Journal of the Travels of Christian Forrer III (1822), part 2

DeWitt Clinton by Peale

Portrait of DeWitt Clinton, Father of the Erie Canal. Painting by Peale, c. 1823.

This section contains one of my favorite stories from Christian’s journal, in which he meets the famous governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton. The governor must have been a wonderfully good-natured man, to be so polite to a bumptious young traveler who was wasting his time.

But first, while the steamboat is being repaired, the passengers take a night-time stroll in former governor Lewis’s gardens.

After the workmen commenced a great many went ashore and amused themselves by walking through the Governors Gardens and orchards, & his situation is an excellent one, having a Butifule elevation with an excellent house on it surrounded with well improved gardens & a full view of the river.

[Christian neglects to mention here that they get back on the steamboat when it is repaired and resume their journey up the Hudson.]

We passed several vary handsome country seats but the banks are generally vary Rough & bould. West Point … we passed in the night, of course I could not have a fair view of it. I could discouver it was a vary noted point & considerable … We … at this place & several others, Katskill, & Hudson, a vary butiful village on the right hand side of the river as you come up, & Athens on the left.

We arrived at Albany about 3 o’clock in the morning of the 20 May 1822 This is a vary fine morning but from the northern weather caused it to be somewhat cold. With the small quantity of head clothing caused me to [feel] somewhat unwell but not dangerous. I tuck my lodging with a young man by the name of Scot who I got a slight acquaintance with on our passage from Trenton to New York at McWelmores Tavern.

I scoured Albany in the morning before Breakfast. There is a vary good State House at this but scarsely suitable to the dignity of the state, but perhaps they keep there money for better purposes and internal improvements. I should undertake to give an account of the banks, population, etc of the different places but I have a pamphlet … graphical & statistical manual of the State of New York which gives a much more detailed account than I can. I shall therefore [omit?] that part and only mention several magnificent Buildings & […] places situated in the several places through which I pass. The State House is a vary good Building supported in front by marble pillars carved after the Dorick order. The Academy is a vary fine Building after the same order out of freestone. The Reformed Dutch Church is one of the Best Building of kind I ever seen after the Dorick Order out of freestone. The markets of this place are vary indifferent Buildings scattered every direction through the city.

On my passage from Philadelphia to Albany I became acquainted with Fuller, who stated he was acquainted with Cousin Samuel Forrer the 3d, of course I glad to see him.

Vessels of 80 to 100 tuns burden can come to Albany. I here gave orders to the [illegible] as well as at New York to send letters directed to me to Cincinnati, Ohio, this morning, and entered the stage office for Utica. We shall proceed about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

After taking a general view of the City of Albany, and still having time left for to look about and as I contemplated to visit Governor Clinton when I arrived to Albany for the purpose of obtaining some necessary information as to the situation, prices & natural advantages of land situated in the western part of N.Y.

There were two young men on in company with me in Albany who I got somewhat acquainted on our passage from New York. One a Young Lawyer by the name of Scot, a Young Man of a vary liberal disposition, rather rough in his manners, apparently reather fond of strong drink but leaving out those falts he was a fine fellow, vary much a Virginian. The other was Mr. Eaton from Boston, a vary lively little Yanky. I mentioned my Desire to see the governor in the presence of those young men. Eaton said he had just seen him as he passed the street & was vary desirous as well as Scot that I should pay the governor a visit. I to the gentlemen if they would me, would certainly go. They appeared to be [on stand?] for some time but at last concluded not to go.

Scot said he would not go for one $1000. Eaton backed out likewise. However I was determined to pay the governor a visit. Accordingly I set out for his house, knocked on the door, a servant opened. I inquired if the Governor was in. Yes, she replyed, walk in. She accordingly conducted me to the governors room. He received me with a great deal of politeness. After making some apology for my intrusion I then proceded to state the cause of my visit. But by the by the moust of my visit was to see what sort of looking fellow he was. He answered me vary politely, asked me a considerable number of questions, ordered his servant to bring some wine, & invited vary politely to drink, which I accordingly did. He then asked me if I kept a journal. I answered in the affirmative. He then shewed me several penns maid of Brays Mannufacturers by the Shaking Quakers & offered me one as a present which I did not like to take as I did not go there for a present. However as he insisted that I should take it & gave him my best thanks,* he told he would take into consideration the situation of the country & would rite to me on the subject. He accordingly wanted my name and place of residence for that purpose which accordingly gave & tuck my leave of him.

*The pen with which he writes this account and his subsequent entries does seem to be much better quality, making a finer and more legible line. It was a good gift…and made this transcriber’s job easier, too.

Journal of the Travels of Christian Forrer III (1822), part 1

The United_States, a steamboat on the Hudson, 1821

The United States, a steamboat on the Hudson River, 1821. Drawing by Samuel Ward Stanton, 1895 (Wikimedia)

When I was a kid, I always stayed a week or two at my grandparents’ farm in the summer. My grandmother, as faithfully as she went to church every Sunday, faithfully went to a sale or two every Saturday. By “sale,” which is what she called it, I mean an estate auction. At one, she picked up an old journal, the pages brown, and immediately handed it to me as a gift, saying that I enjoyed such things.

I opened it and began to read. The handwriting was difficult, but I figured out most of the words. And I did enjoy it.

So, it’s been decades now and I really want to share the text with others who will find it interesting. Unfortunately, the front cover separated from the rest of the book and a page or two may be lost, or maybe it just took young Christian a while to start using the journal after he bought it. His spelling is erratic (and sometimes I’ve just corrected it because otherwise autocorrect turns a nonstandard spelling into something absurd). Occasionally it is simply impossible to be read his handwriting — I apologize for the gaps. And he almost NEVER uses a period or comma.

Without any more introduction, let’s begin, and board the steamship for Albany:

A journal of the travels of Christian Forrer the 3rd

Commenced on the 15 April 1822

Bought of a Book Seller in Philadelphia

This penn was maid a present to Christian Forrer the 3rd by De Wit Clinton, Governor of New York.

May the 18 1822 about 4 o’clock in the afternoon I set out in the steam boat up the H. river for Albany the capital of New York, a distance therefrom 160 (?) miles. Lots of passage [passengers, presumably]. This $6 boarding found you in the bargain. We proceeded on without much molestation having about 180 passengers on board. Some of the principle men of the state were on board, Judge Yates the [executive?] governor of the state of New York and two other supreme judges belonging to the state of New York, Judge Spencer and Judge Prat, besides a great many lawyers. Leaving the City of New York was a [illegible] to me. The boat was crowded with citizens from Philadelphia taking leave of their friends. As for myself, I had no friends to leave nor nobody to regret my going. This together with the lively appearance of the people, the threatening appearance of the [?] and [?] the vast forrest of shipping laying in harbor with a grand landscape view of the country [?] around all this combined with the novelty of a boat moved with fire and steam maid appear [?] grand indeed.

We moved at the rate of about 11 miles an hour quite smoothly until about 3 o’clock in the morning when we grounded and were impelled to stay until morning, when by trying to force her off by steam busted one of the conducting pipes. This accident put us out of hopes of reaching Albany. The captain sent an express off to Albany to get the boat Firefly, but having stopped near the exgovernor Lewis’s plantation, the captain got one of the governor’s blacksmiths to examine the pipe which he declared to be easily mended. He was immediately employed and in the coarse of about 6 hours the boat was ready to proceed.

[to be continued]