In October 1704, Sarah Kemble Knight set off on what would be a five month journey, by herself, from her home in Boston to New York and back again. Madam Knight, as she was called, was an unusually independent woman for her time. During her husband’s lifetime she supported herself and her family by running a shop, teaching handwriting to children, copying legal documents, and taking in boarders. After his death she continued to do very well for herself, buying and selling land and keeping an inn. In this section of the journal she kept of her trip, Knight described what it was like to travel on horseback, accompanied by a mail carrier and other travelers, from Kingston, Rhode Island, to New London, Connecticut. Her frank humor and often bigoted descriptions of people she met, anxiety about river crossings, displeasure with the rough inns she stayed in, and habit of turning experience into poetry were all expressed here.
Wedensday, October 4th.
About four in the morning, we set out for Kingston (for so was the Town called) with a french Docter in our company. He and the Post put on very furiously, so that I could not keep up with them, only as now and then they’d Stop till they see mee. This Rode was poorly furnished with accommodations for Travellers, so that we were forced to ride 22 miles by the post’s account, but nearer thirty by mine, before wee could bait so much as our Horses, which I exceedingly complained of. But the post encouraged mee, by saying wee should be well accommodated anon at mr. Devills, a few miles further. But I questioned whether we ought to go to the Devil to be helpt out of affliction. However, like the rest of Deluded souls that post to the Infernal denn, Wee made all posible speed to this Devil’s Habitation; where alliting, in full assurance of good accommodation, wee were going in. But meeting his two daughters, as I suposed twins, they so neerly resembled each other, both in features and habit, and look’t as old as the Divel himselfe, and quite as Ugly, We desired entertainment, but could hardly get a word out of' um, till with our Importunity, telling them our necesity, &c. they call’d the old Sophister, who was as sparing of his words as his daughters had bin, and no, or none, was the reply’s hee made us to our demands. Hee differed only in this from the old fellow in to’ther Country: hee let us depart. However, I thought it proper to warn poor Travailers to endeavor to Avoid falling into circumstances like ours, which at our next Stage I sat down and did as followeth:
May all that dread the cruel feind of night Keep on, and not at this curs’t Mansion light. Tis Hell; 'tis Hell! and Devills here do dwell: Here dwells the Devill—surely this’s Hell. Nothing but Wants: a drop to cool yo’r Tongue Cant be procur’d these cruel Feinds among. Plenty of horrid Grins and looks sevear, Hunger and thirst, But pitty’s bannish’d here— The Right hand keep, if Hell on Earth you fear!
Thus leaving this habitation of cruelty, we went forward; and arriving at an Ordinary about two mile further, found tollerable accommodation. But our Hostes, being a pretty full mouth’d old creature, entertain’d our fellow travailer, the french Dofter with Inumirable complaints of her bodily infirmities; and whisperd to him so lou’d, that all the House had as full a hearing as hee: which was very divirting to the company, (of which there was a great many,) as one might see by their sneering. But poor weary I slipt out to enter my mind in my Jornal, and left my Great Landly with her Talkative Guests to themselves.
From hence we proceeded (about ten forenoon) through the Narragansett country, pretty Leisurely; and about one afternoon come to Paukataug River, wch was about two hundred paces over, and now very high, and no way over to to’ther side but this. I darid not venture to Ride thro, my courage at beslt in such cases but small, And now at the LowesT: Ebb, by reason of my weary, very weary, hungry and uneasy Circumstances. So takeing leave of my company, tho‘ wth no little Reluctance, that I could not proceed wth them on my Jorny, Stop at a little cottage JusT: by the River, to wait the Waters falling, wch the old man that lived there said would be in a little time, and he would conduct me safe over. This little Hutt was one of the wretchedesT: I ever saw a habitation for human creatures. It was suported with shores enclosed with Clapbords, laid on Lengthways, and so much asunder, that the Light come throu’ every where; the doore tyed on wth a cord in ye place of hinges; The floor the bear earth; no windows but such as the thin covering afforded, nor any furniture but a Bedd wth a glass Bottle hanging at ye head on’t; an earthan cupp, a small pewter Bason, A Bord wth sticks to stand on, instead of a table, and a block or two in ye corner instead of chairs. The family were the old man, his wife and two Children; all and every part being the picture of poverty. Notwithstanding both the Hutt and its Inhabitance were very clean and tydee: to the crossing the Old Proverb, that bare walls make giddy howswifes.
