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THIS being the anniversary of American Independence, the day was ushered in by the firing of great guns; and military companies had collected in Louisville [Georgia] from the whole country round. On my return to the tavern, I found a considerable number of the military assembled there. I was waited on by a committee of the artillery company, and received a very polite invitation to dine with them, which I accepted with pleasure, being anxious to observe the mode of celebrating this day, so important in the annals of America.

About 3 o'clock we sat down to dinner. The captain took his place at the head of the table, the oldest lieutenant at the foot; the committee gave the different orders, and all were on an equal footing. Several of the State officers dined with them.

After dinner they drank Madeira wine to a series of toasts, one for each State, which had been previously prepared. Among the number were "The Day We Celebrate;" "The Land We Live In;" "The President of the United States;" "Memory of General Washington;" "Memory of Benjamin Franklin;" "Memory of John Pierce," etc. Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery, and the music played an appropriate air. A number of excellent songs were sung, and the afternoon was spent with great conviviality and good humor.

Having several calls to make in the town, I left the table early, but returned again in the evening, when I found that the cordial drop had added greatly to the elevation of the animal spirits of the company. They had also received an addition to their number, by several military officers high in command, among whom was Major-General Jackson. Having occasion to give a toast, I availed myself of that opportunity to impress them with favorable sentiments towards my native country. America had been long regarded with a jealous eye by the councils of Britain, and an almost total alienation of affection was the consequence. I knew that Mr. Fox's administration was favorably disposed towards America, and I was inclined, as far as I had opportunity, to impress the Americans with that belief. Accordingly, after thanking the company for the honor they had conferred upon me, and assuring them of my own friendly regard for the country, I proposed as a toast, "Mr. Fox, and the independent Whigs of Britain. May their joint endeavors with the government of the United States be the means of reconciling the differences between the two countries; and to the latest prosperity may Americans and Britons hail one another as brothers and as friends." This was cordially received, and drank accordingly; and immediately after I was introduced to and politely received by the visiting officers.

A BACKWOODS BREAKFAST
AS I proposed to ride to New Philadelphia, 36 miles from Coshocton, and the road was altogether new to me, and often crossed the river, I was anxious to be gone as soon as possible, and urged the landlady to make all the haste she could. She said she would have the breakfast ready in a minute; but the first indication I saw of dispatch was a preparation to twist the necks of two chickens. I told her to stop, and she gave me a look of astonishment.

"Have you any eggs?" said I. "Yes, plenty," replied she, still keeping in a stooping posture, with the chicken in her hand. "Well," said I, "just boil an egg, and let me have it, with a little bread and tea, and that will save you and I a great deal of trouble." She seemed quite embarrassed, and said she never could set down a breakfast to me like that. I assured her I would take nothing else. "Shall I fry some ham for you along with the eggs?" said she. "No," said I, "not a bit." "Well, will you take a little stewed pork?" "No." . . . "Preserve me, what will you take, then?" "A little bread and tea, and an egg. "Well, you're the most extraordinary man that I ever saw; but I can't set down a table that way."

I saw that I was only to lose time by contesting the matter farther; so I allowed her to follow her own plan as to the cooking, assuring her that I would take mine as to eating. She detained me about half an hour, and at last placed upon the table a profusion of ham, eggs, fritters, bread, butter and some excellent tea. All the time I was at breakfast she kept pressing me to eat; but I kept my own council, and touched none of the dishes, except the bread, tea and an egg. She affected great surprise, and when I paid her the ordinary fare, a quarter of a dollar, she said it was hardly worth anything. I mention the circumstance to show the kind of hospitality of the landlady, and the good living enjoyed by the backwoods people.

DOWN THE OHIO FROM MARIETTA TO CINCINNATI
WE started at 6 o'clock; the morning was cloudy, the temperature of the air was 70 degrees, of the water 75 degrees. We had got well accustomed to traveling by water, and found it easy and agreeable. Our boatman, Peter, answered our purpose remarkably well, and could row about three miles an hour. The water was low, and we found the current assisted us very little. In order to relieve the boatman, and to give ourselves exercise, we frequently took a turn at the oars, and we generally made from 30 to 36 miles a day. We had found by this time, that the settlers on the Ohio side were, by far, in the most comfortable circumstances; and we never failed in an application for lodging or victuals on that side. On the Virginia side, we had of late made frequent attempts, but were always unsuccessful. On stopping there, we generally found a negro, who could give us no answer, or a poor-looking object in the shape of a woman, who, "moping and melancholy," would say, "we have no way."

I never saw the bad effects of slavery more visible than in this contrast. On the Virginia side, they seemed generally to trust to the exertions of the negroes, and we found them, as might be expected, miserable, and wretched, and poor, and almost naked." On the Ohio side, they trusted to the blessing of God, and to their own exertions; and "God helps them that help themselves," as poor Richard says, in his almanac. We found them increasing in wealth, population and domestic comfort; and we resolved hereafter to apply on the right bank only for accommodation.

