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1837 Marryat

Captain Frederick Marryat [1792-1848] was a widely read English novelist whose speciality was sea stories. In his Forward to Diary in America Jules Zanger notes: "Of all the literary lions who have made their progress through the drawing-rooms and backwoods of America...perhaps the most tactless and blundering was Captain Frederick Marryat." Marryat was in Detroit July 28, and August 12, 1837.

Captain Frederick MarryatThe French never have succeeded as colonists, and their want of success can only be ascribed to an amiable want of energy. When located at any spot, if a Frenchman has enough, he seeks no more; and, instead of working as the Englishman or the American does, he will pass his time away, and spend his little surplus in social amusements. The town of Detroit was founded as early as the city of Philadelphia, but, favourably as it is situated, it never until lately rose to any thing more than, properly speaking, a large village. There is not a paved street in it, or even a foot-path for a pedestrian. In winter, in rainy weather you are up to your knees in mud; in summer, invisible from dust; indeed, until lately, there was not a practicable road for thirty miles round Detroit. The muddy and impassable state of the streets has given rise to a very curious system of making morning or evening calls. A small one-horse cat is backed against the door of a house; the ladies dressed get into it, and seat themselves upon a buffalo-skin at the bottom of it; they are carried to the residence of the party upon whom they wish to call; the cart is backed in again, and they are landed dry and clean. An old inhabitant of Detroit complained to me that people were now getting so proud, that many of them refused to visit in that way any longer. But owing to the rise of the other towns on the lake, the great increase of commerce, and Michigan having been admitted as a State in the Union, with Detroit as its capital, a large Eastern population has now poured into it, and Detroit will soon present an appearance very different from its present, and become one of the most flourishing cities of America. Within these last six years it has increased its population from two to ten thousand. The climate here is the very best in America, although the State itself is unhealthy. The land near the town is fertile. A railroad from Detroit already extends thirty miles through the State; and now that the work has commenced, it will be carried on with the usual energy of the Americans.

Left Detroit in the Michigan steam-vessel for Mackinaw. . . .

Detroit. There are some pleasant people in this town, and the society is quite equal to that of the eastern cities. From the constant change and transition which take place in this country, go where you will you are sure to fall in with a certain portion of intelligent, educated people. This is not the case in the remoter portions of the Old Continent, where every thing is settled, and generation succeeds generation, as in some obscure country town. But in America, where all is new, and the country has to be peopled from the other parts, there is a proportion of intelligence and education transplanted with the inferior classes, either from the Eastern States or from the Old World, in whatever quarter you may happen to find yourself.

Left my friends in Detroit with regret, and returned to Buffalo.

From: A DIARY IN AMERICA, WITH REMARKS ON ITS INSTITUTIONS by Capt. Marryat. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1839. 2 volumes. 1: 91-92; 105.

See Also:

Clark, Thomas D. The Great Visitation to American Democracy. Mississippi Valley Historical Review 1957 44 (1): 3 -28.


man, S. W. Captain Marryat Surveys the American Maritime Scene. American Neptune 1963 23 (1): 56 -61.