Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, August 14, 2006

An Early Account of a Visit to Hunter's Island and John Hunter's Mansion in Pelham

In 1833, a man named James Stuart published a two-volume account of his three-year journey throughout North America. Included in Volume II is an account of Stuart's visits to Hunter's Island in late October, 1829. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes the text of this brief account.


While the weather continued fine [some time shortly after October 27, 1829], and when the roads were good, we took very long walks. When the roads were wet, owing to much rain having fallen, Mr. Weed insisted on our driving out in one of his open carriages free of expence; and he always sent it to church with us when it rained, or when the road was wet. One of the finest walks at New Rochelle, is from thence along the shore to Hunter's Island, situated at a distance of two or three miles, close to the shore, to which it is joined by a bridge. There is a great variety of ground in this island, which consists of about 300 acres, and is well laid out in meadow-land and wood, handsomely disposed. The house is in a beautiful situation, commanding fine views of the lawn, and of the indented shores of Long Island, and the Frith or sound dividing it from Hunter's Island. The house is a large stone building, of heavy architecture, but containing a great deal of good accommodation. The office-houses and garden are good, and in good order. In short, this is not only a fine country seat, in the English sense of the word, but a place well worth a visit, on account of its peculiar and attractive beauties. Mr. Hunter is a man of large fortune in various parts of the state. I was told that 30,000 acres of the Catskill mountains belonged to him. Joseph Buonaparte has been frequently here. Before he made his purchase on the Delaware, he was very anxious to acquire Mr. Hunter's Island; and showed his good taste, as I think, in offering a very large price for it. It is in all respects superior to the acquisition he afterwards made on the Delaware. But Mr. Hunter was quite right to decline, on any terms, to part with such a gem as this.

The second time that I had gone to this island to enjoy its scenes, we were accompanied by a friend from New York. Mr. Hunter had by this time heard of our being in the neighbourhood, and, having noticed us when going away, he followed, and begged us to return to his house and take some refreshment. It was getting late in the evening at the time, and we were therefore obliged to decline to accept his hospitality on this occasion; but we promised to take an early opportunity of paying him a visit, which we accordingly did on the 16th November. Mr. Hunter was long a member of Congress, -- seems a very gentlemanly person, of mild manners, -- very anxious that a good understanding should subsist between the people of the United States and of England, and therefore regretting much the views which Captain Hall has given of the United States. He expressed great approbation of the system of farming practised by several Scotch farmers whom he knew in various parts of this neighbourhood, especially by a Judge Somerville. Mr. Hunter has had a collection of pictures lately made for him in Italy by, I think he said, his brother, at present in that country. I saw part of those pictures, and among them some of considerable merit by Poussin, and Watteau, &c.; but it would have been far more for Mr. Hunter's interest, I suspect, to have purchased half a dozen fine pictures by the best masters. A choice collection might have no inconsiderable effect in forming the taste of the people in this part of the United States, -- far more than the acquisition of so large a number of pictures of the middling class. Chaste works of art are much wanting in the United States. Few persons comparatively are yet acquainted with them. The collections of pictures, and of works of art in the great towns, show great want of information and skill.

I have never been able to observe either here, or in other parts of the United States where we have yet been, any ground for an observation which I have heard again and again made by British writers, viz. that it is difficult to understand the language which the Americans use, and that an American does not at once understand what an Englishman says. On the contrary, I think it much more difficult, in travelling in Britain, to comprehend the various dialects that are used by the lower classes in different parts of the country. Even in the city of London, the language is very different in the city and in the west end of the town. The style of speaking is very much the same all over this country. The only difference seems to me to consist in the different signification which is given to a few words in America, such as the following: -- A lady calling on us when there was some melons on the table, we asked her to partake of it as soon as the servant brought a plate. She was in a hurry, and took up a little bit in her hand, saying, allow me to take it 'friendly,' -- meaning unceremoniously. Of such words as this there is a considerable number, but there is generally no difficulty in finding out the sense in which they are used."

Source: Stuart, James, Three Years in North America, Vol. II, pp. 19-21 (Edinburgh: Printed for Robert Cadell, Edinburgh and Whittaker and Co. London 1833).

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