I Blest myselfe that I was not one of this misserable crew; and the Impressions their wretchedness formed in me caused mee on ye very Spott to say:
Tho‘ Ill at ease, A stranger and alone, All my fatigu’s shall not extort a grone. These Indigents have hunger wth their ease; Their best is worse behalfe then my disease. Their Misirable hut which Heat and Cold Alternately without Repulse do hold; Their Lodgings thin and hard, their Indian fare, The mean Apparel which the wretches wear, And their ten thousand ills which can’t be told, Makes nature er’e ’tis middle age’d look old. When I reflect, my late fatigues do seem Only a notion or forgotten Dream.
I had scarce done thinking, when an Indian-like Animal come to the door, on a creature very much like himselfe, in mien and feature, as well as Ragged cloathing; and having ‘litt, makes an Awkerd Scratch with his Indian shoo, and a Nodd, sitts on the block, fumbles out his black Junk, dipps it in ye Ashes, and presents it piping hott to his muscheeto’s, and fell to sucking like a calf, without speaking, for near a quarter of an hour. At length the old man said how do’s Sarah do? who I understood was the wretches wife, and Daughter to ye old man: he Replyed—as well as can be expected, &c. So I remembred the old say, and suposed I knew Sarah’s case. Butt hee being, as I understood, going over the River, as ugly as hee was, I was glad to ask him to show me ye way to Saxtons, at Stoningtown; which he promising, I ventur’d over with the old mans assistance; who having rewarded to content, with my Tatter-tailed guide, I Ridd on very slowly thro’ Stoningtown, where the Rode was very Stony and uneven. I asked the fellow, as we went, divers questions of the place and way, &c. I being arrived at my country Saxtons, at Stonington, was very well accommodated both as to victuals and Lodging, the only Good of both I had found since my setting out. Here I heard there was an old man and his Daughter to come that way, bound to New.London; and being now destitute of a Guide, gladly waited for them, being in so good a harbour, and accordingly,
Thirsday, October 5th
about 3 in the afternoon, I sat forward with neighbor Polly and Jemima, a Girl about 18 Years old, who hee said he had been to fetch out of the Narragansetts, and said they had Rode thirty miles that day, on a sory lean Jade, with only a Bagg under her for a pillion, which the poor Girl often complain' d was very uneasy.
Wee made Good speed along, which made poor Jemima make many a sow’r face, the mare being a very hard trotter; and after many a hearty and bitter Oh, she at length Low’d out: Lawful Heart father! this bare mare hurts mee Dingeely, I’me direfull sore I vow; with many words to that purpose : poor Child sais Gaffer — she us’t to serve your mother so. I don’t care how mother us’t to do, quoth Jemima, in a pasionate tone. At which the old man Laught, and kik’t his Jade o' the side, which made her Jolt ten times harder.
About seven that Evening, we come to New London Ferry: here, by reason of a very high wind, we mett with great difficulty in getting over—the Boat tos’t exceedingly, and our Horses capper’d at a very surprizing Rate, and set us all in a fright; especially poor Jemima, who desired her father to say so jack to the Jade, to make her Stand. But the careless parent, taking no notice of her repeated desires, She Rored out in a Passionate manner: Pray suth father, Are you deaf? Say so Jack to the Jade, I tell you. The Dutiful Parent obey’s; saying so Jack, so Jack, as gravely as if hee’d bin to saying Catechise after Young Miss, who with her fright look’t of all coullors in the RainBow.
Being safely arrived at the house of Mrs. Prentices in N. London, I treated neighbour Polly and daughter for their divirting company, and bid them farewell.
Source: Sarah Kemble Knight, The Journal of Madam Knight, With an Introductory Note by George Parker Winship (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1920), 19–29.