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About the Book

"Extravagant claims should not be made, but it is indeed rare that accounts like these survive time and distance. I have tried to present them as they stand in the hope that they will appeal not only to descendants of the authors, but also to students of the period and, indeed, to any reader with a wish to be put in mind of things as they were nearly two centuries ago. Because the Constables of Horley chose to record what they did they are no longer historically anonymous, nor are the many people whom they encountered during their travels and trials in the early republic."—J. Brian Jenkins, Citizen Daniel (1775–1835) and the Call of America


(click image)
Horley: St. Bartholomew's Church (13th c.), where Daniel and William
are buried, and the Six Bells Inn (15th c.) at center.
Photograph 1998 by Reg Watts

Citizen Daniel (1775–1835) and the Call of America
Limited first edition. Clothbound; 480 pp.; 18 b/w ill.; 
bibliography;
index. ISBN 0-9667018-0-1

For ordering information, please click here.


This extraordinary book centers primarily on the travels in America of a shopkeeper, Daniel Constable, of Horley, England. His first journey began in 1806, when he left home with his brother William and their dog, Frank, and sailed into New York Harbor after an eventful 60-day crossing. Daniel wanted to see firsthand the country he considered the ultimate fulfillment of a political ideal. William, a talented artist and engineer who later became a daguerreotypist of note in Brighton, sketched of much of what they saw in the ensuing two years.

They traveled (usually on foot, often on rivers, always with Frank) more than 7,000 miles, through 14 of the 17 states in existence at that time as well as through territories and wilderness areas. They shared a friendship with the Old Philosopher, Thomas Paine; walked their way to Niagara along the Passaic, Hudson, and Genessee Rivers (William's are among the earliest extant pictures of the Falls); traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans; and even unwittingly participated in the Aaron Burr conspiracy. They give remarkably detailed accounts about every aspect of American life—whom they met, where they stayed, what was being sold in market at what price, how people worked, worshiped, and dressed, and countless contemporary events. Correspondence from friends and family, which they saved, kept them apprised of news at home.

They returned home in 1808 and little is known of them until 1819, when their sister Mildred and her husband, John Purse, emigrated to America, settling first in Indiana. Mildred wrote frequently about the difficulties of frontier life, for which she was totally unprepared, and her correspondence is particularly poignant.

Daniel returned to the States in 1820. Alone, he traveled far and wrote often, carefully describing the progress he saw. He relocated the Purses to Pittsford, New York, and eventually settled there himself. In 1830 he made the decision to seek American citizenship. His writings show how he came to think and act as he did in the revolutionary ferment of his time and why he admired the United States as "the best country for the millions."

The interest these family members had in the details of life, as well as their underlying caring and affection for one another, is compelling, more so because their communications spanned great distances at a time when travel demanded such fortitude, patience, and sheer physical effort—not to mention knowledge of things about which most of us now know so little.

Brian Jenkins has masterfully compiled this material, some of which chanced to come his way, much of which took years to accumulate. The appeal of this volume is enhanced by his absorbing narrative, which provides the historical context necessary for a full appreciation. The Constable letters can be read and re-read with increasing fascination.

 


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