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Stories of New Jersey
The Story Of The Telegraph And The Steamboat
(Period, 1787-1838.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

We cannot wonder that there should have been a desire among enterprising people to establish some better method of transportation in travel than existed in the early days of New Jersey. At first the only roads in the State were narrow paths, sometimes more than fifty miles long, but only wide enough for the easy passage of a man on horseback. After that, better roads gradually came into use; and in the beginning of the eighteenth century there was a "stage wagon," intended for the carriage of merchandise, not passengers, which made a trip every two weeks from Perth Amboy to Philadelphia. This was considered as a great public convenience; because, before that, there was no regular method of shipping merchandise from New York to Philadelphia, except by sea.

After a time, stage wagons, which carried passengers, began to run in some parts of New Jersey; and in 1750 a grand stage line was established, intended especially for the transportation of travelers. In an advertisement the proprietor of this line announced to all persons "who have occasion to transport themselves, goods, stores, or merchandise from New York to Philadelphia," that he would take them in "forty-eight hours less than by any other line," and he promised to "use the people in the best manner." It is stated that this trip by land and water between New York and Philadelphia lasted seven or eight days, although it now seems almost impossible to travel so slowly.

Sixteen years afterward, a new and improved line of stage wagons was established, which were faster and very much more comfortable than any which had yet been known. They were actually mounted on springs, and it was promised that the trip would be made in two days in summer, and three days in winter. These stagecoaches were so much swifter than anything else of the kind ever known in the State, that they were called "flying machines."

Fifteen years afterward, the price of conveyance between New York and Philadelphia on one of these "flying machines" was forty shillings in gold or silver for each passenger, and as much for each hundred and fifty pounds of baggage.

The mail facilities in those days were as poor as the methods for transportation; and we can get an idea of the postal arrangements from an extract from a New York paper published in 1704, which states, "In the pleasant month of May, the last storm put our Pennsylvania post a week behind, and has not yet com'd in." But although this was rather slow communication, New Jersey was better off than many of the civilized communities of the day; for she had a regular postal system, which had been invented by Colonel John Hamilton.

Colonel Hamilton's system was considered so good, that the British Government gave him a patent for it, and adopted it for the mother country, it being considered much better than the system then in use. The mails were generally carried in canvas bags by men on horseback; and this method of transportation was known as the "express," as a horse and his rider could go much more rapidly than even the best "flying machines." Mail service in New Jersey greatly improved before the end of the century.

But it was very hard to persuade the public to encourage Fitch's new enterprise, even although it promised cheaper and more rapid transportation than any methods in use; and of course it was still harder, from the fact that the new steamboats had not yet gone faster than a sailing vessel with a good breeze. And so, notwithstanding the value of a system of navigation by which vessels could be made to move whether there was a breeze or not, and in any direction no matter how the wind was blowing, there was very little support to the new steamboat, and the enterprise was so unprofitable that it was given up.

Nearly ten years after Fitch's largest steamboat had been sold as a piece of useless property, Robert Fulton made a steamboat which ran on the Hudson River at the rate of five miles an hour; and after this the practicability of steam navigation began to be slowly acknowledged. But the waters of New Jersey were the first which were ever ruffled by the paddles of a steamboat.

New Jersey has another claim to distinction in connection with steam navigation, for at the Speedwell Iron Works were manufactured some of the larger portions of the machinery of the "Savannah," the first steamship which ever crossed the ocean.

"Appletons' Dictionary."
"New Jersey Newspaper Clippings."
"American Inventors of the Telegraph." F. L. Pope
"History of New Jersey." J. C. Raum.


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