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The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777

Nicholas Cresswell, born in Edale, England, was 24 when he went to America in 1774. Cresswell made the journey because he believed that "a person with a small fortune may live much better and make greater improvements in America than he can possibly do in England." Sailing from Liverpool, he went to Virginia, and returned to Edale in 1777.

Cresswell had occasion to attend a slave gathering and observe what went on there. Following is a copy of what he wrote in his journal about the event. Students will be struck by the differences in the way Cresswell uses capitalization, which is different from what we do today.

. . . went to a Negro Ball. Sundays being the only days [they] have to enjoy themselves, they generally meet together and amuse themselves with dancing to the Banjo. This musical instrument (if it may be so called) is made of a Gourd something in the imitation of a Guitar, with only four strings and played with the fingers in the same manner. Some of them sing to it, which is very droll music indeed. In their songs they generally relate the usage they have received from their Masters or Mistresses in a very satirical stile and manner. Their poetry is like the Music—Rude and uncultivated. Their dancing is most violent exercise, but so irregular and grotesque. I am not able to describe it. They all appear to be exceedingly happy at these merry-makings and seem as if they had forgot or were not sensible of their miserable condition.

Nicholas Cresswell, The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777, (New York: The Daily Press, 1928).

Click here to see the entire glossary of terms relating to slaves and free blacks.

This article was written by Martha Berner, retired elementary school teacher, San Diego, CA.