Here to return to
XII WHEN TRAVEL WAS DIFFICULT
PROUD OF THIRTY CARTS — WHY THE CHAIR WAS DELAYED — A MAKESHIFT FOR SHEETS — THE LANDLADY WHOSE EYES WERE “NONE OF THE PRETTIEST” — A VAIN FLIGHT FOR SAFETY — TO LONG BRANCH UNDER DIFFICULTIES-SHE “ONLY OVERSET TWISTE” — THE STEAMBOAT A PHILADELPHIA INVENTION — WHY THE EAGLE DID NOT BEAT THE PHOENIX
IN 1697, fourteen years after the founding of Philadelphia, it was a matter of local pride that there were “thirty carts and other wheeled vehicles” in the town. It can well be imagined, then, that there was little travel to the outer regions, and that when a trip was absolutely necessary it had to be made, usually either on horseback, or on foot. Travel on foot was apt to be preferable, since there were at that time few roads, though there were trails which had been made by Indian travellers during many years. These were so narrow that wheeled vehicles could not use them.
Yet there was more or less travel, even at an early date, especially across the Schuylkill to the west and northwest and across the Delaware toward Burlington, or even on toward New York.
In 1704 Lord Cornbury granted to John Reeve the privilege of keeping a ferry between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey. The curious document which told of the privilege read:
“Edward Viscount Cornbury, Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief in and over her Majesties provinces of New Jersey, New York, and all the territories and tracts of land depending thereon in America, and Vice-Admiral of the same. To Jeremiah Bass, Esq., Secretary of New Jersey — greeting. You are hereby required that you forthwith prepare a bill to pass under the Great Seale of this province, containing a grant or license to John Reeve, to keep the ferry betwixt the town of Burlington and city of Philadelphia, upon the river Delaware, and you are to insert therein the prices allowed him to take for ferriage of either goods, passengers, or any other carriage, viz.: for each passenger in company from the feast of our lady to the feast of St. Michaell; the arch angle, for the summer half year — one shilling, if single, to hire the boat, six shillings from the feast of St. Michaell the arch angle to the feast of our lady in the winter, half year, single, seven and eight pence; in company fifteen pence for every tun of flower; ten shillings and six pence for every tun of bread; ten shillings for every hogshead of rum; three shillings and the same for molasses and sugar; for every pipe of wine five shillings; for all barrels one shilling per piece; for lead and iron six pence per hundred; for the beef ten pence per quarter; for every hogg ten pence; for every bushel of meale and salt three pence; sheep and calves at the same rate with the hoggs dead. And you are to take security for the due performance of the same.”
The ferry provided was “an open boat with sails, giving neither comfort nor convenience to its patrons, and when the tide and wind were favorable had some pretensions to speed.”
Those who wished to go from Philadelphia to New York made use of the ferry, which, at least after April, 1706, connected with a stage for Perth Amboy. At that time an exclusive grant was made to Hugh Huddy, Gent, of Burlington, to conduct the stage. According to the terms of the grant he was to have “full power, license, and authority by himself, his servants or deputy, to sett up, keep use and imploy one or more stagecoach or stage coaches, and one or more waggon or waggons, or any other, and soe many carrage or carrages as he shall see convenient for the carrying or transportation of goods and passengers.” The grant was to continue for a period of fourteen years, and he was to pay for the privilege, “one shilling current money . . . to be paid . . . upon the Feast-day of the Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary, yearly if demanded.”
A line of packets from Perth Amboy to New York enabled the traveler to make the third stage of his arduous journey to the town of Manhattan.
The small amount of the annual rental is perhaps to be explained by the fact that roads were hardly worthy the name. It was a long, long way from Burlington to Perth Amboy, for the early road builders sought to pass around the head of streams, rather than to cross them, and the difficulty was increased by the necessity of avoiding hills and marshes.
