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At eight o'clock, we breakfast in the cabin where I passed the
night, but the windows and doors are all thrown open, and now it is
fresh enough. There is no hurry or greediness apparent in the
despatch of the meal. It is longer than a travelling breakfast
with us; more orderly, and more polite.
Soon after nine o'clock we come to Potomac Creek, where we are to
land; and then comes the oddest part of the journey. Seven stage-
coaches are preparing to carry us on. Some of them are ready, some
of them are not ready. Some of the drivers are blacks, some
whites. There are four horses to each coach, and all the horses,
harnessed or unharnessed, are there. The passengers are getting
out of the steamboat, and into the coaches; the luggage is being
transferred in noisy wheelbarrows; the horses are frightened, and
impatient to start; the black drivers are chattering to them like
so many monkeys; and the white ones whooping like so many drovers:
for the main thing to be done in all kinds of hostlering here, is
to make as much noise as possible. The coaches are something like
the French coaches, but not nearly so good. In lieu of springs,
they are hung on bands of the strongest leather. There is very
little choice or difference between them; and they may be likened
to the car portion of the swings at an English fair, roofed, put
upon axle-trees and wheels, and curtained with painted canvas.
They are covered with mud from the roof to the wheel-tire, and have
never been cleaned since they were first built.
The tickets we have received on board the steamboat are marked No.
1, so we belong to coach No. 1. I throw my coat on the box, and
hoist my wife and her maid into the inside. It has only one step,
and that being about a yard from the ground, is usually approached
by a chair: when there is no chair, ladies trust in Providence.
The coach holds nine inside, having a seat across from door to
door, where we in England put our legs: so that there is only one
feat more difficult in the performance than getting in, and that
is, getting out again. There is only one outside passenger, and he
sits upon the box. As I am that one, I climb up; and while they
are strapping the luggage on the roof, and heaping it into a kind
of tray behind, have a good opportunity of looking at the driver.
He is a negro - very black indeed. He is dressed in a coarse
pepper-and-salt suit excessively patched and darned (particularly
at the knees), grey stockings, enormous unblacked high-low shoes,
and very short trousers. He has two odd gloves: one of parti-
coloured worsted, and one of leather. He has a very short whip,
broken in the middle and bandaged up with string. And yet he wears
a low-crowned, broad-brimmed, black hat: faintly shadowing forth a
kind of insane imitation of an English coachman! But somebody in
authority cries 'Go ahead!' as I am making these observations. The
mail takes the lead in a four-horse waggon, and all the coaches
follow in procession: headed by No. 1.
By the way, whenever an Englishman would cry 'All right!' an
American cries 'Go ahead!' which is somewhat expressive of the
national character of the two countries.
The first half-mile of the road is over bridges made of loose
planks laid across two parallel poles, which tilt up as the wheels
roll over them; and IN the river. The river has a clayey bottom
and is full of holes, so that half a horse is constantly
disappearing unexpectedly, and can't be found again for some time.
But we get past even this, and come to the road itself, which is a
series of alternate swamps and gravel-pits. A tremendous place is
close before us, the black driver rolls his eyes, screws his mouth
up very round, and looks straight between the two leaders, as if he
were saying to himself, 'We have done this often before, but NOW I
think we shall have a crash.' He takes a rein in each hand; jerks
and pulls at both; and dances on the splashboard with both feet
(keeping his seat, of course) like the late lamented Ducrow on two
of his fiery coursers. We come to the spot, sink down in the mire
nearly to the coach windows, tilt on one side at an angle of forty-
five degrees, and stick there. The insides scream dismally; the
coach stops; the horses flounder; all the other six coaches stop;
and their four-and-twenty horses flounder likewise: but merely for
company, and in sympathy with ours. Then the following
BLACK DRIVER (to the horses). 'Hi!'
Nothing happens. Insides scream again.
BLACK DRIVER (to the horses). 'Ho!'
Horses plunge, and splash the black driver.
GENTLEMAN INSIDE (looking out). 'Why, what on airth -
Gentleman receives a variety of splashes and draws his head in
again, without finishing his question or waiting for an answer.
BLACK DRIVER (still to the horses). 'Jiddy! Jiddy!'
Horses pull violently, drag the coach out of the hole, and draw it
up a bank; so steep, that the black driver's legs fly up into the
air, and he goes back among the luggage on the roof. But he
immediately recovers himself, and cries (still to the horses),
No effect. On the contrary, the coach begins to roll back upon No.
