Jacksonian Miscellanies, #14: April 15, 1997

Topic: Trains, Stages, Canal and Steam Boats.

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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Here are two items on transportation in 1830 and 1832, as quoted in America, Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers, A Library of Original Sources, vol VI, (1820-45) issued by the Americanization Dept., Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Chicago, IL copyright 1925.

The first describes the experimental run of the Tom Thumb locomotive on an already functioning (for horse-drawn travel) railroad near Baltimore. It was intended to demonstrate some principals of boiler design, but more particularly, according to the witness, to show that locomotive travel was feasible, not just on the flat, straight railroads of England, but over the hills and curves that could not be avoided in America. There was also a race between the Tom Thumb, and a horse-drawn car or cars, which the locomotive almost won, but lost due to a broken belt.

The second item, quoted from A Journal of a Residence in America (Henry Holt 1835), gives a description by Fanny Kemble, a very young (at the time) English actress, of two trips in 1832; one from New York, by steam boat, stage coach, and horse-drawn railroad car, to Philadelphia; the other by canal boat from Schenectady to Utica. (The introduction calls it one trip, but that makes no sense geographically.)


By John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe

LATROBE thus describes Peter Cooper's pioneer steam engine in his "Personal Recollections of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad," of which he was counsel for more than Fifty years. This particular locomotive was not the first one placed on an American track, that distinction belonging to an Englishbuilt engine, which, however, was not a success! This was the first American locomotive to make a successful trip.

Among his diverse activities, Latrobe founded the Maryland Institute; invented the "Baltimore heater", and was long identified with the American Colonization Society to the presidency of which he succeeded Henry Clay in 1853. He also became president of the Maryland Historical Society; and wrote a "History of Mason and Dixon's Line."

IN the beginning, no one dreamed of steam upon the road. Horses were to do the work; and even after the line was completed to Frederick, relays of horses trotted the cars from place to place.

. . . To ride in a railroad car in those days was, literally, to go thundering along, the roll of the wheels on the combined rail of stone and iron being almost deafening.

When steam made its appearance on the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad it attracted great attention here. But there was this difficulty about introducing an English engine on an American road. An English road was virtually a straight road. An American road had curves sometimes of as small radius as two hundred feet.... For a brief season it was believed that this feature of the early American roads would prevent the use of locomotive engines. The contrary was demonstrated by a gentleman still living in an active and ripe old age, honored and beloved, distinguished for his private worth and for his public benefactions; one of those to whom wealth seems to have been granted by Providence that men might know how wealth could be used to benefit one's fellow­creatures.

The speaker refers to Mr. Peter Cooper of New York. Mr. Cooper was satisfied that steam might be adapted to the curved roads which he saw would be built in the United States; and he came to Baltimore, which then possessed the only one on which he could experiment, to vindicate his belief. He had another idea, which was, that the crank could be dispensed with in the change from a reciprocating to a rotary motion; and he built an engine to demonstrate both articles of his faith. The machine was not larger than the hand cars used by workmen to transfer themselves from place to place; and as the speaker now recalls its appearance, the only wonder is, that so apparently insignificant a contrivance should ever have been regarded as competent to the smallest results. But Mr. Cooper was wiser than many of the wisest around him. His engine could not have weighed a ton; but he saw in it a principle which the forty­ton engines of to­day have but served to develop and demonstrate.

The boiler of Mr. Cooper's engine was not as large as the kitchen boiler attached to many a range in modern mansions. It was of about the same diameter. But not much more than half as high. It stood upright in the car, and was filled, above the furnace, which occupied the lower section, with vertical tubes. The cylinder was but three­and­a­half inches in diameter, and speed was gotten up by gearing. No natural draught could have been sufficient to keep up steam in so small a boiler; and Mr. Cooper used therefore a blowing­apparatus, driven by a drum attached to one of the car wheels, over which passed a cord that in its turn worked a pulley on the shaft of the blower....

Mr. Cooper's success was such as to induce him to try a trip to Ellicott's Mills; and an open car, the first used upon the road, already mentioned, having been attached to his engine, and filled with the directors and some friends, the speaker among the rest, the first journey by steam in America was commenced. The trip was most interesting. The curves were passed without difficulty at a speed of fifteen miles an hour; the grades were ascended with comparative ease; the day was fine, the company in the highest spirits, and some excited gentlemen of the party pulled out memorandum books, and when at the highest speed, which was eighteen miles an hour, wrote their names and some connected sentences to prove that even at that great velocity it was possible to do so. The return trip from the Mills a distance of thirteen miles­ was made in fifty­seven minutes. This was in the summer of 1830.

