The Autumn-Town Feast, 1791

By Ferdinand-M. Bayard


(Taken from “Travels of a Frenchman in Maryland and Virginia with a description of Philadelphia and Baltimore in 1791, or travels in the Interior of the United States, in Bath, Winchester, in the Valley of the Shenandoah etc., during the summer of 1791” by Ferdinand-M. Bayard, PP. 143-4. – ED).



“Among the pleasure parties which bring together a large number of farmers in the seasons of fine weather, I shall not forget the one at which members of both sexes and of all ages are gathered.  The families of a district agree to meet in a woods in the neighborhood: the site is good if there is a spring whose clear and cold water can contain the punch, beer, rum and wine. The old people, women, young people and children set out on horseback, in carriages and in waggons and proceed merrily to the meeting place.


“The one who is giving the feast has borrowed horses to convey the food, the drink, the table service, the cooking utensils and the boards with which must be fashioned the tables and the benches.


“That deserted place is filled with people in an instant. The horses graze freely around the banqueting hall whose ceiling is formed by the bushy tops of beautiful trees.


“Not far from there, Negroes can be seen digging a pit: others are felling trees to fill it, and soon sheets of flame will rise from that furnace. When it no longer contains anything but live coals, there will be placed thereon a half of a beef, a veal and some suckling pigs, attached firmly together on the trunk of a young oak which serves as a spit.


“The women go by turns to the pit of live coals to baste the meats, then return to the spring to put the bottles in order. The young ladies squeeze the lemons in large porcelain bowls. The young men help the Negro boys place the plates on the long tables made of boards placed on upright stakes.


“The old people sit in a group on the grass and their grandchildren play around them. The married women assign themselves to all the places where the young ladies are occupied, and encourage them to work.


“When everything is prepared for the dinner, the women take the right side, and the men the left. The old people of both sexes face each other.


“The children under the care of their nurses, have the grass as a substitute for a table and benches. Everyone eats with a good appetite and with gaiety. The men, under the eyes of their wives and watched by their children, leave the table without drinking to intoxication.


“The Negroes show signs of the feast; meat grease gives a gloss to their ebony cheeks, and a few glasses of rum make their eyes sparkle.


“Lovers meet again after the feast and take a walk into the woods to talk about their love.”