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Diarists and Observers


Sarah Kemble Knight was born
in Boston, the daughter of
Thomas Kemble, a merchant,
reportedly an agent of Crom-
well in selling prisoners of war.
She married Captain Richard
Knight, shipmaster, a widower
considerably her senior. After
her husband's death Mrs. Knight
engaged in a variety of employ-
ments not usually associated
with the women of her times.
As court scrivener she learned
something of the law, and seems
occasionally to have employed
such knowledge in the settle-
ment of estates and in other
semi-legal activities. For a time,
certainly in 1706, she conducted
a school in Boston where, it is
traditionally reported, Benjamin
Franklin and Samuel Mather
(both born in 1706) may have
been pupils. At any rate,
any rate,
"Madam" Knight was an un-
usual woman, whose successful
business activities included the
management of a shop and a
boardinghouse in Boston.

The death of a relative left her with an estate to settle, and on October 2, 1704, she set off on horseback from Boston to New York, not returning to Bos

ton until March 3, 1705. Much of the country through which she traveled might have tested the hardihood of a horseman of less than her thirty-eight years. Her Journal of this courageous journey testifies to her keen sense of humor and to her unusual tolerance, and is important in its representation of American life at that time. Its lively portrayal of the New England backwoods and the cultivated prosperity of New York reminds us that the Puritan community was soon confronted with another America, in which, by 1704, worldly prosperity and secular sophistication are in strong contrast with large areas of ignorance, violence, and backwardness. It is valuable to compare Madam Knight's account with William Byrd's descriptions of characters he met with during his survey of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary dispute in 1728.

In 1712 Madam Knight moved to Connecticut, where she controlled property in both Norwich and New London. She engaged in Indian trading and farming, and she kept a shop and a "house of entertainment,'

probably an inn. At her death in 1727, she left an estate of £1,800, then a considerable sum, a testimony to her skill as a businesswoman.

The Journals of Madam Knight and Reverend Buckingham, with an introduction by Theodore Dwight, New York, 1825, was the first edition. The Journal of Madam Knight, a reprint of this, with

a new introduction and fresh information, appeared in 1865. The standard edition is G. P. Winship's Private Journal of a Journey from Boston to New York, 1920, in which Dwight's introduction is reprinted. Useful biographical accounts are to be found in the introductions by Dwight and Winship, and in the article by Sidney Gunn in the Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1933. The text below is that of the 1825 edition, with certain persistent abbreviations corrected.

From The Journal of Madam Knight

[New England Frontier]

[Oct. 2, 1704.]

About three o'clock afternoon, I begun my Journey from Boston to New-Haven; being about two Hundred Mile. My Kinsman, Capt. Robert Luist, waited on me as farr as Dedham, where I was to meet the Western post.

I vissitted the Reverd. Mr. Belcher, the Minister of the town, and tarried there till evening, in hopes the post would come along. But he not coming, I resolved to go to Billingses where he used to lodg, being 12 miles further. But being ignorant of the way, Madam Belcher seing no persuasions of her good spouses or hers could prevail with me to Lodg there that night, Very kindly went wyth me to the Tavern, where I hoped to get my guide, And desired the Hostess to inquire of her guests whether any of them would go with mee. But they, being tyed by the Lipps to a pewter engine,1 scarcely allowed themselves time to say what clownish [A portion of the manuscript is missing.] Peices of eight, I told her no, I would not be accessary to such extortion.

Then John shan't go, sais shee. No, indeed, shan't hee; And held forth at that rate a long time, that I began to fear I was got among the Quaking tribe, beleeving not a Limbertong'd sister among them could out do Madm. Hostes.

Upon this, to my no small surprise, son John arrose, and gravely demanded what I would give him to go with me? Give you, sais I, are you John? Yes, says he, for want of a Better; And behold! this John look't as old as my Host, and perhaps had bin a man in the last Century. Well, Mr. John, sais I, make your demands. Why, half a piece of eight and a dram,2 sais John. I agreed, and gave him a Dram (now) in hand to bind the bargain.

