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"Rail Road Car" Stampless Letter from a Husband to His Wife, 1841

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

In the early 1840s, railroads were a very new form of transportation in the US. The first common carrier railroad in the US was the Baltimore & Ohio, which began operations in 1830 on 26 miles of track. By 1840, although track mileage had increased more than a 100-fold to roughly 2,800 miles, trains still connected together only a small portion of cities, and train mileage was but a fraction of what it would be at its peak of 254,000 miles in 1916. This folded letter and the letter writer traveled the rails in those early days.


This letter, which was sent from Springfield, Massachusetts on November 4, 1841, was carried aboard a train as indicated by the red "RAIL ROAD CAR" stamp (Figures 1 and 2). In 1832, the Post Office contracted with some railroads to carry mail, and the US Congress officially designated railroads as official postal routes in 1838. Consequently, this is a relatively early example of official railroad mail.


According to the Amercian Stampless Cover Catalog, the red "RAIL ROAD CAR" stamp was used between Boston and Albany from 1841 to 1847. I'm not 100% sure of the rail lines on which this letter traveled, but it was probably some combination of railroads that merged in the late 1860s and early 1870s to form the Boston and Albany Railroad. Those would be the Boston and Worcester Railroad, the Western Railroad. and the Albany (or Castleton) and West Stockbridge Railroad (i).


The letter's destination was Atlas, Michigan, a village a tad southeast of Flint. It certainly did not travel by rail all the way there. Based on an 1846 map (Figure 3), the railroad could have gotten this letter as far as Niagara Falls, New York, and it would have traveled the rest of the distance by boat or coach.


The folded letter has a manuscript letter rate of "10" cents penciled in at the top-right of Figure 1. Just to the left of that in pencil is "Springfield Mass Nov 4." I assume those notations were made by the mail clerk in Springfield since they are in a different script than the rest of the letter. The charge of 10-cents was well below what the letter writer should have paid to send this letter from Springfield, Massachusetts to Atlas, Michigan, a distance of nearly 800 miles. Letters traveling over 400 miles at the time cost 25-cents. Maybe the clerk thought this letter was only traveling to Albany (a distance of around 80 miles), which would have cost 10-cents.


The letter was written by Enos Goodrich to his wife Ann Goodrich. Enos was born in New York in 1813 and came to Michigan in 1835 where he purchased 1,000 acres of land in Atlas Township. A year later his father and other family members joined him, and together they founded the village of Goodrich, which became a thriving community by the mid 1840s.


Enos was a prominent member of the community. He was elected to represent Goodrich in the Michigan legislature, built the Goodrich Mill in 1844, was commissioned the first postmaster of the Goodrich post office when it was established in 1846, and founded the Goodrich Bank (ii).


In his obituary that ran in the Detroit Free Press of September 19, 1897, he was described as an "old settler" of Michigan. "He was a man of sterling integrity," the Free Press wrote, "and had many notable traits of character." Enos is buried at the Goodrich Cemetery (iii).


Ann was born in 1822 also in New York. Her mother died when she was an infant, and Ann was raised by her aunt for a period of time. Her father subsequently remarried, and he moved Ann and the rest of his family to Atlas, Michigan In 1836. in 1838, at the age of 16, Ann married Enos. She was his lifelong partner and was instrumental in the development of Goodrich. Her obituary from 1890 said, "Coming to Michigan almost 54 years ago, she had seen the state grow up around her and had shown by her example how efficient may be the labors of woman in the building of states." She was survived by Enos and their two children, a daughter Matilda (1841-1904) and a son Enos (1845-1902). Ann is buried next to her husband in the Goodrich Cemetery (iv).

This letter (Figures 5 and 6; also see transcription below) was one of five that Enos had written to Ann by this time in his journey, which was into its second week. The stop in Springfield was just an overnight stay before departing for Boston, which I assume was his final destination. The trip was likely a business trip since Enos talks about purchasing hardware in Albany and perhaps even sole leather on his way back through Albany. He asks Ann to "tell Reuben" about the leather. Reuben was Enos's brother, and the two were business partners. The letter assures Ann that he is well, and he encourages her to take care of herself.


The best part of the letter to me is Enos's observation of the train's speed. Much of his train trip was at night so he didn't see much of the countryside (nor did he get much sleep), but he complains that even during the daytime "the cars hurry on along so swiftly that there is little to be seen distinctly." Train speeds at the time topped out at about 50 miles per hour - slow in our day and age but breathtakingly fast for travelers accustomed to horse and buggy speeds!


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Transcript of letter:


Mrs. Ann Goodrich

Atlas, Mich.


Springfield Massachusetts - Nov. 4th 1841.


Dearest Ann,


I came here by rail road from Albany a distance of 100 miles between five and eleven last evening and have enjoyed a good night's rest, which could not come amiss for though my health continues good, I have suffered much for want of rest having done most of my traveling in the night. I shall set out for Boston in about half an hour, which place I expect to reach about one o'clock in the afternoon.


I have had but little opportunity of viewing the country as most of it has been passed by night, and even in the daytime, the cars hurry on along so swiftly that there is little to be seen distinctly. Both this place and Albany I should have been glad to have viewed but both being enveloped in a dense fog I can see but little.


As my health is good I hope you will give yourself no needless anxiety on my account, but take good care of your own health and I will try to do the same.


Tell Reuben that I think of buying some sole leather in Albany on my way back if there is a fair prospect of getting it home safe before the close of navigation.


I have written since I left home five letters in the space of eight days including this one, and I suppose you will have received them all before the arrival of this.


I bought in Albany about $500 worth of hardware iron and staves, but I do not think they can be sent west before I shall get back to Albany, and I may then perhaps go on with them to the west.


I must now draw this letter to a close and go on board the cars. I shall write often, and I shall [not?] forget you and our little children. I hope to find all well on my return, but I cannot hear from you as often as you will from me.


I remain yours as ever,

Enos Goodrich


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Figure 1 - Front of folded letter.

Figure 2 - Close-up of "Rail Road Car" stamp.

Figure 3 - Back of folded letter.

Figure 4 - Map from 1846 showing railroads. Source: Library of Congress. It's best to view and zoom in on this map at the LOC: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3700.rr000080/?r=0.32,-0.015,0.338,0.176,0

Figure 5 - Page 1 of letter.

Figure 6 - Page 2 of letter.

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