The Blackwater Chronicle — Chapter Two

Giles Snyder
9 min readJun 20, 2022

If you’ve just stumbled upon this newsletter, let me catch you up.

I’m serializing Philip Pendleton Kennedy’s book The Blackwater Chronicle. It’s a narrative of the 1851 fishing trip Kennedy took alongside David Hunter Strother and three other friends to the high mountain Blackwater country of what is now West Virginia.

It’s a must read for anyone interested in the life of DHS. He may not have written TBC, but he illustrated the book and appears as one of the major characters, Signor Andante Strozzi, an artist and amateur musician.

You can find a little more background on the book and the first chapter here. Succeeding chapters will be sent to your inbox weekly — on Mondays.

Chapter Two finds our little group of heroes hitting the road, making their way toward immortality from their starting point in what is now West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

“The stout earl of Northumberland A vow to God did make, His pleasure on the Scottish ground Three summer days to take . “

THE stout Earl Percy, here alluded to, did take his pleasure on the Scottish ground — and how, all the world knows that has read the fine old ballad of “Chevy Chase.” How the stout gentlemen, and also those who were none of the stoutest, who took their pleasure on the Blackwater, came off, hearken to the following chronicle, and you shall learn.

It was toward the first of June last past, that a number of gentlemen, residing near each other, in a pleasant part of that rich valley vaunted to the world as the garden of Virginia, and called by the people of the mountain-ranges back of it the land of Egypt, from the quantity of grain which it produces, determined to make a pleasure expedition into the Allegany country, having it chiefly in view to harry its streams for trout. Accordingly, on one fine morning — it was on the last day of the universally-lauded month of May — — we gathered together, prepared as best we knew how for the expedition.

It was at the pleasant country-dwelling of Mr. Peter Botecote, one of our number, that we made our rendezvous:

“And Wat of Harden came thither amain,
And thither came John of Thirlestane, And thither came William of Deloraine”-

and all the rest of us-men, dogs, and horses. Here, after some animated parley, and an early dinner, it was resolved that we should forthwith take our departure, notwithstanding the strawberries that were ripe in the garden, and the cream that was abounding in the dairy, and what too was far more delaying, the fascination of our lady-hostess. Pleasant enough this bower of Botecote’s; but hope smiled its enchantments upon us far away, from the very midst of the wild Alleganies, and our hearts were too much agog and all a-tiptoe with its illusions, to think of staying. The delirium of the mountains was upon us; and so, amid the neighing and pawing of horses, the speeding to and fro of servants, the dancing eyes of children, and the wife’s half sorrowful smile as she committed her adventurous husband to the destiny of a two or three weeks’ separation, we wheeled into order, and took up the line of march. “Hey!”-”Get away!”-”Ho!”-”Ha, you dog!”- whips flourishing, dogs barking — all the commotion that a country-gentleman’s establishment could well get up; every good spirit attending, to say nothing of the high ones: thus we left the Botecote portals, and -

“All the blue bonnets are over the border!”

We drove to Winchester, a town when George II. was king here in Virginia : not one of your recent cities, grown up to a hundred thousand people within the memory of men alive, but an old, time honored town, of some five thousand souls, with remembrances about it; familiar to the footsteps of Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, when he lived at Greenway court (some ten miles off), and held power as lieutenant of the county of Frederick, hunted the boar, wrote for “The Spectator,” and set twenty covers daily at his table: famous, too, in our provincial history, as the military headquarters of Washington during the war of ’65 against the French for the possession of the western country. Here, to this old border stronghold of the Dominion, where the dismantled ramparts of Fort Loudon still look down upon the town, we drove over night, a matter of some twenty miles, ready to make a more sustained movement the next morning on Winston some eighty-seven miles distant, as already stated, on the Northwestern road.

The expedition travelled in three light carriages, such as are commonly called wagons, all tight and sound, freshly washed, oiled, and rubbed, and glittering in the sun “like images :” each wagon drawn by a vigorous trotter in fine condition, and able on a good road easily to make such time as would have satisfied Dr. Johnson, even though his philosophy of happiness should have required a greater speed than ten miles an hour. We were five in all : the sixth didn’t go, that gentleman having failed us by the way, owing to some anxieties he entertained about trusting himself so high up on the continent. But no matter; we were yet five. There was

Mr. Peter Botecote, generally called Butcut by his familiars — sometimes But;

Mr. Guy Philips, the Master of the priory of St. Philips: hence familiarly the master, sometimes the Prior, and occasionally “the county Guy;”

Triptolemus Todd, Esq., our Murad the Unlucky, and sometimes Trip;

Doctor Adolphus Blandy, physician to the expedition: Galen he was called for short;

And the Signor Andante Strozzi, our artist, also amateur musician.

Mr. Perry Winkle, jocosely called by his friends, in one syllable, Perrywinkle, is the name of the gentleman who didn’t go — which we mention here that he may not altogether escape immortality — and would also give his likeness, were it not for a well-founded apprehension that it might too much divert the attention of the reader from our narrative.

