Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

BASIL HALL

BASIL HALL
THE TRAVELER


Sir Basil Hall made it his mission to travel throughout North America.  He sought out to explore and chronicle the former British colonies known as the United States of America.  Sir Basil made his way through the forests and streams of Middle Georgia during his journeys in America in 1827 and 1828.

Basil Hall was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on the last day of 1788.  At the age of thirteen, Basil joined the Royal Navy.  While still in his teens, he was commissioned a Lieutenant.  In nearly all of his travels, Basil kept a journal of his daily activities.  Possessing an intense attitude for science, Hall gave details accounts of his observation of nature, as well as the cultures of the lands he visited.  The son of eminent geologist Sir James Hall of Dunglass, young Basil logged copious notes for future scientific papers.  Still in his twenties as a naval captain, Hall was one of the first officers of the British navy to visit Korea, writing of his travels to that far
eastern country as well as those in Japan and China.  In the 1820s, Captain Hall traveled along the western coasts of Mexico, Chili and Peru.     

Just after the Ides of March in 1828, Sir Hall arrived in the ancient city of Savannah.  He commented that the houses of Savannah lacked the charming piazzas and verandas of  her sister city of Charleston.  Though he admired the tasteful way in which the city had been laid out in squares, he lamented that her wide streets prevented the necessary amount of shade of the oak trees along the sidewalks.  Hall thought Savannah's designers would have been well advised to have copied the designs of the French planners of the city of New Orleans.   Hall traveled south along the coast to St. Simons and Darien, where his fellow countrymen had settled nearly a century before.  After several days, Hall and his guides traveled north toward Riceborough and Augusta.  

Traveling west from Yam Grandy Creek on the 24th day of March, Sir Basil's entourage reached the banks of the Oconee River, which he described as "a dirty stream."  He took dinner in a home in eastern Laurens County.  Their meal was somewhat forgettable.  Hall wrote, "When dinner was ready, we were favored with the company of the mistress of the house, who, however, neither ate, nor spoke, nor gave us one look of welcome; but sat at the top of the table, steadily watching all we did. The formality of this superintendence was sometimes not a little oppressive."

Upon his arrival in Dublin on the morning of March 26, 1828,  Sir Basil immediately saw the tell tale signs of a withering town which he deemed to be "the result of mushroom growth of rapid and unthinking speculation."  Hall wrote in his journal, "The inhabitants of some of these juvenile but decaying towns explained to me, that much of the evil which I saw arose from the unfortunate description of their laboring population."  Hall noticed that whites worked, as they expressed to him, with a clog around their feet, like convicts.  "We sir," said a worker, "we are the slaves, not the blacks; we cannot make them work as men ought to work, neither can we get rid of them, nor supply their place with better subjects; they hang about us, and grow up, increasing and multiplying our curses.  They are the only people who do not care how things go on.  You see them always happy, and they have no wants."

Basil Hall concluded  that as his caravan moved further from the coast, the condition of the Negroes he observed improved dramatically.  "We often saw them working in the same field with white men; and I more than once saw a black man seated in the same room with a free person - a thing never dreamt of elsewhere.  They appeared to be better fed, and better dressed also, than the Negroes of the coast; and, from all I could hear, were fully better treated in all respects, and no son generally kept in ignorance.  The beneficial effects of this difference in the condition of the slaves, even to the masters, I was rejoiced to learn, was generally acknowledged."

The  journey continued in a westwardly direction.  As the sun was straight overhead  Hall reported the scenery change.  He noticed that they were leaving the seemingly endless pine barren.  Instead of the dreary forests, the woods were covered with "cheerful oak openings."   The fields were covered with Indian corn and upland cotton.  "The surface was very prettily diversified by irregular high grounds, and wooded glens, decked with peach trees, all in full blossom.  The dogwood, also, which bears a snow-white flower, was in great beauty, together with our old friend, the honey suckle, growing as a tall independent shrub, and giving much interest to the underwood part of the scenery.  

They entered Twiggs County after a long day's journey of more than thirty miles; the voyagers stopped at a house, which they had been told, was open to travelers.  No one appeared to be home. They found a young Negro boy, who found a cook, who with a little bribery, found the keys and opened the mansion.  Their hopes of a quiet meal vanquished when the daughter of the house sat quietly staring at them, as if they were a pack of wild beasts feeding.  Hall wrote, "the show, I presume, was too good to be lost, for the cook, shining from the kitchen, together with her black daughter, and her black son, and one or two more half-naked Negroes, came into the room, and continued moving about during all the time of dinner on one pretense or other, but, in reality, merely to see how the strange people ate their food."  

Sir Basil Hall arrived in Macon on March 27th.   Macon was just in its infancy.  Just as he had written about Dublin, Hall's comments about Macon were less than flattering.  After a brief stay, he proceeded on his westerly course toward Alabama.  In 1829, Sir Basil Hall published his accounts of his travels in America under the title of Travels in North America in the Years of 1827 and 1828. The work was blasted by American critics for his seemingly distressing views of American society.    

During his thirties, Hall traveled through southern Europe.  He compiled a nine volume work which he titled The Fragments of Voyages and Travels.    Basil Hall completed his last work Patchwork, a collection of sketches,  in 1841.  

Insanity marred the otherwise remarkable life of Sir Basil Hall.   For the last two years of his distinguished life, Basil Hall lived in torment.  He died on September 11, 1844 in Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth.     

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