2, which rolls back upon No. 3, which rolls back upon No. 4, and so
on, until No. 7 is heard to curse and swear, nearly a quarter of a
BLACK DRIVER (louder than before). 'Pill!'
Horses make another struggle to get up the bank, and again the
coach rolls backward.
BLACK DRIVER (louder than before). 'Pe-e-e-ill!'
Horses make a desperate struggle.
BLACK DRIVER (recovering spirits). 'Hi, Jiddy, Jiddy, Pill!'
Horses make another effort.
BLACK DRIVER (with great vigour). 'Ally Loo! Hi. Jiddy, Jiddy.
Pill. Ally Loo!'
Horses almost do it.
BLACK DRIVER (with his eyes starting out of his head). 'Lee, den.
Lee, dere. Hi. Jiddy, Jiddy. Pill. Ally Loo. Lee-e-e-e-e!'
They run up the bank, and go down again on the other side at a
fearful pace. It is impossible to stop them, and at the bottom
there is a deep hollow, full of water. The coach rolls
frightfully. The insides scream. The mud and water fly about us.
The black driver dances like a madman. Suddenly we are all right
by some extraordinary means, and stop to breathe.
A black friend of the black driver is sitting on a fence. The
black driver recognises him by twirling his head round and round
like a harlequin, rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, and
grinning from ear to ear. He stops short, turns to me, and says:
'We shall get you through sa, like a fiddle, and hope a please you
when we get you through sa. Old 'ooman at home sa:' chuckling very
much. 'Outside gentleman sa, he often remember old 'ooman at home
sa,' grinning again.
'Ay ay, we'll take care of the old woman. Don't be afraid.'
The black driver grins again, but there is another hole, and beyond
that, another bank, close before us. So he stops short: cries (to
the horses again) 'Easy. Easy den. Ease. Steady. Hi. Jiddy.
Pill. Ally. Loo,' but never 'Lee!' until we are reduced to the
very last extremity, and are in the midst of difficulties,
extrication from which appears to be all but impossible.
And so we do the ten miles or thereabouts in two hours and a half;
breaking no bones, though bruising a great many; and in short
getting through the distance, 'like a fiddle.'
This singular kind of coaching terminates at Fredericksburgh,
whence there is a railway to Richmond. The tract of country
through which it takes its course was once productive; but the soil
has been exhausted by the system of employing a great amount of
slave labour in forcing crops, without strengthening the land: and
it is now little better than a sandy desert overgrown with trees.
Dreary and uninteresting as its aspect is, I was glad to the heart
to find anything on which one of the curses of this horrible
institution has fallen; and had greater pleasure in contemplating
the withered ground, than the richest and most thriving cultivation
in the same place could possibly have afforded me.
In this district, as in all others where slavery sits brooding, (I
have frequently heard this admitted, even by those who are its
warmest advocates:) there is an air of ruin and decay abroad, which
is inseparable from the system. The barns and outhouses are
mouldering away; the sheds are patched and half roofless; the log
cabins (built in Virginia with external chimneys made of clay or
wood) are squalid in the last degree. There is no look of decent
comfort anywhere. The miserable stations by the railway side, the
great wild wood-yards, whence the engine is supplied with fuel; the
negro children rolling on the ground before the cabin doors, with
dogs and pigs; the biped beasts of burden slinking past: gloom and
dejection are upon them all.
In the negro car belonging to the train in which we made this
journey, were a mother and her children who had just been
purchased; the husband and father being left behind with their old
owner. The children cried the whole way, and the mother was
misery's picture. The champion of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit
of Happiness, who had bought them, rode in the same train; and,
every time we stopped, got down to see that they were safe. The
black in Sinbad's Travels with one eye in the middle of his
forehead which shone like a burning coal, was nature's aristocrat
compared with this white gentleman.
It was between six and seven o'clock in the evening, when we drove
to the hotel: in front of which, and on the top of the broad
flight of steps leading to the door, two or three citizens were
balancing themselves on rocking-chairs, and smoking cigars. We
found it a very large and elegant establishment, and were as well
entertained as travellers need desire to be. The climate being a
thirsty one, there was never, at any hour of the day, a scarcity of
loungers in the spacious bar, or a cessation of the mixing of cool