Anne Royall was born in Baltimore in 1769. Her family moved to the pioneer community of Mount Pisgah in western Pennsylvania in 1772. Following the deaths of Royall’s father and step-father, her family moved to Sweet Springs, Va. (now W. Va.). Royall’s mother worked for a Revolutionary War major, who befriended Royall and allowed her to study the books in his library. Royall and the major married in 1797. When he died in 1812, his relatives contested the will and froze most of the estate’s assets. The will was upheld in 1817, but the relatives appealed. While awaiting the new trial, Royall traveled the Alabama Territory from Huntsville westward to the Muscle Shoals area. In 1819, the appeals court set aside the major’s will, and Royall returned to Alabama, living there for four years on her greatly-reduced inheritance. When her money ran out, Royall petitioned Congress for the pension due her as the widow of a Revolutionary War officer. She also decided to become an author. Royall traveled around the United States collecting material for her books, soliciting donations, and selling subscriptions.
Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the United States was the first of five travel books Royall produced. They were popular, but her undiplomatic frankness and attacks on political movements that she opposed earned her many enemies. A storekeeper in Burlington, Vt., pushed her down a set of stairs. In Washington, D.C., she was tried and convicted of being a “common scold.” A Pittsburgh bookstore clerk beat her with a leather whip. In 1831, Royall stopped traveling and settled in Washington, D.C. She began publishing Paul Pry, a newspaper intended to expose government incompetence and corruption. Paul Pry was always financially precarious, and, in 1836, Royall shut it down and started another paper, The Huntress. In 1848, Congress finally allowed Royall her pension. Royall’s health declined, but she continued publishing The Huntress until the summer of 1854. She died later that year at the age of eighty-five and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.
Anne Royall’s travel books describe the places she saw, the people she encountered, and the transportation methods she used. They provide a glimpse of American life in the early Nineteenth Century, despite the sharply critical, partisan nature of her writing. Letters from Alabama is a collection of letters written while she was living and travelling in the state.
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Last updated on Oct 01, 2009.