Virginia by Stagecoach

by Virginia C. Johnson

Travel in old Virginia was many things, but it was never dull. Stagecoaches were the primary means of transport, carrying mail as well as passengers. Trips that now take hours lasted for days. Coach trips could be dangerous, and all-hands situations arose quickly. A traveler might need to apply horsemanship, carpentry, leather-mending or the sheer brawny effort of shoving the coach out of a muddy ditch. Inns across the state catered to stagecoach riders and acted as community gathering places. 

Some still stand, like the Rising Sun Tavern in Fredericksburg and Michie Tavern in Charlottesville. 

Author Virginia Johnson relates tales of those wild early days on the road.

THE START OF THE STAGECOACH (excerpt pages 15-16)

Americans certainly had an example to which to aspire, but the lower population density, rawness of the terrain, and not entirely calm relations with both native tribes and French colonials made for a less stable environment in which to run such a business. Even so, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., in his Stagecoach East, writes that there was a modest amount of staging in the East during the fifty years before the Revolution. Service was largely disrupted during the war, but as the British began to retreat and withdraw from various areas, a renewed and expanding stagecoach industry started to appear up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

By the 1750s, the major northern port cities of New York and Philadelphia had established stage lines connecting them, with stage-boats helping with water passages. Some stage lines ran as far south as Wilmington, North
Carolina, according to the article “Stage Waggons and Coaches,” written by Ron Vineyard for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He notes that in the beginning of the eighteenth century, “stage coach” and “stage
waggon” were used interchangeably, but, by the later eighteenth century, stage waggon was in favor, with stagecoach returning to common use with the revolutionary coach redesigns of the early nineteenth century.

Those first stage waggons were based on freight wagons and met with mixed reviews from passengers. Francis Bailey wrote in his Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America, in 1796 & 1797

Virginia C. Johnson

Virginia Johnson is the online content librarian at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s website,, which includes a regional history page.

She has a B.A. in anthropology from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Library Science degree from the University of Maryland at College Park. She is an award-winning member of Virginia Professional Communicators, a division of the National Federation of Press Women.

Barbara Crookshanks

NOVEMBER 16, 1928 – SEPTEMBER 3, 2011

Barbara Crookshanks received a B.S. in Journalism from the University of West Virginia and is a freelance journalist who has worked for Ladies Home Journal, Fredericksburg’s The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg / Tideland Times, and Fredericksburg Parent.

Reviews for Galloping Home

“I have NO special interest in horses or horse racing, and I was amazed to find out how very readable this book is! In fact, I found myself laughing out loud numerous times.

“While all the stories have horses, they go all the way back to the beginning of the New World. I was surprised to find out about such people as Jack Jouett, Virginia’s Paul Revere.

“There are also a remarkable number of photographs, considering the amount of time that has passed since some of them were done. MOST highly recommended!”

Amazon Review

D. Tyson

"A wonderful read, & outstanding source of information about the Thoroughbred industry in Virginia. Very well written and researched. Worthy of a 5 star rating.

Joanne G.

"I've loved fictional horses from the time I could read, and I've watched as many Triple Crown races as I find televised. On vacation several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour the Belle Meade Plantation, a former Thoroughbred farm, in Tennessee--a trip that would have been enriched if I'd read this book beforehand. Even so, I had no idea the impact racing horses had on the United States in terms of the social aspects, influence in the Civil War, and providing the genes for the cowboys' trusty Quarter Horse, for just a few examples. A book about racing would have been dull if relying solely on track times, but Virginia Horse Racing brings history to life through the owners, breeders, jockeys, and events of the time. The great breeding farms are visited as their famous horses are enumerated. It was interesting to learn the majority of famous Thoroughbred race horses in the U.S. could trace their lineage back to a handful of horses--all having derived from three particular stallions. Interspersed between the lineages and race results are historical stories and amusing anecdotes that wouldn't be compiled together except for their connection to racing horses. From George Washington, who owned and raced an Arabian stallion named Magnolia, to General George S. Patton, who was crucial in saving the Lipizzaners from certain butchery in World War II, there are connections to Virginia horse racing. I was reading Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian simultaneously, and I was delighted when a comment was made about a drink being bottled at the time American Eclipse was racing. I was able to use my newfound knowledge to surmise the time period. I love when my reading choices have such synergy. Note: I read this on my Kindle. Had I known it was chock full of illustrations and photographs, I would have opted for the print version. ”