Tho the Fourth of July orators then boasted that their country extended over fifteen hundred miles in length, and spread westward across plains of marvelous fertility into regions yet unexplored by man, they had but to look about them to see that the States were indeed but little better than a great wilderness. A narrow line of towns and hamlets extended, with many breaks, along the coast from the province of Maine to Georgia. But fifty miles back from the waters of the Atlantic the country was an unbroken jungle. Portland existed, and here and there along the shore were a few fishers' cots, built of rough-hewn logs, and thatched with seaweed. But an almost unbroken solitude lay between Portland and the St. Lawrence.
In New Hampshire a few hardy adventurers had marked out the sites of villages in the Green Mountains. In New York, Albany was settled, and Schenectady; but the rich valleys through which the Genesee and Mohawk flow to mingle their waters with the Hudson, were the hunting-grounds of the Oneidas, the Mohawks, the Cayugas. In Pennsylvania dense forests and impassable morasses covered that region where rich deposits of iron and of coal have since produced the Birmingham of America. In Virginia a straggling village or two was to be found about the headwaters of the Potomac and the James. Beyond the Blue Ridge Daniel Boone was fighting the Cherokees in the cane-brakes of Kentucky. Some villages of log huts surrounded by stockades Were rising on the fertile plains of western Tennessee. A handful of pioneers had settled at Natchez. Pittsburgh was a military post. St. Louis was begun but the very name of the village was unknown to nine-tenths of the Americans. So late as 1795, Cincinnati consisted of ninety-five log cabins and five hundred souls.
In truth, that splendid section of our country drained by the Ohio and the Tennessee was one vast solitude. Buffalo wandered in herds over the rich plains now the granaries of Europe. Forests of oak and sycamore grew thick on the site of many great and opulent cities whose population now exceeds that of Virginia during the revolution, and whose names are spoken in the remotest corner of the civilized world. Of the country beyond the Mississippi less was known then than can at present be learned from school geographies touching the heart of Africa and the sheep-walks of Australasia. . . .
When peace was announced the population of the country did not vary far from three and a quarter millions. Nor were these by any means equally distributed. More were in the southern than in the northern States. Virginia alone contained a fifth, Pennsylvania a ninth, while the five States of Maryland, Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia counted as citizens almost one-half of all the English-speaking people in America. The reason is obvious. The southern colonies had long before the revolution become renowned as the seat of a lucrative agriculture. Nowhere else could such tobacco be raised as was annually grown on the banks of the Rappahannock, the Potomac, and the James. The best rice in the English market came from the swamps of the Carolinas. Georgia was already famous for pitch, for indigo, for tar. New England, on the other hand, produced scarce enough corn and rye for the needs of her citizens. Beyond a few stately trees, suitable for masts for his Majesty's ships of war, the eastern States grew nothing the mother country wished to buy. There men built ships, sailed the ocean, caught fish, extracted oil from the blubber of whales, put up great warehouses, and kept great shops; but found the climate of a country where snow lay deep on the ground for five months out of twelve too rigorous for profitable farming.
That gigantic system of manufactures which has since made every stream and every river of Massachusetts and Connecticut an endless succession of mills, and covered the land with factory towns, had not begun to exist. Every housewife spun her own flax and made her own linen. Boston and New York were, indeed, the great centers of commerce; but the packets that entered the Narrows, or drew up at the long dock heavy laden, went back to Liverpool freighted with skins which the traders of the new world had purchased from the Indians for bushels of periwinkle shells or strings of wampum. Thus, under the favoring circumstances of climate and soil, agriculture flourished, and wealth and population rapidly increased in all the States south of Virginia, but especially in the Old Dominion. Nor is it to be forgotten that probably one-seventh of the population was in slavery.
Diverse as the inhabitants of the States thus were in occupations, they were not less divers in opinions, in customs, and habits. Tho lately united in a common league against a common foe, tho now living, nominally, under a common government, many causes conspired to keep them anything but a united people. Differences of race, differences of nationality, of religious opinions, of manners, of tastes, even of speech, were still distinctly marked. New England had been settled by the Puritans, and there the leveling spirit, the stern theology, the rigid and straitlaced morality were as unyielding as ever. Virginia had been settled by the cavaliers, and was still the stronghold of aristocracy, of social refinement and episcopacy. In New York the Dutch element prevailed and the language of Holland was very generally spoken. Maryland was the home of the English Catholics; Pennsylvania of the Germans and the Quakers. Along the Delaware River were flourishing settlements of Swedes. In the Carolinas might be found many villages where the inhabitants were all highlanders, or all Huguenots.
In truth, the traveler who at that day, prompted by curiosity to see the youngest republic, had the hardihood to endure the discomforts and dangers of a journey over the bad roads and through the almost desolate lands of the States, saw nothing more noticeable to put down in his journal than the marked difference of manners, of customs, of taste and refinement which prevailed in the country. . . .
