Monday, July 6, 2009

End of His Line

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte¬

Once again, as August 11th, 1830, draws to a close, our English visitor John Fowler has done battle with the bugs. And, once again, gone down in ignominious defeat. Gone out, actually, to a shed adjacent to his hosts’ house. He calls it a “sorry sort of retreat, since, though I have cleared the bugs, I have been pounced upon by a fine corps of mosquetos – light infantry to the others, to be sure . . . thirsting for my blood . . . either are bad enough, but united they oppose one of the most formidable barriers to a peaceable existence in the country I have yet met with.” He has one more visitor shortly before dawn. “A pig has just arisen from his berth and paid me a visit – the most agreeable living thing I have seen for hours.”

The next morning he takes a ride around the area, concluding that it turns out a fair amount of product for the downstate market – including iron ore, marble, lime, sandstone and cider, considering the lack of great farming land, “but for an English farmer I should consider it any thing but desirable.”

Since his friend plans on staying here a while; Fowler heads back for Newburgh aboard a horse-drawn mail coach, which seats nine inside and one outside next to the driver. The vehicle travels at an estimated rate between three and six miles an hour and food service consists entirely of dust. He’s a bit surprised to find that Americans drive on the right side of the road instead of the left. They reach the Hudson steamboat landing around nine in the evening, and he decides to stay overnight, putting up at the Mansion House and catch a morning boat for Albany. He’s shown to his room which seems to be neat and clean. He’s assured there will be no bugs. And it could be they’ve got a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.

He’s good and ready to depart by the time morning rolls around. He takes a dip in the river to help disperse the memory of his crawly nighttime bedmates and declares fervently, “England, with all thy faults I love thee still.”

The morning upriver steamboat Chief Justice John Marshall was to have arrived at noon, but, having encountered mechanical difficulties, doesn’t arrive until five in the afternoon. It’s a smaller boat than the Albany, that brought him this far and, with about 250 passengers aboard, is a bit crowded. It’s a peaceful ride in the evening moonlight and the vessel arrives at the Albany dock shortly after 1 AM. He’s not able to retrieve his luggage for another three hours, when the sun will begin coming up over the hills above Troy, across the river. Too much luggage gets stolen, he’s told, if the transfer’s attempted during the hours of darkness.

He mentions having passed Milton, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park Landing, Catskill, and Hudson in the darkness. Before these had been Kingston, which he does not mention. If it had been light he might have seen a small, unassuming shanty on the banks of Rondout Creek. Beside the structure, sometime this year, a new grave receives the remains of an elderly Indian. His ancestors had lived in the Mid-Hudson Valley before the arrival of the Dutch. According to local reports of the time, he was the last of his people – the Esopus.

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