A Visit to Saratoga Springs and the Battle-Ground in 1789.


"There is a charm in footing slow

Across a silent plain,

Where patriot battle has been fought,

Where glory had the gain."



THE following interesting narrative of a visit to the High Rock Spring in 1789, a little more than twenty years after Sir William Johnson’s visit, was taken down from the lips of the visitor, Mrs. Dwight, by her son, the late Hon. Theodore Dwight. The account of her visit to the Saratoga Battle-Ground confirms the statements of Mrs. General Riedesel, whose interesting letters have been recently translated and given to the public. Nor can this relation, being among the earliest ones that have thus far come under our observation of a visit to Saratoga, fail to be of peculiar interest. Before, however, proceeding with the immediate narrative, it will be well, perhaps, to give a sketch of Mr. Dwight, who, as one of the oldest and most respectable habitués of Saratoga, may justly claim a passing notice.

Theodore Dwight, who came to his death, a few years since, through injuries received from the New Jersey Railroad Company, was a nephew of President Dwight of Yale College, and a son of the distinguished Hartford editor who was the immediate predecessor of the late Colonel William L. Stone {NOTE: Col. Stone was the father of William L. Stone, the author of this work – BC.} in the editorship of the old Hartford Mirror . Mr. Dwight, at the time of his death, was the Secretary of the American Ethnological Society – a society of which he and the late Albert Gallatin were among the founders. He was also the author of a number of entertaining works of travel, among which are his Tours in Italy , the Northern Traveller , and Summer Tours . He was likewise for a long time editor of Dwight’s American Magazine .

In figure, as many of the older residents of Saratoga will remember, Mr. Dwight was of medium height, and thin, his head somewhat drooping; his brow lofty rather than broad, his cheeks pale, his lips inclining, even in repose, to a smile. Heart-seated benevolence and constitutional serenity of mind were the qualities most conspicuous in his face. His eye was bright; and while his physical frame indicated somewhat his age, yet his mental energies and feelings had all the freshness of youth. "Although seventy years of age," he remarked to us a few days before his decease, "yet I feel as if I were not thirty." He had also, at all times, an air of perfect simplicity, and his presence was constantly invested with a charm which the most dignified old age, with all the sanctity and veneration that rightfully belongs to it, often fails to awaken.

In the death of Mr. Dwight the present generation lost another of those links that bind them to the days of the Fathers . In Mr. Dwight’s presence, this was felt to be peculiarly the case; and no one could spend an hour with him in pleasant, social converse respecting the early days of the Republic without feeling the charm of those days come back on him with irresistible force. For many years it had been his custom to travel over all the prominent spots in this country that have been "dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue," taking down in his memorandum-book the early historical incidents of the Revolution from the lips of the actors themselves, and with his pencil sketching all points and places of interest. He it was that in 1820 brought Saratoga Springs into extensive notice by the first real guide-book of the United States that had ever been published. In this way he had accumulated nearly a hundred of these MS. journals, filled with the most interesting reminiscences of our early history, which, but for this custom, would have been irretrievably lost.

Having thus endeavored to pay a proper tribute to the memory of one of the earliest visitors to Saratoga, I proceed with Mrs. Dwight’s narrative. Two things will be observed, however, in her story – first, that the HIGH ROCK was at that time called the ROUND ROCK; and, secondly, that those who assert that the water never flowed out of the top of the rock subsequent to the Revolution are in error.


Narrative of Mrs. Dwight .


"Our party originally consisted of five, three gentlemen and two ladies, who travelled with two gigs (then called chairs) and a saddle-horse. From Hartford, where I resided, and where the party was made up, our party proceeded westward, and some idea of the fashions may be formed from the dress of one of the ladies, who wore a black beaver with a sugar-loaf crown eight or nine inches high, called a steeple crown, wound round with black and red tassels, being less showy than the gold cord sometimes worn. Habits having gone out of fashion, the dress was of London smoke broadcloth, buttoned down in front, and at the side with twenty-four gilt buttons, about the size of a half-dollar. Large waists and stays were in fashion, and the shoes were extremely sharp-toed and high-heeled, ornamented with large paste buckles on the instep. At a tavern where we spent the first night, we ladies were obliged to surround ourselves with a barrier of bean-leaves to keep off the bugs which infested the place; but this afforded only temporary benefit, as the vermin soon crept to the ceiling and fell upon us from above. The green woods, through which the road lay for many miles, were very rough, and in many places could not be travelled without danger. We scarcely met anybody on this part of the way, except an old man with a long, white beard, who looked like a palmer on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; and his wife – who rode a horse on a saddle with a projecting pommel, and a single chain for a bridle – was as ugly as one of Shakspere’s old crones. The few habitations to be seen were so uninviting that we generally took our meals in some pleasant spot under the trees, the recollection of which is pleasant even to this day. After three days we reached the Hudson, where a gentleman who had come to attend a ball joined our party, sending a message home for clothes; and, although he did not receive them, and had only his dancing dress, persisted in proceeding with us. He mounted his horse, therefore, in a suit of white broadcloth, with powdered hair, small-clothes, and white silk stockings. While at Hudson it was determined to go directly to Saratoga, the efficacy of the water being much celebrated, as well as the curious round and hollow rock from which it flowed. Hudson was a flourishing village, although it had been settled but about seven years, by people from Nantucket and Rhode Island.