Generally the well-to-do among the Colonists or those who wanted to put on style secured either a chair or a chariot for use in the streets of the town and, on occasion, on journeys into the country. It was not always an easy matter to secure the vehicle, however, as John Wragg discovered in 1741. On April 18 Richard Hockley wrote to him telling the reason for delay in delivering his chair:
“The Chair is all finish’d except the Guilding and I have sent to New York for some gold leaf we having none in town here and you may depend on it in a short time. I am willing it shou’d look like the other part and should be finished in the best manner it can be done here and I heartily wish the young Ladies health to use it.”
In 1761 twenty-nine Philadelphians were the proud possessors of chairs, chariots, or other wheeled vehicles for passenger transport. The list compiled at the time included the names of the Proprietor, who owned one chariot, the Governour, who had one chariot; the Widow Francis, David Franks, William Logan, Thomas Willing, one chariot each; David Franks, William Logan, Samuel Mifflin, Charles Norris, Isaac Pemberton, John Ross, a chaise each, while there was in the city one Landau — capitalized, evidently out of respect for the vehicle, as was also the single “4 wheel post Chaise.” In addition to the vehicles named in the list there were others of a minor character which the compiler said were beyond his “attempt at reckoning.”
Elizabeth Drinker told in her diary in some detail of a journey which she made to New York in September, 1769, in company with her husband and two other men. At Bristol they took dinner and were glad to meet at the inn two other Philadelphians who, with their wives, were returning home from New York. Supper was eaten at Trenton, Breakfast next day was taken at Prince-Town, while Brunswick was reached in time for dinner. At Brunswick Mrs. Drinker wrote in her journal telling of the damage done by a storm, “Bridge carried away by ye force of ye water, and the Roads greatly hurt by it.”
The second day’s breakfast was eaten at Elizabeth-Town, and after the meal they “walked thro’ part of ye town, and then continued the journey through New Ark and Bergen to Powle’s Hook, opposite New York. Saw about 1500 sheep belonging to that place and Elizabeth-Town, attended by one old shepherd. We crossed in the Stage, Hackensack or Second river, and Newark River.” At about five o’clock the North River was crossed, and the adventurers were in New York — two full days from Philadelphia.
After six days in and around New York, the party went to. Rockaway Beach. There Mr. Drinker wished to go into the surf, but this was opposed, “it being very high, and T. P. apprehending it dangerous from the undersuck of the Waves which break on the Beach.” On the way back to the Inn, the party “stopped at an Indian Wig-Wain, and had some talk with the master and mistress — two old Indians.”
In 1771 the Drinkers took a summer trip to Lancaster and Reading, using their own conveyance. Between dinner and supper of August 22 they rode “23 long miles.” Two days more were required to complete the round-about trip to Lancaster, during which they forded the Schuylkill and branches of the Brandywine and Conestoga Creeks.
From Lancaster the journey was continued toward Reading. At Dunkers Town the travelers ate “a hearty supper of fried Beefsteaks and Chocolate, and lodged all in one room very comfortably.” At Reading, in company with friends who escorted them, “some on horseback and some in carriages,” they climbed a high hill, “one of the Oley hills.” After a time they deserted the carriage and horses, and with great fatigue and labor, with several stops to rest,” they overcame all obstructions and found themselves in triumph on the summit.
“This evening,” Mrs. Drinker wrote, “our Landlady, a dirty, old, Dutch woman, refused changing very dirty, for clean sheets; tho’ after much entreaty she pretended to comply — but we found to our mortification she had taken the same sheets, sprinkled them, and then ironed and hung them by the fire, and placed them again on the bed; so that we were Necessitated to use our Cloaks, &c., and this night slept without sheets. With the assistance of our two servants cooking, we supped pretty well, and slept better than we had any reason to expect, all in one room.”
After passing through the Town of Northampton, commonly called Allentown, they forded a creek called Jordan, and soon after forded the Lehigh — “first from the shore to an Island, and from thence over the broad and stony part to ye other shore.”
On the way to Nazareth Hall, the journal of the trip went on, “Our Horse stumbled badly in a rut; I jumped out of ye chaise and strained my foot badly, so that it soon swelled much, and proved very painful.”
