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Sails, Trails, Rails, Rivers and Roads
How Our Ancestors Moved

Sails Trails  |  Rails  | RiversRoads | General Links


Visit The Immigration Route of Don Spidell's Palatine page to see an excellent description of the getting onto a ship, the trip, and the bonds that many passengers had to agree to, to sell their services for so many years after the trip, in order to make the trip.

See Early Types of Sailing Ships for a description of the early types of sailing ships.

Among the better web sites I have run across so far in the area of research on ships into America carrying immigrants are listed below: They have many on-line sources, as well as references to off-line sources of ships and passenger lists. The purpose of my page is not to give you these types of references, as the below referenced pages, as well as others, do this well. This page will try to focus on what travel by these ships was like and how the immigrants came to get onto that ship, and what life was like in the first days and weeks after landing.

If you know of a web site or reference that describes what a trip across the Atlantic was like, diaries, how much it cost, the indenture practices associated with immigrating, and so on, I will put up the link if you send it to me!

Right now, our family is interested in any information on the trip of the Johnston's from Scotland to Canada and also information on the ship King of Prussia from England that carried Joseph Christian Vatter and his son Jacob Vatter/Feather to Philadelphia. Did it last long enough to ever be photographed, if not is there a drawing of it, how was it's decks structured, a diary of a passenger, how much did it cost, and so on.

If you have information on passenger lists, history of a ship or a general discussion of ship life, consider subscribing to the emigration-ships maillist. This list may help us to have a better understanding of the emigration of out ancestors. Feel free to post anything to do with this subject or to help others. To join send a message to: with this in the body of the message: SUB EMIGRATION-SHIPS-REQUEST. Put nothing in the subject and turn your sig off.

The Ayers Publishing Company has an interesting web page on books about railroad history. It is interesting in that it presents a small summary of each book where you can glean some railroad history. (I am not connected with this commercial site.)

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The concept of Manifest Destiny was the term applied to the ever constant movement to the west. Trails beyond the Mississipi basically existed from about 1840-1880. (Railroads came more into play after about 1880.)

Early American Trails and Roads

See maps of early trails across the country.

As far as trails go, there are group of articles at Kansas Historic Trails and Pioneer Trails.

And, let's not leave out the Santa Fe Trail which made its way right through Kansas on its way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Overland Trail Page has lots of data on this trail.

This site about the Donnor Party of 1846-47 will start you surfing the array of sites about this disaster in one of the early wagon train efforts to reach California.

A good reference on several trails is American Westward Expansion Page at the America West Site

To subscribe to the Western Trails Maillist, send a message to: and put SUB WESTERN-TRAILS in the body of the message (not the subject line). Leave the subject line blank and turn off your sig.

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The Taylor-Beaty letters, a collection of family letters received by Ed and Hulda Taylor from relatives and friends in Iowa, indicated they visited each other more often I thought they would have. Due to their ages in the 1880's and 90's, I believe that much of this traveling between Iowa and Concordia may have been done by train. Here is a site that is building a complete history of railroads in America. As this material becomes more available, maybe we'll get a better glimpse of the way our ancestor's traveled in the late 1800's and early 1900's before the automobile. By the way, The Taylor's and Millirons came to Cloud County by wagon (maybe even a Covered "Conestoga" Wagon, but could have been a big uncovered farm wagon) and the Johnston's by train. Can you imagine how they made it by wagon with trails nonexistent or very rough and no bridges.

The Master List of Rail Sites on the Internet should get you started on your quest of learning about rail travel. Note, this list is so large, it has a search engine.

The History of Railroads in Kansas presents some interesting history of this mode of travel and how it developed in the state.

The Frontier Transportation Page at the American West Site has some fine links to rail history in the United States.

This article in 1936 describes Washington County, Iowa's experiences with it's first railroad.

Ohio & Chesapeake Historical Society Online, with some historical tidbits about this railroad. Check out the history and archive links in the left frame.

The Railroad Historical Societies Home Page lists the Home Pages of more railroad historical societies.

The List of Rail Sites  - by the Northwest Railway Society gives lots of links to railroads, including links to operating railroads.

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This source should get you streaming down the ole' river: Rivers Resource. Here is the part of this site dealing with a quite comprehensive set of river links. This site goes beyond rivers as a mode of transportation, with links to sites about steamboating, conservation, migration of birds and other river related subjects.

The Steamboat Press Page has some links and info about river travel, including bios of early river steamboat captains

Here is a site that describes a trip of an immigrant family from France, then by river boats to their final stopping place in Ohio.


The post office and delivery of mail was one of the leading influences on roadbuilding through the 19th century. Roads connecting towns were called "post roads". Roads leading away from post roads to farms weren't paid much attention to, because the farmers were expected to go to town to pick up their mail at the post office.

The building of roads and bridges in the early 1900's was greatly influenced by the Post Office implementing Rural Free Delivery in 1902.. so that mail would go to the farmer instead of the farmer having to drive to the nearest town with a post office to pick up his mail! See more on this subject at the Post Office History Site.

One of the Taylor-Beaty letters, written in December 20, 1880, from father James Taylor (Iowa Pioneer) to son Edwin Taylor and family (Kansas Pioneer) indicated Andrew and Agnes were coming for Christmas. We don't much about Andrew and Agnes at this point, except that Agnes was Edwin's sister. We have learned she lived in Talleyrand, approximately 30 miles from Keota, where the Jame's Taylor's lived. Let us imagine for a moment that day:

It is early morning. The kids have done the chores of feeding the livestock and laying out extra feed for the chickens and hogs for the day they'll be gone (Christmas Day). The temperature is in the teen's. All the horses and cattle will be let to pasture to fend for themselves. Dad has gone to the pasture to fetch the fine set of matched Hambletonian work horses that are the family's most prized possession (except for the farm itself). Mom has made a lunch to eat along the way. The kids have brought the harness up to the wagon for Dad to harness the horses up to when he brings them.

They take off about 9 in the morning, and estimating that a fine set of Hambletonian might go 6 miles per hour (is 8 out of range??), they will take 5 hours to reach the grandparents for Christmas. They feel every bump along the way, as only the post road they'll take for a few miles is graveled. The ungraveled country roads are hard and you can feel every bump and rock along the way. The kids are stashed in the back of the buckboard and the dogs are running ahead of the wagon until they find a rabbit to chase and Dad unsuccessfully calls out for them to come back... they'll just have to catch up after awhile.

Finally, at 2:00, with everyone just about froze with frostbite on the ears and fingers, they reach the confines of the James Taylor home, warmed by a fire from a pot-belly stove in the living room and smells of Christmas dinner coming from the coal-burning stove in the kitchen. (But, first, the horses must be tended to, unharnessed, combed and curried, fresh hay in the barn.)

This same letter mentions that Brainard had left for Talleyrand in a sleigh. Does anyone out there have any information on horse drawn sleigh's? Did they just attach sleds of some kind and locked the wheels to convert a wagon to a sleigh? Or did most farmer's actually have sleighs separate from wagons to travel in during winter?

Henry Ford delivered the first Model T on October 1, 1908, and the rest is history! See The History of the Ford Motor Company.

See the story of a covered wagon trip in Kansas in 1906, when roads, as we know them, were essentially non-existent.

If you know of any good sites on the web dealing with the history of roads, streets, or highways; or, early experiences of folks dealing with roads, please contact me!

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General Transportation Links

The Golden Years of Transportation - A great site for the history of transportation by time-period.

Copyright 1997 by Norris M. Taylor, Jr.

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