My maternal grandmother, Willie Stevens Cook, used to teach a book called “Singing Wheels.” I read it when I stayed with her. I don’t remember the details, but it was about a family going west in covered wagons.
When I read the book, nearly half a century ago, I never thought about having family members who may have traveled by covered wagon. Nor did I think of my ancestors riding in stagecoaches as I watched Westerns growing up. I knew my one great-great grandfather immigrated from Germany, and another batch came from Georgia to Florida around the turn of the century. Beyond that, I never really thought about how my family came to be in Northwest Florida.
Now I know that I have ancestors, including Pittmans and Silcoxes, who settled in Florida before it became a state, while others, such as the Ducks and Chandlers, probably arrived in Alabama around the time it became a state. Some parts of Florida and South Alabama were already well developed by then, due to its long occupation by the Spanish and British.
Still, getting from one place to another would have involved wagons, carts, or stagecoaches.
I’ll admit, I was pretty confused the first time I saw, in the occupation column of a U.S. Census record, the word “Teamster.” For a minute, I marveled that the union had been around that long and that my 3rd great-grandfather, Origen Thompson, was a member. Then I recalled that a teamster was someone who drove a team.
At that time, in 1880, the Thompsons lived in Bay Minette, Baldwin County, Alabama, about 10 miles from Stockton. Genealogy Trails has an entry about the thriving community:
In the early 1800’s, Stockton was one of the largest towns in the Territory, rivaling Mobile. The timber trade increased in the area with the building of the Kennedy Saw Mill, owned by Mr. Joshua Kennedy Other industries included, shipping (on the Tensaw River), farming, merchants, and schooling. Stockton was one of the largest cotton shipping towns in the territory. The stagecoach ran from Montgomery to Stockton, with the travellers and mail being carried from Stockton by steamers to Mobile, New Orleans, and other locales. William Kitchen and Ward Taylor partnered in 1840 to form a stagecoach run from Montgomery thru Stockton to Blakeley. The stop in Stockton was the Hammond House.
In 1880, my 2nd great-grandfather, Isaac Pittman was living with Origen, his father-in-law, and his occupation was also listed as teamster. Down the road, Origen’s brother William Hastie Thompson is also shown working as a teamster, as were his two nephews/stepsons Albert and Osmond.
Twenty years earlier, in the 1860 Census, Origen’s brother Eli Thompson was listed as a stage driver. Eli was married to Georgiana Hammond – you guessed it – of the Hammond House stagecoach stop Hammonds.
Over on the other side of the family tree, my paternal 2nd great-grandfather, William F. Hahn was listed on the 1870 Census as a sea captain. He was a lodger living in the home of William Hurd, and I’ve found a few articles in early Pensacola, Florida, newspapers suggesting that Hurd really was a sea captain. I suspect my ancestor was part of the crew. Other documents list William F. Hahn as a bayman and a stevedore at various times. As I’ve never found a passenger listing for his trip from Germany at around the age of 13, I suspect he may have worked his way across as a crewmember on a sailing ship or a steamship.
I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many modes of transportation in my life. I arrived in the United States as a baby aboard the cruise ship SS Constitution; my only other cruise experience was a three-hour trip to nowhere about a gambling ship out of Fort Lauderdale. I crossed the English Channel on a hovercraft when I was five years old. I’ve ridden on trains, planes, and in automobiles, of course. My parents had two different motorhomes when I was growing up; I even drove one of them about a foot and a half one time. I drove a tram on the Backstage Studio Tour at what was then the Disney-MGM Studios, and of course I rode the monorail many times there.
The world is so much faster now, than when my 2nd great-grandfathers were driving teams of horses and sailing ships, and transportation was not just slower, it was much harder work. I hope they did have time to see and appreciate the wonders of the untamed landscape around them, before it vanished under pavement and steel.