Letters from the Territories

In the early 1800s, the United States seemed a land of boundless promise and possibility. Between 1803 and 1853, it more than doubled in size. Stagecoach companies holding mail contracts helped to secure the newly acquired areas, turning rough trails into well-traveled roads. The somewhat regular arrival of the mail coach connected settlers to faraway families, friends, and businesses back home.

Wilderness, Kentucky
Nov. 16, 1783

Dear Mother

I was the other day offered a location of fifteen hundred acres ground for my little Sorrel Mare which is about twenty miles from this place.

—William Breckenridge

Courtesy of Breckenridge Family Papers, Library of Congress

Fort Drake in Florida
4th Jany 1836


. . . the troops were pushed on with view of crossing the ford and of surprising the main body of Indians . . . but before half had crossed, the battalion of 200 men (about) were attacked by the enemy who were strongly posted in the swamps and scrub.

—Duncan Clinch

Courtesy of Florida State Archives

Bolivar, Texas, January 1st 1831

The greatest part of the emigration consists of small farmers who come in by land and settle above, where land is cheaper and they get small tracts, in healthy situations. The capitalists come by sea, travel everywhere and remain undecided—not knowing where to choose.

—Mary Austin Holley

Courtesy of Eugene C. Barker, Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin

Fort Vancouver
Oregon Territory, Nov. 9th, 1849

We have been in Winter Quarters about a month. The company Officers all live in a long one story log house built by ourselves. . . . Our accommodations are rude enough, but still they still afford us a good protection against the winter rains which have already commenced to pour upon us.

—Theodore Talbot

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Fillmore City, Utah territory Sunday, November 26, 1853

Dear Sister,

I am well and in the land of the living . . . . The immigration to this country this fall is about four thousand wagons.

—Christina Bagley Brickmore

Courtesy of National Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Santa Fe, May 13, 1850

I am tired of Sante Fe. There is nothing in the town to interest or divert the mind: the country around has still less attraction: no beauty of scenery, no game, absolutely nothing but sand-hills and snow covered mountains.

—George McCall

Courtesy of University of Florida