The Horse Marine

Though Neptune’s Trident is laid by
From North to South our coasters ply;
No sails, or rudders need these ships,
Which freemen drive with–waggon-whips.
— New York Herald, October 2,1813

As the English blockade of the United States’ Eastern coast tightened as the war went on, the coasting traffic that had transferred goods from one spot to another was considerably hampered, the traffic was moved inland via huge wagons, often constructed in Pennsylvania.   It may have been the Salem Gazette that first chronicled what it called “Horse Marine News.”  In late May, 1813, a number of these wagons encountered heavy rain on their way to New York:  the rain, “which soon brought them to such a halt, that they could not get an inch further, with all the assistance they could borrow from Hercules himself.  . . .  It is hardly necessary to add, that a part of this flour received essential damage.  But it was all reloaded, brought to this city and bought up by our bakers at from 12 to 13 dollars a barrel.”[i]

The editors, initially, enjoyed reporting on these new kinds of fleets.  This is from the Providence Patriot:  “HORSE-MARINE NEWS.  Yesterday arrived at this  port, a Fleet of 4 and 5 horse Waggons, laden with Sea-Island cotton, in 110 days from Savanna, belonging to Mr. Eben Jenckes.  The fleet consisted of 25 sail when it left port, 18 of which have reached here, the other seven were laid up about 20 miles distant, and the horses put out to pasture.”  Travel time for merchandise was obviously longer than by coastal waters.  The Charleston City Gazette gave this report:  “Yesterday four waggons from Boston, and two from New-York, laden with merchandize, arrived in this city, fifty-six days from the former, and forty-five days from the latter place.” [ii]

The Horse Marine kept trade going.  William Shepherd advertised in the Richmond Enquirer:  “I want from twenty-five to thirty Waggons, to load for Baltimore and Philadelphia, immediately.”  Cotton from Augusta or Savannah traveled northward to the middle states or New England manufacturers; merchandize moved from north to south.  Arrived at Philadelphia on October 14, 1813, three wagons, drawn by oxen and horses, filled with “shoes, bonnets &c. bound for Charleston, (S. C.)–all well–saw no cruizers, but was boarded in the offing by the Spectre of Hard Times, and suffered to proceed.”  At Portsmouth, “arrived, the regular trading four horse waggon Sailors Misery, Shaw, with brooms and sauce.”  At New Haven, wagons arrived from Virginia with “Manufactured Tobacco.”  The Dash, “the remarkably fast-sailing, new, tandem-rigged, Baltimore-pilot-boat-built, coppered and copper-fastened Jersey-waggon,” arrived at Salem with “an assorted cargo of pork, beans, butter, eggs, flax and poultry.”  While the Horse Marine was good for business, it was bad for passenger traffic:  “The roads are so cut up by the heavy waggons which literally infest the road, so that it is impossible to get along for them–as to cripple the travelling of stages down to the snail’s pace of four-horse waggons.”[iii]

“Horse Marine News” gave editors with imagination the chance to use it.  This, from the Connecticut Mirror’s “Horse Marine News”: ” Last evening arrived, the tandem Philadelphia pilot boat built Gig Scramble, Capt. Splash, from a three weeks cruise in Rhode-Island and Connecticut.  She came to about 5 p. m. at Spur’s Cove, Trask’s Light, bearing S 1/2 E.”  The rest of the note pokes fun at the Connecticut Blue Law that forbade all travel on Sunday, except to and from church:  “We extract the following from her Log-book:– ‘On the 2d inst Pawtucket Bridge dead to windward, saw 2 four horse waggons, standing abreast, upon their larboard tacks, head towards us, upon a quick trot; hove about immediately, but owing to our leader missing stays, fell afoul of the starboard fore wheel, and carried away our step.  Sunday 17th inst. at 11 A. M. Wethersfield Meeting-House bearing W. Northerly 20 rods, the Graves just under our lee, was boarded from a government cutter, called ‘Tything Man’ who put a prize master on board and ordered us for the first tavern.   There, notwithstanding the known law that ‘Free Gigs make Free Passengers,’ was detained till midnight when upon paying innkeepers fees, was released.'”[iv]

The Augusta Herald‘s description of the arrivals of the horse marine at the Port of Augusta were often reprinted by other papers.  This is one of the more elaborate descriptions of a voyage:  Arrived  “one 2 and one 1 horse waggon, from Philadelphia–cargoes cotton cards, books and stationary, medicines, saddlery, military articles, silks, cotton goods, &c.&c.  On the passage, in lat. 38 22 N. and long. 78 35 W encountered a severe storm, and was compelled to lay to for several hours; afterwards hauled close upon the wind and bore away under close reefed waggon cover, and with difficulty reached a creek, which being raised by rain, had well nigh been carry away in crossing it; unloaded part of the cargo to get up the hill; mud deep and slippery; two waggons to leeward but could not get up to assist–mad signals of distress, but after beating about for some time, [upon the horses] escaped the breakers, and working away thro’ a narrow channel, reached a safe anchoring ground at the top of the hill–lay to that night, and with a favorable breeze, next morning harnessed the horses an made sail for this port, and arrived in safety without further accident–and with cargo very little damaged.”

The Horse Marine even attracted the poets.  This is the last of four stanzas titled “Free Trade and Teamsters Rights,” originally in the Boston Messenger, but here as reprinted by The Gleaner, December 10, 1813:

The meteor war of conquest
Shall yet our fingers burn,
Till James’ troubled night depart,
And the star  of peace return–
Oh then, ye waggon warriors,
The song and feast shall flow,
To the fame of your name,
When the wheels have ceas’d to go,
When the canvass spreads on every sea,
And the carts have ceased to go.

The teamsters did a mammoth job.  The Trenton True American reported from Trenton, New Jersey, on November 16, 1813, this:  “It is calculated that as many as fifteen hundred teams were last week employed in the transportation business between the Delaware and Raritan, many of them three, four, and five horse teams.  . . .  The amount of money brought into and distributed through the state by the transportation of produce and merchandize through it, is almost incalculable.”[v]

[i] Salem Gazette, May 25, 1813.

[ii] Providence Patriot, May 28, 1814; Charleston City Gazette, June 22, 1813.

[iii] Richmond Enquirer, July 2, 1814; Salem Gazette, October 19, 1813; New York Herald, November 13, 1813; New York Spectator, November 14, 1813.

[iv] Connecticut Mirror, October 25, 1813.

[v] True American reprinted by the Aurora, November 19, 1813

The Headliners Foundation appreciates and supports efforts to preserve our national journalistic legacy and suggests that Texans and others who love journalism and its rich history in this country consider donating to their state’s efforts to put these early newspapers online.  Contact your state library, historical society or university.  For a list of historic newspapers online, use this link:

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden