Burnaby’s Travels through North America – Andrew Burnaby
“Travels Through North America,” by Andrew Burnaby, was originally published in London and this reprint is from the third edition of 1798. It is somewhat amusing to read the prognostications of the keen-eyed and quick-brained doctor of divinity, when he says: “He still thinks that the present union of the American States will not be permanent or last for any considerable length of time; that that extensive country must necessarily be divided into separate states and kingdoms; and that America will never, at least for many ages, become formidable to Europe, etc.” What would he think were he to be able to visit us now? He is a wise prophet who knows beforehand, and, who, if he does not know, is shrewd enough to veil his prophecies in ambiguity. But the book is well worth the republishing. It is full of interesting accounts by a careful eyewitness of events and conditions, habits and customs just prior to the War of the Revolution. There are kind and manly words spoken of Washington and some excellent descriptions of the scenery and cities of that time. The localities which Burnaby reached in his travels were as follows: Virginia, the Falls of the Potomac, Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Burnaby’s Travels through North America
Excerpt from the text:
ON Friday the 27th of April, 1759, I embarked, in company with several North American gentlemen, on board the Dispatch, Captain Necks, for Virginia; and the next day we set sail from Spithead, under convoy of his majesty’s ship the Lynn, Captain Sterling, commander, with thirty-three sail of trading vessels. We came to an anchor in the evening in Yarmouth Road, and the next day sailed with a fresh easterly wind through the Needles.
April 30. We passed by the Lizard, and in the evening discovered a sail, which proved to be an English sloop laden with corn. She had been taken by a French privateer, and was steering for France: there were three Frenchmen and one Englishman on board. The commodore sent some hands to her, with orders to carry her to Penzance.
May I. Thick, hazy weather with a fair wind. A large ship passed through the fleet about four o’clock in the afternoon: and in the evening another vessel bore down upon the sternmost ships, and spoke with them.
May 2. Fair, pleasant weather. The next day we found by our reckoning that we had made a hundred leagues from the Land’s End.
May 4. Strong, violent gales at north-and-by-west. In the evening the Molly, Captain Chew, had her maintop-mast carried away, and hoisted a signal of distress.
May 5. From this time to the 14th, nothing remarkable happened: the wind was seldom fair, but the weather being moderate, we made frequent visits, and passed our time very agreeably.
May 14. Captain Necks fell ill of a fever, and continued indisposed several days: he began to mend about the 17th.
May 19. In the afternoon, a sudden and violent squall from the north-west obliged us to lie-to under our reefed main-sail: it continued to increase, and blew a storm for about thirty-six hours, when it began to moderate.
May 21. We made sail in the afternoon, with four ships in company; and the next day in the evening were joined by eighteen more. From that time to the 28th, nothing remarkable happened: we had generally pleasant weather, but adverse winds. We frequently visited; and were much entertained with seeing grampuses, turtles, bonetas, porpoises, flying and other fish, common in the Atlantic. 
May 28. We discovered a large sail; she directed her course towards the east. We supposed her to be an English man of war going express. She carried three top-gallant sails.
May 31. We spoke with a sloop bound from Antigua to London. She acquainted the commodore with the agreeable news of his majesty’s forces at Guadaloupe having reduced that whole island under subjection to the British government. The wind still continued unfavourable.
June 5. We spoke with a snow from Carolina which informed the commodore that a French frigate was cruising off the capes of Virginia. From that time to the 11th, we had nothing remarkable. The wind was generally from west to north-west, and there were frequent squalls with lightning. We saw several bonetas, grampuses, albicores, and fish of different kinds.
June 11. The water appeared discoloured; and we concluded that we were upon the Banks of Newfoundland: we cast the lead, but found no ground. The weather was thick and hazy. Nothing remarkable happened from this time to the 3rd of July: we had pleasant weather, though now and then squalls with lightning. We fell in with several currents and had variable winds.
July 3. We had fine weather, with a gentle breeze at N. W. We were now, according to the commodore’s reckoning (which we afterward found to be true) about sixty leagues from land. The air was richly scented with the fragrance of the pine-trees.
July 4. We saw a great many sloops, from whence we imagined that we were near the coast. The wind was at east-by-north.
July 5. About six in the morning we caught some green fish: upon this we sounded, and found eighteen fathom water. At ten we discovered land, which proved to be Cape Charles; and about three hours afterward sailed through the capes into Chesapeake Bay. The commodore took his leave to go upon a cruise; and at eight in the evening we came to an anchor in York river, after a tedious and disagreeable voyage of almost ten weeks.
