Sunday, April 12, 2009

Steaming North

English traveler John Fowler had learned, after recently returning to Manhattan from his Long Island visit, that the ship Adeline was due to depart for England the next day, the same day he planned to be off on his travels upstate. He sat down to write some letters home that August day of 1830, ready to send them off by the departing ship.

His letters would be leaving New York on the 10th. Fowler would not. An intended traveling companion from Philadelphia hadn’t arrived. The plan was for the two men to travel together as far as Orange County, up around the West Point area. Fowler decided he’d leave the next day, whether the gentleman showed up or not.

His friends in Brooklyn had problems of their own. Neither Fowler or James Stuart had mentioned it this year, but cholera was making one of its frequent (almost annual) visits to the city. A recent warm period had seen 204 deaths in a single week, 80 of the victims under five years of age. His friends’ infant had begun showing alarming signs, the same symptoms that very often spelled the beginning of the end for children. Fowler wasn’t too impressed with the two doctors called in, who differed over their methods of treatment. He doesn’t inform us of the outcome of this particular case. Nothing he could do, of course.

The next day, August 11th, he made his way to a pier and boarded the 212-foot steamboat Albany, along with 350-or-so fellow passengers. He’d decided to skip Orange County on his way out, but his Philadelphia friend showed up at the last minute and Fowler reverted to his original itinerary. Then they’ll move on from West Point to Newburgh, about sixty miles from Manhattan. The total fare per person will come to a whopping 75 cents.

He’s quite impressed with the steamboat. “The Albany is the most splendid conveyance I ever moved in, in my life, though surpassed, I am told, by the North America, belonging to the same Company . . .”. The North America he mentions was the vessel that James Stuart made a similar trip on, two years previously. Fowler has to admit that the U. S. has it all over Great Britain when it comes to its “steam-vessels - in fact, of all vessels.” The trip all the way to Albany takes about twelve hours, although six years from now the North America will shave two hours off that time.

He will apologize for failing to describe fully the many places they pass, attributing it to the amazing abundance of scenery gliding by, but does mention a few of the more notable places mentioned in his guide book, “Travellers Guide to the Middle and Northern States, and Canada”. He also mentions the various sites connected with the last century’s “glorious struggle for independence . . . the hallowed ground where the great and brave had fought and fallen.” Very sporting of him, considering.

Early on they pass Weehawken, on the New Jersey shore, where the Hamilton-Burr duel had been fought 26 years previously. He mentions its huge rocks on three sides, hiding it from view on all but the river side, probably making it a, “. . . suitable place for settling affairs of honour.”

Shortly the Palisades will hove into view.

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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