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L.I. Mail Stage Drivers Had A Variety of Duties

November 24, 1963

 

L.I. Mail Stage Drivers Had A Variety of Duties

By Thomas R. Bayles


            	L.I. Mail Stage Drivers Had A Variety of Duties

During the 1800's before the railroad came through on the south side of Long Island the mail stage was the only means of land transportation, and Jeremiah Dayton was the driver of the stage that ran between the eastern villages and the city in 1827.  In those days the arrival of the mail stage attracted great attention from the inhabitants of the country villages through which it passed. If the weather was very cold the driver might be seen wrapped in heavy coats and beating his arms against his sides to warm his hands.  When the stage stopped at the old American house in Babylon a crowd collected to stare at the passengers as they alighted. In those days a man going to New York was considered almost as famous as a traveler taking a trip to Europe in later years.  A villager who had been "down to York" was hailed by his friends for a week after his return, and called onto relate what he had seen and heard in city.

The driver of the mail stage in those days performed many duties aid acted as driver, conductor, baggage master and express man. He carried money to be paid to merchants and for deposit in banks. Along the route he was hailed and handed money with a request to purchase some article in the city, and a good memory was required to keep everything in shape.

On one trip about 1830, Mr. Dayton had received a large sum of money to bring from New York, which was the proceeds of the sale of the cargo of two whale ships, and amounted to several thousand dollars in cash in canvas bags. Mr. Dayton decided to stop over night at Babylon and resume his trip east in the morning, and was a little nervous about leaving so much money in the stage house, so decided to take it down the street to Simon Cooper, the village postmaster for safe keeping. The bags of money were taken upstairs into Mr. Cooper's bedroom, although Mrs. Cooper objected strongly to having so much money left in the house overnight. The next morning she said she had not slept a wink all night, but that her husband had slept soundly and snored as loud as usual.

One morning, the stage arrived at Babylon from Patchogue and the driver went into the stage coach tavern and began taking from his pockets the various and memorandum slips that had been handed to him along the road that morning. He accidentally dropped a roll of bills amounting to several thousand dollars. After he left for breakfast Mr. Cooper found the roll of money and picked it up. The driver soon returned looking for-the money and was very grateful to Mr. Cooper for keeping it for him.

On a hot Summer afternoon the stage, with a load of passengers from the city, had reached Carll's brook, when Scudder Soper, the driver decided to drive through the water below the road, near the dam, so as to water his horses.  As he drove into the scream one of the reins broke and the horses became frightened and plunged into the water near the waste gate up to their heads, with water filling the stage, which appeared to be about to turn over and dump its passengers into the deep water. An accident was averted by Ichabod Bedell, who happened along with his farm wagon, and seeing the danger, drove near the stage and helped the frightened passengers to transfer to his farm wagon and landed them safely on shore again.

Among the names of those who drove the mail coach in those years were Eleazer Hand, Jeremiah Dayton, John Thurston, Nathaniel Smith, Scudder Soper, Jesse Conklin, Gilbert Miller and Charles Ketcham. Jeremiah Dayton lived In East Hampton in, 1856 and expressed a desire to ride over his old route again, but as he was then quite an old man he never had his wish granted.

The roads on the west end of the Island were “turnpikes” owned and Worked by three incorporated companies, The Hempstead and Babylon Turnpike Co., the Hempstead and Jamaica Turnpike Co., and the Jamaica and Brooklyn Turnpike.

  
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