Philadelphia was reached just in time to set off on a business trip to Coryell’s Tavern, on the York Road, where Mr. Drinker was to meet the “commissioners appointed for improving and clearing the navigation of the river Delaware.”
June 27, 1772, saw the beginning of another journey, when Mr. and Mrs. Drinker set out “in ye Chaise.” “We stopped a little time at Fair-Hill, at Wm. Hill’s, where Rachel Drinker and her son Henry joined us in their chaise,” Mrs. Drinker wrote, “and then proceeded on the Old York road until we came to Moses Sheppards, about 11 miles from Philada, where we stopped and visited the Mineral waters opposite his house, where one French has contrived a Bath. The water tastes pretty strong. At Lloyd’s Tavern, at ye Forks of the road leading to Horsham and ye Billet, we stopped and dined with John Drinker, who came soon after us; his son returning to Town on our young Horse which his father had ridden up. Came to the widow Jemmison’s where we supped and lodged.”
June 28 was First day, so the party went to Buckingham Meeting, “said to be the largest House, and Body of Friends belonging to it, of any country meeting in the Province.” After dinner the journey was continued to Quakertown, in Jersey.
The return trip was varied by a turning off from the Old York Road towards Abingdon, Oxford Church and Frankford.
A more satisfactory account of a trip is given by Sarah Eve, because she takes the time to dwell on the views along the wayside. On May 4, 1773, the journey began. The story is quoted from her Journal:
“Between eight and nine o’clock this morning, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Clifford, and I in the carriage, and Mr. Smith on horseback, set off for Rocky Point, about seventeen miles distant [opposite Burlington]. The morning was as fine as ever shone in May, and the roads exceeding good. We passed through Frankford
The prospect from the hill after crossing the bridge, is really pleasing; one has a fine view of several houses on the Point side, and on the other is the County road; the church stands on the right, and is a good-looking country church enough! From the What Sheff I was an entire stranger to that part of the world, as here were the bounds of my travels eastward . . .
“The prospects on each side are beautiful, and you are every now and then agreeably surprised by a sight of the Delaware. We are now on Penne Pack Bridge; you will say I am but a poor traveler when I tell you it is the best bridge I ever went over, although it has but three arches. I wish it was in my power to describe the beauties of this place; stop and look at it! on the left side you see the waters tumbling down the rocks prattling and sparkling as it goes; at the bottom it runs rippling over stones and then through the brdge where it soon seems to forget its late rapidity and gently murmurs on. The creek is not very wide, so that the trees on each side might almost shake hands, and what adds much to the beauty of the whole, are the shrubs and bushes all along in bloom the banks. But it won’t do to stay here all day .
“I have forgotten to mention before that we passed the place upon which it was first designed by man, but not by the author of nature, to have built Philadelphia; it is a fine, high, delightful spot, and much pleasanter than where it now stands; after some time they discovered a riff of rocks near the harbour, which was the natural cause of their quitting that sweet spot; it still goes by the name of ‘Old Philadelphia’ and there are many good Plantations upon it, the distance from the present city being about twelve miles
“The way from this to Poquestion Bridge is pleasantly diversified by hills and agreeable looking farms, and at this season is beautiful indeed; the sheep feeding upon the sides of the hills, the birds hopping from bough to bough, the cattle grazing in the meadows, or lying at their ease under the shade of a spreading oak or poplar, serves to put one in mind of that age so celebrated by the Poets.
“I remember nothing remarkable from here to Shameney [Neshaminy]; we crossed the ferry in a scow rowed by one man. I wonder they don’t have ropes as they have at the Schuylkill, but I suppose they know best.
“We now left the York road and turned to the right, the way very pleasant, and we soon entered the confines of Rockey Point, our first Salutation was from the sweet birds perched upon the boughs that we almost touched from the sides of the fence; the violets were blown in quantities, and the houses began to open to our view; then such a prospect! but what shall I say of it the most luxuriant fancy cannot imagine a finer one.
