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|Guest Contributors... David Minor|
"For justice stood on Stuart's side,
Tuesday, March 26, 1822; 10 AM. Two men stand back-to-back in a snowy Scottish hollow outside the Fifeshire village of Auchtertool. They raise their 0.68-in calibre pistols - Tatham and Egg's finest - step off twelve paces in opposite directions, turn, and fire.
Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, son of the deceased Samuel Johnson biographer James Boswell, misses completely. James Stuart, fellow townsman of Boswell, does not.
Exonerated the following June, Stuart still seemed to feel that prudence dictates he make himself scarce around Fifeshire and he goes into exile in France for several years. Then, deciding to travel, he boards the packet William Thomson on July 16, 1828, for a three-year expedition to North America.
After spending a few days on New York City he and his party catch a steamboat to Albany and zigzag westward across New York State (a standard route for public transportation), ending up in Buffalo and then on to Niagara Falls.
Within a week after his arrival he has crossed over the top of Lake Ontario and gone beyond the Thousand Islands and down the St. Lawrence to the Richelieu River. As his party enters the northern end of Lake Champlain, making its way south aboard the steamboat Franklin, the passengers will be surrounded by echoes of three major wars, our French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Stuart describes at length the background and many of the incidents of these conflicts. But our focus is on Stuart's present - mid-September, 1828. At the border they pass quickly through customs and their baggage is not inspected. They pass Plattsburg on the starboard, then between Port Kent, "a thriving village, near which are considerable iron-works" and Burlington, Vermont. Crown Point and Ticonderoga sweep by. "The views in this part of the lake are strikingly varied at every change of situation", Stuart writes, " and the scenery marked and bold." Twenty-four miles past Ticonderoga or, as Stuart calls it, Ticondergo, they arrive at Whitehall, the southernmost settlement on the lake, and proceed down the Franklin's gangway, boarding another coach to continue their journey. They had originally thought to catch another steamer across Lake George but discovered they'd arrived too late in the season; the boat had stopped running. Electing to head for the upper reaches of the Hudson, and then back to the other end of Lake George, they continue on by coach.
They passes Sandyhill, site of several Indian murders, including the scalping of Jane McCrea as she hurried to meet her British fiancee, an incident forever frozen on canvas, to grace the pages of many a New York history textbook. From here it's only another four miles to Glens Falls, population about 1,000, on the Hudson. Arriving in town late in the day on September 18th, they find, "Mr Threehouse's hotel a very good one, and the host, a French Canadian, very obliging, not at all disposed to make any difficulty in getting us broiled chickens, and other good things, though a long time after the regular dinner hour." It seems there is still enough daylight for them to visit the cataracts that give the town its name, here where the Hudson is quite different from the broad, sweeping waterway they'd traveled on from the other direction several weeks earlier.
The next morning, they hire a barouche to take them to the village of Caldwell, later given the name Lake George. The driver turns out to be the very model of an American type they hadn't run into before - a gen-u-wine Yankee. He arrives very early at the hotel and when told one of the women has a headache and won't be ready before nine o'clock, mutters, "That will not suit me so well.", as he pulls a little way off. Even so, he's ready at nine and they're off. After a few minutes he makes a vain attempt to chat with his passengers, but the presence of the indisposed lady, her headache heightened by the bright sunlight, puts a damper on the conversation for a while and the driver soon falls silent, answering only when spoken to. They arrive at Caldwell, recently settled, with its jail, newspaper office and resort hotel, and arrange for a ride on the lake in a small, hired, boat, telling their driver they'll signal him from the water when they return.
After a presumably enjoyable sail they return to shore, where the boat owner, another prototypical Yankee, tells them the price he'd originally quoted them was for the hire of the boat only, and does not include his services. With little choice, they pay up. Stuart realizes the Yankee type has a British counterpart, remarking that, "this was the first time the Yankees had come Yorkshire over us". Their fare grudgingly paid, they look around for their driver. No driver. As they stand scratching their heads, a bystander notices their dismay and informs them that their driver's probably over in the jail.
"We set off in that direction, and met him coming from it. He made no excuse or apology, but set about preparing our conveyance. As soon as it was ready, we got into it, but the driver showed no symptoms of setting out. We asked the cause. He was waiting, he said, for the little boy whom he had brought out with him on the driving-seat, and who would presently be with us. We began to think that the driver was disposed to treat us rather cavalierly; and I had almost asked him, whether he looked to the boy, for whom he was waiting, or to us, for the hire of the conveyance; but I recollected in time, that all altercation with the natives ought, if possible, to be avoided by persons travelling in a foreign country, and that the trouble of obtaining redress, even in cases which required it more, made it much wiser to submit in silence to a little inconvenience." Ah, the joys of travel!
While they waited they tried to engage the driver in conversation, so as to learn a bit more about the area but he, having been squelched earlier in the day, pretty much clammed up. Eventually the boy returned, the coach set off again, and the driver, whose name they learned was Spencer, recovered his good humor, regaling them on the trip back to Threehouse's hotel with stories of the epic battles between the French and the British seventy years ago and, learning they were from Edinburgh, entering into a discourse on New York's public schools and finally segueing into the large numbers of locals that already were moving off to the western part of the state and even the far reaches of the Great Lakes. Arriving back at the hotel the travelers enter, confer, and agree to invite Spencer to have supper with them. Stuart finds him in the barroom where the pleasantly-surprised driver, thanks him, but declines. "His family," he said, "expected him, and he must go home. Perhaps, Sir," he added, "you was not aware that the High Sheriff of the County was your driver to-day. We are very neighbourly here. The horses expected for you this morning had not come in, and I could not refuse my neighbour, mentioning his name, when he applied to me. I have good horses, and would have been sorry to disappoint a stranger." Ah, the joys of travel! The boy, by the way, had been the son of a prisoner carrying linens to his incarcerated parent.
The following day it's back in the coach again for the seventeen-mile trip down to Saratoga Springs.
© 2004 David Minor / Eagles Byte
About the author: David Minor is the weekly history commentator on WXXI, PBS Station 91.5 in Rochester, NY. For more information, or to contact the author, click HERE.
America's Historic Lakes is grateful to David Minor for his special contribution. [jpm].
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