In 1804, the U.S. Congress decided to build an overland postal road from Washington D.C. to New Orleans; the year prior, Thomas Jefferson had appointed his friend (and Sandy Spring’er) Isaac Briggs as surveyor-general of the Mississippi territory to whom they turned to make preliminary observations for this new route. This table shows distances from one postal stop to the next as well as cumulative miles from Washington D.C. to the various points. In addition to towns, named stops also included taverns, fords, ferries, and businesses. While many of these places no longer physically exist, a bit of googling shows their legacies live on in local road names and historic plaques. This table also paints a vivid image of population distribution and settlement in the early 19th century. Whereas the first 10 stops covered a distance of 87 miles, barely getting further than the boundaries of today’s D.C. suburbs, the last 10 stops traversed 606 miles through the wilds of western Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and coastal Louisiana! A lonely leg to be sure. If you have a bit of time, it is really fun to try and retrace the path of this long-forgotten route.
The commonplace book, like its first cousin the scrapbook, is largely a thing of the pre-digital age. It was typically a notebook in which a person recorded information they came across and wanted to keep for future reference. Commonplace books amounted to a curated collection of interesting facts, writing excerpts, quotations, and poetry that were simultaneously intensely personal and also reflective of its owner’s interests and character. This particular example was compiled by a teenaged Richard Brooke in 1805 and, as one might expect from a young man of this era, is filled largely with facts and tidbits related to geography and natural history. My favorite “fact” is on page 15 where he very precisely records that it would take, “32ys, 11mo, 1w, 2days, 12h, 8min, 12sec to go from the Earth to the moon”. I wonder, in the mind of a teenager in 1805, what exactly would the mode of transport have been?!?
I wonder if Sandy Spring’s own Jack Bentley endorsing Manchester Shoes in Baltimore had a similar impact as perhaps Michael Jordan in marketing modern-day kicks. Probably not, but a fun comparison nonetheless. The phrase “only insured shoes in America” is quite intriguing but a closer read shows that this simply meant you could return a defective product, a concept we very much take for granted today. While Manchester Shoes no longer exists, you can still see the company’s name painted on the building where it stood at 9 North Howard Street in Baltimore.
Through her diary, Helen L. Thomas tells us that in 1912 she shared a snowy Thanksgiving Day with her father, brother, and sister-in-law. What is extraordinary, however, is that she and her father, Alban Gilpin Thomas, had just arrived in Washington that very same day from a three-week Caribbean journey to Panama, Jamaica, and Cuba about which we learn in her previous entries! It is easy to imagine the foursome around a festive table with snow swirling outside while the travel-weary duo regales their family with tales from their tropical adventure.