AMERICANS were different from Europeans. A Boston newspaper made the point in 1828. "Here, the whole population is in motion, whereas, in old countries, there are millions who have never been beyond the sound of the parish bell."
It was in that year that William Minifie married Mary White and left England for Baltimore. The couple boarded a sailing ship at the London docks and spent 72 days in a "stormy passage" to the Chesapeake and Patapsco.The Minifies would in due course celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in Baltimore after his long and varied career as carpenter, architect, teacher and stationery salesman.
Active in the life of Baltimore, the Minifies joined another crowd, that of the compulsive American traveler.
Foreign visitors marveled at the pace of American travel -- the crowded roads, the crammed steamboats and rail cars. David Clapp wrote in his 1831 diary that travel had increased so much that it might "be considered a mode of life."
In 1830, Minifie's initial attempt to return to England to gather up more relatives was ruined when his old sailing ship was damaged in a storm on the first day outside the bay. On his second try, he hit brisk winds and made Liverpool in 28 days. The return voyage with his mother and sister took six weeks.
Minifie had gone by sail, though he noted in his diary that all the talk was about using the new steamships to cross the Atlantic. "It was the general opinion that the steamships would be very uncomfortable for passengers, from their pitching heavily in a heavy sea, having no sails to steady them, and that they could not be profitable."
General opinion was wrong again. Steam was the emerging technology that would allow Americans to move faster and in greater numbers both on ships and on the new rail lines sprouting across the nation. Consider that in 1790 it took four to six days, depending on the weather, to go from Boston to New York. By 1830, better roads meant that stagecoach lines made the trip in a day and a half. By 1840, the railroad cut the time to a little over half a day.
But in 1830, travel was a choppy experience. When the traveling Minifies went from Baltimore to New York, they began with a steamer that left at 5 p.m. and reached Frenchtown at 11 p.m. A night stage across Delaware, 16 miles, brought them to Newcastle at 3 a.m. The 40 miles by steamboat to Philadelphia took 3 1/2 hours.
The final leg of the journey was in three stages. First, there was the steamer from Philadelphia to Bordentown, N.J., 40 miles and three hours. Next came a stagecoach rumble of 24 miles to the small village of Washington on the Raritan River. From there, a steamer to New York covered the last 36 miles in a little over three hours.
The most ambitious of the Minifie trips came in 1834, when the family traveled west to Ohio and north to Niagara Falls, using rail, stage, steamboat and even a short canal trip. Minifie kept a careful record. He started from Baltimore on July 4 and was back on Aug. 8.
In all, the the couple traveled 2,062 miles. Total cost: $222.41. Five segments were by rail, 179 miles. Seven legs were by coach, the longest over rough roads in Ohio, a total of 598 miles. The major part of the trip was on 11 steamboats.
Niagara Falls was the high point of Minifie traveling. The family took steamers so close to the falls that all the passengers were soaked. The special guide cost $1. Travel for a thrill had an early American beginning.
The top price for a dinner or a supper was also $1. The family usually traveled at night, perhaps to save hotel expenses, though these never ran more than $2 a night. The total cost for the trip from Baltimore to Boston was $90. The last 50 cents was for a carriage home from the docks. The biggest item was that $5 steamer fee from New York to Providence.
Aside from Niagara Falls, Minifie was most impressed with New Haven, a town he called "the handsomest I have ever seen in America." He may have been influenced by the mastodon fossils at the Yale museum, a special treat for the early traveler.