The following text about a sloop journey up the Hudson River in 1801 was originally published In The Life of Charles Brockden Brown by William Dunlap (Philadelphia 1815). It was transcribed by Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer researcher George A. Thompson and additionally edited and annotated by John Warren.
Very suddenly conceived the design of voyaging up the Hudson River, as far as Albany. Had heard much of the grandeur of its shores, but never had gone above ten miles from New York. My friend C. having some leisure was willing to adventure for ten days or a fortnight, and I having still more, and being greatly in want of air and exercise, agreed to accompany him. We found a most spacious and well furnished vessel, captain R.—– in which we embarked at sunset this day. The wind propitious [favorable] and the air wonderfully bland [not foul, like the air in New York at this time].
We bade adieu to our friends B.—– J.—– and D.—-. I took my post at the stern, and found much employment for my feelings, in marking through the dusk, the receding city and the glimmering lights; first of quays and avenues, and afterwards of farms and village. It is just three years since my visit to New York in 1798. an interval replete with events, various and momentous. Some of them humiliating and disastrous, but, on the whole leading me to my present situation in which I have reason for congratulation.
July 8, 1801
I write this seated in the cabin, from the windows of which, we have a view of wooded slopes, rocky promontories and waving summits. Our attention has been, for some time, fixed upon Stony Point, a memorable post in the late war, a spot familiar to my ears since my infancy, but which I have now seen for the first time. It is a rocky and rugged mass advancing into the river, the sides of which are covered with dwarf cedars, and the summit conspicuous still with some remains of fortification, a general solitude and vacancy around it, and a white cow grazing within the ruinous walls, produce a pleasing effect on my imagination. A craggy eminence, crowned with the ruins of a fortress, is an interesting spectacle every where, but a very rare one in America. I much wished to go ashore and ascend this hill, but it was not convenient.
What are called the highlands of the North river, are a mountainous district, through which the river flows for some miles. I had heard much of the stupendous and alpine magnificence of the scenery. We entered it this morning, with a mild breeze and serene sky, and the prospect hitherto has been soft and beautiful. Nothing abrupt, rugged or gigantic. Farms and cultivated fields seldom appear. Six or eight vessels like our own, have been constantly in sight, and greatly enliven the scene.
We are now at anchor, have just dined. My companions have gone to sleep. The utmost stillness prevails. Nothing to be heard but the buzzing of flies near at hand, and the cawing of distant crows. We lay surrounded on all hands by loftier ridges, than I ever before saw bordered by water.
We have formed various conjectures as to the heights of these summits. The captain’s statements of five and six hundred feet are extravagant. Three hundred would be nearer the truth. Few or none of them are absolute precipices, but most of them are steep, and not to be scaled without difficulty.
I have gazed at the passing scene from Stony Point to West Point, with great eagerness, and till my eye was weary and pained. how shall I describe them. I cannot particularize the substance of the rock, or the kind of tree, save oaks and cedars. I am as little versed in the picturesque. I can only describe their influence on me.
My friend is a very diligent observer, and frequently betakes himself to the pen. Heavy brows and languid blood has made me indolent, and I have done nothing but look about me, or muse for the last two days.
On Thursday afternoon with a brisk southward gale and a serene sky, we left the highlands. At the spot where the mountains recede from the river, the river expands into a kind of lake, about two miles wide and ten miles long. The entrance is formed by cliffs, lofty, steep and gloomy with woods, which the borders of the lake itself are easy slopes, checkered with cultivated fields, farms and villages.
The highlands from the heights and boldness of the promontories and ruggedness of the rocks, and the fantastic shape the assume, fully answer the expectations which my friends had excited. But the voyage over the lake, exceeded whatever my fancy had pictured of delightful. Three populous villages [in Orange County], Peekskill, New Windsor and Newburgh, and innumerable farms decorate its borders.
