A Trip to Saratoga in Search of Health

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Before the nineteenth century, Americans traveled over long distances on urgent business or important family occasions. Almost no one traveled for pleasure. As the roads began to improve in the early nineteenth century, some affluent individuals started to travel for enjoyment, information, or health. Saratoga Springs in New York was one of the most popular early destinations for those seeking to recover their health, because the water of its mineral springs was believed to have curative powers. In 1818, Sarah Smith Emery and her husband David traveled “to the springs” hoping that they would speed Sarah’s recovery from a long bout of typhoid fever. However, the trip from Newburyport, Massachusetts to Saratoga was a long and difficult one, which they traveled in their own vehicle. Ten years later they would have been able to take the stagecoach, which could make the trip in less than half the time.

Excerpt from Sarah Anna Emery’s Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian. Sarah Anna Emery relates the stories of her mother, Sarah Smith Emery.

Transcription of Primary Source

[In September] I was taken with a slow typhoid fever, which ran forty days, by which I was left extremely feeble, and confined me to the house during the winter…As vigor did not return with spring, Dr. Robinson recommended a journey to Saratoga. I was so feeble that many of the family strongly objected to so long a jaunt; but Mr. Emery was desirous for the trip…

Preparations for the tour were commenced, though my strength was scarcely sufficient for the effort. Mr. Joe T. Pike cut and made in his best style a blue cloth riding−habit for the journey; it was trimmed with buttons and velvet in the tip−top of fashion. Aunt Bartlett’s establishment furnished a drawn green silk bonnet, with a short sarsenet* veil. This was then the genteel mode for traveling. We owned a handsome chaise*; Kate and Peacock were harnessed to it tandem; a traveling trunk, which had been made expressly to strap to the vehicle, was put in place, the box stowed with luggage, and on the morning of the second of June we turned our horses’ heads Saratogaward.

Our first stop was at my Aunt Coker’s…After dining at my father’s we rode over to the West parish in Haverhill to pass the night with my Aunt Chase…After a most pleasant visit we proceeded to Pembroke, and the following morning rode into Concord [New Hampshire] to breakfast… We…proceed[ed] to our friends in Boscawen, where we remained until the next week Wednesday…Wednesday morning we bade our Boscawen friends adieu, and proceeded on our route. The day’s ride brought us to Newport, where we passed the night; the next we slept at a country tavern high up amongst the mountains. Friday morning [the] Connecticut river was crossed. The ferryman resided on the Vermont shore. Mr. Emery having blown a summons from the tin horn suspended from a post for that purpose, after a tedious delay a rickety ferry boat was pushed off and rowed toward us. I was mortally afraid the old thing would sink in mid stream, but greatly to my relief we gained terra firma* in safety. That night was passed at Castleton, at a tavern on a large farm. Fifteen handsome cows attracted my attention as they came to the yard to be milked. My hostess, seeing that I was interested in her dairy, took me to look at her cheese, very large and fine ones…

The next morning a little girl came with the request that the lady from Newburyport would go to her grandmother’s room a few moments. Following my small guide, I entered a light, cheerful apartment leading from the kitchen, where I found a pleasant−faced old lady seated in an arm−chair beside a linen wheel…Having listened to...several anecdotes...I bade the old lady good morning, to resume my journey. In a few hours the state line into New York was crossed, and the Dutch origin of the inhabitants soon became apparent. The road, much used for drawing lumber, was deeply rutted, and owing to recent rains exceedingly muddy. During the morning, espying a red flag floating from a pole in the distance, Mr. Emery drove cautiously forward, supposing it to be a signal of danger. Approaching a small stream, we found that the bridge had been swept away and a party of men were then replacing it. Here was a dilemma! The master builder said “he could get the chaise and horses across, but how could he manage for the lady?” The string pieces, timbers a foot and a half wide, were already laid. I told him if he would take my hand I would walk across, which I did, much to the admiration of my escort and his fellow laborers, who pronounced me a brave little woman. The chaise was taken over plank put down for the purpose, and the horses having swam across, were again harnessed and we resumed our journey. Fort Ann was passed early in the afternoon…

