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by Jean B. Anderson, 2006

Stagecoaches, drawn by teams of two to six horses, were public vehicles that ran scheduled, long-distance routes between designated towns by changing horses at predetermined stops. They took their name from the fact that they undertook journeys in stages, usually 10- to 15-mile laps. By extension, the word "stage" came to refer not only to these laps but also to the places where the coaches stopped and even to the vehicles themselves. In the colonies, stagecoaches began as heavy wagons with backless benches; flat roofs supported by posts left the sides open except in bad weather, when leather curtains could be rolled down. Wagon bodies gradually gave way to more boxlike, closed vehicles. Stagecoaches improved in the 1810s, when egg-shaped vehicles, suspended on leather straps mounted on frames, became the norm.Stagecoach in front of the Hotel Iredell in Statesville, ca. 1900. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. Photograph by William Jasper Simpson.

Stagecoach travel in North Carolina began just after the American Revolution. In 1786 a traveler from Suffolk, Va., to Wilmington, N.C., reported that "the stages" had been established only a short time before and were not yet adequately coordinated. As a result, passengers frequently experienced long delays at transfer points. The establishment of stagecoach lines was left to individual entrepreneurs or to companies of investors; unlike some states, which licensed early stage lines, North Carolina exercised no oversight at either the state or local level. Capt. Nathaniel Twining ran an early line in the eastern part of the state, although service varied in efficiency, comfort, and safety before competing lines forced improvements.

Whatever the quality of service, travel by stagecoach was difficult. Even the most comfortable vehicles were stifling in summer and freezing in winter. If the windows were left open, dust from the road stirred up by the horses and carriage wheels would cover everything inside. Passengers often rode from dawn to late evening and were likely to be roused at 4:00 a.m. to continue a journey. Roads were execrable, and if horses or carriage wheels became mired in mud, passengers had to get out and walk or literally put a shoulder to the wheel. Coaches were also delayed by breakdowns-broken axles were common. Fording streams was also routine, and if the water level was high, patrons could expect to get wet inside their carriage. Moreover, vehicles frequently overturned.

Another uncertainty was the type of accommodations provided at stage stops. Almost uniformly, visitors complained that the inns and taverns in North Carolina were filthy, served unpalatable food, provided rude service, and offered no privacy. According to some travelers, female passengers were forced to crowd into one room, men had to wash in a trough in the yard and to sleep two to a bed, and dinners of chicken swimming in black grease were served with lumps of soggy dough instead of bread.

A travelers' guide from the 1840s listed 18 stage routes in North Carolina with all their stops; 7 originated in Raleigh, radiating out in all directions. In the west, Col. Valentine Ripley of Hendersonville was part owner of a major stage line-Rutledge, Pool, and Ripley-that connected Greenville, Tenn., and Greenville, S.C., via Asheville, Hendersonville, and Flat Rock. Because the terrain was so rough in western North Carolina, travel by stage required changes of teams every eight to ten miles and often six horses instead of the usual four.

Despite their discomfort, stagecoach passengers generally did not complain and often developed a camaraderie with other riders. As stagecoaches were on the verge of extinction, travelers by railroad (which had doomed the stage lines) began to lament their passing and the loss of excitement and intimate contact with villages, countryside, and fellow passengers that stage travel had offered.


Thomas D. Clark, Travels in the Old South: A Bibliography (1956).

Alice Morse Earle, Stage-Coach and Tavern Days (1900).

Randle B. Truitt, Trade and Travel around the Southern Appalachians (1935).

Additional Resources:

Vineyard, Ron. "Stage Waggons and Coachees." Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - RR0380. Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. August 2000.\RR0380.xml (accessed June 11, 2012).

"Stage Coaches." North Carolina Business Hall of Fame (website). 2006. (accessed June 11, 2012).

"Stage Coach Lines" North Carolina Business Hall of Fame (website). 2006. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Arthur, John Preston. "Chapter X - Roads, Stage Coaches and Taverns." History of Western North Carolina. Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton. 1914.

Chapman, Alicia. "The Buncombe Turnpike and Its Impact on Western North Carolina’s Drovers and Economy." Senior thesis, University of North Carolina at Asheville. November, 2009. (accessed June 11, 2012).

Image Credits:

Stagecoach in front of the Hotel Iredell in Statesville, ca. 1900. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. Photograph by William Jasper Simpson.



Where there any stagecoach robberies from 1850 to 1875 in yadkin or surry counties?on the family farm there is a section of old center rd yadkin county nc that was used in 1800s by the stage lines from old family stories. You of hear of robberies out west. I was wondering if any happen here in our home state?
Thanks david smith


Hi David,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question.

That's a great question!  

If you are interested in doing a little digging for an answer, you may want to try searching historic newspapers.  

NC Digital Collections (from the State Archives of North Carolina) have some early newspapers digitized online from the late 18th century --  You may want to try searching here to see if you find anything.

Another option is to search North Carolina newspapers on a service such as  You may be able to access this subscription database through your local public library.

And this book may be of some interest and help:

Holmes, Oliver W., and Peter T. Rohrbach. 1983. Stagecoach East: stagecoach days in the East from the Colonial period to the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

(I have included the link to the book in WorldCat.  WorldCat searches library collections around the world.  You can visit this record and see if a library near you has the book.)

I wish I could be of more help!  This is certainly a great question.  If I come across anything, I will add and update to this entry.

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


My home farm in Nash County, N.C. has an old road bed across it called the Tarboro to Hillsboro Road on the estate division map. It is just north of what is now Fraziers Road. The 1808 NC Map shows a road in that general vicinity. I would like to have some information about the Tarboro to Hillsborough Rd.,


Dear Bruce,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this history and question.

I am replying to you by email at the email adress you left with your post with some suggestions for pursuing this question.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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