First stagecoach line - Business in United States of America
Identification: Regularly scheduled stagecoach line in New Jersey that acted as the American colonies’ first public transport system
Date: Started in 1732 or 1733
Significance: The North American colonies’ first regularly scheduled stagecoach line helped New Jersey residents market their products, provided a vital link on the route between New York City and Philadelphia, and encouraged the establishment of numerous subsidiary enterprises.
New Jersey’s earliest European settlers used the paths created by the Lenape, the Native Americans living in the area. During the early eighteenth century, the colony began building “common highways,” and by mid-century, it could boast more roads than any other colony. Among the earliest conveyances using these rudimentary roads were Jersey wagons—lumbering, long-bodied, canvas-topped vehicles with wide wheels designed to negotiate the region’s soft, sandy soil. These wagons required four- and six-horse teams to pull them. Soon primitive stagecoaches, smaller versions of the Jersey wagon, were built to haul passengers as well as merchandise. They lacked windows and doors, and passengers sat on benches along the sides. Their lack of springs resulted in rides so bumpy that on occasion passengers were knocked unconscious.
In 1732 or 1733, Burlington entrepreneurs Solomon Smith and Thomas Moore (some sources name Smith and James Moon) set up a regular schedule of stagecoach runs over a northeast-southwest route known as Lawrie’s Road. The service linked the New Jersey towns of Perth Amboy, a port at the mouth of the Raritan River not far from New York City, and Burlington, a port on the Delaware River upstream from Philadelphia. The line owned two coaches and seems to have made one run in each direction each week, although an advertisement in the Philadelphia Mercury promised more runs as needed. It is usually regarded as the first public transport system in the American colonies.
At about the same time, another line began regular service to New Brunswick, New Jersey, upriver from Perth Amboy, and by 1734 , Smith and his partner, or one of their competitors, had added service to Bordentown, New Jersey, upriver from Burlington. A Trenton, New Jersey, to New Brunswick service was set up in about 1738, and a South Amboy- Bordentown service began in 1740. In each case “stage-boats” completed the connections by water to New York and Philadelphia. Much as road building had encouraged transportation, regular stagecoach runs encouraged the construction of taverns along their routes, and such establishments quickly became centers of social and business life. In fact, James Moon, presumably the same individual sometimes identified as Smith’s partner, is recorded as the licensee of a tavern in Burlington in 1732. Another early source lists Smith and Moore as offering an additional service to their customers—a secure storehouse, where merchants could deposit goods awaiting transport.
Fleming, Thomas J. New Jersey: A History. New York and Nashville: Norton and the American Association for State and Local History, 1984.
Holmes, Oliver W., and Peter Rohrbach. Stagecoach East: Stagecoach Days in the East from the Colonial Period to the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.
Streissguth, Thomas. New Jersey. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2002.
See also: canals; Cumberland Road; Erie Canal; highways; horses; Hotel and motel industry; Pony Express; United States Postal Service