"In the afternoon, the prospect of a storm made us hasten our gait, and we tarried over-night at an old Dutch house, which, notwithstanding the uncouth aspect of a fire-place without jambs, was a welcome retreat from the weather. Early in the morning we proceeded, and reached Albany at breakfast-time. The old Dutch church, with its pointed roof and great window of painted glass, stood at that time at the foot of State Street.

"At Troy, where we took tea, there were only a dozen houses, the place having been settled only three years before by people from Killingworth, Saybrook, and other towns in Connecticut. Lansingburgh was an older and more considerable town, containing more than a hundred houses, and inhabited principally by emigrants from the same State. The tavern was a very good one, but the inhabitants were so hospitable to our party that the time was spent almost entirely at private houses. After a delay of two nights and a day we proceeded on our journey. Crossing the Hudson to Waterford by a ferry, we went back as far as the Mohawk to see the Cohoes Falls, of which we had a fine view from the northern bank, riding along the brow of the precipice in going and returning.

"On the road to the Mohawk we met a party of some of the most respectable citizens of Albany – among whom was the Patroon Van Rensselaer – in a common country wagon without a cover, with straw under their feet and with wooden chairs for seats. Two gentlemen on horseback, in their company, finding that we were going to Saratoga, offered to accompany us to the scene of the Battle of Behmus Heights, and thither we proceeded after visiting Cohoes.

"We dined in the house which was General Burgoyne’s headquarters in 1777; and one of the females who attended us was there during the battle. {A mistake which Lossing and Neilson" also fall into. Burgoyne’s headquarters was on the high ground, the present (1875) farm of Mr. Wilbur. See Stone’s translation of the Life and Military Journals of Major-General Riedesel .

The house mentioned by Mrs. Dwight, known, formerly, as the "Taylor House," and since as the "Smith House," stood until 1864. The site is now (1875) marked by a few of the foundation-stones and a small poplar-tree. In this connection, see Silliman’s Tour for his reflections on the battle while staying over-night in this house.} She informed us of many particulars, and showed us a spot upon the floor which was stained with the blood of General Frazer, who, she added, when brought in mortally wounded from the field, was laid upon the very table at which we were seated. During the funeral, she stated, the American troops, who had got into the rear of the British on the opposite side of the river, and had been firing over the house, on discovering the cause of the procession up the steep hill, where Frazer had requested to be interred, not only ceased firing, but played a dead march in compliment to his memory.

"On leaving the battle-ground for Saratoga Lake, our party was reduced to four by the loss of four gentlemen, two of whom, however, intended to overtake us, if possible, before night. The country we had to pass over, after leaving the Hudson, was very uninviting, and almost uninhabited. The road lay through a forest, and was formed of logs. [This was undoubtedly the road cut through from Schuylerville, by General Schuyler, in 1783, mention of which is made in the first chapter.] {The old Schuylerville Road did not, at this period, go up the hill by the "Thorn Place," as now, but, following the creek farther than at present, went direct to the "Slocum Place" (Lockro’s), thence to the "Force Place," a few rods west of the "Potter Place," where, within the memory of those now living, a tavern stood built of logs and hewn timber. Squire Force (father of the late Mrs. Terhune of Northumberland) kept the tavern at this time, and was a prominent man in the neighborhood. Old residents yet remember traces of the "Old Road."} We travelled till late in the afternoon before we reached a house, to which we had been directed for our lodging. It stood in a solitary place in an opening of the dark forest, and had so comfortless an appearance that, without approaching to take a near view, or alighting, we determined to proceed farther. [Probably the site of the ‘Old Potter Tavern,’ now Birch’s.]

"It was a wretched log-hut with only one door, which had never been on hinges; was to be lifted by every person coming in or going out, and had no fastening except a few nails. We halted at the sight of it; and one of the gentlemen rode up to take a nearer view. Standing up in his saddle, he peeped into a square hole which served as a window, but had no glass or shutter, and found the floor bare earth, with scarcely any furniture to be seen. Nothing remained for us but to proceed and make our way to the Spring as fast as possible, for we knew of no human habitation nearer; and when or how we might hope to reach there we could not tell. We were for a time extremely dispirited, until the gentleman who had joined us at Hudson came forward (still in his ball dress) and endeavored to encourage us, saying that if we would but trust to his guidance he doubted not that he should be able to conduct us safely and speedily to a more comfortable habitation.