But the triumph of this Tom Thumb engine was not altogether without a drawback. The great stage proprietors of the day were Stockton & Stokes; and on this occasion a gallant gray of great beauty and power was driven by them from town, attached to another car on the second track-for the Company had begun by making two tracks to the Mills and met the engine at the Relay House on its way back. From this point it was determined to have a race home; and, the start being even, away went horse and engine, the snort of the one and the puff of the other keeping time and tune. At first the gray had the best of it, for his steam would be applied to the greatest advantage on the instant, while the engine had to wait until the rotation of the wheels set the blower to work. The horse was perhaps a quarter of a mile ahead when the safety valve of the engine lifted and the thin blue vapor issuing from it showed an excess of steam. The blower whistled, the steam blew off in vapory clouds, the pace increased, the passengers shouted, the engine gained on the horse, soon it lapped him-the silk was plied-the race was neck and neck, nose and nose then the engine passed the horse, and a great hurrah hailed the victory.

But it was not repeated; for just at this time, when the gray's master was about giving up, the band which drove the pulley, which drove the blower, slipped from the drum, the safety valve ceased to scream, and the engine for want of breath began to wheeze and pant. In vain Mr. Cooper, who was his own engineman and fireman, lacerated his hands in attempting to replace the band upon the wheel: in vain he tried to urge the fire with light wood; the horse gained on the machine, and passed it; and although the band was presently replaced, and steam again did its best, the horse was too far ahead to be overtaken, and came in the winner of the race. But the real victory was with Mr. Cooper, notwithstanding. He had held fast to the faith that was in him, and had demonstrated its truth beyond peradventure. All honor to his name.

In the Musee d'Artillerie at Paris there are preserved old cannon, contemporary almost with Crecy and Poictiers. In some great museum of internal improvement, and some such will at some future day be gotten up, Mr. Peter Cooper's boiler should hold an equally prominent and far more honored place; for while the old weapons of destruction were ministers of man's wrath, the contrivance we have described was one of the most potential instruments in making available, in America, that vast system which unites remote peoples and promotes that peace on earth and good will to men which angels have proclaimed.


By Frances (Fanny) Anne Kemble

IN 1832 Fanny Kemble, celebrated in a former generation as an English actress­author, toured this country with her father, Charles Kemble, and met with an enthusiastic reception. She recorded her impressions in "A Journal of a Residence in America" (Henry Holt), first published in 1835. From it is taken the accompanying account of her journey by boat and stage from New York City to Utica via the Delaware. Her writing is spirited and clever, though somewhat deficient in maturity of judgment. Married and divorced in this country, she retained her maiden name and for many years was a stage favorite. Her grandson, Owen Wister, is a well­known American author.

THE steamboat was very large and commodious as all these conveyances are.... These steamboats have three stories; the upper one is, as it were, a roofing or terrace on the leads of the second, a very desirable station when the weather is neither too foul, nor too fair; a burning sun being, I should think, as little desirable there, as a shower of rain. The second floor or deck, has the advantage of the ceiling above, and yet, the sides being completely open, it is airy, and allows free sight of the shores on either hand. Chairs, stools and benches are the furniture of these two decks. The one below, or third floor, downwards, in fact, the ground floor, being the one near the water, is a spacious room completely roofed and walled in, where the passengers take their meals, and resort if the weather is unfavorable. At the end of this room, is a smaller cabin for the use of the ladies, with beds and sofa, and all the conveniences necessary, if they should like to be sick; whither I came and slept till breakfast time. Vigne's account of the pushing, thrusting, rushing, and devouring on board a western steamboat at meal times, had prepared me for rather an awful spectacle; but­this, I find, is by no means the case in these civilized parts, and everything was conducted with perfect order, propriety and civility. The breakfast was good, and was served and eaten with decency enough.

At about half past ten, we reached the place where we leave the river, to proceed across a part of the State of New Jersey, to the Delaware.... Oh, these coaches! English eye hath not seen, English ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of Englishmen to conceive the surpassing clumsiness and wretchedness of these leathern inconveniences. They are shaped something like boats, the sides being merely leathern pieces, removable at pleasure, but which in bad weather are buttoned down to protect the inmates from the wet. There are three seats in this machine, the middle one having a movable leathern strap, by way of a dossier, runs between the carriage doors, and lifts away, to permit the egress and ingress of the occupants of the other seats.... For the first few minutes, I thought I must have fainted from the intolerable sensation of smothering which I experienced. However, the leathers having been removed, and a little more air obtained, I took heart of grace, and resigned myself to my fate. Away wallopped the four horses, trotting with their front, and galloping with their hind legs: and away went we after them, bumping, thumping, jumping, jolting, shaking, tossing and tumbling, over the wickedest road, I do think, the cruellest, hard­heartedest road that ever wheel rumbled upon. Through bog and marsh and ruts, wider and deeper than any Christian ruts I ever saw, with the roots of trees protruding across our path, their boughs every now and then giving us an affectionate scratch through the windows; and, more than once, a half­demolished trunk or stump lying in the middle of the road lifting us up, and letting us down again, with most awful variations of our poor coach body from its natural position. Bones of me! what a road! Even my father's solid proportions could not keep their level, but were jerked up to the roof and down again every three minutes. Our companions seemed nothing dismayed by these wondrous performances of a coach and four, but laughed and talked incessantly, the young ladies, at the very top of their voices, and with the national nasal twang....

