Philip Stansbury was a New Yorker born in 1802, son of a merchant who had been quite prosperous before the Revolutionary War. His father’s fortunes faded following the war owing to resentment over his allegiance to England during the war itself.
In 1821, young Philip decided to venture on a walking tour of America and to write about his journey, creating the American walking tour literary genre. His colorful observations, which were very pro-American, gave readers a good look at the new country, which was both a cause celebre and a curiosity around the world.
His route took him through upstate and western New York, north through Canada and back through New England. He entered Vermont through the town of Swanton Falls, where he discovered a vibrant town of about 75 houses, school houses, taverns and stores. With a 12-foot falls on the Missisquoi River offering a source of power, the town was an industrial center. Grist mill, saw mills woolen mills, a forge, marble processing mills and fulling mills (which used water to process cloth) gave the town a vibrant economy.
What he also found was the remnants of the French and Indian War. Though the French had surrendered Canada to the English roughly 60 years earlier, there were still resident French Canadians and there was a lasting bickering between the French and English inhabitants of Swanton Falls. He wrote in his book A Pedestrian Tour of Two Thousand Three Hundred Miles, in North America:
“Swanton Falls is of considerable extent, and is situated upon the Missisquoi River, where it descends a precipice of twelve feet. The approach is through a collection of houses occupied by Frenchmen, or as they are also called here, Canadian, who, retaining their customary modes of living, and isolated from their own and other people, keep up a petty warfare with the Vermontese at the other end of the village, which sometimes occasions disastrous consequences.
“About eight or nine days before, an old Frenchman, returning home late at night stung with insults both himself and his family had sustained, perceived his son fiercely struggling with a sturdy American youth, who was likely to come off victor. Now more highly incensed, and crazed with the fumes of spirituous liquor, he ran into the house, seized a musket, and lodged the contents in the body of the unfortunate young man. Conscious of his crime, he fled directly to the lake shore, and taking a canoe, rowed into Canada, the resort, like the heaths between Cheviot and the Tweed, of all the miscreants and pursued plunderers of the United States.
“The scuffle originated from a petulant dog which attacked the stranger; and on its being repulsed, the Canadian’s son, entertaining, as his countrymen generally do, great affection for the beast, forcibly resented its injuries. As I entered the village, the young American was breathing his last, and the perpetrator was understood to have been secured in Montreal.”