“It was after twelve that we alighted, much pleased with our ride, and a most excellent appetite for dinner, which Betsy soon obliged us with, and we convinced her in a much more expressive manner than by words how good it was.
“There are two neat prety houses here, with two handsome rooms upon a floor, and kitchens behind them; the descent is gradual to the river, and the distance a quarter of a mile, the avenue, which is over two hundred feet wide is planted with different kinds of cherry-trees. The plan of this place is really elegant. . .
“You likewise see Burlington. Between three and four o’clock Mr. Smith went don to look for a boat, as we intended to lodge in Burlington. Luckily at that time there happened to pass a negro fellow going there in a boat very proper for our purpose, and he was good enough to wait until Mr. Smith came up for us.”
In August, 1773, when a company of travelers went from Philadelphia to Bethlehem and other places conditions were much the same as when Mr. and Mrs. Drinker made the trip. At one house where they were entertained it was noted that the house was “neat and handsome,” and that the people were obliging.
A few days later, in Allentown, they tried to stop at the King of Prussia, but it was impossible to remain in the house. Fortunately they were asked to take breakfast at a private house. At Levans they ate “such a Dinner as Travellers must often put up with.” The historian of the party ungallantly said that they might have enjoyed the meal better if the landlady had come in without her eyes, “which were none of the prittiest to behold.” Again, after spending the night in a disagreeable house, the statement was made, “the fellow who keeps it is an impertinant Scoundrel, having the impudence to charge in his Bill five shillings for his attendance (non-attendance he ought to have said,) as he came not near us. On the contrary, Wilkinson’s house at Reading was designated a “good House, victuals good & well dressed, wine exceeding good, and the people obliging.”
The party set out from Lancaster for Philadelphia in good spirits. “But alas! a sad accident had like to have turned our Mirth to Mourning, for W., driving Careless, and being hapily engaged with the Lady he had the pleasure of riding with, and not mindful enough of his charge, drove full against a large stump which stood in the way, by which the Chaise was overturned and the Lady thrown out to a considerable distance, but happily received no hurt.”
That night the supper was “pretty tolerable,” but the beds were indifferent, “being short of Sheets for the beds, the Woman was good enough to let W. have a table cloth, in lieu of one.”
At last the journey was ended, and the party was once more safe in Philadelphia, “to the great joy of all concerned, after having escaped many perils by Land and by Watter such as already recited in this true and faithful Journal, and by being abroad from Families and Kindred so long a time as twelve days, and further this Journal sayeth not,” (The total distance covered was about 210 miles).
During the days of the Revolution many Philadelphians sought safety by flight into the country.
Mrs. Eliza Farmar in 1783 wrote to a cousin, telling of an experience on the road one day when she tried to go to the country, in accordance with her husband’s desires:
“Sally and I did go Near 40 Miles up the country in a Waggon loaded with some of our goods in the midst of Decr Just before the battel at Trenton I cannot give you a full description of the distress and Confution that apeared in every face for they gave out that the Souldiers was to have their days plunder that terified people to that degree that they were happy who got carriages to carry their goods and familys off tho some knew not where to go I saw one family of ten persons one of which a young woman and her child six weeks old with their household goods in two opin waggons and tho it had frose hard in the night and then snowd hard they were obliged to goe through it and had no place to go to but had preswad[ed] the Waggoner to take them to his house tho an utter stranger. . . The roads were so bad that we were 3 days on our journey and suffered so much . . .”
After the war was over Philadelphians had time to think of a trip to the seashore. And what a trip it was in those days! Elizabeth Drinker tells of one outing to the Atlantic Coast, which was taken in July and August, 1785.
The start was made on July 28. “Left home after dinner, H. D. and E. D. in ye Chaise, Nancy and Henry in another; baited at Martins’, arrived at Josey Smith’s in ye evening near Burlington; lodged there, and staid till after dinner next day.”
The record of July 29 was:
“Came to Richard Waln’s before dark; should have got there sooner, but were delayed sometime on ye road, about 3 miles from R. Ws. by the oversetting of ye Chaise Henry drove, occasioned by Nancy and himself carelessly talking, instead of minding a stump in ye way.”
