Introduction to David "Pears" Smith Hiddle's Travels to America (1860-1861)

By Brannock, Jennifer | Southern Quarterly, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Introduction to David "Pears" Smith Hiddle's Travels to America (1860-1861)


Brannock, Jennifer, Southern Quarterly


Included in the Special Collections of the University of Southern Mississippi's Libraries is ajournai written by Scotsman David "Pears" Smith Hiddle describing his travels in the antebellum South right before the Civil War. Journeying to Mississippi in December 1860, Hiddle describes in lively detail how he made his way from Scotland to New York, and then on to Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, and, finally, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where he remained until 1862. His journal was intended to be a private record of his experiences and thoughts as he traveled the United States. Previously unpublished, the journal was donated to the university in 2009 and transcribed by one of Hiddle's last living relatives, his great nephew Paul Hiddle. The Southern Quarterly thanks the Hiddle family for their generosity in giving the journal to the McCain Library and Archives. In addition, we are grateful to Paul Hiddle for transcribing the journal. The previous page shows a typical page from Hiddle's journal written in his graceful, yet ornate, hand. Travels to America has immense value for students of Southern history, mid- 19th-century modes of travel, slavery and race relations, entertainments, and education.

Above all, Hiddle was a keen observer and objective commentator. Foremost among his entries are remarks about the mechanics of travel in America in the 1860s. Riding steamboats and trains to arrive in the South, Hiddle spared none of the small details, whether recording the comforts or discomforts of railroad and steamboat travel. Reflecting on differences between American and British trains, Hiddle immerses his journal in local color. He found American trains to be crowded, far less elegant than those in Britain, and to exude sounds and smells that captured a traveler's attention. On board a steamboat that took him downriver to New Orleans, Hiddle concentrated on the people who made such a long trip possible - from the ship captain to the African American attendants. His journal is rich in details about accommodations, food, companionship, and engineering. For instance, he recorded that on an upper level a barber shop by day was transformed to a floating gambling casino by night. Writing with an engineer's eye for detail, Hiddle commented on the special skills necessary to navigate a river only 1 00 feet wide without hitting a shoal or embankment and on the levee system at work in New Orleans.

Whether on the river or on land, though, Southern women received special attention from Hiddle. He recalled having breakfast with "grass widows," women whose husbands abandoned them but who supported them nonetheless for three years. Landing in New Orleans during the middle of Mardi Gras, Hiddle wrote about how wealthy women dressed for bachelors, and the women cheered Alabama's secession from the United States from the ladies' salon with the force of the "sterner sex." He was also fascinated with American cuisine, whether he ate oysters in Ocean Springs, dined at the grand fêtes for Mardi Gras, or enjoyed the bill of fare on board the steamboat. But one of the more uncomfortable moments he documents concentrates on his dinner on the ship to Selma where there was no conversation. …

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