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Achenwall's Observations on North America   By: (1719-1772)

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Reprinted from the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1903



[Franklin paid a short visit to Germany in the summer of 1766, and at Göttingen met a number of the professors of the University. One of them, Professor Achenwall, published in the "Hanoverian Magazine," in the volume beginning 1767, p. 258, etc., "Some Observations on North America and the British Colonies from verbal information of Dr. Franklin," and this article was reprinted in Frankfort and Leipsic in 1769. There is a copy of this reprint in the Loganian Library, from which the following translation was made. There is a copy of the Magazine in the Astor Library, New York. It is of interest as showing the impression made by Franklin on his German auditors, although it is clear that Achenwall did not report quite correctly. J. G. R.]

The most complete work on the British Colonies in North America is the Summary historical and political by William Douglas, of which the second improved edition was published in London, 1760, in two 8vo. volumes. That doctor collected material for many years and was in America, and gives valuable intelligence, especially of the Colonies he visited, but his book has no system. Prof. Kalm has much that is good in his travels in North America, and often cites Franklin, but did not altogether understand what he said, and Franklin never saw Kalm's book until he came across a German translation in Hanover.

The east coast of North America, where the British Colonies lie, is generally colder than the countries on the same stretch in Europe, nor has it been observed that owing to the decay of forests and cultivation the climate is becoming noticeably milder. Almost the whole eastern coast of North America is sandy, many little islands along the coast are sand banks, thrown up gradually by the sea. The coast of Florida is sandy and unfruitful, but the interior is good land. The native Indians consist of many small nations, each with its own language, quite different from that of their neighbors. They are all of one figure as if descended from a common ancestor, all brown in color, with straight black hair, eyes all of one color, and all beardless, and they call Europeans the bearded nation. They live in the wilds, except a few that have been gathered in villages and are partly civilized. They live on plants and by hunting, without farms or cattle, chickens, horses etc.

Before the arrival of Europeans, their important plants were Turkish corn or maize; a sort of beans; tobacco. Maize and Tobacco are found only in America, and were brought from the new world to the old. Maize and Beans they cook and use bear fat in place of butter as dressing, but no salt. Smoking tobacco is an old custom, especially at their national gatherings. These three plants they look on as a special gift of heaven. According to an old tradition, an American found a handsome young woman sitting on a hill, who in acknowledging a deep bow, said she came from above and at the end of a year would come again to the same hill. She was there again at that time, on her right hand Maize, on her left Beans, and on her lap Tobacco, and these three she left as a present for the American. Before Europeans brought them, there were no other grain or vegetables known than maize and beans, but all like the newcomers have increased wonderfully... Continue reading book >>

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