Travel by Stage Wagon

Travel in Federal America was difficult due to roads that were for the most part mere tracks and the distances often involved in American travel. The stage wagon carried passengers along routes supported by taverns where teams were changed and travels were fed and might find a bed for the night.

In his Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America, English scientist Francis Baily describes the stage wagon in which he traveled across Pennsylvania, in March of 1796, "The body of the carriage is closed in, about breast high; from the sides of which are raised six or eight small perpendicular posts, which support a covering--so that is is in fact a kind of open coach. From the top are suspended leather curtains, which may be either drawn up in fine weather, or let down in rainy or cold weather; and which button at the bottom. The inside is fitted up with four seats, placed one before the other; so that the whole of the passengers face the horses; each seat will contain three passengers; and the driver sits on the foremost, under the same cover with the rest of the company. The whole is suspended on springs; and the way to get into it is in front, as if you were getting into a covered cart. This mode of traveling, which is the only one used in America, is very pleasant as you enjoy the country much more agreeably than when imprisoned in a close coach, inhaling and exhaling the same air a thousand times over, like a cow chewing the cud; but then it is not quite so desirable in disagreeable weather.

"We had not proceeded far on our journey before we began to encounter some of those inconveniences to which every person who travels in this country in winter time is exposed. The roads, which in general were very bad, would in some places be impassable, so that we were obliged to get out and walk a considerable distance, and sometimes to 'put our shoulders to the wheel;' and this in the most unpleasant weather, as well as in the midst of mire and dirt. However, we did manage to get twelve miles to breakfast; and after that to a little place called Bush, about thirteen miles farther, to dinner; and about nine o'clock at night we came to Havre de Grace, about twelve miles further, to supper; having walked nearly half the way up to our ancles in mud, in a most inclement season."

Related DVD's:

In the HBO miniseries based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, John Adams leaves the white house at the end of his presidency in a stage wagon.

Read more about travel in Federal America:

Francis Baily, Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America
Isaac Weld, Jr. Travels through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. London, 1799.


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