Saturday, April 11, 2009


My second-hand copy of Journal of a Lady of Quality: Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina and Portugal, in the years 1774 to 1776 is the third printing in 1923 by Yale University Press, and scotch-taped in the front of the book is a letter signed by Andrew Keough, Yale University Librarian, attesting to the fact that the Journal is a genuine document and not a literary fake. If you can beg or borrow a copy you will find it a delight, and a fascinating perspective on the time.

The manuscript from which the text is taken is known as Egerton, 2423 in the British Museum. It is a quarto volume labeled Travels in the West Indies and South Carolina, 1774, ’75.

The writer was Janet Schaw, a lady born in Lureston, a suburb of Edinburgh. She was from an old Scots family and was a third cousin once removed of Sir Walter Scott.
Editor Evangeline Walker Andrews in collaboration with Charles McLean Andrews, a Farnham professor of American History at Yale, has included extensive research and the footnotes and appendices add considerably to this fascinating account.

Janet Schaw was a well born Scotswoman, loyal to her country and her king. In her tastes and preferences an aristocrat, and in religious, social and political views a typical member of the educated class inn Scotland in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

She was possibly thirty-five or forty years of age at the time of her voyage. Accompanying her were her brother Alexander, and three children. Fanny, age eighteen, John Jr. and William Gordon Rutherford, who were returning to their home in North Carolina. Also Mrs. Mary Miller, a maid referred to as an abigail, and Robert who was Alexander’s East Indian servant.

I plan to post from time to time the following as a sampler of her accounts:
*. Hot weather clothing
*. The glamorous and not so glamorous aspects of a ball in North Carolina.
*. A patriotic treatment of tea.
*. The ideal man
* Candle making and laundry

Hot weather clothing:
The heat daily increases, as do the Mosquetoes, the bugs and the ticks. The curtains of our beds are now supplied by Mosquetoes’ nets. Fanny has got a neat or rather elegant dressing room, the settees of which are canopied over with green gauze, and on these we lie panting for breath and air, dressed in a single muslin petticoat and short gown. Here I know your delicacy will be shocked, and I hear you ask if our young man bear us company in this sequestered apartment. Oh yes, my friend, he does, but he is too much oppressed himself to observe us.