My hostess catechis'd John for going so cheap, saying his poor

1. I.e., drinking from pewter mugs.

2. A Spanish dollar, then current, was a piece of eight, so called because it was

worth eight Spanish reals. A dram was a small whisky or brandy glass; now called a jigger.

wife would break her heart [A portion of the manuscript is missing.] His shade on his Hors resembled a Globe on a Gate post. His habitt, Hors and furniture, its looks and goings Incomparably answered the


Thus Jogging on with an easy pace, my Guide telling mee it was dangero's to Ride hard in the Night, (which his hors had the sence to avoid,) Hee entertained me with the Adventurs he had passed by late Rideing, and eminent Dangers he had escaped, so that, Remembring the Hero's in Parismus and the Knight of the Oracle, I didn't know but I had mett with a Prince disguis'd.

When we had Ridd about an how'r, wee come into a thick swamp, which by Reason of a great fogg, very much startled mee, it being now very Dark. But nothing dismay'd John: Hee had encountered a thousand and a thousand such Swamps, having a Universall Knowledge in the Woods; and readily Answered all my inquiries which were not a few.

In about an how'r, or something more, after we left the Swamp, we come to Billinges, where I was to Lodg. My Guide dismounted and very Complasantly help't me down and shewd the door, signing to me with his hand to Go in; which I Gladly did-But had not gone many steps into the Room, ere I was Interogated by a young Lady I understood afterwards was the Eldest daughter of the family, with these, or words to this purpose, (viz.) Law for mee-what in the world brings You here at this time a night?—I never see a woman on the Rode so Dreadfull late, in all the days of my versall life. Who are You? Where are You going? I'me scar'd out of my witts-with much now of the same Kind. I stood aghast, Prepareing to reply. when in comes my Guide-to him Madam turn'd, Roreing out: Lawfull heart, John, is it You?-how de do! Where in the world are you going with this woman? Who is she? John made no Answer but sat down in the corner, fumbled out his black Junk, and saluted that instead of Debb; she then turned agen to mee and fell anew into her silly questions, without asking mee to sitt down.

I told her shee treated me very Rudely, and I did not think it my duty to answer her unmannerly Questions. But to get ridd of them, I told her I come there to have the post's company with me tomorrow on my Journey, &c. Miss star'd awhile, drew a chair, bid me sitt, And then run upstairs and putts on two or three Rings, (or else I had not seen them before,) and returning, sett herself just before me, showing the way to Reding, that I might see her Ornaments, perhaps to gain the more respect. But her Granam's new Rung sow, had it appeared, would affected me as much. I paid honest John

3. Oakum, or a piece of old rope; possibly jocose for a twist of tobacco leaves. 4. The post was the messenger who made scheduled trips with the mail, in this

case on horseback.

5. Vernacular phrase for making a display of one's self.

with money and dram according to contract, and Dismist him, and pray'd Miss to shew me where I must Lodg. Shee conducted me to a parlour in a little back Lento, which was almost fill'd with the bedsted, which was so high that I was forced to climb on a chair to gitt up to the wretched bed that lay on it; on which having Stretcht my tired Limbs, and lay'd my head on a Sad-colourd pillow, I began to think on the transactions of the past day.

[Oct. 3, 1704.]

About 8 in the morning, I with the Post proceeded forward without observing any thing remarkable; And about two, afternoon, Arrived at the Post's second stage, where the western Post mett him and exchanged Letters. Here, having called for something to eat, the woman bro't in a Twisted thing like a cable, but something whiter; and laying it on the bord, tugg'd for life to bring it into a capacity to spread; which having with great pains accomplished, she serv'd in a dish of Pork and Cabage, I suppose the remains of Dinner. The sause was of a deep Purple, which I tho't was boil'd in her dye Kettle; the bread was Indian, and every thing on the Table service Agreeable to these. I, being hungry, gott a little down; but my stomach was soon cloy'd, and what cabbage I swallowed serv'd me for a Cudd the whole day after.