The few cottages and farm­houses which we passed reminded me of similar dwellings in France and Ireland; yet the peasantry here have not the same excuse for disorder and dilapidation, as either the Irish or French. The farms had the same desolate, untidy, untended look; the gates broken, the fences carelessly put up, or ill repaired; the farming utensils sluttishly scattered about a littered yard, where the pigs seemed to preside by undisputed right; house­windows broken, and stuffed with paper or clothes; dishevelled women, and barefooted, anomalous looking human young things. None of the stirring life and activity which such places present in England and Scotland; above all, none of the enchanting mixture of neatness, order, and rustic elegance and comfort, which render so picturesque the surroundings of a farm, and the various belongings of agricultural labor in my own dear country. The fences struck me as peculiar; I never saw any such in England. They are made of rails of wood placed horizontally, and meeting at obtuse angles, so forming a zigzag wall of wood, which runs over the country like the herringbone seams of a flannel petticoat. At each of the angles, two slanting stakes, considerably higher than the rest of the fence, were driven into the ground, crossing each other at the top, so as to secure the horizontal rails in their position....

At the end of fourteen miles we turned into a swampy field, the whole fourteen coachfuls of us, and by the help of heaven, bag and baggage were packed into the coaches which stood on the railway ready to receive us. The carriages were not drawn by steam, like those on the Liverpool railway, but by horses, with the mere advantage in speed afforded by iron ledges, which, to be sure, compared with our previous progress through the ruts, was considerable. Our coachful got into the first carriage of the train, escaping, by way of especial grace, the dust which one's predecessors occasion. This vehicle had but two seats, in the usual fashion; each of which held four of us. The whole inside was lined with blazing scarlet leather, and the windows shaded with stuff curtains of the same refreshing color; which with full complement of passengers, on a fine, sunny, American summer's day, must make as pretty a little miniature held as may be, I should think.... This railroad is an infinite blessing; 'tis not yet finished, but shortly will be so, and then the whole of that horrible fourteen miles will be performed in comfort and decency, in less than half the time. In about an hour and a half, we reached the end of our railroad part of the journey, and found another steamboat waiting for us, when we all embarked on the Delaware.... At about four o'clock, we reached Philadelphia, having performed the journey between that and New York (a distance of a hundred miles,) in less than ten hours, in spite of bogs, ruts and all other impediments.

We proceeded by canal to Utica, which distance we performed in a day and a night, starting at two from Schenectady, and reaching Utica the next day at about noon. I like traveling by the canal boats very much. Ours was not crowded, and the country through which we passed being delightful, the placid moderate gliding through it, at about four miles and a half an hour, seemed to me infinitely preferable to the noise of wheels, the rumble of a coach, and the jerking of bad roads, for the gain of a mile an hour. The only nuisances are the bridges over the canal, which are so very low, that one is obliged to prostrate oneself on the deck of the boat, to avoid being scraped off it; and this humiliation occurs, upon an average, once every quarter of an hour....

The valley of the Mohawk, through which we crept the whole sunshining day, is beautiful from beginning to end; fertile, soft, rich, and occasionally approaching sublimity and grandeur, in its rocks and hanging woods. We had a lovely day, and a soft blessed sunset, which, just as we came to a point where the canal crosses the river, and where the curved and wooded shores on either side recede, leaving a broad smooth basin, threw one of the most exquisite effects of light and color, I ever remember to have seen, over the water, and through the sky.... We sat in the men's cabin until they began making preparations for bed, and then withdrew into a room about twelve feet square, where a whole tribe of women were getting to their beds. Some half undressed, some brushing, some curling, some washing, some already asleep in their narrow cribs, but all within a quarter of an inch of each other; it made one shudder....

. . . At Utica we dined; and after dinner I slept profoundly. The gentlemen, I believe, went out to view the town, which, twenty years ago, was not, and now is a flourishing place, with fine­looking shops, two or three hotels, good broad streets, and a body of lawyers, who had a supper at the house where we were staying, and kept the night awake with champagne, shouting, toasts, and clapping of hands: so much for the strides of civilization through the savage lands of this new world....

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