Yesterday we moved but slowly, the wind becoming adverse. At noon we drew into a wharf at Red-hook [Red Hook in Dutchess County], and remained there till evening. My friend and I seized the opportunity of wandering. The river bank is lofty, and wooded as usual, but no wise remarkable.
Some hours before, a waving and bluish line in the horizon reminded us of the Kaats-kill mountains. These are seen very advantageously from Red-hook, distant about twenty miles, and appear of stupendous height. Their elevation has been ascertained, but I do not recollect what it is.
We roamed along the shore and among the bushes, highly pleased with the exercise, and concluded our rambles with a bathing in the river. In leaving the sloop, I left most of my sluggish feelings behind me, and walked enough to make the night’s repose acceptable and sound.
With the tide to favour us we left Red-hook at eight o’clock, but were obliged to anchor again before morning. At six o’clock my friend and I accompanied the captain ashore, in search of milk and blackberries. I have since seated myself on deck, watching the shore, as the breeze carried us along.
My friend is busy with his spy glass, reconnoitering the rocks and hay stacks, and surveying the wharves and store houses of Lunenburg [Loonenberg was a small community and ferry landing in Greene County across the river from Claverack] and Hudson, villages we have just passed. I have observed but little besides a steep bank, roughened by rocks and bushes, occasionally yielding to slopes of a parched and yellowish soil, with poor cottages sparingly scattered, and now and then a small garden or field of corn. A fellow passenger left us at Hudson. One only remaining, a Mr. H.—- of Albany, a well behaved man, whose attention is swallowed up by Mrs. Bennet’s “Beggar Girl.”
The sloop’s crew consists of captain, mate, a man and a boy as cook; all orderly, peaceful obliging persons. The cabin being perfectly clean and comfortable, and provisions plentiful and good, we have no reason to regret the delays occasioned by adverse winds, and by calms. I have some vacant moments when a book might amuse.
The captain’s whole stock consists of a book on navigation, [English cleric Thomas] Dilworth’s Arithmetic , and [Oliver] Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World [1762, a collection of letters written from the perspective of the fictional Lien Chi Altangi, a Chinese philosopher living in London]. I have looked into the last, but it does not please me. The fiction is ill supported, the style smooth and elegant, but the sentiments and observations far from judicious or profound.
The mate has been telling me his adventures. A very crude and brief tale it was, but acceptable and pleasing to me. A voyage round the globe is a very trivial adventure, now-a-days. This man has been twice to Nootka [a sound of the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Pacific Northwest, also known as King George’s Sound], thence to Canton [China], and thence to Europe and home.
He performed one whaling voyage to Greenland, and was fifteen months a seaman in a British seventy-four [a two-decked sailing ship of the line which typically carried 74 cannon, developed by the French navy in the 1740s]. His South Sea voyage occupied eighteen months, during which there was neither sickness nor death among the crew.
Charles Brockden Brown (1771 – 1810) was an early American novelist, historian, and editor generally regarded by scholars as the most important American novelist before James Fenimore Cooper. He has been referred to as the “Father of the American Novel,” but was also a popular intellectual figure during the French Revolutionary period.
William Dunlap (1766 – 1839) was a pioneering American theater producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He managed two of New York City’s earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre (“The Birthplace of American Theatre”) and the Park Theatre (once owned by John Jacob Astor). He was also an artist, despite losing an eye in childhood, who painted a portrait of George Washington.
Both Brown and Dunlap, along with Elihu Hubbard Smith (1771 – 1798) and other men and women were members of an early intellectual group in the city of New York known as the Friendly Club.
You can read another travelogue of a sloop journey up the Hudson River in 1800 here.
Illustrations, from above: Lithograph by E. Whitefield of Tivoli, or Upper Red Hook, Landing, Hudson River (Hudson River Maritime Museum); “View Near Anthony’s Nose” by W.H. Bartlett (A Hudson Riverbook, William Gekle, Wyvern House); and a scene with a sloop, row boat with fishermen, and hay barge (Hudson River Maritime Museum collection).