… not the Wild West of the late nineteenth century, but the West of the early nineteenth century; in other words, Ohio and Kentucky.

From 1818 to 1820, a Scotsman named James Flint traveled extensively in the eastern and (what was at the time) the western United States. He was a very observant traveler and wrote a long series of letters, which were gathered and published, in Edinburgh, in 1822.

Today, and for the next few days, I’ll share a few excerpts from his letters, which describe the state of the roads and the process of traveling at the time.


July 16, 1818:

A stage coach runs from Brooklyn to New Utrecht. The distance is nine miles; and the fare for one person, half a dollar. This coach, like the other public ones of the country, has no glass windows in the front or the sides of it, these parts are furnished with curtains, which are let down in bad weather. The coach is long, containing four seats that run across; and travelers sit with their faces forward, as in the pews of a church.

I have agreed to stop for a few days at New Utrecht. My host is an intelligent man, obliging, but not fawning. Sometimes the landlord presides at the head of the table, and at other times he acts as servant. At dinner we were joined by the coach-driver who brought us fromBrooklyn; he is very unlike the drivers of some other coaches, is well dressed, active, and attentive to his business, by no means obsequious, answers every question with propriety, and without embarrassment. He does not depend on the gratuities of travelers for his wages. That system, which so universally prevails inBritain, is unknown here.

At the inn there were three boarders, all Scotsmen. One of them, a young gentleman from Edinburgh, who was confined to bed by a broken thigh bone, occasioned by a horse running away with a gig, from which he fell while attempting to disengage himself; he was occasionally attended by a young lady, whose visits were frequent, although she lived at the distance of ten miles. The people of the neighborhood were also very attentive to this person, often calling for him; and several of the young men sat with him all night by rotation. It was pleasing to see so creditable a display of the benevolent affections.