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John Ridgway's Visit to America

John RIn 1822 John Ridgway, potter of the Cauldon Place Works, in Shelton, Staffordshire, took a business trip to America.  He left home on September 9, 1822 and it was four long months before he would return. The diary he kept on his trip speaks of his devotion to his beloved wife Sophie, his concern for his family and business in Staffordshire, and his devout Methodist beliefs. 

After thirty-four days at sea he arrived in Boston, where his primary contact was Mr. Wilby, probably Francis Wilby, auctioneer who in 1821 had opened a "New Fancy Shop" and advertised the sale of china and earthenware from Messrs. John & William Ridgway.  Fascinated by his new surroundings as he traveled through New England, New York, Phialdephia, Washington and Baltimore, John Ridgway recorded little in the way of business but detailed the buildings and the American culture he observed throughout each day, ending every diary entry with thoughts of his wife and friends at home and a prayer.

On Thursday October 24, in Boston, he wrote,  Rose with a slight cold, the effect of walking and heat on the previous day; and I blame myself this morning for strolling round the town for nearly 3 hours – in selecting the best objects for sketching to be applied to a set of American scenery. The series was called Beauties of America and featured many cities that Ridgway visited on his trip.  Below are some of his diary entries that comment on the views he used to create this remarkable series of blue printed patterns that document America in the early 1820s.

Sunday October 27, 1822. Boston
After Bkft I walked to Mr Wilby and accompanied him & family to St.Paul’s Church where Dr. Jarvis gave us a most judicious sermon from St. Paul’s letters “Now is the accepted time &c”.  The Dr. although strictly evangelical I remarked was extremely guarded in his discourse, (which was written). On enquiry I learned the Congregation was composed of people of mixed sentiments, and that neither too much of Gospel truth nor Christian Practice are palatable amongst them. The necessity of keeping the Interest together and the hope of gradually improving its tone, leads the Dr. to this judicious course, a course rendered the more judicious from the great laxity of religious opinion which prevails & especially amongst respectable society in Boston.

    St Paul's Church

St. Paul's Church, Boston, detail from platter,
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

cambridge collegeCambridge College,  detail from tureen lid,
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

Tuesday  October  29, 1822 Boston to Albany
Tuesday Morn.  Two o’clock a.m. entered the Coach for Albany, an unseasonable hour for commencing a journey – and an unfavourable time for seeing the Country – the night was beautifully clear & moonlight, & the nature of the vehicle precluded the possibility of sleeping; I was induced to take this route viz (Albany, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington) – with a view to taking New York in my return.  We pass thro. Cambridge, a sweet Village about 3 Miles from Boston containing a large & handsome College for students of Divinity; it was endowed by Persons of the Baptist persuasion & designed for the Use of the Baptists, but I learnt it was most improperly perverted to purposes exclusively Unitarian.


Tuesday November  5, 1822. Philadelphia
From the prison we went to the Hospital, a fine building with two handsome wings and spacious grounds and gardens all secured to the Institution.  The centre building contained two wards of 18 each for men and the same for women – no other ventilation than thro them and the cooking places at the end of each ward – the whole building heated with stoves. There is a ward for lying in women of poor but reputable character; a ward for firm cases … and a range of rooms for lunatics …  These pay from 3 to 15 dollars a week; Many also of the patients pay and a small subscription compleates the means for the annual expenditure.  I obtained an yearly statement, but strange to say there are no Code of Laws; - a good library, physician and medical rooms at entrance and an operating room  underneath the observatory. The building does not appear to be made the best of – a great deal of room is lost; 6 Doctors attend in rotation – but so far as I could see, the thing wants the inspection of regular Benevolence; the people here are too much alive to getting money and these public institutions are neglected.

Penn Hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia,
detail from a bowl,
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

Masonic Hall, Philadelphia, detail from a plate
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

 Tuesday November  5, 1822  Philadelphia continued
Our last call was at the Masonic Hall – also in Chesnut? Street.  A handsome Gothic building an exterior of American marble, but a modern interior. The grand room beautiful and the ante rooms complete for the various purposes of dress, retirement &c.  Here are held Concerts &c as well as Masonic activities – we passed the new theatre yet unfinished and so returned to dinner.


Saturday, November 9,  1822. Washington
 thence to the Capitol in which I was admitted without difficulty. This is a splendid building, built of stone, whited and looking both cleanly and ornamental.  I had a view of both Houses of Congress and exceedingly handsome and well designed they are – very superior to our Houses either Upper or Lower.  I ought to say the Capitol forms a centre with a grand cupola and two handsome wings.  In the Wings are the Senate and Representative Halls with all the Private rooms for the officers of State and the servants of the house.  In the [centre] is the Saloon or Circular Hall for National Inaugurations &c – also a capacious library, together with a variety of elegant minor rooms, galleries &c – the whole upon a magnificent scale; 5 million dollars have already been expended on this colossus of a building and it is yet unfinished; In view in the Retiring Chamber are two pictures, 1 of the Declaration of Independence and the other of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army, both of which are well done.  This building is in imitation of the Roman Capitol and certainly it does credit to the taste and spirit of the natives. The Capitol, like a bold fortress commands and overlooks the place; should the Hill on which the city stands be built over, it will look well altogether; but is will be ages before this is likely to be the case, if it should be the case at all.


The Capitol, Washington
detail from a platter
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

city hall ny

 City Hall, New York,
detail from interior of a comport,
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America

Sunday November 24, 1822. New York
The situation & advantages of New York are truly great – and its importance constantly increasing. As a City, the part next the Point is fine, and besides 158 Broadway – are Greenwich, Pearl, Fulton, Pine, Maiden, Chatham and other fine Streets, but a large part is very inferior. The whole, however, is improving.  The City Hall is a fine Building in Broadway, in an open part, and forms both an agreeable & useful offices for the Citizens.  I walked to [All Soul’s] Chapel & for once heard a Universalist form from “Diligent in Business &c” – but by no means to my satisfaction; a pleasing, but dangerous doctrine this … of the most liberal Arminianism.

Saturday, December 7, 1822. New York
The City Hall is a splendid building – abounding with accommodation for the mayor & his Court – the law officers and other City Purposes.  It is simply, but elegantly finished and is equally ornamental & useful to the City. 

 Wednesday, November 27, 1822.  Hartford
to Hartford 30 miles distant, where we arrived about 1 o’clock on Wednesday Morning the 27th Nov, during the journey my mind was alive to many reflections, and amidst them some were profitable.  Hartford is the capital of the State of Connecticut with a Population of 5,000.  It is situated on the Connecticut River, has a little Shipping trade with small craft, but appears to owe its importance more to its inland than its shipping advantages.  The Moon shone brilliantly and I strolled about the town which appeared pleasant & rather extensive; a handsome State – house; several fine Churches a Lancasterian School, an institution for the Deaf & Dumb – and in other respects the town appeared respectable if not flourishing.

deaf dumb

Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Hartford
detail from open vegetable dish
John & William Ridgway's Beauties of America