Sunday morning we strayed from the direct road into a cart path through the woods, which after devious picturesque windings, brought us into the midst of a cluster of white, one−story cottages, surrounding a neat church. Drawing up before the first house, a woman came to the door in a short, loose gown and petticoat, patched with various colors, a white cloth cap, and bare feet. To Mr. Emery’s inquiry respecting the route she stammered, “I will call mine goot mon.” “Mine goot mon”* instantly appeared, smoking a short pipe. He expressed surprise at seeing such a turnout, complimented Mr. Emery upon his skill as a driver over the primitive path we had crossed, and directed us to follow a new rail fence across a pasture, which would return us to the main road without difficulty. After a drive of a mile it was regained, and the delay was not regretted, as by it we obtained a glimpse of what seemed a foreign country. Dinner was taken at a Dutch tavern, owned by the landlady, whose husband was a New Englander…That afternoon we passed the Hudson at Glen’s Falls, one of the most picturesque of cataracts. The bridge was just above the falls, and our horses trotted across it pretty briskly, while we were enveloped in the spray…

Ohio was then the El Dorado of promise* to emigrants. Quite an exodus was transpiring in western Vermont, and many were on the road. A short distance beyond the Hudson we overtook a cart drawn by a yoke of oxen, loaded with household goods. Upon a feather bed sat a middle−aged woman, while her lord drove the patient team, and a barefooted girl trudged behind, driving a cow. Near sunset the famed watering place [Saratoga] was reached, then a mere village. There were but two hotels—wooden buildings with stoops—though every family was in readiness to receive boarders. According to advice, we drove to the smaller of the two hotels, which was kept by a Mr. Donney, who with his wife were natives of Connecticut. This was an excellent house, and Mrs. Donney was untiring in her exertions for my comfort. Being early in the season the place was comparatively empty. There were about a dozen boarders in the house…

The morning after our arrival Mr. Emery escorted me to the springs before breakfast…The whole village presented a barren, straggling appearance. I never could swallow more than three tumblers of the water at a time, but some would imbibe double or treble that quantity…Many amusing scenes were enacted at the springs. Such wry faces, spittings and sputterings were seldom witnessed…Mr. Emery could not drink the water, but it proved beneficial to me.

An old lady, who with her daughter and son−in−law, came in a wagon from her home on a farm some twenty miles back, amused us greatly. She was suffering from weak eyes, and concluded to try the efficacy of Saratoga water as a remedy. Declaring herself too tired to go to the spring, she entered the parlor and despatched her daughter’s husband with a two−quart pitcher, which was filled and placed on the table beside her, when she vigorously commenced the task of imbibing it. Every mouthful elicited the most ludicrous grimaces, accompanied by a variety of odd ejaculations, “But she didn’t ride twenty miles for nothing, you must live and larn; she was determined to give that water a good try if it did taste like pisen.” In a couple of hours the pitcher was emptied. The water having been topped off by a hearty dinner, the dame remounted her wagon, which was stowed with an array of kegs, jugs and bottles, which had been filled to take home, assuring us as she said good−bye, “that she raly believed there was something in that water, she felt better already.”

The following Sunday morning we bade adieu to Saratoga, and commenced the homeward route. Not a specimen of the male gender was visible during the day. The Erie canal had then been just commenced, and every man and boy throughout the region, “had gone to see the canawl.” Wednesday we returned to Boscawen. Friday morning the journey was resumed, home being reached Saturday evening, after an absence of a month. I came back a new person, with health and strength completely restored.


  • chaise − a light two wheeled carriage usually drawn by one horse, used for traveling not farm work or hauling
  • El Dorado of promise − promised land; El Dorado was the legendary “city of gold” sought by explorers
  • Mine goot mon − my good man, her husband
  • sarsenet − a plain woven silk fabric
  • terra firma − Latin for solid ground

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian
Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.
Sarah Anna Emery
William H. Huse Co., Printers
Place of Publication: 
Newburyport, Mass.
Old Sturbridge Village