Friday, March 13, 2009

Heading for Lawn Guyland

We re-join our English visitor John Fowler as he starts around the state in 1830

A lot was happening on our last visit to New York City, back in 1830. Scotsman James Stuart and his wife were departing America to return to Britain after a three-year visit; Englishman John Fowler was arriving, for his own tour of the former colony. During the year the city saw the debut of a thirteen-year-old Irish stage prodigy, a celebration of the second popular uprising over in France, a hot-air balloon flight from the Battery to Amboy, New Jersey, and a mutinous crew landing near Coney Island and burying a treasure there in the sands. In other words, things pretty much as normal, there at the mouth of the Hudson.

Now our man Fowler prepares to explore the rest of the state in this year of 1830 - he would write about the journey next year, in Journal of a Tour Through the State of New York. On August 4th he writes, “Previous to my setting out on my intended excursion to the western part of the state, wishing to see something of Long Island, and having given a relative, resident near Flushing, a promise of spending a few days with him, took my place this afternoon upon a steam-boat plying daily to different parts of the Sound, to Whitestone, about eighteen miles distant from New York.” Ever since the consolidation of the city nearly seven decades in the future, Whitestone has lain within the limits of the city.

Passing on toward Long Island Sound, Fowler mentions passing by “Horll Gatt, or Hurl Gate.” This of course is Hell Gate, where the Stuarts have been staying. Perhaps they were out in the gardens that day and glanced up as Fowler’s ship steamed past.

Fowler finds a “conveyance” waiting at the Whitestone landing, which takes him to his relative’s farmhouse, for a ten-year reunion. The area was settled back in 1645, and at the time of the American Revolution was home to Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A young school teacher from further out on Long Island will come along eight or nine years from now. Kid by the name of Whitman.

Fowler and his kinsman spend the evening reminiscing. Having purchased his present farm from his wife’s family, the unnamed relative tells Fowler that nothing could induce him to return to England.

The next day Fowler’s given a tour of the farm, viewing nearly fifty acres of woodland, apple and peach orchards, plus pens of cows, sheep and pigs. The day has become quite sultry; during the middle of the day dark clouds gather and a brief tornado - Fowler’s word - tears up a few trees and brings branches from others crashing to the ground. Half an hour later the skies clear.

That night sleep comes fitfully to Fowler. Not the bedbugs which he complained of in Brooklyn, but mosquitos, not to mention, “locusts, crickets, tree-toads, kater-dids, grasshoppers, &c, &c, the din and bustle of the country, though of a different kind, seems scarcely less than that of the town.” He’s heard that winter quiets things down but to him it’s a remedy, “ as bad as the disease.”

We’ll tiptoe out quietly, try to let him get some sleep

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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