Next day Betsy Waln and her daughter set off with the party for “Shrewsberry.” Four of the enlarged company rode in Richard Waln’s waggon, while two rode in the Chaise.
Shrewsberry was reached in three days from Philadelphia, and the members of the party went on to Black Point in the evening and at once sought comfort in “ye water.”
After four days at the shore, with daily experience of “ye bath,” which gradually became “rather more easy,” the party started for Long Branch on ye Seashore,” some in the waggon, some in a Boat. From Long Branch two of the men went to New York by water, returning in three days.
The journey back to Philadelphia was made without incident, by way of Monmouth, Richard Waln’s, and Dunk’s Ferry, which is not far from the present Eddington on the Bristol road.
In a letter to her aunt, Mrs. Jasper Yeates, Miss Kitty Ewing told of an adventure of hers in a Chair which resulted no more seriously than the accident of Henry Drinker on the way to the sea coast. She said:
“I am grown a great traveller . . . Mr. Johnston took us up to Carlile & whe had a very pleasant ride of it. Mr. anders & I whare in one Chair Fanny and her dady in the other. our Chare only overset twiste the first place that Mr. anders overset in was as even as the flower I now stand on Fanny & I whaire oblig’d to walk the fore miles as that was all whe had to go. our Chare was broke all to peaces & Mr. Johnstons hors whas forst to carry all the burden that whas in our Chaire whe took pitty on the poor hors & would walk.”
In 1791 the welcome announcement was made that a stage would run during the summer season between Philadelphia and Bethlehem. The journey from Philadelphia would begin on Thursday, and from Bethlehem the start would be on Monday. The Philadelphia starting point was from the house of George Lester, at the sign of the Spread Eagle, in Third Street. The trip in either direction would require at least twenty-four hours; the start was to be at five o’clock and the destination was to be reached, if all was well, some time in the forenoon of the next day. Each passenger was to pay fifteen shillings, and was to be allowed fourteen pounds of baggage. “150 lbs. weight of goods” were to be reckoned for one passenger. Letters would cost two cents each, and way passengers were to be charged four pence per mile.
Such a stage was used by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in parts of his trip from Philadelphia to Richmond in 1798. Of this trip he wrote:
“The weather was very bad again, the roads, however, were better than when I came up. Between Philadelphia and Chester we lamed a horse, which accident delayed us near two hours. Got very late to the Head of Elk, and through the most horrid of roads from thence to the Susquehannah at half-past twelve. It was very calm, but a strong fresh in the river rendered crossing tedious. At Barney’s, where we arrived at half past one, there was neither fire nor supper provided. After much grumbling we procured both, and got to bed about half past two. At four we were again in the stage . . . and arrived in Baltimore at eleven o’clock. The weather cleared up, but the roads were as bad as ever.”
Soon after Washington was left behind, the splinter bar was broken. “Mr. Rogers and I therefore resolved to walk on,” Mr. Latrobe wrote. “It was soon dark and began to rain, and we trudged up to our knees in mud a great part of the way to Alexandria. The stage overtook us just as we entered the town.”
Three days later Richmond was reached. The expenses of the trip was as follows:
One of the heavy expenses involved in almost any trip was due to the ferries, which were convenient but expensive. At Cooper’s Ferry between Philadelphia and Camden the charges in 1782 were ninepence for a single passenger, two shillings and sixpence for a man and horse, and one shilling and sixpence per wheel for an empty carriage. When an appeal was made to have the rate lowered the proprietor protested, urging that though ferry charges had been advanced some fifty per cent. within a certain length of time, his bills had considerably more than doubled. For instance, he paid a ferry man, per month, £5, while a new Horse Boat cost £60, a new Wherry £40, a Suit of Sails for the Horse Boat, £18, and a Boat Builder, per day, fifteen shillings.
A few years after this appeal to maintain the charges was made, a curious contrivance appeared in the Delaware River that was a prophecy of the end of the old-fashioned method of ferry boat transportation as well as the forerunner of all steamboats and steamships. This was the first crude steamboat built by John Fitch.
