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1836 Kirkland

Caroline Kirkland (1801-1864) and her husband ran a school in Detroit and then moved to what is now Pinckney Michigan where her husband was a developer. Her book, A New Home, Who'll Follow, is one of the early literary descriptions of the state and of settlers. It is still in print and considered a classic.

We reached the city in due time, and found our hotel crowded to suffocation. The western fever was then at its height, and each day brought its thousands to detroit. Every tavern of every calibre was as well filled as ours, and happy he who could find a bed anywhere. Fifty cents was the price of six feet by two of the bar-room floor, and these choice lodgings were sometimes disposed of by the first served at "thirty per cent, advance." The country inns were thronged in proportion; and your horse's hay cost you nowhere less than a dollar per diem; while, throughout the whole territory west of Detroit, the only masticable articles set before the thousands of hungry travellers were salt ham and bread, for which you had the satisfaction of paying like a prince.

Our breakfast-table at ---- House was surrounded by as motley a crew as Mirth every owned. The standing ornament of the upper end was a very large light-blue crape turban, which turban surmounted the prolonged face of a lady, somewhere (it is not polite to be exact in these matters) between forty and fifty, and also partly concealed a pair of ears from which depended ear-rings whose pendants rested not far from the Apalachian collar-bones of the dignified wearer. This lady, turban and ear-rings, were always in their places before the eggs came, and remained long after the last one disappeared - at least, I judge so; for I, who always take my chance (rash enough in this case) for a breakfast, never saw her seat vacant. Indeed, as I never met her anywhere else, I might have supposed her a fixture, the production of some American Maelzel, but that the rolling of her very light grey eyes was quite different from that of the dark Persian orbs of the chess-player; while an occasional word came to my ear with a sharp sound, even more startling than the "Echec" of that celebrated personage.

Another very conspicuous member of our usual party was a lady in mourning, whom I afterwards discovered to be a great beauty. I had indeed observed that she wore a great many curls, and that these curls were carefully arranged and bound with a ribbon, so as to make the most of a pair of dark eyes; that nothing that could be called throat was ever enviously shaded, even at breakfast; and that a pair of delicately white hands, loaded with rings of all hues, despite the mourning garments, were never out of sight. But I did not learn that she was a beauty till I met her long after at a brilliant evening party in rouge and blonde, and with difficulty recognized my neighbor of the breakfast-table.

But if I should attempt to set down half my recollections of that piquant and changeful scene, I should never get on with my story: so, begging pardon, I will pass over the young ladies, who were never hungry, and their papas, who could never be satisfied, and their brothers, who could not get anything fit to eat; the crimson-faced celibataire, who always ate exactly three eggs, and three slices of bread and butter, and drank three cups of tea, and then left the table, performing the whole in perfect silence; the lady, who played good mamma, and would ever have her two babies at the table with her, and feed them on sausage and strong coffee, without a mouthful of bread; and the shoals of speculators, fat and lean, rich and poor, young and old, dashing and shabby, who always looked very hungry, but could not take time to eat. I saw them only at breakfast, for the rest of the day we usually spent elsewhere.

While we were awaiting the arrival of our chattels from the east, Mr. Clavers accepted an invitation to accompany a party of these breakfast-table companions last mentioned, men of substance literally and figuratively, who were going to make a tour with a view to the purchase of one or two cities. Ponies, knapsacks, brandy-bottles, pocket-compasses, blankets, lucifers, great India rubber boots, coats of the same, and caps with immense umbrella capes to them: these things are but a beginning of the outfit necessary for such an expedition. It was intended to "camp out" as often as might be desirable, to think nothing of fasting a day or so, and to defy the ague and all its works by the aid of the potent exorcisor contained in the bottle above mentioned. One of the company, an idler from ----, was almost as keen in his pursuit of game as of money, and he carried a double-barrelled fowling-piece, with all things thereunto appertaining, in addition to his other equipments, giving a finishing touch to the grotesque cortege.. . .

From: A NEW HOME OR, LIFE IN THE CLEARINGS by Mrs. Caroline Matilda Kirkland. NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, [1953]: 45 - 49.



Keetley, Dawn. Unsettling the Frontier: Gender and Racial Identity in Caroline Kirkland's A New Home, Who'll Follow? And Forest Life. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 1995 12 (1): 17 -17.

Larson, Kelli. Kirkland's Myth of the American Eve: Re-Visioning the Frontier Experience. Midwestern Miscellany 1992 20: 9-14.

Osborne, William S. Caroline M. Kirkland. NY: Twayne, 1972.