The next morning, having hired a chaise at York, a small inconsiderable town, I went to Williamsburg, about twelve miles distant. The road is exceedingly pleasant, through some of the finest tobacco plantations in North America, with a beautiful view of the river and woods of great extent.
Williamsburg is the capital of Virginia: it is situated between two creeks, one falling into James, the other into York river; and is built nearly due east and west. The distance of each landing-place is something more than a mile from the town; which, with the disadvantage of not being able to bring up large vessels, is the reason of its not having increased so fast as might have been expected. It consists of about two hundred houses, does not contain more than one thousand souls, whites and negroes; and is far from being a place of any consequence. It is regularly laid out in parallel streets, intersected by others at right angles; has a handsome square in the center, through which runs the principal street, one of the most spacious in North America, three quarters of a mile in length, and above a hundred feet wide. At the opposite ends of this street are two public buildings, the college and the capitol: and although the houses are of wood, covered with shingles,  and but indifferently built, the whole makes a handsome appearance. There are few public edifices that deserve to be taken notice of; those, which I have mentioned, are the principal; and they are far from being magnificent. The governor’s palace is tolerably good, one of the best upon the continent; but the church, the prison, and the other buildings, are all of them extremely indifferent. The streets are not paved, and are consequently very dusty, the soil hereabout consisting chiefly of sand: however, the situation of Williamsburg has one advantage which few or no places in these lower parts have, that of being free from mosquitoes. Upon the whole, it is an agreeable residence; there are ten or twelve gentlemen’s families constantly residing in it, besides merchants and tradesmen: and at the times of the assemblies, and general courts, it is crowded with the gentry of the country: on those occasions there are balls and other amusements; but as soon as the business is finished, they return to their plantations; and the town is in a manner deserted.
The situation of Virginia (according to Evans’s map) is between the 36th and 40th degree of north lat. and about 76 degrees west long. from London.  It is bounded on the north by the river Potomac, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, by Carolina on the south, and, to include only what is inhabited, by the great Alleghany on the west. 
The climate is extremely fine, though subject to violent heats in the summer: Fahrenheit’s thermometer being generally for three months from 85 to 95 degrees high. The other seasons, however, make ample amends for this inconvenience: for the autumns and springs are delightful; and the winters are so mild and serene (though there are now and then excessively cold days) as scarcely to require a fire. The only complaint that a person can reasonably make, is, of the very sudden changes to which the weather is liable; for this being entirely regulated by the winds, is exceedingly variable. Southerly winds are productive of heat, northerly of cold, and easterly of rain; whence it is no uncommon thing for the thermometer to fall many degrees in a very few hours; and, after a warm day to have such severe cold as to freeze over a river a mile broad in one night’s time.  In summer there are frequent and violent gusts, with thunder and lightning; but as the country is very thinly inhabited, and most of the gentry have electrical rods to their houses, they are not attended with many fatal accidents. Now and then, indeed, some of the negroes lose their lives; and it is not uncommon in the woods to see trees torn and riven to pieces by their fury and violence. A remarkable circumstance happened some years ago at York, which is well attested: a person standing at his door during a thunder gust, was unfortunately killed; there was an intermediate tree at some distance, which was struck at the same time; and when they came to examine the body they found the tree delineated upon it in miniature. Part of the body was livid, but that which was covered by the tree was of its natural colour. 
I believe no country has more certainly proved the efficacy of electrical rods, than this: before the discovery of them, these gusts were frequently productive of melancholy consequences; but now it is rare to hear of such instances. It is observable that no house was ever struck, where they were fixed: and although it has frequently happened that the rods themselves have been melted, or broken to pieces, and the houses scorched or discoloured along the sides of them, which manifested that they had received the stroke, but that the quantity of lightning was too great to be carried off by the conductor, yet never has any misfortune happened; such a direction having been given to the lightning as to prevent any danger or ill consequence. These circumstances, one would imagine, should induce every person to get over those prejudices which many have entertained; and to consider the neglect, rather than the use, of them as criminal, since they seem to be means put into our hands by Providence for our safety and protection.
The soil of Virginia is in general good. There are barrens where the lands produce nothing but pine trees; but taking the whole tract together, it is certainly fertile. The low grounds upon the rivers and creeks are exceedingly rich, being loam intermingled with sand: and the higher you go up into the country, towards the mountains, the value of the land increases; for it grows more strong, and consists of a deeper clay.