Early in 1784, the sight of a carriage drawn by horses led Fitch to think of the possibility of a carriage propelled by steam. He had never seen a steam engine. He declared that he did not know that such a thing was in existence. A winter’s thought led him to decide that steam carriages were impracticable, because of the roughness of the roads. Then he began to think of a boat propelled by steam. The first model was built with paddle wheels. The machinery was made of brass, while the paddle wheels were made of wood. Trial was made of this first paddle boat during the spring of 1785, the trip beginning at the High street bridge over the Schuylkill.
Because of the mechanical difficulties in the crude paddle wheels, it was resolved to abandon them in favor of oars or paddles to be arranged as in a boat propelled by man power, but moved in this case by steam. A boat on this principle was built in 1787, and was comparatively successful.
The boat was repaired and altered, and a new trial was made in the autumn of 1788. “A mile was measured in Front street, (or Water-street), Philadelphia, and the bounds projected at right angles, as exactly as could be to the wharves, where a flag was placed at each end, and also a stop watch,” William Thornton, one of the spectators, wrote in 1810. “The boat was ordered under way at dead water, or when the tide was found to be without movement; as the boat passed one flag it was struck, and the watches instantly stopped. Every precaution was taken, before witnesses, the time was shewn to all; the experiment declared to be fairly made, and the boat was found to go at a rate of eight miles an hour, or one mile within the eighth of an hour . . . It afterward went eighty miles in a day! The Governor and Council of Pennsylvania were so highly gratified with our labours, that without their intention being previously known to us, Governor Muffin, attended by the Council in procession, presented to the company, and placed in the boat, a superb silk flag.”
The success of the trial led the inventor to invite a company of ladies and gentlemen to take a trip on the Perseverance from Philadelphia to Burlington and return. They accepted, and on October 12, 1788, the journey was made, “against the current of the Delaware, twenty miles, in three hours and ten minutes, which gave a speed of six miles and one third an hour, having thirty passengers on board at the time,” Charles Whittlesey wrote in his life of John Fitch. “As the boat approached the city on the return, the inventor, too much elated by his triumphant success, directed the fire to be crowded, and the speed increased. Within a couple of miles of the wharf, a joint in the boiler gave way, and the steam issuing out, scalded one of the firemen severely, as might be expected, the passengers were in consternation, and some even insisted upon being put on shore, when they struggled into town on foot.”
In 1790 an improved model, with paddles in the stern, was so successful that it became a regular passenger and freight boat on the Delaware, running a total of between two and three thousand miles at a speed of from seven to eight miles an hour, whereas Fulton’s Clermont, seventeen years later, could accomplish little more than six miles an hour.
Soon there appeared in the Philadelphia papers the following announcement:
“THE STEAMBOAT is now ready to take passengers, and is intended to set off from Arch street Ferry in Philadelphia, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Burlington, Bristol, Bordentown & Trenton, to return on Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays. Price for Passengers 2/6 to Burlington and Bristol, 3/9 to Bordentown, 5s. to Trenton.”
Plans were immediately made to build a larger boat, so that two boats might be sent to Virginia, in time to take advantage of the state grant of exclusive rights to transportation on the Ohio River and its tributaries. Pennsylvania had already granted without condition a similar right for waters under her control. The United States patent, signed by Washington, was not granted until August 26, 1791.
Vexatious delays hindered the work on the new boat. Enemies attacked Fitch, friends forsook him, rivals interfered with him, dire poverty added to his difficulties. It became impossible for him to complete the vessel in season to comply with the Virginia statutes. Finally the inventor abandoned the enterprise. He still believed in it, but he was too much discouraged to go on. He insisted, however:
“The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.”
