Sarah Kemble Knight journeys from Boston to New York. Accompanied only by local guides, she keeps a journal of her tour, an early document of hazardous travel and road conditions in winter. Madame Knight faces the odds bravely, even in such aggravated circumstances as a night in a road inn full of men drunk from rum and continuing to drink . . . at a time, when single rooms were not known.


Sixteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin, on his trip from Boston to Philadelphia, traveled by boat to New York, crossed to Newark, traversed New Jersey to Trenton, where he boarded a ship for Philadelphia. All told, it took him several days before he landed in "the city of brotherly love" and there, on disembarking, bought the two loaves of bread on which he munched as he walked into town.


William Byrd takes part in the survey he would eventually account for and describe memorably in his History and Secret History of the Borderline Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina >>>

1805 Lewis and Clark

Late in the year, a few days before Christmas, Frances Anne Kemble set out, the wife of Pierce Butler, on her nine-day trip from Philadelphia to Butler's Island and St. Simons Island, Georgia, where her husband owned two plantations and more than 600 slaves were ground to death harvesting rice and cotton. She traveled with her two little girls, the one three years old, the other just ten months; all braved the agonies suffered—by train from Philadelphia to Havre De Grace, by steamboat across the Susquehanna, and on by train to Baltimore. From there, by ship to Portsmouth, Virginia, and on by train past the Dismal Swamp into North Carolina, where the railroad suddenly ended in the middle of nowhere. The Butlers were able to secure a coach, and on they went night and day ("the road lay almost the whole way through swamps, and was frequently under water . . . a corduroy road") till they reached Wilmington and the Cape Fear River. They boarded a ship to Charleston, changing there to a boat for Savannah. Another boat brought them to Darien, on the Altamaha River estuary, with Butler's Island nearby, a rice plantation in the swamps where no white man could live between April and December, and for the African American slaves working and dying was hard.
Fanny Kemble's Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, published on Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, is a grim account of the agonies, at first of the appalling travel conditions, particularly as one entered the Southern States, at length of the evils of slavery conducted on her husband's property, representative of the South in gerneral.

go to
link: Frances Ann Kemble (Literature on the Road)
link: text of
Chapters 2 & 3 (the travel account) of the


The Year of Decision, Bernard De Voto entitled his large study on the events unfolding in that year and their significance for the subsequent history of the West. That year, the first large wagon trains assembled in Missouri, some 2,700 men, women and children, bent for Oregon and California (among them the Donner party, doomed to get caught in a late snowstorm in the Sierra next April). Also in western Missouri were Gen. S. W. Kearny and his unit, about to go on the Santa Fé Trail and heading for California; for war with Mexico was impending, openly sought. Francis Parkman, a twenty-three-year-old Bostonian set upon becoming a great historian, also visited the region, touring the High Plains to Ft. Laramie and visiting an Oglala village in the vicinity; his perennial best-seller resulting from the summer journey, The Oregon Trail, shows only a muted awareness of the events he witnesses, faintly realizing that the Native Americans he went to inspect in their habitat were severely threatened by the invasion.

link: Francis Parkman & the Oregon Trail

1929 Faulkner's As I Lay Dying . Light in August (1935) can also be read as a road novel.
193? The Joads — go to link: The Joads
1949 Jack Kerouac — go to link: Literature on the Road
1964 Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters take to the road.
1975 Bruce Springsteen brings out "Born to Run"

the highway's jammed with the heroes of a broken runaway American dream