The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2003

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Traveling by Stagecoach

in Central New York

contributed by

Richard Palmer

From America: Historical and Descriptive

by James S. Buckingham
London, 1841, Vol. 2 , pp. 476 - 480

On the morning of Wednesday, August 8 (1838), we left Utica, in an extra, as the regular stage had set out in the middle of the night, and proceeded on by the high turnpike road towards Syracuse, where we intended making our next halt. It is not ususal to travel in postchaises in this country, but in lieu of this, extra-coaches, with nine seats, will be furnished on any part of the road, if the persons engaging them will pay the regular stage-fare for eight passengers. We were fortunate in finding an agreeable party of three persons, which, added to our own, of the same number, enables us to take an extra between us, and divide the expense, and in this way the carriage is entirely under the direction of the party occupying it, as to the stoppages, hours of setting out, &c.

The coaches, whether stage or extra, are very heavily built, though airy and commodious when the passengers are once seated. The baggage is all carried in a large leather case projecting from behind, and the coaches are painted with very gaudy colours. The horses are large, strong, and good; but the harness is coarse, ill-fitted, and dirty. There is no guard, and no outside passengers, and the coachman, or driver, as he is here universally called, is generally very ill-dressed, though civil, and well qualified for his duty, notwithstanding that he receives no fees whatever from any of the passengers by the way, and it is certainly an agreeable thing for an English traveller to find himself on the road, with his fare paid once and for all, without the frequent opening of the coach-door for the shilling and half-crown, due, by usage, to the coachman and guard, with a certainty of insolent language if it be not readily paid.

The rate of stage-travelling varies between six and eight miles the hour, but is more frequently the former than the latter. The roads are in general wretched, full of deep ruts and elevations, that jolt and shake the traveller to a painful degree; while, in appearance, the American stage-coach, with it horses, harness, and fitting is as inferior to the light, smart, and trim coaches of Bath, Brighton and Dover, that start from Charing Cross and Piccadilly, as a heavily-laden merchant-ship is to a beautiful corvette or light frigate—or, to do the Americans justice in another department, in which they excel us—as the deeply-laden collier going up the Thames, is to one of their beautiful pilot schooners or packets.

While on this subject, I may mention that a great many, even of the coach-phrases in America are derived from a seafaring life: as, for instance, instead of the coachman coming to the door, as in England, and asking—“Are ye all in, gentlemen?” The American driver's question is—“Are ye all aboard?” And instead of the signal of the English guard, “All right,” which precedes the crack of the whip; the American bookkeeper, when he hands up the way-bill, exclaims, “Go ahead!”

Proceeding by the stage route from Utica, we first passed through a small village called New Hartford, seated on a stream named Sadaquada, here called a creek—another instance of the nautical origin of many of the American names and phrases. A creek is a familiar term to seamen, because every inlet from the sea up a narrow strait of land is so called; but here the term is applied to small inland rivers hundreds of miles from the sea. Ascending from hence over a rising hill, we had a fine view of Hamilton College, one of the public seminaries of education pointed out to us. The landscape, of which it formed a part, was pleasing, and the country around it well wooded, and in good order. A few miles farther on, we came to Manchester, very unlike its great dingy and smoky namesake in England. This was entirely an agricultural prospect, with well-cultivated farms all around it, and as far as I could learn, there was not a single manufactory nor even the germ of one, yet planted at this spot.

Vernon is the name of another pretty village, 7 or 8 miles beyond Manchester, at which we changed horses and drivers, the usual distance performed by each team being from 8 to 12 miles. This contains a glass factory, and some few mills worked by water-power.

Five miles beyond this, we passed through a spot called Oneida Castle, the lands around which formerly belonged to the Oneida Indians, under the title of the Oneida Reservation. In general, when treaties were made between the government of the United States and any of the Indian tribes, certain portions of land were set apart for their use, either as hunting-grounds, or for cultivation. These were called "Indian Reservations," and this was one of them. It appears that the Oneida Indians had acquired some knowledge of practical agriculture; but the cultivation was so unskillful and so unprofitable, compared with that of the whites by which they were surrounded, and the feeling between the two races was so far from being friendly, that the government adopted as a settled rule of policy, the determination to remove as many of the Indians as they could persuade to consent to that measure, to the territory west of the Mississippi, or in Western Michigan. The Oneidas chose the latter, and have some time since emigrated to that quarter; and their lands in this reservation, having been purchased of them, by whites, are now in the same state of improved cultivation as the surrounding estates of their neighbors.

From hence we passed, at distances of from 3 to 5 miles apart, the small villages of Lenox, Quality Hill, and Chittenango, where we halted, and walked a short distance to see some remarkable petrifactions of trees, at the foot of a hill, from whence issue various springs of water, that leave incrustations in their track, and probably occasioned the petrifactions seen. So many travellers have taken portions of this for their cabinets, that but little at present remains, without further excavations; we succeeded, however, in getting a fine specimen, with part of the unchanged wood of the interior attached to the petrifaction of the bark.

Nothing of peculiar interest occurred between this and Syracuse, which we reached about 4 in the afternoon, having left at 8 in the morning, and were thus 8 hours performing 50 miles, or at an average rate of 6 miles per hour.

We remained at Syracuse to sleep, but there also having made arrangements for my remaining a week on my return-journey, no examination was made of the town.

Note: The road mentioned here is today's Route 5. The village of "Manchester" is now Verona.

 

 
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