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.
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: