On Dec. 21, 1704, 38-year-old Sarah Kemble Knight left New York on horseback with understandable reluctance. She had spent a fortnight in the town settling her cousin Caleb’s estate, and she liked the New Yorkers’ neat brick houses, pleasant manners and fashionable dress.
She had ridden the length of the Boston Post Road, alone — something women didn’t do in 1704. The road in some places amounted to a path, and it had no signs, no bridges, no guardrails.
As soon as she and her traveling companion left the town, they got lost in a storm and had to take shelter in a poor backwoods home in East Chester, N.Y. Which is why women rarely traveled unescorted, let alone from Boston to New York, in 1704.
Sarah Kemble Knight
Madame Knight, as she was called, was unusually courageous and resourceful. The daughter of a middle-class Boston shopkeeper, she had received a good education. She married Richard Knight, a tavernkeeper and bricklayer, and they had one daughter. Madame Knight kept a writing school and copied legal documents. When her father and husband died, she took over her father’s business.
In 1704, a relative asked her to settle another relative’s estate in New York because of her familiarity with the law. She agreed, thinking she only had to travel as far as New Haven. She rode on horseback through rural Connecticut, enlisting the help of local guides or waiting for the post rider to show her the way along the Boston Post Road. In New Haven she found she had to travel on to New York to finish her business. Fortunately her relative, Thomas Trowbridge, had business in New York as well, and agreed to travel with her.
Sarah Kemble Knight kept a journal of the trip that wasn’t published until 1825. In the journal, she described the hardships of travel in early 18th century America. The night she spent in East Chester, N.Y., was especially difficult. They had hoped to reach New Rochelle, the ‘french town,’ but got lost. She described the miserable night in her journal‘:
We hoped to reach the french town and Lodg there that night, but unhappily lost our way about four miles short, and being overtaken by a great storm of wind and snow which set full in out faces about dark we were very uneasy. But meeting one Gardner who lived in a Cottage thereabout, offered us his fire to set by, having but one poor Bedd, and his wife not well, &c. or he would go to a House with us, where he thought we might be better accommodated–thither we went, But a surly old shee Creature, not worthy the name of woman, who would hardly let us go into her Door, the the weather was so stormy non but she would have turned out a Dogg. But her son whose name was gallop, who lived Just by Invited us to his house and showed me two pair of stairs, viz. one up the loft and tother up the Bedd, wch was as hard as it was high, and warmed it with a hoot stone at the feet. I lay very uncomfortably, insomuch that I was so very cold and sick I was forced to call them up to give me something to warm me. They had nothing but milk in the house, wch they Boild, and to make it better sweetened with molasses, which I not knowing or thinking oft till it was down and coming up age wch it did in so plentiful a manner that my host was soon paid doubler his portion, and that in specie. But I believe it did me service in Cleering my stomach.
The weather was much better the morning after Sarah Kemble Knight spent her ‘sick and weary night at East Chester,’ which she concluded was “a very miserable poor place.”
This story last updated in 2022.