Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Across Maryland on Horseback

Philip Vickers Fithian, a native of New Jersey to whom all colonial Chesapeake historians are eternally indebted, graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1772. Before taking up a position as a Presbyterian minister, Fithian found employment from October 1773 to October 1774 as a tutor to the children of Robert Carter of Nomini Hall, located on Virginia's Northern Neck. The journal that Fithian kept during his stay in Virginia is a gold mine of detailed observations of an alien -- to the journalist -- culture. Among the nuggets are Fithian's comments on travel by horseback, starting with his own experience of traveling from New Jersey to the Carter home. As Fithian traveled through Maryland, although not through Anne Arundel County, he was close enough to appropriate his account for this blog.

Fithian's preparations began on the 9th of October, when he "traveled to the Bridge, & a Saddle, Bridle, Spurrs, &c. for my intended Journey--Returned before Evening, and of Saml Dennis bought a Pr of Sadle-Bags. After a day of rest on Sunday, on the 11th he was up by six, Busy in Preparing for my Journey--Agreed with Uncle for his Horse; I am to give him 25£.--The Money to be paid in May next. The following day, very busy--Had my Boots altered & mended--Was measured for a Surtout-Coat. On the 14th, Fithian took his new horse to the blacksmith's to be shod with new shoes.

Fithian spent about a week saying good-bye to friends and relations before setting off for Virginia on the 20th of October. He covered 38 miles on the first day, traveling between Greenwich, New Jersey (a seaport town on the Cohansey River, five miles upstream from the Delaware River) and a tavern 12 miles south of New Castle, Delaware, at a cost of 6 shillings, 6 pence (1s/6d). The route took Fithian 16 miles to Quintons Bridge, where he paid 1/ to cross; 10 more miles to Penn's Neck Ferry, where the charge was 2/ for the toll bridge and 4/6 to cross the Delaware to New Castle. In that town, Fithian bought oats for his horse and a cordial for himself, paying 1/2. Twelve more miles brought him to Mr. Achans Tavern, where he spent the night.

After paying 3/4 for his night's lodging and stabling for his horse, Fithian rode 12 miles to North East, Maryland, where he ate breakfast at a cost of 1/6. Another 10 miles brought him to the Susquehannah River, where the ferry keeper charged 1/ for crossing the river and 9d for oats for Fithian's horse. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon he had covered a total of 34 miles to reach Bush Town in upper Baltimore County, paying out a total of 6/7 in the course of the day.

A night in Bush Town proved to be more expensive than one at Mr. Achan's, costing 4/6, and breakfast at the small, mean Tavern 13 miles farther along perhaps less satisfactory, although costing the same 1/6 as breakfast the day before. County courts regulated the prices charged by licensed taverns and ordinaries but had less ability to ensure the quality of the fare. Another 13 miles on horseback carried Fithian to Baltimore by one o'clock. The day on the road covered 26 miles and cost the traveler 5/8. His early arrival could have given Fithian time to see something of the town, by now a busy seaport, but the diary makes no mention of how the traveler spent the rest of the day -- only that his expenses in Baltimore amounted to a substantial 15/3.

On the 23rd, a journey of 15 miles took Fithian to a ford over the Petapsko to a small tavern where he paid 1/11. Rode thence to Blandensburg 23 miles. Whole distance 38 miles. Whole Expence 17/2. The following day was a Sunday but Fithian was on the road all day, covering a total of 45 miles and spending 11/4 in all. From Bladensburg he traveled 8 miles to Georgetown, where he had breakfast and took the ferry (6d) across the Potomac River. Nine more miles brought him to Alexandria and another 18 miles to Colchester, where he "Dined" for 3/9, plus 6d for a ferry crossing along the way. Ten more miles brought Fithian to the end of his day's journey at Dumfries.

On Monday, Expence at Dumfries 4/5. Rode thence to Aquia 10 miles. Expense 2/4--Rode thence to Stafford-Court-House 12 Miles. Whole distance 22 Miles. Whole Expence 6/6. Like many travelers in the Chesapeake region, Fithian found it possible at Stafford to take advantage of the hospitality extended by wealthy planters. Expence at Stafford 5/. Stopped at Colonel Thomas Lees, only a few Rods from Stafford Tavern. Continued there all day, and the following Night. Expence to Day 5/. Visitors to private homes did have one expense that did not occur at a tavern - a tip to any of the planter's slaves who waited on them or took care of a horse during their stay. Expence to boy 1/. Rode from Mr. Lees to a small poor Ordinary 13 Miles -- Expence /8 for Oats -- Rode thence, without feeding to Captain Cheltons. on the Potowmack 32 Miles -- Whole Distance 45 Miles. Whole Expence 1/9.

