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THE ERA OF THE PACK-TRAIN GENERAL USE OF THAT
METHOD OF TRAVEL AND TRANSPORTATION THROUGH-
HE British authorities on one occasion reproved the
colonial legislature of Pennsylvania for not assembling with promptitude at critical times, when warfare threatened, in order that it might take appropriate action for the public welfare. In answer the Assembly pointed out that the roads were often so bad they were impassable even on horseback, and therefore the desired laws would have to wait. What retort the English made is not of record. It is enough to know that the explanation of the Pennsylvanians was sufficient, if not satisfactory.
The incident is a typical one. It throws a light, with official glare, on a problem which came home to every early American. The introduction of carts and wagons in some sections of the northern colonies during the early part of the eighteenth century, and the later evolution of the four-wheeled vehicles into stage wagons, acted as an ever-increasing impetus toward the creation of better highways. A pressing need for such thoroughfares was
31.—Interior of the cabin on a sailing packet having accommodations for about
two dozen passengers. The dining-room by day and sleeping quarters at night. A contemporary pencil sketch. Probably about 1830.
more than plain. Nevertheless the roads did not improve. During any long-continued period of dry weather they became easily passable, only to be turned again, during wet seasons, into hopeless quagmires. No radical betterment was visible for more than fifty years after the stage wagons appeared. This was due to several reasons. There was then no such thing as a knowledge of the proper way of road construction, nor was there any organized system put into effect for the carrying out of improvements. The mutual jealousies of the colonies occasionally cropped out over such a matter as the building of a travel highway, and now and then it happened that the proposed transformation of some primitive trail into a better road was actively fought by that part of the public whose ma
Nor was there any such development in road building, or the creation of permanent turnpikes with hard surfaces, until close to the year 1800.
terial interests would have suffered - at least for a time — by the suggested action.
There really were such people. They were the men who had built up the extensive business of pack-horse transportation. An overwhelming part of the land traffic of the country, except on highways connecting the principal cities, was carried on, between the years 1750 and 1790, by that means. It was an age of pack-horse travel. Pioneers in that sort of traffic were to be found in almost every town, especially toward the outskirts of the occupied regions, and they controlled many thousands of horses and mules and employed large numbers of packers and caravan drivers. They regularly contracted to move parties of people over the country, together with their goods, and all the freight business of outlying settlements was carried on by them. The narrow land trails, called "tote-roads," "pack-roads," or "horse-ways” by the pioneers, over which frontier movement passed for a long time, were the foundation on which their enterprises were built, and they knew that so long as those paths remained unfit for vehicles their business would remain secure. Therefore they opposed the making of wagon roads.?
The pack-horse system of travel was more important and largely developed in Pennsylvania than in any other colony, and even at so late a date as 1783 the only way of carrying goods from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, or of journeying between the two towns, was by that method. In Pittsburgh and other similarly inaccessible places salt was sold for five or ten dollars a bushel, and iron was worth from fifteen to twenty-five cents a pound.
1 Philadelphia was one of the chief centers for them.
? In the history of the development of travel and transportation facilities, every improvement in method of movement has been opposed by those whose occupation depended on the maintenance of the system about to be abandoned.
A so-called wagon road, after it had developed from an Indian trace or white man's tote-path, was usually a narrow winding trail across the country, made of nothing but the natural soil. The first effort toward improvement of such a highway, as displayed in many localities, consisted in placing a multitude of small logs side by side across it. Over the logs was spread a layer of dirt two or three inches thick, and the improved thoroughfare was complete. It was then a corduroy road. There was no lack of timber for the purpose, but the work of cutting the trees and placing them side by side for many miles was so great that not much construction of the character was attempted. No vehicle could sink into the morass on a trail thus altered, but the dirt surface was promptly washed through the logs and the jolting soon shook a wagon to pieces. The economic advantage of the corduroy system, as it was at first applied, amounted to almost nothing. It was as unpleasant for a man to behold his wagon disintegrate as to abandon it in a sea of mud; worse, in truth, for in the latter case he could come back after a month or two and dig it out again. Gradually the people fell into a lethargy on the subject of road improvement-as far as outward action was concerned--and for a generation or more made no effort to move about on extensive trips except during favorable weather. They were also, during long periods, prevented by wars and poverty from making serious attempts through governmental means to improve their system of travel and communication. From the year 1755 to the close of the Revolution the country was in almost uninterrupted military turmoil. The struggle between England and France, Pontiac's War, the ceaseless embroilments along the frontiers and the contest with England collectively covered a period of nearly thirty years, within which time the only important progress in transportation was confined to a few highways between the half-dozen principal towns of the northern colonies.
Simultaneously with the general introduction of the first stage-coaches, however, two other important features of the early national travel system sprang into existence, and the Pennsylvania colony witnessed the birth of each. One of these was the cutting of Braddock's Road' through the wilderness, and the other was the appearance of a famous and indispensable pioneer conveyance known as the Conestoga wagon.
Braddock could not move his troops without wagons to carry supplies, and he could not use wagons without a road. At first he had neither. No path possible for vehicles existed along the western portion of his intended route, and at the order of the Pennsylvania Assembly a force of woodsmen was accordingly got together to widen the existing trail by chopping down enough of the forest to permit the passage of his transport train. Then Braddock called on Virginia and Maryland for wagons, but the two colonies collected only twenty-five.
In desperation he appealed to Franklin, and that official, by means of an elaborate printed address to the public, secured one hundred and fifty four-wheeled vehicles from Pennsylvania. The brave but misguided general finally led his little army away over the new road, and on the disastrous field that bears his name compelled his veteran troops to stand shoulder to shoulder while the
i The highway is too well known to require more than brief mention. It followed an earlier Indian trail, and was cut through the woods to enable the British army under Gen. eral Braddock to pass over the Alleghany Mountains and attack the French, whose chief stronghold in the Ohio valley was Fort Vu Quesne.
? Franklin agreed that their owners should be paid if the wagons were not returned. They were all lost in the defeat, and Franklin was appalled at the prospect of his ruin until the British paid £20,000 for the destroyed equipment and horses.