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Passage from New York to Albany

The navigation of the Hudson not being yet interrupted by ice, I determined on proceeding to Albany by steamboat, in preference to the railroad, with the view of seeing the far-famed scenery of the country through which the river flows. I accordingly embarked on the 5th of February. We had not proceeded far, however, when we found the face of the country covered with snow; and thus the pleasure I had anticipated from my aquatic trip was in a great measure lost.

Winter had set in in earnest, and the cold became so severe as we ascended, that the deck was abandoned, and the nearest seat to the stove was considered the best. The passengers being now all crowded below, the group presented a complete epitome of American society: here were members of the legislature proceeding to the capital on parliamentary duty; here also were congregated in the same cabin, merchants, mechanics, and farmers, messing at the same board, and at first mixed up promiscuously together. They did not, however, long continue so; the more respectable part, separating from the crowd, occupied one end of the cabin, the plebeians occupied the other. Thus the homogeneous ingredients of the mass having united, no further mixture took place during the passage.

It is true, one of patrician rank might occasionally be observed stepping beyond the ideal boundary, and sitting down among the plebeians, probably some of his constituents, would call for a pipe, and, stretching out his legs, commence to puff, spit, and debate, like one of themselves; and having by these means convinced them that he still considered them as his equals, would retire again and soon.

The Americans are accused by Europeans of being cold and reserved towards strangers; for my part, I found them sociable and communicative in the extreme. A few hours after I had embarked on board the steamboat I found myself quite at home. I was much pleased to observe the rational manner in which the passengers amused themselves. Little groups were formed, where religion, politics and business matters were discussed with excellent sense and judgment. These seemed to be the common topics of discourse in both ends of the cabin. I frequented both, and saw nothing indecorous or improper in either, save the spitting and the outrageous rush to the table; such a scene as the latter is only to be seen in America.

The servants bawl out at the top of their lungs:

"Time enough, gentlemen! time enough! No hurry, no hurry!"

Onward they rush, however, crowding, pushing, elbowing, until they take their seats. I was, however, particularly struck with the attention shown to the ladies, the great sobriety of all classes, and the total absence of impure or profane expressions in conversation. How unlike the scenes one witnesses on board our steamboats in Britain, where the meaner sort of passengers seem to travel on purpose to indulge in drinking!

I arrived at Albany late on the 7th, our progress having been much retarded by the quantity of ice drifting in the river. Finding that the mail was to start for Canada in the course of the night, I decided on going with it, without seeing the capital of New York. Owing to the mildness of the season up to the present time, the roads were in the worst possible condition, and the motion of the carriage passing rapidly over the rugged surface of the muddy roads recently frozen solid, was not only disagreeable, but even painful.

We continued, however, to jolt on night and day, without rest, save during the short time necessary for changing or baiting cattle. The roads became worse, if possible, as we proceeded. A considerable quantity of snow had fallen lately, which rendered traveling in a wheeled carriage not only disagreeable in the extreme, but also dangerous. We broke down several times, but without serious inconvenience. On one of these occasions we picked ourselves up opposite a farm house, in which we took shelter while the driver was putting matters to rights. It being yet early, the inmates were still in bed; we nevertheless found a rousing fire blazing on the hearth, and seated ourselves around it.

All of a sudden the door of a small apartment flew open, and a large black cat sprang in amongst us.

"Ha! what do you think of that, now?" said one of the passengers, addressing himself to me. "What do you think of the ingenuity of our Yankee cats? Had Boz witnessed that feat, we should have had a page or two more to his notes; and I am sure it would have proved at least as interesting to the reader as the nigger driver's conversation with his cattle."

"That's a fact," said I.

After being jolted and pitched about until every bone in my body ached again, I reached St. John's on the 12th; and the snow being now sufficiently deep to admit of traveling with sleighs, the remainder of the journey to Montreal was accomplished in comparative comfort.

Notes of a Twenty-Five Years Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory, 1849


Notes on Hudson Bay Territory

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