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I know that carriage transportation in the US imitated that of Europe, and I know that in the 18th century coaches could be used to transport goods and people and they could also be used as a public transport. However, I can't find any information about the nuances of how people used them (things like how they looked for a carriage, how they told the coachman where they wanted to go, how far the coachman could go, how the coachman collected money, etc...)

The nuances are very important to me, because I am writing a scene when a character has to use a coach to move away from the town he is currently in (the story is set between 1778 - 1779 America), and I need to plan out his movement (my character is a man of high status so money and status aren't the problem). The things I need to know are:

  • What time did a typical 18th century coach without any passenger operate? Were they available 24/24 hours or was there any specific time in the day when no coaches were available?
  • How would my character go about finding a coach? Does he just go around the town looking for a random coach? Does he go to a spot similar to today's bus stop? Or does he have to contact someone beforehand and wait for a coach to come pick him up at his place?
  • How far could an 18th century coach go? Was there any limit to how far a coach could go?
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    This is a great question. For example, if I wanted to go from NYC to Baltimore, could I reasonably expect to hire a coach to take me the entire way (probably on present-day US Highway 1), or did I have to change coaches in Philadelphia? Did I send a letter ahead to a coach service in Philly to have a coach waiting for me or could I expect to walk in and get one? Also relevant is feeder service. If I wanted to go from Manassas, Virginia to Upper Marlboro, Maryland to see a certain up-and-coming Scottish doctor, could I get a direct coach or did I have to change coaches somewhere?
    – Robert Columbia
    Jun 14 at 10:04
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    Another source notes the extremely uncomfortable travel conditions in effect when coach service resumed in the 1790's: "Even near the largest towns main highways were at times so hard and rutted that they threatened to shake a vehicle to pieces and at other times so muddy as to be virtually impassable. An English traveler during the fall of 1795 had his vehicle sink to the hubs near the same place ... the President of the United States recently had suffered a similar indignity." Jun 14 at 13:38
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    Continuing: "*In 1783 [Levi Pease] decided to start a stage line between Boston and Hartford despite the warning of at least one skeptic that there would not be sufficient patronage for such a line “in your day or mine. There were then only about a dozen stage lines in New England, the longest of which ran between Boston and Portsmouth.”" Jun 14 at 13:40
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    This source outlines the history of the Colonies' main roads through the 17th and 18th Centuries. So, for the most part, there was no coach service for your time period of interest; though there is sufficient ambiguity in the sources above that perhaps a very small number of coach services were running over very short lines. Long haul coaching awaits the combination of steel springs, better roads, and the end of the Revolutionary War. Jun 14 at 13:42
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    @PieterGeerkens Might be worth putting all your comments into an answer - you've done a fair amount of work here and have sources, even though I'm sure more could be said. Just my two cents worth :) Jun 15 at 5:49
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I wasn't intending to write an answer here - but my comments got out of hand:

  1. Two things to remember on feeder service: A 10 mile walk was literally nothing, just a daily commute; and people were far more likely to ride a horse either owned or borrowed to travel a middling distance. There was unlikely to be any profit in feeder services except in high density urban areas.

  2. Source:

The first stagecoaches appeared briefly in Connecticut in the years immediately preceding the American Revolution. ... Interrupted by the war, stagecoach service resumed in the last decade of the 18th century. Thereafter, it spread rapidly with the proliferation of the turnpike roads that made stage service faster and more reliable.

If accurate, your traveler is out of luck; and must either walk or acquire a riding horse for his journey, or delay until ~1790.

  1. Another source notes the extremely uncomfortable travel conditions in effect when coach service resumed in the 1790's:

Even near the largest towns main highways were at times so hard and rutted that they threatened to shake a vehicle to pieces and at other times so muddy as to be virtually impassable. An English traveler during the fall of 1795 had his vehicle sink to the hubs near the same place ... the President of the United States recently had suffered a similar indignity.

...

In 1783 [Levi Pease] decided to start a stage line between Boston and Hartford despite the warning of at least one skeptic that there would not be sufficient patronage for such a line “in your day or mine. There were then only about a dozen stage lines in New England, the longest of which ran between Boston and Portsmouth.

  1. Another source

In 1783 [Levi Pease] decided to start a stage line between Boston and Hartford despite the warning of at least one skeptic that there would not be sufficient patronage for such a line “in your day or mine. There were then only about a dozen stage lines in New England, the longest of which ran between Boston and Portsmouth.

  1. Another source outlines the history of the Colonies' main roads through the 17th and 18th Centuries.

So, for the most part, there was no coach service for your time period of interest; though there is sufficient ambiguity in the sources above that perhaps a very small number of coach services were running over very short lines. Long haul coaching awaits the combination of steel springs, better roads, and the end of the Revolutionary War.

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    Taking a ship to the nearest sea port of the final destination was probably more often (and swifter) done than long distance overland travel. Jun 15 at 8:10
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    @MarkJohnson: Excellent observation Mark. Even a measly 4 knots or so "made good" - ie progress "as the crow flies" - totals nearly 50 nautical miles, 60 statute miles or 100 km over 24 hours sailing. That's far superior to the progress one can make over the very rough roads f the period. Jun 15 at 10:46

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