The Old Mail Stagecoach

Footnotes to Long Island History


JUNE 22 1950   


Thomas R. Bayles

       During the first half of the nineteenth century, the mail stage coach was the only land transportation available for passengers and mail from eastern villages of Long Island to New York and Brooklyn, and the driver was an important man, In those days, the arrival of the stage was an exciting event the villages through which it served an attracted great attention of the residents of each village. The boys shouted, "here comes the stage," and women and children went to the front doors to see. If weather was very cold, the driver might be seen wrapping thick garments and beating his arms against his body to warm his hands. When the stage stopped a crowd collected to stare at the passengers who got out. Then the news passed through the stores and blacksmith shops of the villages, Mr. _______ of Moriches was in the stage going to New York. In those days a journey to the city was an event, and a villager who had been "down to York" was called upon for a week after by his neighbors to relate what he had seen in the city.

       An article in an old Sag Harbor Express stated that at one time it took three days to reach the city and three days to return to the east end of the Island, but for some time before the mail stage service was discontinued there was a tri weekly stage from New York through the villages of Long Island to the east end.

       A driver of the mail stage in those days performed many duties. He acted as driver, baggage master, conductor and expressman. He carried money to be paid to merchants and for deposit in banks. Along the way he was handed money with a request to purchase some article in the city.

       About 1827, a great deal of money was carried by the drivers of the mail stages. One driver, Jeremiah Dayton, received in New York the proceeds of the sale of the cargoes of two whale ships, which was placed in canvas bags. As the roads were in very bad condition, Mr. Dayton decided to remain over night in Babylon and resume his trip early in the morning. He was a little nervous about leaving so much money at the stage house, so quietly took it down to Simon Cooper, the postmaster. Then the stage driver and postmaster carried the numerous bags of money upstairs to a room in Mr. Cooper's home, where it was kept safely overnight, although against the wishes of Mrs. Cooper, who feared robbery by someone who might have followed the stage.

       After the great fire in 1835, the stage from New York brought no mail, as all the mail had been destroyed in the fire. The New York post office was then located in the basement of the Merchant's Exchange, which afterwards was the site of the Customs House.

       Among the names of those who drove the mail stages through the Island in "ye olden tyme" may be mentioned: Eleazer Hand, Mr. Dayton, John Thurston, Nathaniel Smith, Scudder Soper, Jesse Conklin, Gilbert H. Miller and Charles E. Ketcham.

       The taverns along the route at which the stage stopped for meals and for a night's lodging were centers of interest in the communities, for it was there that some of the prominent men of the day could be found, and the townspeople would gather to discuss the latest news brought in by visitors from the outside world. Here also were left the letters and packages for people in the settlements round about.

       One of the mail stage drivers who operated in the Patchogue section after the rail road was opened through the main line to Greenport, was Chauncey Chichester of Center Moriches. He connected with the railroad at Medford and took mail for Patchogue and the south side villages to East Moriches. In 1849, Patchogue had one mail each way daily and the villages east of Patchogue three times a week. He said the mail was all put in one bag and at each post office he waited until the postmaster sorted out the mail for that office and then the bag would be relocked and taken to the next office and so on to the end of the line.

       Mr. Chichester had an old timetable of the Long Island Rail Road in 1860 which carried the following instructions for employees:

       "When passenger trains are more than one hour behind time, a freight train may proceed with care, but must, without fail, send a flag man ahead around all curves.

       "A very good reason must be given for killing cattle, or a portion of the damage will be charged to the engineer."

       Mr. Chichester continued to drive the mail stage until the connecting link of the railroad between Patchogue and Eastport was built and a station established at Center Moriches. He then bought a steamboat and ran ferries to the ocean beach a few years, but though he was popular with his passengers, it was poor substitute for stage driving to the genial Chauncey, and he gave it up.

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