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A L E T T E R,
WILLIAM PENN, Proprietor and Governor of Pennsilvania in America,
The Committee of the Free SOCIETY OF TRADERS
of that Province, residing in London ;
A general Description of the said Province, ils Soil, Air,
Water, Seasons, and Produce, both natural and artificial, and the good increase thereof; with an Account of the Natives, or Aborigines.
Published in the Year 1683.
My kind Friends : The kindness of yours by the ship Thomas and Anne, doth much oblige me; for by it I perceive the interest you take in my health and reputation, and the prosperous beginning of this province, which you are so kind as to think may much depend upon them. In return of which, I have sent you a long letter, and yet containing as brief an account of myself
, and the affairs of this province, as I have been able to make.
In the first place, I take notice of the news you sent me, whereby I find some persons have had so little wit, and so much malice, as to report my death; and, to mend the matter, dead a jesuit too. One might have reasonably hoped, that this distance, like death, would have been a protection against spite and envy; and indeed, absence being a kind of death, ought alike to secure the name of the absent as the dead; because they are equally unable, as such, to defend themselves : but they that intend mischief, do not use to follow good rules to effect it. However, to the great sorrow and shame of the inventors, I am still alive, and no jesuit, and, I thank God, very well. And without injustice to the authors of this, I'may venture to infer, that they that wil. fully and falsly report, would have been glad it had been so. But I perceive many frivolous and idle stories have been invented since my departure from England, which, per. haps, at this time, are no more alive than I am dead.
But if I have been unkindly used by some I left behind me, I found love and respect enough where I came; an universal kind welcome, every sort in their way. For here are some of several nations, as well as divers judgments : nor were the natives wanting in this, for their kings, queens, and great men, both visited and presented me; to whom 1 made suitable returns, &c.
For the Province, the general condition of it takze as
followeth : 1. The country itself, in its soil, air, water, seasons, and produce, both natural and artificial, is not to be despised. The land containeth divers sorts of earth, as sand, yellow and black, poor and rich : also gravel, both loamy and dusty; and in some places a fast fat earth, like to our best vales in England, especially by inland brooks and rivers; God in his wisdoni having ordered it so, that the advantages of the country are divided, the back-lands being in general three to one richer, than those that lie by navigable waters. We have much of another soil, and that is a black hasel-mould, upon a stony or rocky bottom.
II. The air is sweet and clear, the heavens serene, like the south of France, rarely overcast; and as the woods come, by numbers of people, to be more cleared, that itself will refine.
III. The waters are generally good; for the rivers and brooks have mostly gravel and stony bottoms, and in number hardly credible. We have also mineral waters, that operate in the same manner with Barnet and North-Hall, not two miles from Philadelphia.
IV. For the seasons of the year, having by God's goodness now lived over the coldest and hottest that the oldest liver in the province can remember, I can say something to an English understanding.
First, Of the fall, for then I came in : I found it from the 24th of October, to the beginning of December, as we have it usually in England in September, or rather like an English mild spring. From December, to the beginning of the month called March, we had sharp frosty weather; not foul, thick, black weather, as our north-east winds bring with them in England; but a sky as clear as in summer, and the air dry, cold, piercing and hungry; yet I remember not that I wore more clothes than in England. The reason of this cold is given, from the great lakes that are fed by the fountains of Canada. The winter before was -mild, scarce any ice at all ; wbile this, for a few days, froze up our great river Delaware. From that month, to the month called June, we enjoyed a sweet spring, no gusts, but gentle showers, and a fine sky. Yet this I observe, that the winds here, as there, are most inconstant spring and fall, upon that turn of nature, than in summer or winter. From thence, to this present month, which endeth the summer, (commonly speaking) we have had extraordinary heats, yet mitigated sometimes by cool breezes. The wind that ruleth the summer season, is the south-west; but spring, fall, and winter, it is rare to want the wholesome north-western seven days together: and whatever mists, fogs, or vapours, foul the heavens by easterly or southerly winds, in two hours time are blown away; the one is followed by the other : a remedy that seems to have a peculiar providence in it to the inbabitants; the multitude of trees, yet standing, being liable to retain mists and vapours, and yet not one quarter so thick as I expected.
