In 1821, young Philip Stansbury decided to venture on a walking tour of America and to write about his journey, creating the American walking tour literary genre.
His colorful, pro-American observations, gave readers a good look at the new country, then a cause celebre and a curiosity around the world.
Philip Stansbury Takes a Walk
Philip Stansbury, a New Yorker born in 1802, was the son of a merchant who had prospered before the Revolutionary War. His father’s fortunes faded following the war owing to resentment over his allegiance to England during the war.
Philip’s route took him through upstate and western New York, north through Canada and back through New England. He entered Vermont through Swanton Falls, where he discovered a vibrant town. It had about 75 houses, schoolhouses, taverns and stores. With a 12-foot falls on the Missisquoi River offering a source of power, industry grew up in the town. A vibrant economy emerged from a grist mill, saw mills, woolen mills, a forge, marble processing mills and fulling mills.
He also found the remnants of the French and Indian War. Though the French had surrendered Canada to the English roughly 60 years earlier, French Canadians still lived there. The French and English inhabitants of Swanton Falls still bickered. He described it in his book, A Pedestrian Tour of Two Thousand Three Hundred Miles, in North America.
He described the approach to the town through a collection of houses occupied by Frenchmen, called Canadian. Retaining their customary way of living, wrote Stansbury, they “keep up a petty warfare with the Vermontese at the other end of the village, which sometimes occasions disastrous consequences.
“About eight or nine days before, an old Frenchman, returning home late at night stung with insults both himself and his family had sustained, perceived his son fiercely struggling with a sturdy American youth,” he wrote. The American would likely win. The Canadian, “highly incensed, and crazed with the fumes of spirituous liquor,” ran into the house and seized a musket. He then shot the young man.
“Conscious of his crime, he fled directly to the lake shore, and taking a canoe, rowed into Canada, the resort, like the heaths between Cheviot and the Tweed, of all the miscreants and pursued plunderers of the United States.
“The scuffle originated from a petulant dog which attacked the stranger; and on its being repulsed, the Canadian’s son, entertaining, as his countrymen generally do, great affection for the beast, forcibly resented its injuries. As I entered the village, the young American was breathing his last, and the perpetrator was understood to have been secured in Montreal.”
This story last updated in 2022.