Evelyn Ashley in America

As it is the Fourth of July we have decided to take a look at Evelyn Ashley’s tour of the United States from 1858 to 1859…

(Anthony) Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836–1907) was the fourth son of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh earl of Shaftesbury (1801–1885), and his wife, Emily (1810–1872). He was born in London on 24 July 1836 and was later educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. After his graduation in 1858, he became private secretary to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, then in his first term as prime minister. After the defeat of the government in the same year, Ashley toured the United States and Canada from June 1858 to [May] 1859 with Lord Frederick Cavendish and Lord Richard Grosvenor.

Portrait of Evelyn Ashely [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

Portrait of Evelyn Ashely [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

Among his papers, which now form part of the Broadlands archives, are a range of items relating to his travels in the United States. These include correspondence (BR61 and BR62), photographs (MB2/H1), a series of notebooks and journals (BR68), and three notebooks containing a lecture given by Ashley reflecting on his time in North America (BR60/6/3).

Black and white engraving of a scene entitled ‘Philadelphia’ from a letter from Evelyn Ashley to his sister Lady Victoria Ashley, 1 February 1859 [Broadlands Archives BR60/1/7]

Black and white engraving of a scene entitled ‘Philadelphia’ from a letter from Evelyn Ashley to his sister Lady Victoria Ashley, 1 February 1859 [Broadlands Archives BR60/1/7]

During his travels he visited many of the major American cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Washington. The above engraving of Philadelphia is from a letter written to his sister Lady Victoria Ashley, on 1 February 1859, of which he writes:

I beg leave by means of the engraving above to introduce you to the city of ‘Brotherly Love’ and if by ‘brethren’ is also meant ‘cousins’, transatlantic or others, it assuredly deserves its name for I was received into a family and lived with them a whole week, besides being most hospitably entertained everywhere… In other respects also this city deserves its name for in charitable and philanthropic institutions it is prominent. The large building with columns is the Girard College – Stephen Girard was an eccentric old French bachelor who by unremitting industry made a prodigious fortune and when dying about 30 years ago left the whole of it to found and maintain this institution where 300 orphans and boys are brought up and educated in a course of five years residence the whole entirely gratuitous and it is a noble institution and he has buried himself in the centre of the building surrounded by proofs of his not having lived and laboured in vain… [Broadlands Archives BR60/1/7]

 While he describes Baltimore as a ‘cheery bright city’, he views Washington as a ‘most curious rambling place’, writing:

Tell Papa that I presented my letter of introduction which he gave me to the President and that I dine on Friday in consequence at the White House where once a week takes place one of these large political gatherings called by the natives ‘steamboat dinners’, as the size and miscellaneous character of the guests is only parallelled by the meals on the Mississippi Steamers… [Broadlands Archives BR60/1/7]

New Orleans, 1858 [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

New Orleans, 1858 [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

During his travels in Illinois he visited Chicago and was witness to one of the famous Lincoln–Douglas debates of 1858. He describes the scene as follows:

We attended one gathering; it was remarkable. A rough platform had been raise in the middle of a wood, all around were farmers’ carts and gigs; the horses unyoked and browsing at a distance. These had come from far to hear and judge for themselves of the merits of the rival candidates. Every bough of each overhanging tree had its occupant […] I took my seat at the back of the raised structure by the side of an American friend of mine, who introduced me to one of the champions as he stepped up to the cleared space in front, leaving the procession at the head of which he had arrived. That friend was General McClellan, since that time G[eneral] in Chief of the American Army; that champion was Abraham Lincoln, then a small unknown prairie farmer, now President of the U.S. [Broadlands Archives BR60/6/3]

On the nature of the debate he observes:

The politics of America are very elaborate and it was wonderful to see how all the points were caught. But they do not cheer like we do, but howl their approbation. It was like a pack of hounds waiting for their quarry to be thrown to them to devour in the shape of a telling hit or smart repartee. [Broadlands Archives BR60/6/3]

However, his view of Lincoln is somewhat less favourable:

Tall and lank with a suit of black cloth very grey from dust, a slouched hat and large awkward feet and hands he did not come up to my idea of a “leader of men”. [Broadlands Archives BR60/6/3]

Evelyn Ashley’s guide in the States [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

Evelyn Ashley’s guide in the States [Broadlands Archives MB2/H1]

In October 1858 his party struck out towards the prairies and plains of the North West, travelling through Minnesota and modern day North Dakota. In a letter to his brother Anthony, dated 2 October [1858], Ashley writes from Crow Wing, Minnesota, an Indian trading post, which he describes as ‘the last outpost of civilization in the North West of the American possessions…’ [Broadlands Archives BR60/1/2/4]. While there he meets with the Chippewa Indians and discusses their ongoing conflict with the Sioux. He also provides a description of his party, their supplies and the intended route: travelling first to Pembina and then on to Fort Garry at the Red River settlement of Selkirk, before joining an expedition on the plains to hunt buffalo.

Of the journey to the frontier Ashley writes:

The want of good water was now and then felt, but generally we camped by the side of a well flowing stream. The novelty, the delight of life in the wilds is indescribably fascinating to those who have lived in a settled country. The independence, the excitement of when and where to camp, the new animals, the boisterous health, all these concomitants of a journey to regions yet untamed by man compensate amply for any provisions which are incident to the mode of life. The very small matter of waking up and looking full into the stars above while your companions lie unconscious around you induces in the mind of the novice a succession of most pleasurable emotions. The slight danger of Indians, slight then but from last accounts anything but slight now, increases the zest with which the preparations for each night are completed and stirs up the imagination to people the darkness with fancies. [Broadlands Archives BR60/6/3]

Despite rumours in the newspapers of Ashley’s demise at the hand of the Sioux, the party returned safely from their excursion to the frontier in December 1858. They arrived in Cincinnati in time for New Year’s Day and continued their tour of the States for several more months.

‘President Lincoln delivering his inaugural address in front of the capital at Washington’, Illustrated London News, March 1861 [quarto per A]

‘President Lincoln delivering his inaugural address in front of the capital at Washington’, Illustrated London News, March 1861 [quarto per A]

In June 1859 Palmerston was return to office with Ashley recommencing his role as the Prime Minister’s private secretary, a position he held until Palmerston’s death in 1865. During this time Palmerston oversaw the British response to the American Civil War. Around 1864, while giving a lecture on his American tour, Ashley outlined his own views on the war, which he believed would soon come to an end. Reflecting on the situation he writes:

The Americans have great qualities some inherited from us, some all their own. They are brave, energetic and warm hearted with a real desire for improvement and progress for its own sake. I thanks heaven also that, tho at the 11th hour they have vindicated their love of freedom. I feared for one moment that the sacred flame was flickering which had been handed to them by their ancestors, the great principle for which their forefathers fought and died. [Broadlands Archives BR60/6/3]

As celebrations take place across the United States, we would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Fourth of July!

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