V. The natural produce of the country, of vegetables, is trees, fruits, plants, flowers. The trees of most note, are the black walnut, cedar, cypress, chesnut, poplar, gumwood, hickery, sassafras, ash, beech, and oak of divers sorts, as red, white, and black ; Spanish chesnut and swamp, the most durable of all : of all which, there is plenty for the use of man.
The fruits that I find in the woods, are the white and black mulberry, chesnut, walnut, pluns, strawberries, cranberries, hurtleberries, and grapes of divers sorts. The great red grape (now ripe) called by ignorance, the fox grape,' because of the relish it hath with unskilful palates) is in itself an extraordinary grape, and by art, doubtless, may be cultivated to an excellent wine, if not so sweet, yet little inferior to Frontignac, as it is not much unlike in taste, ruddiness set aside ; which in such things, as well as mankind, differs the case much : there is a white kind of musca. del, and a little black grape, like the cluster-grape of England, not yet so ripe as the other; but, they tell me, when ripe, sweeter, and that they only want skilful vinerons to make good use of them : I intend to venture on it with my Frenchman this season, who shows some knowledge in those things. Here are also peaches very good, and in great quantities, not an Indian plantation without them, but whether naturally here at first, I know not : however, one may have them by bushels for little; they make a pleasant drink, and I think not inferior to any peach you have in VOL. II.
England, except the true Newington. It is disputable with me, whether it be best to fall to fining the fruits of the country, especially the grape, by the care and skill of art, or send for foreign stems and sets, already good and approved. It seems most reasonable to believe, that not only a thing groweth best, where it naturally grows, but will hardly be equalled by another species of the same kind, that doth not naturally grow there. But to solve the doubt, I intend, if God give me life, to try both, and hope the consequence will be, as good wine as any European countries, of the same latitude, do yield.
VI. The artificial produce of the country, is wheat, barley,* vats, rye, peas, beans, squashes, pumpkins, watermelons, musk-melons, and all herbs and roots that our gardens in England usually bring forth.
VII. Of living creatures; fish, fowl, and the beasts of the woods, here are divers sorts, some for food and profit, and some for profit only: for food, as well as profit, the elk, as big as a small ox; deer bigger than ours; beaver, racoon, rabbits, squirrels, and some eat young bear, and commend it. Of fowl of the land, there is the turkey, (forty and fifty pounds weight) which is very great; pheasants, heath-birds, pigeons, and partridges in abundance. Of the water, the swan, goose (white and grey), brands, duck, teal, also the snipe and curlew, and that in great numbers : but the duck and teal excel, nor so good have I ever ate in other countries. Of fish, there is the sturgeon, herring, rock, shad, catshead, sheepshead, eel, smelt, perch, roach; and in inland rivers, trout, some say salmon, above the falls, of shell-fish, we have oysters, crabs, cockles, conchs, and muscles; some oysters six inches long; and one sort of cockle as large as the stewing-oysters; they make a rich broth. The creatures for profit only, by skin or fur, and that are natural to these parts, are the wild cat, panther, otter, wolf, fox, fisher, minx, musk-rat : and of the water, the whale for oil, of which we have good store ; and two companies of whalers, whose boats are built, will soon begin their work, which hath the appearance of a considerable improvement. To say nothing of our reasonable hopes of good cod in the bay.
VIII. We have no want of horses, and some are very good, and shapely enough; two ships have been freighted to Barbadoes with horses and pipe-staves, since my coming in.
• Note, That Edward Jones, son-in-law to Thomas Wynn, living on the Schuylkiil, had with rdinary cultiv for one grain of English barley, seventy stalks and ears of barley: and it is common in this country, from one bushel sown, to reap forty, often fifty, and sometimes sixty: and three pecks of wheat sows an acre here.