“letters of recommendation to private Houses”

Arriving in Norfolk (see previous post), Henrietta Marchant Liston and her husband enjoyed a few weeks there, where they were royally entertained by local residents and officers of the British Navy. Mrs. Liston’s family members departed for home in Antigua, and Henrietta and Robert set off again in a

light Post Chaise, four good Horses, & one for a Servant, (for to our surprise we found that Norfolk did not afford Carriages or Horses to hire, & the land Carriage to Carolina is so little in use, that no Public Stages are established) having heard only formidable accounts of this journey we . . . hired three free Mulattos, two as Postillions, & one as a riding Servant, these Men know the Country, & could submit to its inconveniences.

There are three roads through the Carolina’s, the High, the Middle, & the Low; we chose to set out by the Middle one, having fewer Ferries & Swamps to engage with, than in the Lower, & we reserved the High one, for our return, in perhaps worse weather.

The post chaise and horses not only carried the Listons and their servants, but also their belongings: clothes for travel and formal visits, their eiderdown quilt and sheets—probably a good idea considering the likelihood of lice and other bugs found in mattresses at inns. The servants carried their own clothing and bedding. Somewhere in this small vehicle were stowed provisions, including a cocoa pot. The Listons quickly established their routine: rising at about 5 A.M., on the road by 6, and traveling some miles before stopping for breakfast. In the early afternoon, they would stop for dinner and, with any luck, find supper and a bed in the evening. While there were many inns or taverns on roads near cities such as Philadelphia, this was not the case in the South.

It is common through the Southern States to have letters of recommendation to private Houses, there being often no Inns, & when there are, the accommodations very wretched. it is not, indeed, an uncommon thing, even without Introduction, to drive up to a Gentleman’s House & to be always well received. We were rather pleased sometimes to avail ourselves of this custom, in order to observe the manner of living of an Independent Country Gentleman in a New Country.

Taverns, as Mrs. Liston carefully pointed out, differed from inns by being the “Houses of little Planters, who, from their own poverty, & for the conveniency of a few travellers, take money for giving what they have to you & your Horses nothing can be found fault with, for nothing can be mended.”

In Halifax, North Carolina, they used one of the letters of recommendation to stay with the planter Willie Jones:

[his] character was singular, & his Politics inimical to the English, He was from Principal a republican, & even thought the authority of the President [John Adams] approached too near the Kingly power. He told us himself of having once refused to receive Gen. Washington, George the first being nearly the same to king as George the third. . . .

The Listons so much enjoyed their visit with Jones and his wife Mary that they stayed an extra day.

(More to come in the next post.)

Henrietta’s commentary is taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” inThe Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, published in hardcover and eBook. The 1795 map of North Carolina is from NCSA.

posted December 8th, 2014 by Louise, CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, The South, Travel


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