How far John Fitch was ahead of Robert Fulton, who is popularly thought of as the inventor of the steamboat, is shown by an enthusiastic letter which Fulton sent to Thomas Mifflin, governor of Pennsylvania, in March, 1796, ten years after Fitch wrote his account of the steamboat. In this letter Fulton stated his belief that “canals are the only effectual means of producing land communications.” It was his hope that each state would supervise its own canals in such a manner “that all future canals may be constructed on much a scale and principle, in order that when the various branches meet the boats of one may navigate the other wherever canals extend.” He was convinced that lock canals could never be satisfactory, but urged the use of his own invention wherever the levels of a canal changed, a double inclined plane on which the boats, upon wheeled carriages, “were to be dragged out of the upper and lower canals by means of ropes working on the axles of water-wheels.”
He dreamed of a canal from Philadelphia to Fort Pitt, of which the first portion, possibly to Lancaster, was to be built at a cost of £150,000. The tolls for the use of the completed section should be used to extend the canal, he said, “the tolls on such extensions being appropriated in like manner to further extensions, and so on, — the toll to be continually devoted to finishing more canals, till canals would pervade the whole country.”
When at length the canal to Fort Pitt should be completed, he calculated that “on such a canal a man, boy, and horse, would convey 40 tons 20 miles per day and arrive in Philadelphia in eighteen days, at ten shillings per day amounting to 180 shillings for forty tons, or 4s. 6d. per ton, the expense of boating, independent of tolls.”
On September 12, 1796, Fulton sent to President Washington, at Philadelphia, a presentation copy of his enthusiastically written “Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation.” On a blank page of the volume he called Washington’s attention to his belief that as “the discovery of the Mariner’s compass Gave Commerce to the World,” as “the Invention of printing is dissipating darkness and giving a Polish to the Mass of Men,” so “the Introduction of the Creative System of Canals” is “as certain in their Effects: will Give an Agricultural Polish To every Acre of America.”
Before he completed his prophecy, he declared that he “would propose to make the horsepath of the Leading Canals Sufficiently wide for a Road, which would Indeed be of Little use but for horsemen or Light Carriages: and this union of the Canal and Road would produce numerous Advantages. First the Canal would Convey materials to mend the Road at Little expense; second, In the Winter Season part might be frozen and another open. And as the Inns would be on the banks of the Canals, the Inhabitants would learn of the various travelers, the State of the Stages of Canal; hence the traveler might take either Canal or Road, whichever the weather and his time Rendered most Convenient: And thus he would be accommodated with an easy passage through the Country” — at the rate of six miles an hour!
The day came, however, when Robert Fulton ceased to talk of canals because his attention was taken up by the steamboat. He succeeded where John Fitch had failed. In 1807 the Clermont was making regular trips on the Hudson, and within five years there appeared the first steam ferry boat, of which an impressionable Philadelphian wrote in 1812:
“The once formidable Hudson has ceased to present a barrier between the two great cities of the U. S. . . it can now be passed over with as much ease as Frankford Creek or the High Bridge at Kensington. The Steam Ferry boat, which moves with all the Majesty of a floating Island is certainly the greatest masterpiece of human ingenuity that I have ever witnessed. You drive from a floating wharf which is always exactly of the height, on to its noble deck, and by magic, as it were, are transported to the other side of the river. The machinery is all enclosed, and there is nothing to alarm the most timid horse. The helmsman is stationed 8 or 10 feet above the common deck, on the octagon case that incloses the works; there is a frame of floating timbers on either side of the dock, so that the boat cannot miss coming to the exact spot to land, and even the jar occasioned by so large a body striking full against the wharf, is completely prevented by a frame of timbers that slide out from the wharf 10 or 12 feet to receive the first shock, but present but little resistance, at first, as the weights are casks of water under the surface of the river, but being gradually hoisted out by the force which the boat applies to the sliding frame, become much heavier when they get into the air. Grappling irons immediately seize the boat and hold her close to the wharf, so that you may instantly drive ashore, and as there are two rudders she is immediately ready to perform her voyage back again without turning . . . this wonder . . . certainly presents a new epoch in the art of transportation, which will not be excelled until the art of flying shall have been brought to perfection . . .”
The writer was right. There has been little real improvement in the basic principles of either the ferry boat itself or the method of effecting a landing since the first steam ferry was put in operation.