Having here discharged the Ordnary" for self and Guide, (as I understood was the custom,) About Three, afternoon, went on with my Third Guide, who Rode very hard; and having crossed Providence Ferry, we come to a River which they Generally Ride thro'. But I dare not venture; so the Post got a Ladd and Cannoo to carry me to tother side, and hee rid thro' and Led my hors. The Canoo was very small and shallow, so that when we were in she seem'd redy to take in water, which greatly terrified mee, and caused me to be very circumspect, sitting with my hands fast on each side, my eyes stedy, not daring so much as to lodg my tongue a hair's breadth more on one side of my mouth than tother, nor so much as think on Lott's wife, for a wry thought would have oversett our wherey: But was soon put out of this pain, by feeling the Cannoo on shore, which I as soon almost saluted with my feet; and Rewarding my sculler, again mounted and made the best of our way forwards. The Rode here was very even and the day pleasant, it being now near Sunsett. But the Post told mee we had neer 14 miles to Ride to the next Stage, (where we were to Lodg.) I askt him of the rest of the Rode, foreseeing we must travail in the night. Hee told mee there was a bad River we were to Ride thro', which was so very firce a hors could

6. Lean-to (a shed).

7. Paid for the meal, an "ordinary," the same for all comers.

8. Contrary to God's command, Lot's wife looked back upon His destruction of the wicked city of Sodom, and was turned to salt (Genesis xix: 26).

sometimes hardly stem it: But it was but narrow, and wee should soon be over. I cannot express the concern of mind this relation sett me in: no thoughts but those of the dang'ros River could entertain my Imagination, and they were as formidable as varios, still Tormenting me with blackest Ideas of my Approaching fate-Sometimes seeing my self drowning, otherwhiles drowned, and at the best like a holy Sister Just come out of a Spiritual Bath in dripping Gar


Now was the Glorious Luminary, with his swift Coursers arrived at his Stage, leaving poor me with the rest of this part of the lower world in darkness, with which wee were soon Surrounded. The only Glimering we now had was from the spangled Skies, Whose Imperfect Reflections rendered every Object formidable. Each lifeless Trunk, with its shatter'd Limbs, appear'd an Armed Enymie; and every little stump like a Ravenous devourer. Nor could I so much as discern my Guide, when at any distance, which added to the


Thus, absolutely lost in Thought, and dying with the very thoughts of drowning, I come up with the Post, who I did not see till even with his Hors: he told mee he stopt for mee; and wee Rode on Very deliberatly a few paces, when we entred a Thickett of Trees and Shrubbs, and I perceived by the Hors's going, we were on the descent of a Hill, which, as wee come nearer the bottom, 'twas totaly dark, with the Trees that surrounded it. But I knew by the Going of the Hors wee had entred the water, which my Guide told mee was the hazzardos River he had told me off; and hee, Riding up close to my Side, Bid me not fear-we should be over Imediately. I now ralyed all the Courage I was mistrss of, Knowing that I must either Venture my fate of drowning, or be left like the Children in the wood. So, as the Post bid me, I gave Reins to my Nagg; and sitting as Stedy as Just before in the Cannoo, in a few minutes got safe to the other side, which hee told mee was the Narragansett country. ***

Being come to mr. Havens', I was very civilly Received, and courteously entertained, in a clean comfortable House; and the Good woman was very active in helping off my Riding clothes, and then ask't what I would eat. I told her I had some Chocolett, if shee would prepare it; which with the help of some Milk, and a little clean brass Kettle, she soon affected to my satisfaction. I then betook me to my Apartment, which was a little Room parted from the Kitchen by a single bord partition; where, after I had noted the Occurances of the past day, I went to bed, which, tho' pretty hard, Yet neet and handsome. But I could get no sleep, because of the Clamor of some of the Town tope-ers in next Room, Who were entred into a strong debate concerning the Signifycation of the name 9. Various, conflicting.

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