Four days after setting out from Boston alone on horseback, Sarah Kemble Knight arrived safely in New London, Conn., despite her fears that she would perish along the way.
It was 1704, and women did not travel by themselves, let alone by horseback from Boston to New Haven and then to New York. But Sarah Kemble Knight, a 38-year-old widow, was unusually savvy, determined and courageous. She was also funny.
She was headed to New Haven to help settle the estate of a friend’s deceased husband. Time and again she faced down the dangers of the unmarked lower Boston Post Road: mountainous terrain, swamps, pitch-black forests and rushing rivers. She relied on strangers to guide her. Sometimes the post-rider who carried the mail between New York and Boston showed her the way; sometimes she relied on the son or daughter of an innkeeper. Rivers posed a recurring challenge, as few bridges crossed them in those days.
Riding at night had its own perils. On the road to ‘Narragansett Country,’ she fell far behind the post-rider and found herself alone in the pitch-black forest. She was terrified until the moon came out and lit her way. It so cheered her she wrote a poem about it.
Four days after she set out on horseback on Oct. 6, 1704, she wrote in her journal about her journey from New London to Saybrook:
Friday, Octor 6th. I got up very early, in Order to hire somebody to go with mee to New Haven, being in Great parplexity at the thoughts of proceeding alone; which my most hospitable entertainer observing, himselfe went, and soon return’d wth a young Gentleman of the town, who he could confide in to Go with mee; and about eight this morning, Wth Mr. Joshua Wheeler my new Guide, takeing leave of this worthy Gentleman, Wee advanced on towards Seabrook. The Rodes all along this way are very bad,
Incumbred wth Rocks and mountainos passages, wch were very disagreeable to my tired carcass; but we went on with a moderate pace wel` made ye Journy more pleasent. But after about eight miles Rideing, in going over a Bridge under wch the River Run very swift, my hors stumbled, and very narrowly ‘scaped falling over into the water; wch extreemly frightened mee. But through God’s Goodness I met with no harm, and mounting agen, in about half a miles Rideing, come to an ordinary, were well entertained by a woman of about seventy and vantage, but of as Sound Intellectuals as one of seventeen. Shee entertain’d Mr. Wheeler wth some passages of a Wedding awhile ago at a place hard by, the Brides-Groom being about her Age or something above, Saying his Children was dredfully against their fathers marrying, wch shee condemned them extreemly for.
From hence wee went pretty briskly forward, and arriv’d at Saybrook ferry about two of the Clock afternoon; and crossing it, wee call’d at an Inn to Bait, (foreseeing we should not have such another Opportunity till we come to Killingsworth.) Landlady come in, with her hair about her ears, and hands at full pay scratching. Shee told us shee had some mutton wch shee would broil, wch I was glad to hear; But I supose forgot to wash her scratchers; in a little time shee brot it in; but it being pickled, and my Guide said it smelt strong of head sause, we left it, and pd sixpence a piece for our Dinners, wch was only smell.
So wee putt forward with all speed, and about seven at night come to Killingsworth, and were tollerably well with Travillers fare, and Lodgd there that night.
Map: Approximate route of Sarah Kemble Knight, 1704-1705, including “Connecticut Colonie”; detail of John Senex, A new Map of the English Empire in America, 1719.