The day came when the steamboat was for many people a recognized feature of the trip from Philadelphia to New York. There were those who preferred to continue to make, use of the stage coach for the entire distance, but there were others to whom such advertisements as the following made insistent appeal:
NEW YORK STEAMBOATS
Only twenty-five miles by land
Passage through, Four Dollars and Fifty Cents
The Philadelphia and Rariton Steam Boats, connected by Stages, form a line to New York. Passengers leave the foot of Market Street in Philadelphia, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 7 o’clock, sleep at Brunswick, and arrive at New York the next morning at 12 o’clock. The mode of conveyance to be preferred to any other, as the distance by land by the Bristol and Elizabeth town boats is fifty-six miles, by the common stage eighty-six miles, but by this route only twenty-five miles.
James Morrell, in his trip from Philadelphia to Saratoga Springs, taken in 1813, made use of the alternative land and water route between Philadelphia and New York which the advertisement mentioned. His own account of the journey has been preserved:
“Left Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, August 11th, 1813, at 7 o’clock, on board the Steam Boat ‘Eagle,’ Captain Rodgers. The company very numerous, about one hundred and thirty, some for different parts situated upon the River Delaware and others for the Eastern States. After having stopped at several places to land passengers, we unfortunately, and much to the disappointment of all on board, found that one of the wheels composing a part of the Steam Engine was broken. This unfortunate circumstance, unfortunate, I must call it, as we were all anxious to beat the ‘Phoenix’ Steam Boat which had started about twenty minutes before us, and on which we were gaining very fast, took place nearly abreast of what is called the old Bake House, about 13 miles from Philadelphia. I could not but remark the sorrowful aspect and dreadful long faces caused by the affair. Poor creatures, the various opinions of our future fate was really amusing, having among us not a few old maids, I was much diverted with their anxiety . however, fortune favored us, and after an hour and a half detention, they succeeded in repairing the work so as to proceed and we finally arrived at Bordentown, about 1/2 past 2 o’clock. Here we were crammed ten into one Stage with all our baggage.
“Before I proceeded further upon my journey, I shall beg leave to make mention of the superior style in which the accommodations of the ‘Eagle’ Steam Boat is fitted up. The cabins both for Ladies and Gentlemen surpass anything of the kind I have met with in all my travels heretofore. We dined on board, the table was elegantly laid out, and the best kind, equal to any table in the best Hotels.
“The road from Trenton to Gulic’s Mill and from thence to within a mile or two of Brunswick was such as to disgrace any state or country, and more particularly as it is termed a turnpike and obliged to pay toll. God preserve me from such a mode of accumulating wealth!’
The night was spent at Brunswick. In the morning the journey was continued:
“Was called at 5 o’clock to prepare for the Steam Boat to New York, called the ‘Raritan’; left the town at 1/2 past 5 o’clock on a Stage for the boat which lay about a mile down the River. At 1/2 past 7 o’clock, the company on board, we departed for New York a distance of 45 miles, and the company on board was about fifty.
“The River Raritan from New Brunswick to New York is very serpentine, affording some very fine prospects, . . .”
From New York City the journey up the Hudson was made on the “Paragon,” on which the fare was seven dollars. During the trip Mr. Morrell observed with wonder the process of landing and receiving passengers at all hours of the night:
“They attached a line to a small boat about midship and when cast off from the Steam Boat, she would immediately shear off, and the line is payed out to any length they wish, a man being at the helm of the boat she would be conducted to any part they wished and as soon as the passengers were landed and the others taken on board, she would be hauled up to the Steam Boat by steam, and all this done without stopping the wheels of the Steam Boat.”
The remainder of the trip was made by stage. Two days were spent at Ballston and Saratoga. The first stage of the return journey from New York to Philadelphia was made by stage, “a ride of 90 miles in 13 hours.” The entire trip required twelve days.
Frankly, how much better off are we who can take the journey to New York in two hours, and to Saratoga Springs between breakfast and dinner?