Our general rule was to look out for a settlement at sunset, and stop at the first we came to thereafter; and it was hardly ever necessary to make a second call. As soon as we had engaged lodgings we ordered supper, and along with it two chickens to be cooked for next day's fare. The boatman got supper along with us, and then returned to the skiff, where he slept all night. I always found the people with whom we stopped very obliging, and ready to answer all my inquiries, so that it gave me real pleasure to travel on this delightful river, and to converse with the friendly settlers on its banks. Our traveling too was very cheap, for the whole did not amount to more than a dollar a day, boatman's hire included. In the morning, when we started, we carried our broiled chickens, with some bread, cheese and milk in the skiff; on which we made very comfortable repasts, without stopping.

LIFE IN CENTRAL NEW YORK STATE
FARMERS and mechanics are best adapted to the country, and, if they are industrious they are sure to succeed. A farmer can get a quarter section of land, 160 acres, for 560 dollars, with eight years to pay it. If he is industrious, he may have the whole cleared and cultivated like a garden by the end of that time; when, in consequence of the rise on property, by the increase of population, and the cultivation by his individual industry, his land may be worth 50 dollars per acre, or 8,000 dollars; besides his stock of cattle, etc., which may be worth half as much more. Mechanics are well paid for their labor; carpenters have 1 dollar per day and their board; if they board themselves, 1 dollar 25 cents. Other trades have in proportion, and living is cheap. Flour is about 5 dollars per barrel; beef 4 cents per lb.; fowls 12 1/2 cents each; fish are plentiful and cheap. A mechanic can thus earn as much in two days as will maintain a family for a week, and by investing the surplus in houses and lots, in a judicious manner, he may accumulate money as fast as the farmer, and both may be independent and happy.

Indeed, these two classes cannot too highly prize the blessings they enjoy in this country, nor be sufficiently grateful to the Almighty Disposer of all events, for casting their lot in a land where they have advantages so far transcending what the same classes have in any other. I know there are many who hold a different opinion, but I must take the liberty to dissent from it, and the reader who has traveled with me thus far, will allow that my opinion is not founded either on a partial or prejudiced view of the subject; it is deduced from plain, unvarnished facts, which no reasoning can set aside, nor sophistry invalidate. What would the farmers, and mechanics, and manufacturers in Britain give to be in the same situation? There (I speak particularly of Scotland) a farmer pays from 7 to 28 dollars per acre, yearly, for the use of his farm, besides the taxes and public burdens. He gets, in many instances, a lease of 19 years, and is bound to cultivate the ground in a certain way, prescribed by the tenure of his lease. If he improves the farm, the improvements are for another, not for him; and, at the end of the lease, if another is willing to give one shilling more than he, or if the proprietor has a favorite, or wishes to turn two or more farms into one, or has taken umbrage at his politics, or his religion, or anything else regarding him or his family, he will not get a renewal of the lease. Many a family have I known who have been ruined in this way. Being turned out of a farm, they retire to a town or city, where their substance is soon spent, and they pine away in poverty, and at last find a happy relief in the cold grave. Nor is there any remedy; the lands are nearly all entailed on the great families, and the lords of the soil are the lords of the law; they can bind the poor farmer in all cases whatsoever.

Compare this with the situation of the American farmer. He cultivates his own soil, or if he has none, he can procure it in sufficient quantity for 200 or 300 dollars. If he has no money he can get credit, and all that is necessary to redeem his credit is to put forth his hand and be industrious. He can stand erect on the middle of his farm, and say, "This ground is mine. From the highest canopy of heaven down to the lowest depths, I can claim all that I can get possession of within these bounds; fowls of the air, fish of the seas, and all that pass through the same." And, having a full share of consequence in the political scale, his equal rights are guaranteed to him. None dare encroach upon him; he can sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and none to make him afraid.

Look at the mechanic and manufacturer; in America they can earn from 6 to 9 dollars per week, and have provisions so reasonable, that they have their wheat-bread and roast-beef, or roast-pork, or fowl every day, and accumulate property for old age and their offspring. In Britain they can earn from a dollar and a half to three dollars per week, and pay at the rate of 14 or 15 dollars for a barrel of flour, and from 16 to 22 cents per lb. for beef. But, why do I talk of flour and beef? Small, indeed, is the portion of these that fall to their lot. No; they are doomed to drag out a miserable existence on potatoes and oat-meal, with this further curse entailed upon them, that, by the mandate of the powers that be, they are bound to the soil; they cannot, they dare not leave their country, except by stealth!

John Melish
1812


General Summary

John Melish was a Scotch textile manufacturer who visited this country for the purpose of collecting considerable sums of money owed him by mercantile customers. His "Travels in the United States of America," from which the accompanying observations are taken, was published in two volumes in Philadelphia, in 1812. His chief interest was in American trade and economic conditions.

Among those with whom he reports conversations was President Jefferson, who believed Norfolk, Virginia, would soon outstrip New York and Boston, and rival New Orleans, as as American seaport. Melish also reports Jefferson as stating that turnpike roads would be general throughout the country in less than twenty years. The introductory article describes a Fourth of July celebration at Louisville, Georgia, in 1811.



Source:
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