The array, it will be perceived from the naming, is somewhat imposing, and gives promise of something to be done and said out of the common. Truly, this record of the performance need not fall short of the promise, if the ambitious chronicler can succeed, by any happy art, in anything like a history that shall be a just impress — an impress of the body and soul — of the expedition. Thucydides hit it, in his narrative of The Sailing for Sicily, also in the Landing of Alcibiades at Athens ; Livy, in that part of his twenty-first book which we’ve got, and no doubt in the remainder of it, if we could only find it; Segur, in the retreat from Moscow; Macaulay, in the landing of the prince of Orange, and the march on London ; Voltaire’s Charles the Twelfth, too, ought not to be passed over in this enumeration; nor yet Sallust’s little narrative of Catiline. Let us add another to the illustrious roll, by writing the Blackwater Narrative up to the immortal standard.

Deserted, then, by Mr. Perrywinkle, we were yet five in number; all good men and true, and of unusually diversified character and appearance: none of us to be called old in years, but old enough in the ups and downs, and ins and outs of this world, having made “many hair-breadth ‘scapes by flood and field,” by town and country, by man and woman also, in our time- even the more youthful Triptolemus, who has killed in his time several good pointers in shooting partridges, and some few years ago shot himself in the right knee — which will account for his lameness in these pages. Without mincing matters too much, we will speak it out freely, that we were all men of some mark and likelihood, as men go; and although the world might not judge us (which it is our opinion it would make a great mistake in not doing) as “fit to stand by Cæsar in a tented field,” there can be no doubt that it would hold us all, if it had the honor of our acquaintance, as fit to sit by that “foremost man of all the world,” at a dinner or a supper, at any rate.

We will take the liberty of saying, however, with great modesty, and begging pardon of everybody, and especially of the old Romans, that if “the mightiest Julius” had been along with us upon this expedition, he would have found the passage into the country of the Blackwater a far more fatiguing enterprise than any of his incursions into the countries of the Allobrogi, or Nervii, or Acquitanii, or Boii, or any other of those outsiders, against whom the elegant and captivating greatest Roman marched.

It will not be amiss here to mention, that we travelled upon our inroad very much after the fashion in which Cæsar went upon his. Grave History has not thought it beneath her dignity to record how the great master of the Roman world went upon his depredations; and it is one of her condescensions for which we are very much obliged to her. It is therefore, we know, among other things of this elegant and all-accomplished subverter of the republic and founder of the fourth and last universal empire, that he rode in a carriage upon his forays. This carriage was called a rheda, “a sort of gig or curricle,” says a recent very distinguished authority, Mr. De Quincey, “a four-wheeled carriage, and adapted to the conveyance of about half a ton.” This, the reader will perceive, is in and about our modern wagon; and we have no doubt, if the matter were fairly investigated, it would be ascertained that the rheda of the Roman is the prototype of the wagon of the American : it’s a four-runner at any rate. Julius used this carriage, we are informed, because it enabled him to take with him the amount of equipment that was essential to his elegant and patrician habits: his various mantles — for instance, the one he overcame the Nervii in, which he preserved and wore many years after in the city, and was the same in which the envious Casca made the rent, that Shakspere and Casca between them have made so immortal; his bandboxes, in which he kept the wreaths he wore around his head, as our ladies do now on festival occasions — the ivy, the laurel, the oak wreaths, and what others I know not; his bathing apparatus, brushes, soaps, &c.; his unguents and perfumes, with the various ancient Roman balms for the cure of baldness. The rheda was adjusted to the convenient transportation of these essentials of an elegant Roman gentleman of that day: and so the wagon to the wants of the daintiest gentleman of this.

It will be perceived, therefore, that our expedition has many points of resemblance to those so famous of the splendid Roman. It was depredatory in the first place. It combined, in the second, about an equal commingling of the luxurious and the rough and-tumble. Thirdly: considering that it took the field about nineteen centuries later than Cæsar’s, there is a very remarkable resemblance between the vehicles used in both. Fourthly: in one single engagement, fought on the Blackwater, and which lasted only about two hours, no less than four hundred and ninety some odd of the enemy were slain, and what is more, fully a hundred of them eaten next thing to alive: and this, we take it, will compare with anything done in Gaul. Lastly : the wild tribes that infested the Alleganies, fled before our arms; many a flying army of deer owed their lives to the mercy of the invaders; the badgers and the otters — a feeble people, yet sagacious and wary we laid ourselves out to take by policy, that is entrap them, as Cæsar did the like people of Gaul; and had not the fierce panthers, the rude bears, the prowling wolves, and the other warlike inhabitants of these untamed forests, betaken themselves to their fastnesses, and there remained with a savage fortitude that defied hunger all the time we were out, we should have vanquished them with as great slaughter as befell the Boii, and Nervii, the Helvetians, the Acquitanii, Vercingetorix, Orgetorix, Dumnorix, Benorix, and all the other Orixes, at the hands of Julius-roasted and devoured some of them too, next thing to alive.

But enough. The reader is, no doubt, by this, time, impressed with a due sense of the dignity of our undertaking. Let us not then any longer dally with our narrative, but hasten on to the field of our r enown.

Originally published at https://gilessnyder.substack.com on June 20, 2022.

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Giles Snyder

NPR Newscaster and Porte Crayon newsletter writer.