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The Journal relates that there sailed from the Firth of Forth on October 25, 1774, a small craft, the bound for the West Indies and North Carolina, the chief passengers of which were a young Scotsman and his sister, the author of the Journal, who from other sources we discover were Alexander and Janet Schaw of Edinburgh.Travelling with them were Fanny, an attractive girl of eighteen or nineteen, John, Jr., or Jack, a lad of eleven, and William Gordon, the nine-year-old “Billie” of the Journal, connections of the Schaws, and children of John Rutherfurd, a prominent resident of the colony of North Carolina. Mary Miller, Miss Schaw's maid, whom she called her Abigail, and who is a comic figure in the story; and the faithful, efficient Robert, Mr.Scholarly research has been applied to the work of this delightful “Lady of Quality,” but she holds her ground firmly and ably, as with ease and fluency she discusses manners and customs, climate and scenery, sugar-culture and farming, friends,—their houses, amusements, recreations, and sorrows,—and, fortunately for posterity, happenings and human beings as she saw both in the West Indies and North Carolina just before the American War for Independence.Rarely is she caught napping, and with her enthusiasm and humour, her ability to make us see and feel with her, she carries us to a triumphant end.Little did she suspect that she was to be caught in the net of the future historian and labelled as a valuable specimen of those Scots who figured in the colonization movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.In the lowlands of Scotland, amid the hills and valleys and along the rivers and firths from the Grampians to the Tweed and the Clyde, were scores of Scottish families of old-time stock whose attention was attracted early to the islands and mainland of the New World.
Nowhere in our manuscript does the name of the author occur, and, for the most part, the names of persons referred to are in blank; so that only after much following of clues and searching in the records of England, Scotland, Ireland, the West Indies, and America have the editors been able to trace the careers of those who play the leading parts in the story. Our belief is that both are copies of the same manuscript, which, in turn, may have been the original; for these letters, written to a dear friend, probably a woman back in Scotland, by this same “Jen.
Nowhere, we think, does our author display so well her own sterling qualities of character and charming personality, as in this, the opening chapter of the Journal.
From the start she captures our interest for herself and for her companions of what she picturesquely calls her “little wooden kingdom,” and with a real sense of climax, sustains it at high pitch, until she and they, after a stormy passage of seven weeks, from which they but barely escape with their lives, sail safely into the beautiful harbour of St. For months, off and on, regardless of storms, severe cold, intense heat, or the distractions of travel, Miss Schaw wrote her journal-letters, describing, as the case might be, the tropical and almost Oriental luxury of the West Indies, the exciting and interesting events of our pre-revolutionary history, or the details of her amusing experiences in Setubal and Lisbon, never forgetting her promise to the fortunate and adored friend in Scotland who was her inspiration.
With the blanks filled out as far as possible, with but few corrections in spelling and capitalization, and with here and there a change in the diverting, but somewhat erratic, punctuation, the Journal, in the form now presented, is the same as that of the British Museum manuscript. Schaw” while on her eventful journey to the West Indies and North Carolina, were probably copied many times for circulation among relatives and friends.
But of more importance than these slight changes in form is the fact that two other copies of the Journal are known to exist, one of which, the Vetch manuscript, owned by a descendant of the Schaws and recently bequeathed to a descendant of the Rutherfurds,—the two families that play the chief rôles in the Journal,—we have not been allowed to examine, even for purposes of textual comparison. Vere Langford Oliver, the distinguished author of a history of Antigua, was purchased by him a few years ago in the belief that it was unique; and although this is not the case, it is of particular value in that it gives the name of the author and is dedicated to Alexander Schaw, “the Brother, Friend, and fellow traveller of the Author, his truly affect. Thus, from 1904, when the editors of the present volume came upon the British Museum manuscript, these other manuscripts have been appearing, first Colonel Vetch's and later Mr.Reluctantly we close the volume, for we would know all her story; but she leaves us abruptly in Portugal, with never a hint as to how she got back to Scotland or how and where she spent the later years of her life: and we ask ourselves, Who was this “affect. Schaw,” where did she come from and whither did she go, this vivacious, adventurous, aristocratic lady, this devoted sister, who willingly faced great discomfort and hardships in order to accompany one dear brother to his new home in the West Indies and to visit another in the far distant British colony of North Carolina?