Rude as was the school system of New England, it was incomparably better than could be found in any other section of the country. In New York and Pennsylvania a schoolhouse was never seen outside of a village or a town. In other places children attending school walked for miles through regions infested with wolves and bears. In the southern States education was almost wholly neglected, but nowhere to such an extent as in South Carolina. In that colony, prior to 1730, no such thing as a grammar-school existed. Between 1731 and 1776 there were five. During the revolution there were none. Indeed, if the number of newspapers printed in any community may be taken as a gage of the education of the people, the condition of the southern States as compared with the eastern and middle was most deplorable.
In 1775 there were, in the entire country, thirtyseven papers in circulation. Fourteen of them were in New England, four were in New York, and nine in Pennsylvania. In Virginia and North Carolina there were two each, in Georgia one, in South Carolina three. The same is true to-day. In 1870 the population of Georgia was, in round numbers, twelve hundred thousand souls, and the circulation of the newspapers less than fourteen and a half millions of copies. The population of Massachusetts was, at the same time, fifteen hundred thousand, but the newspaper circulation was far in excess of one hundred and seven and a half millions of copies. . . .
When there was a scarcity of intelligence, when no ships had come in from the whale-fisheries, when no strictures were to be passed on the proceedings of Congress, when the mails had been kept back by the rains, when the editor was tired of reviling the Society of the Cincinnati, when nothing further was to be said against the refugees, when no election was to be held, when no distinguished strangers had come to town, when no man of note had been buried, and when, consequently, there was great difficulty in filling the four pages, odes, ballads, and bits of poetry made their appearance in the poet's corner. Now and then a paper of enterprise and spirit undertook to enlighten its readers and to fill its columns by the publication in instalments of works of considerable length and high literary merit. . . .
And such topics were needed, for of news the dearth was great. Almost every means of collecting and distributing it familiar to this generation was unknown to our great-grandfathers. There were, indeed, newspapers. Forty-three had come safely through the long revolutionary struggle to publish the joyful tidings of peace. But, with a few exceptions, all were printed in the large towns, and news which depended on them for circulation was in much danger of never going fifty miles from the editor's door. . . .
Towns and cities between which we pass in an hour were a day's journey apart. For all purposes of trade and commerce two hundred and fifty miles was a greater distance than twenty-five hundred miles now. A voyage across the ocean to London or Liverpool, a trip across the prairies to the Pacific coast, is at present performed with more ease and comfort, and with quite as much expedition as, a hundred years since, a journey from Boston to New York was made. It was commonly by stages that both travelers and goods passed from city to city. Insufferably slow as such a mode of conveyance would seem to an American of this generation, it had, in 1784, but lately come in, and was hailed as a mark of wonderful progress. The first coach and four in New England began its trips in 1744. The first stage between New York and Philadelphia, then the two most populous cities in the colonies, was not set up till 1756, and made the run in three days. The same year that the stamp act was passed a second stage was started. This was advertised as a luxurious conveyance, "being a covered Jersey wagon," and was promised to make the trip in three days, the charge being two pence the mile. The success which attended this venture moved others, and in the year following it was announced that a conveyance, described as the Flying Machine, "being a good wagon, with seats on springs," would perform the whole journey in the surprizingly short time of two days. This increase of speed was, however, accompanied by an increase of fare, the charge being twenty shillings for the through trip and three pence per mile for way-passengers. . . .
With the return of peace the stages again took the road; but many years elapsed before traffic over the highways became at all considerable. While Washington was serving his first term two stages and twelve horses sufficed to carry all the travelers and goods passing between New York and Boston, then the two great commercial centers of the country. The conveyances were old and shackling; the harness made mostly of rope; the beasts were ill-fed and worn to skeletons. The ordinary day's journey was forty miles in summer; but in winter, when the roads were bad and the darkness came on early in the afternoon, rarely more than twenty-five. In the hot months the traveler was opprest by the heat and half choked by the dust. When cold weather came he could scarce keep from freezing. One pair of horses usually dragged the stage some eighteen miles, when fresh ones were put on, and, if no accident occurred, the traveler was put down at the inn about ten at night. Cramped and weary he ate a frugal supper and betook himself to bed, with a notice from the landlord that he would be called at three the next morning. Then, whether it rained or snowed, he was forced to rise and make ready, by the light of a horn-lantern or a farthing candle, for another ride of eighteen hours. After a series of mishaps and accidents such as would suffice for an emigrant train crossing the plains, the stage rolled into New York at the end of the sixth day. The discomforts and trials of such a trip, combined with the accidents by no means uncommon, the great distance from help in the solitary places through which the road ran, and the terrors of ferry-boats on the rivers, made a journey of any distance an event to be remembered to the end of one's days. Such was the crude state of the science of engineering that no bridge of any considerable length had been undertaken in the States.
1 From McMaster's "History of the People of the United States." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Co. copyright, 1883.