On the 28th, Rode after Breakfast to the Honorable Rob: Carters the End of my Journey; 12 Miles, by two o-Clock in the Afternoon. Both Myself, and my Horse seemed neither tired nor Dispirited -- Occasional Expences on the Road. In Baltimore for some Buff-Ball, 1/6. In Blandensburg for having straps put to my Saddle-Bags 3/. In Colchester for Shaving and Dressing 1/3. The whole 5/9. So that my whole Distance appears to be 260 Miles, perform'd in seven Days. And my whole Expence appears to be 3£ 6s 6d. On Friday, Fithian Settled myself in the Room appointed me -- and adjusted my Affairs after my Ride.

The following day Fithian was out riding around the countryside with the Carters' eldest son, doing some shopping and visiting neighbors -- but that's another story.

≈The account of Fithian's travels can be found at pp.16-19 in Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, 1773-1774, Hunter Dickinson Farish, ed. (Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, 1957, 1983).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Transporting Horses

Knowing that horses arrived on the same ships that carried the early colonists raised the question of how horses were handled as cargo on a vessel that pitched and rolled in response to any but the calmest weather. Both visual images – painting and drawings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – and ships’ logs help to answer this question.

As this ship model shows, stalls constructed below decks and equipped with slings kept horses from suffering life-threatening injuries in the event of severe weather, although they did not prevent minor problems as the logs reveal.

An 18th c. Spanish illustration showing a similar form of stall and the sling.

The log of the brigantine Flora records the weather conditions that could complicate life for both crew and cargo during a crossing of the Atlantic. The Flora sailed from Whitby on the east coast of Yorkshire with a cargo of six horses, two bound for Madeira and the remainder destined for Charleston. The ship left Whitby on 16 September 1767 for a passage of nearly three months over more than four thousand nautical miles. Heavy autumn and winter gales accompanied her across the Atlantic.

By the 28th of September, meeting a “Great swell from ye East,” the “Ship labours hard. The Horses are hard matcht to keep upon their Legs. . . . Ruswarp had Like to been down upon us[,] had Entirely Dropt his hinder Legs and hung by the slings.” On 23 October the log reported “Our Horses in Good Health and fine order.” Men and horses alike “are eaten up with flies.” On the 31st, as the ship moved westward from Madeira, all the horses were bled, “it being very Requisite against the Change of Climate. They are in better order now than when they came on board the ship.” Fresh gales on the 2nd of November brought “A Great sea from the West. Ship Labours very hard yet the Horses able to Stand fast in ye hold," although the master, William Manson, noted that he “Tumbled down several times upon ye deck,” not having the benefit of a sling to keep him upright.

Weather was not the only source of difficulties. On November 6th, “Danby kicked Lofthouse very hard on his left hind Leg which is very much swelled to which we applyd a medicine for it.” Furthermore, “Lofthouse was taken badly with a Cough and Short Wind.” Three days later, “Blooded the Horse Lofthouse in the Thigh Vein and annoynted his Leg Which seems to be much swelled.” Lofthouse’s leg continued to be troublesome for several weeks and “Sulphur and Lofthouse have both Rubbed off some hair of their Buttocks on the Side Rails with the Quick motion and Rowling of the ship.” The entry for 30 November noted that “Sulphur’s legs still continue to be very Scabbed,” but “Lofthouse mends fast & ye new hairs grow . . . [and] The Stallion and Bay horse” were in “Good health and Good order.” Strong gales on 4 December made the horses “hard matcht to keep upon their Legs,” but arrival in the Charleston harbor on the 9th brought their shipboard life to an end.

Horses carried in stalls below decks had, of course, to be gotten on and off the ship by some means.

This ship model shows the below-deck stalls for the horses but in addition includes both staging platforms on the side of the ship where horses are lined up waiting in turn to be lowered into the hold, and a horse amidships being lowered to the level of the stalls by a halyard.

A different image, of an army loading its cavalry horses, shows the same use of a halyard to swing the horses aboard.

Another variation on the same procedure.

The views of naval vessels loading or unloading horses remind us that any military campaign of the period required the movement of large numbers of horses. When William of Orange invaded England in 1588, it was reported that the Dutch fleet carried some seven thousand horses. They served as mounts for thirty-six hundred cavalry officers, the Prince and his entourage, and the officer and gentlemen volunteers who accompanied him, and also as draft animals to pull carts carrying provisions and ammunition and the army’s artillery. Saddlemakers in Amsterdam supplied three thousand saddles as well as boots, bridles, reins, etc. A mobile smithy accompanied the expedition to shoe horses as well as repair weapons. When transporting horses in this quantity, unloading by means of a halyard required too much time – particularly for an army preparing for battle. In 1688, local fishermen directed the fleet to a landing place where the beach fell away sharply enough that the horses needed to swim only a short distance to reach shore.

Here, horses swim ashore from a ship off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Despite the obvious differences in the vessels used, the method of offloading remains essentially the same.

Transporting cavalry horses was not a consideration in the Chesapeake ordinarily, but was a practical issue during the French and Indian War for British troops sent to fight in the colonies. A recent review of research related to the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary War trail dealt with the logistics of getting the troops that fought at Yorktown to Virginia by ship. There they awaited the arrival on foot of the oxen needed to pull the cannon that were carried on board the ships along with the soldiers. No mention was made of transporting horses, but at least a few traveled down the bay by sail and tide for paintings of the British surrender show Washington, Lafayette, and other officers on horseback.

Complicated as the loading and unloading of horses might have been, it was probably nothing compared to the challenge of getting an elephant on and off a ship!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jasper Danckaerts Might Have Preferred a Horse

A Labadist minister, Jasper Danckaerts, traveled from New Amsterdam to northern Maryland in December 1679 to assess the possibility of establishing a Labadist settlement in northeastern Maryland. Danckaerts and his companion traveled mainly on foot, but were very grateful for the few occasions when they had the opportunity to ride a horse, even if meant sharing one horse among three men.

In the journal that Danckaerts kept of his travels, he described the difficulties of crossing the region’s many creeks and rivers. On Monday the 4th of December, the group crossed the “creek, or Bohemia River, in a canoe.” [116] The following day, they were more fortunate, arriving at the court house on the Sassafras River, where a ferry carried them to the other side for a charge of one English shilling per man. Following the course of the river, they came to a small creek, “which runs very shallow over the strand into the river. Here we had to take off our shoes and stockings in order to cross over although it was piercing cold. We continued some distance further . . . to the Great Bay (the Chesapeake) when we came to another creek and called out to be taken across, which was done.” [116]

The next morning we crossed a creek, and were shown the way to another plantation, where would be set over still another [creek]. . . . The people excused themselves from taking us over, saying that their canoe was not at home, and sent us to another plantation on the right. We crossed there [and went] a long distance along the road until we reached a plantation . . . where no one was at home except a woman, who nevertheless lent us a canoe with which we might not only cross over, but go a considerable distance down the creek, trusting her canoe to us.” [117]
At a later crossing, Danckaerts and his party reached the bank of the creek as another traveler was already crossing in a canoe. Fortunately for Danckaerts there was a second canoe, in which he and his companion crossed, giving the canoe to a woman waiting on the other shore who paddled it back across the creek.

On Danckaerts’s return trip, the ferry at the Sassafras courthouse proved not be as accommodating as he’d found it on his first encounter. “We wished to be put across the Sassafras River here, but could not accomplish it, although we were upon the bank of the river. We were directed to the ferry at the court house, . . . where we arrived about two o’clock and called over to them to come and take us over. Although the weather was perfectly still and they could easily hear us, we were not taken over, though we continued calling out to them until sundown.” [124]

One of Danckaert’s final crossings involved enlisting the help of an enterprising indentured servant. “We therefore promised this servant if he would put us across we would give him the money, which we would otherwise have had to pay at the ferry. The master made some objections on account of the servant’s work and the distance from the river, and also because they had no canoe.” One would think any of these objections would be a serious obstacle to the plan, but apparently not. “The servant satisfied him on these points, and he [the master] consented. We breakfasted on what we could get, not knowing how or where we would obtain anything again. We three, accordingly, went about two miles to the strand, where we found a canoe, but it was almost entirely full of water, and what was the worst of it, we had nothing with which to bale it out. However, by one means and another we emptied it and launched the canoe. We stepped in and paddled over the river to a plantation of a Mr. Frisby.” [126]

What can we learn from Danckaerts’s account of his journey that sheds light on the use of horses for personal travel in seventeenth-century Maryland? Had the party been traveling on horseback, it would not have been able to use the many crossings where canoes carried the men from one side of the creek to another. But these journeys by canoe, as the above excerpts show, were not without their own complications: no canoe at a convenient crossing point could mean a long detour in search of another; a crossing too shallow for a canoe meant wading across frigid winter streams; canoes could leak or be so weighted down by their passengers as to have little margin of safety. On horseback, the party could have made faster use of the ferries available (assuming the ferry hands wished to heed their summons, but that was a hazard whether on foot or horseback) and could traverse creeks at natural fords or shallow headwaters, options that required no more of a detour than did the hunt for a canoe and would take far less time using horsepower than to find the canoe on foot.

The journal of Jasper Danckaerts is available online at