"This raised our hopes, and we followed him cheerfully, though the day was now at its close, and the forest seemed thicker and darker than before. When the last light at length had disappeared, and we found ourselves in the deepest gloom, our guide confessed that he had encouraged us to keep us from despair, and as to any knowledge of the road, he had never been there before in his life. He, however, dismounted, tied his horse behind our chair, and taking the bridle of our own began to lead him on, groping his way as well as he was able, stepping into one mud-hole after another without regard to his silk stockings, sometimes up to his beauish knee-buckles. It seemed as if we were going for a long time down a steep hill into some bottomless pit [probably one of the large sand-knolls south of the ‘Potter Place’], and every few minutes one wheel would pass over a log or stump so high as almost to overset us. At length we insisted on stopping, and spent a quarter of an hour in anxiety and doubt, being unable to determine what we had better do. We had heard the voices of animals in the woods, which some of us feared might attack us. At length, one of the gentlemen declared that a sound which we had heard for some time at a distance could not be the howl of a wolf, for which we had taken it, but must be the barking of a wolf-dog, and indicated that the habitation of his master was not very far off, proposing, at the same time, to go in search of it. The gentlemen were unwilling to leave us alone, but we insisted that they might need each other’s assistance, and made them go together. But it was a long time before we heard from them again. How long they were gone I do not know, for we soon became impatient and alarmed, but at length we discovered a light among the trees, which, shining upon the trunks and boughs, made a beautiful vista, like an endless Gothic arch, and showed a thousand tall columns on both sides. We then discovered them returning accompanied by two men, who led us off the road, and stuck up lighted pine-knots to guide our friends. Under their guidance we found our way to a log-house, containing but one room, and destitute of everything except hospitable inhabitants, so that, although we were admitted, we found we should be obliged to make such arrangements as we could for sleeping. There was no lamp or candle – light being supplied by pine-knots stuck in the crevices of the walls. The conversation of the family proved that wild beasts were very numerous and bold in the surrounding forest, and that they sometimes, when hungry, approached the house; and there was a large aperture left at the bottom of the door to admit the dogs when in danger from the wolves. The floor extended on one side only to within the distance of several feet of the wall – a space being left to kindle the fire upon the bare ground; and when we wanted tea made, the mistress of the house could produce only one kettle, in which water was boiled for washing and every other purpose. She had heard of tea-kettles, but had never seen one, and was impressed with an idea of the usefulness of such a utensil. When we had spread the table out of our own stores, and divided tea-cups and saucers, a porringer, etc., among us, we seated ourselves partly on the bedstead and partly on a kind of arm-chair which was formed by an old round table when raised perpendicularly, and thus partook of our meal.

"We were, however, suddenly alarmed by cries or screams at a little distance in the forest, which some of us supposed to be those of wolves or bears. Our host, after listening for a while, declared that they were the cries of some travellers who had lost their way, and proceeded with the gentlemen to search for them. They found, sure enough, our two expected friends, who had followed the path lighted by the torches, but unfortunately had wandered from it a little, and soon found before them a wall too high to reach from their stirrups. They attempted to retreat, but found it also behind them; and though they rode round and round, feeling for a place of exit, could find none, and then began to call for assistance, hoping that some dwelling might be within the reach of their voices. Being happily relieved and restored to us, the adventures of the evening served as a subject of pleasantry. They had unconsciously entered a pound or pen for bears, by a very narrow entrance, which in the darkness they could not find again, and thus their embarrassment and predicament were fully explained. We slept that night on our luggage and saddles; but our hospitable host refused all reward in the morning.

"On reaching the Springs at Saratoga, we found but three habitations, and those but poor log-houses {These log-cabins – one of which in winter served the purpose of a blacksmith’s shop and another a school-house – were owned and in part occupied by Alexander Bryan, the grandfather of the well-known lawyer, John A. Bryan, of New York City.} on the high bank of the meadow, where is now the eastern side of the street on the ridge near the Round Rock. This was the only Spring then visited. The log-cabins were almost full of strangers, among whom were several ladies and gentlemen from Albany; and we found it almost impossible to obtain accommodations even for two nights. We found the Round Rock at that time entire; the large tree, which two or three years after fell and cracked a fissure in it, being then standing near, and the water, which occasionally overflowed and increased the rock by its deposits, keeping the general level five or six inches below the top. The neighborhood of the Spring, like all the country we had seen for many miles, was a perfect forest; and there were no habitations to be seen in all the vicinity, except the three log-houses which afforded us little more than a shelter. We arrived on Saturday, and left there on Monday morning for Ball’s Town [Ballston], which we reached after a short ride. But there the accommodations for visitors were still less inviting. The springs, of which there were several, were entirely unprotected, on the borders of a woody swamp and near a brook in which we saw bubbles rising in several places, which indicated other springs. There was a small hovel into which some of the water was conducted for bathing, but, as there was nothing like comfort to be found, we proceeded homeward, after spending a short time at the place."


Such is a brief account of a journey made to Saratoga Springs in the latter part of the last century. Yet, how difficult it is for the fair pilgrims who yearly come to this shrine to realize that the stupendous changes which have since occurred can have taken place within the memory of those still among us! And yet, where do we look in the United States without finding evidence of similar, if not equal, alterations, often effected in a shorter period?



Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 2/8/00.

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