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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Travel along the Road

Travel along the National Road often took weeks to complete. It could be longer and more difficult during the winter in the mountains of Western Maryland. John Deets drove a wagon on the National Road in the 1820s, below is his description of a trip to Baltimore.

            “…And with regard to getting up and down the hills. They had no trouble to get up, but the trouble was in getting down, for they had no rubbers then, and to tight lock would soon wear out their tires. They would cut a small pole about 10 or 11 feet long and tie it to the bed with the lock chain and then bend it against the hind wheel and tie to the feed trough, or the hind part of the wagon bed, just tight enough to let the wheel turn slow. Sometimes one driver would wear out from 15 to 20 poles between Baltimore and Wheeling. Sometimes others would cut down a big tree and tie it to the hind end of the wagon and drop it at the foot of the hill. When there was ice, and there was much of it in winter, they had to use rough locks and cutters, and the wagon would sometimes be straight across the road, if not the hind end foremost. The snow was sometimes so deep that they had to go through fields, and shovel the drifts from the fences, and often had to get sleds to take their loads across Negro Mountain, and on as far as Hopwood. Those of us who had to go through the fields were three days going nine miles. This was in the neighborhood of Frostburg, Md. There were no bridges then across the Monongahela or the Ohio rivers. Wagoners had to ferry across in small flat-boats, and sometimes to lay at the rivers for some days, until the ice would run out or the river freeze over…
            …Sometimes a barrel of coffee would spring a leak and the coffee would be scattered along the road, and women would gather it up and be glad for such a prize. The writer has scattered some in his time. Some of the old citizens of Uniontown no doubt, well remember the time, when scores of poor slaves were driven through that place, handcuffed and tied two and two to a rope that was extended some 40 or 50 feet, one on each side. And thousands of droves of hogs were driven through to Baltimore, some from Ohio. Sometimes they would have to lay by two or three days on account of the frozen road, which cut their feet and lamed them. While the writer was wagoning on the old pike, the canal was made from Cumberland to Harper’s Ferry. The pike boys were bitterly opposed to the railroads and so were the tavern keepers.”
Questions for Reading 1:
  1. What problems did wagons encounter along the road and how did they handle them?
  1. Describe what sights you think you would have seen if you lived along the National Road.
  1. What difficulties faced those who drove freight and animals from the country to the city?
  1. Why do you think tavern keepers were opposed to people using the railroads and canals instead of the National Road?
This reading was excerpted from The Old Pike by Thomas Searight.
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