petition was successful. The fact that she sought redress is evidence of her courage and determination to preserve her children’s freedom and to keep the family unit together.

Source: Sylvia R. Frey and Marian J. Morton, New World, New Roles: A Documentary History of Women in Pre-Industrial America (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1986) p137-38, from: Maryland State Papers, Blue Book IV, 10, Maryland Hall of Records, Annapolis, MD.

posted May 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Free blacks,Powell, Margareta,Slaves/slavery,The South

“Jenny . . . a good Spinster”

Robert Carter III (1728-1804) was a planter, slaveholder, and iron manufacturer of Nomini Hall plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia. A letter of Robert Carter to Clement Brooke of the Baltimore Iron Works, 11 November 1776, contains an invoice. Of interest is a reference to Jenny. The abstract below is from notations in the invoice and letter.

220 bushels of Indian Corn and one Negroe Woman named Jenny are on board the Sloop Atwell the cargo mentioned abov to be delivered to you for the use of the Baltimoe [sic] Comp[any]—Pray send me a Copy of the Proceedings of the B-C[ompany] when they resolve that there Shall be an Addition of five negroe Women, to their Stock—

It is customary for me to engage my Negroes from new years day to the 31st of December following—however Geo. Wilkerson, Wool Comber, has relinquished Jenny, who is a good Spinster—Jenny is young & Stout, She has fits, accasionally, [sic] I say Accasionally, becuase her fits never happen but upon her being reprimanded for neglects; nor do those Fits leave behind any visible Effects If Jenny Should prove not to be sound, I will at a future date Send a negroe woman in her Stead— . . . .

In 1791 Carter decided to gradually manumit hundreds of his slaves

From the Robert Carter Papers (Vol. III). (Virginia) Special Collections Library, Duke University. See this SITE online.

posted February 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Slaves/slavery,The South

“Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey”

Henrietta and Robert Liston spent a week in Charleston before beginning the return trek to Philadelphia. (See previous posts here, here, and here). Heading for Camden, South Carolina, they now found it necessary to use the letters of introduction more frequently. Mrs. Liston noted rice and indigo plantations but commented, “Cotton seems in some measure to have succeeded to Indigo, in this part of the Country. The process of Cotton requiring fewer hands, & being less prejudicial to health, & at present, even a more profitable produce.” One night they stayed with Colonel Johann Senf*,

a native of Germany & the superintendent of a Canal, the most considerable work of that kind yet attempted, in America; it is intended to join the Santee river to the Coopers river. . . . we found Col. Sinf [sic] & his Wife [Johanna van Berckel] living on a pretty little Spot, created & Beautified by themselves, it was laid out with peculiar neatness & Taste.

As they traveled north, the roads became worse as did the weather. In the region of the Catawba River, South Carolina, the Listons visited elders of the Catawba Nation**:

The Colonel & a few of the older Men spoke a little bad English, He apologized for the smallness of their numbers saying, the Young Men had not yet come in from hunting. We had, indeed, met some of them selling their Deerskins a hundred miles to the South. On the Colonels fire stood a pot, & there was a hoecake on the hearth; I asked what was in the Pot; he said Deerflesh for breakfast, but did not offer us any.

The travelers had to deal with bad roads, rainy and cold weather, a near drowning in a swollen stream, a sick servant and a “doctor” who also was the local parson and schoolmaster. By the time they crossed the Roanoke River in Virginia, one of the horses was lame and had an eye infection. It is no wonder that once the Listons arrived in Richmond, Virginia, “we were obliged to take places in the Mail Coach, The only mode of conveyance to be found for love or money.”

Seven days later on 7 February, 1798, they arrived home in Philadelphia, having been on the road for just over three months. Once again safely ensconced by her fireside, Mrs. Liston wrote, “Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey, but feeling that few things could tempt me to repeat it.”

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* Johann (John) Senf (c. 1740-1806), engineer of the Santee Canal, begun in 1793 and opened in 1800.
** The Catawba Nation was confined to a region of 15 square miles around Catawba River, their numbers decimated by small pox and wars with the Cherokee Nation.

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Nonetheless, over the next three years, Henrietta and Robert Liston continued to explore the East Coast as far north as Quebec, and Portland, Maine. Mrs. Liston’s Journals show her to be an intelligent and discerning guide to the country and people of the United States. Her openness to new experiences, her adventurous spirit, and the zest of her language will certainly delight all readers.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, published in hardcover and eBook. The illustration is of the ruins of the Santee Canal.

posted December 15th, 2014 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Farming,Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Philadelphia,The South,Travel

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