Pace of Things in 1776

In 2018, we take for granted things such as highways, telecommunications, even something that everyone says they want to get rid of, paper. Hark back to 1776 when the American Revolution was in full swing in the thirteen colonies.

Back in those days, paper was relatively expensive and if you wanted two or three copies of something, it had to be copied by hand. Not everyone had a printing press in their back room. What one had was a quill pen made from a feather and a bottle of ink.

If you were in Philadelphia and wanted to communicate with someone in New York, how did one do it? There was no internet so texting, email and a phone call was out. One wrote a letter by hand in cursif. Computers with word processing systems didn’t exist.

After the ink was blotted dry, it was put into an envelope, again addressed by hand. One didn’t lick the glue and seal the envelope or pull off a strip to expose the self-sealing adhesive. One sealed it with wax.

We actually had a postal system in the colonies that started in 1693 to make weekly trips between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Williamsburg, Virginia. Post offices didn’t come into existence until much later. One took the letter to a government office, paid the tax we now call postage, where the envelope was stamped with ink and turned over to a postal rider.

Very few cities at the time had street numbering systems of today or government offices. Postal riders left the mail at taverns and inns which were common gathering places in destination cities.

Roads in North America were cart paths between towns, not interstates paved with concrete. On a good day, a postal rider on a healthy horse could make fifty miles so in 1776, a letter mailed in New York City to an individual in Philadelphia would take five to seven days to make the ninety-five mile trip. Day one, cross the Hudson River. There’s no George Washington Bridge or Holland Tunnel so the rider takes a ferry. Its mode of power, sail or rowing. Think several hours to make the trip. Add in waiting time, it is half a day.

After two days riding and a night in a tavern, the postal rider has to cross the Delaware River. Again, another ferry ride and another half day. So at best, our mythical letter, assuming it was dropped off in time before the postal rider left, needs four days just to get to Philly. Then it has to be delivered and or picked up at a designated spot on day five.

My point is this. Today, we communicate in seconds with email. Back then, it took at least two weeks to send a letter and get one back, that’s assuming the person receiving the note pens his answer and posts it the day it was received. So think about how your life would be different if you had to wait at least two weeks after sending a thought to someone you knew and getting an answer? Everything slows down.

Marc Liebman

November 2018

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