I am poking at the project of working through the Ellsworth letters (mostly Emily Webster Ellsworth, Oliver Ellsworth, and Caroline Cleveland Smith with dates between 1820-1860)* I say poking, because the transcription is going to be daunting and it is an open question as to how many people are actually interested. Still, on my first letter I think there is some promise.

This is from July 1847 from Roswell C. Smith to his daughter Caroline (later the wife of Oliver, who was the grandson of the chief justice Oliver and son of William Wolcott Ellsworth). It is a curious letter in many respects, but it is also an interesting glimpse into a very new technology: railroads. Caroline was travelling from New Haven to Hartford by the railroad, rather than the stage. We would look at this letter and wonder why her father is making such a fuss (she was grown and living independently) until we remember that the railroad is the first Mechanical form of travel. A horse or a stage coach, though potentially quite dangerous, will attempt to react and avoid someone stepping out in front of them; they may not succed, but a reaction will occur. A rail car (or an automobile or a plane or an industrial engine or a power tool or…) cannot and will not. We, theoretically, understand that there are many mechanical devices which will continue on their path regardless of a person being in the way.* However, in 1847 many people unless they worked in some of the factories would have little or no experience with this. Looked at that way, the paragraph makes a bit more sense, in my opinion.

“It will be rather difficult for you to pick out your baggage, get it carried up to the City Hotel etc. but you will know more after the trial. Recollect not to stand outside or in front of the cars at any time, one man, Mr. Stockport, who married Miss Benjamin of Norwich, Foster’s wife’s mother’s daughter, lost his life instantly by so doing. Keep in the cars till they stop. In Hartford the baggage is taken off a few rods behind where the cars stop, before it comes to the depot, it goes over a little bridge near ?, then backs some ways into the Hartford depot. Always remem. to stay inside of the cars till they stop. I may give Burgess some directions, as I shall probably be there the day before you arrive as I shall learn by your letter.”

*That is what the box says…whether the list is accurate…no one knows.
*I say theoretically, Youtube gives us hours of proof that we seem to be incapable of figuring out physics.