Domestic Manners of the Americans

By Frances Trollope


            This is another of a multitude of books that people can obtain for free from amazon and other sources because the book’s copyright has expired and the book is in public domain. People should take advantage and enjoy these classics.


This one is a first-hand description of what a sharp woman with a keen eye and a sense of perspective and humor was able to see during her visit to early America. She tells what she saw and heard with superb writing skills with many interesting narratives. Readers can learn more from this book about early America and in a more delightful manner than in most history books.


            Frances M. Trollope (1779-1863) was an English novelist who published over 100 novels, including an anti-slavery novel that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe.  She gained notice for this book, her first book “Domestic Manners of the Americans” (1832), about her visit to America, that disparaged Americans and all the cities and towns she and her children visited in 1827 for over three years, until 1831.


While popular in her own day, she is little known today, which is a shame because her novels are quite funny and reveal life as it was lived in the early nineteenth century. Her son Anthony, best known as author of The Warden, is better known today than his mother.


Trollope describes such things as the crocodile infested muddy waters of the Mississippi and the shabby huts that sometimes decorate its shores. She tells a tale of a man who accidentally built his hut near a crocodile nest and awoke to find his family eaten. The Americans she saw were taller than Europeans and good looking, but the men seemed unable to stop chewing tobacco and spitting. They ate with their large knives and picked their teeth with their pocket knives, in a rush, hardly speaking during the meal.


She tells anecdotes such as houses of Cincinnati needing to throw all their rubbish into the center of the streets and pigs come and consume it; no other disposal is possible. The streets of Cincinnati lacked drainage and mud accumulated in the lower streets in profusion after rains.


She tells readers that Americans lack refinement.   They all seem to focus on accumulating money. They emphasize equality for all, meaning all white males, but this has many deleterious effects upon the people, including uncouth behavior and dress and an inability to say “thank you.” She describes her difficulties in finding “help,” what she calls servants, since American girls, even very young ones, feel it is beneath them, because all people are equal and should be free. She tells how she met the newly elected President Jackson and how she was appalled with the informality with which he was treated.         


She found women in early America treated much worse than in England; they were virtual slaves; young women looked haggard and old. Men and women were generally segregated, not because of religion, but because the men preferred it so, so that they could drink and play cards. She tells how since America has no state religion, as in England, the land is filled with ignorant itinerant preachers who preach nonsense and who take advantage of housewives who give them money their husbands would have refused to donate.  She describes pitiful camp and revival meetings, mostly attended by women. Life was also hard for men, but much less so, and both men and women frequently became ill and died. Meat was very plentiful so that many people, even those who were poor, ate meat three times a day, but this did not improve their health.


The Americans she met during her years in America despised England and the English, she tells rather remarkable tales of the mistaken notions that the Americans of the time had about England, such as only nobles were treated well and the streets of London were filled with dirt and bugs. She wrote that American newspapers have more falsehoods than any other country, especially its comments on England and descriptions of its inhabitants.  Yet, Americans loved titles: women were called Lady and men with military rank were called by their rank.


Trollope describes slavery in America and deplores it, although she states that generally slaves are treated better than free ‘help” because the former are like property which owners do not want to lose.  The Americans often treat their slaves as pieces of furniture; she saw a girl who wouldn’t allow a man to touch her dress in front of a slave. Yet, Trollope feared that freeing all slave would cause a dangerous situation in America.


Trollope writes that she disliked America and the manners and civility of its citizens. Her greatest criticism is for the hateful manner in which the American males treat women and how both sexes treat Native Indians, and her feelings that separation of Church and State and America’s insistence that all people are equal are wrong and harm people.