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High Life At Saratoga—1837

April 2023
1min read

The regimen at West Point was not so severe in the late 1830’s that the cadets never got away for a little nonmilitary activity. Here is an excerpt from a letter, now owned by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, written by Cadet Samuel Dawson to a friend, in September, 1837:

My Dear Hogg: … It so happened that I was able to get a leave of 5 days for the purpose of distributing invitations to our ball at Catskill, Hudson and Albany and Saratoga Springs.

At the latter place, I remained three days and the pleasures I enjoyed would have been doubly relished if I had had your company. As you have never been at Saratoga, probably a slight description of the place and the manner in which visitors amuse themselves may not be uninteresting.

The Village has but one street of any importance on which are situated the four large wooden Hotels of the place. At the one called The Pavilion are fine walking grounds and a beautiful laid off garden. The nine pin alley and the Billiard rooms are also at this place, and on the whole the village presents rather a pretty appearance.

Its population is about five hundred. The routine of the pleasures of the day are as follows: breakfast at eight o’clock, and then all retire to the drawing room and the Ladies and Gentlemen for an hour or so promenade, then a party either takes a ride out to a very beautiful little Lake called Saratoga, situated 4 miles from the village, or go down to the nine pin ally and play until they get tired. I went down the second morning I was there with a party of Ladies who seemed to enjoy the Game very much indeed. I was considerably amused at the manner in which they rolled the balls.

They dine at two, promenade up and down the drawing room for an hour and then take an evening walk or go to the circular railway and ride round for a while. This circular railway is about a hundred yards around, the cars are very high and contain but two persons and is propelled by the Gentleman in the car turning a crank. It is beautifully situated amidst a grove of young oaks at the village.

Sup at six; promenade and then at eight the dancing commences and continues until twelve or one. They have three balls a week and three hops which are the same thing only the ladies do not dress as well. It is almost impossible to give you any idea of the high enjoyment a person may have there for two or three days. I don’t think I ever saw a greater number of more beautiful girls. … I would not have given much for your heart if you had been along with me. …

I am studying now Philosophy and Chemistry. The first is merely the application of the mathematicks we have been learning for the last years. The other is somewhat more interesting but not sufficiently so to overcome my natural aversion to study.

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