“we passed Christmas day very agreeably”

Henrietta and Robert Liston were genuinely curious about the New World. (See previous posts here and here.) In her journals, Henrietta noted facts that she found interesting, described the foods they ate, and was astounded 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. . . .
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:

it 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. On New Year’s Eve, they arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. Two hundred years ago, Christmas and New Year’s Day—unlike today with its frenzied gift buying—were spent quietly at home or in paying social visits to friends; special foods for the occasion would have been served. Perhaps the Donaldsons prepared one of Mrs. Liston’s newly discovered favorites:

our most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread . . . 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.

(More about the Listons’ travels in the next post.)

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.

posted December 11th, 2014 by Louise, CATEGORIES: Charleston, Food, Holidays, Liston, Henrietta Marchant, The South, Travel


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