1834 Shirreff

Shirreff, of Scotland, was on an tour to see what agriculture was like in America. His tour only touches on cities as a way station to the countryside. If you want to know about agriculture and agricultural practices in 1834 he provided wonderful descriptions. Nobody else I read met an elephant on the road.

My friend C --- sailed from Detroit for Buffalo on the 12th September, and next day I commenced a tour into the Western United States, from which I returned again to Detroit, and spent a few days in Canada.

With a view of keeping a connected account of Canada, I shall take up my proceedings on the 18th October, on the morning of which I crossed from Detroit to the British side of the river, on which there is situated a good many houses of different descriptions, with the view of obtaining a horse to proceed to Chatham on the Thames, a distance of fifty miles. Being refused by three different people who kept horses for hire, on what appeared to me frivolous pretences, and thinking they might be afraid of me leaving the horse, an escaping to the States, I offered to deposit the value of the horse with the owner before setting out on the journey. To this arrangement one individual out of the three consented, but demanded for the use of his horse the same hire as if he himself and a pair of horses had accompanied me, as he could not employ himself and the other in my absence. Under these circumstances I returned to Detroit, where I readily obtained a horse, which I entered at the customhouse before setting out on my journey, and again on my return, or rather paid the fees at once. I am not sure if it is absolutely necessary to enter a horse at the customhouse on crossing the Detroit river; and at the time suspected it was as much with the view of obtaining the fees, as complying with the law, the owner of the horse requested me to apply at the customhouse with which he was connected. ...

I left the inn after breakfast, and reached Detroit in the afternoon, with my horse nearly done up. By the way I met an elephant walking on the road towards Chatham, covered with canvass, and attended by two men on horseback. A waggon led the cavalcade, in which I was told there was a lion and some other animals. The exhibiting of animals must yet be an indifferent trade in Canada, when population is so thin and poor.

I met many old-country Yorkshiremen at Detroit. The ostler who received my horse was from that country; a flash fellow, strutting the streets with a scarlet frock coat, collar and pocketlids of black velvet, with top boots and buckskins, was a Yorkshire tailor; and a Yorkshireman was entertaining many listeners in the bar-room of the hotel while dinner was preparing for me, having arrived after the regular hour. This character was dressed in his smock-coat, with tight lacing boots and leggans, as if from his native country a minute before, and was telling cock-and-bull stories about his shooting feats with Lord Liverpool and other great men, as their companion. His language, dress, and appearance formed a striking contrast to the grave, thoughtful-looking Americans, who did not make a remark or alter an expression of countenance indicating their opinion of Yorky; yet they seemed to be eyeing him with a keenness, as if measuring the strength and depth of his character.

After partaking of dinner, I recrossed the river to the Canadian side. . . .

About a mile and a half above Sandwich is the ferry at Detroit, at which there are fifteen or twenty houses on the Canadian side of the river, and several brick buildings were being erected at the time of my visit. This place will soon eclipse Sandwich, and may rival Chatham. Detroit is the great market of Western Canada, and the ferry possesses advantages, in proximity and access during winter, above every other situation. Since leaving Montreal, I had seen no place bearing the marks of age and wealth, and the town of Detroit, situated on the magnificent river of the same name, ranks next to that city in appearance; and in recalling old-country associations, forms a striking contrast to the poverty and lifelessness of Amherstburgh and Sandwich, on the opposite side of the river. Lofty spires and large brick buildings are seen in the distance; steam-vessels, and engine-stalks, employed in manufactures, on a near approach. A fine large steam-boat leaves Detroit daily for Buffalo, and smaller ones for less distant places on the north and south. Now and then a steam-boat plys to Chicago and other places on Lake Michigan, and in course of a year or two it is probable there will be a daily line of boats. There are three streets running parallel to the river, and many at right angles. The houses in the principal streets are of brick. The population exceeds 3000 souls, the greater part of whom are of French descent.


See Also:

Mingay, G. E. A Scottish Farmer in North America: Patrick Shirreff's Tour of 1833. History Today [Great Britain] 1963 13 (10): 700 -710.