In my research for the Journey to Pleasant Prairie series, I delved into the 1840’s, in both the settled eastern Pennsylvania counties, and the frontier in Ohio and northern Indiana.
The family in the first book in the series, Hannah’s Choice, were one generation away from the hey-day of the Conestoga wagons. Hannah’s grandfather had been one of many Pennsylvania Dutch living along the Conestoga Creek, plying their Swiss and German craftsmanship to these beautiful wagons.
While I was researching Conestoga Wagons and their widespread use in the early 1800’s, I stumbled upon information about an extinct breed of horse called the Conestoga. These strong, tall horses were used to pull the giant Conestoga freight wagons through the mountains of Pennsylvania, hauling goods from the outlying areas to the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and beyond. Unlike many other draft horses, the Conestoga had short hair on their fetlocks, rather than the beautiful silky hair we see on Clydesdales. This lack of hair was important as the horses worked on roads that were often knee-deep in mud!
Once the canals were built in the early 1800’s, followed by the railroads, the wagon freighting business disappeared, and eventually the horses and Conestoga wagons did, too.
I found another fascinating tidbit during the research for Naomi’s Hope. In northern Indiana, the forests were honeycombed with trails from the Native Americans who lived there. As settlers moved into the area, they used the same trails. When families followed with wagons full of goods, the trails were widened by cutting down the trees and brush on either side of the footpath. But the stumps, cut close to the surface of the ground, remained until they were absorbed into the earth. Of course, this meant the roads were very rough, and often impassable in wet weather.
Those roads still exist in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties in Indiana – and of course, they’re paved these days! You can find them by looking for the routes that don’t follow the surveyor’s grids of north/south and east/west.
But the most surprising thing I learned in my research is that my Amish characters in the 1840’s wouldn’t have owned a buggy. That iconic scene of the gray or black covered buggy traveling along the rural roads wasn’t part of the landscape in the mid-19th century!
Carriages and buggies had been invented much earlier, and I can only speculate that the Amish were late in acquiring the lighter vehicles for several reasons. One being that the light buggies required an additional horse, a buggy horse. When a family is trying to survive on the frontier, the expense of another horse could be crippling. Also, the carriages and buggies of the east were part of the status of wealthy families, and opposite of the emphasis the Amish place on the simple life. A third reason might have been the fact that a light buggy wouldn’t have lasted long on the rough roads of the frontier.
The evidence of when buggies became the normal form of transportation for Amish families is found in the lists of items bequeathed to family members at a parent’s death, or the lists of items parents gave to their children when they reached twenty-one years, in order to assist in setting up their housekeeping. One list I found from around 1840 itemizes a horse, harness, and wagon, along with a bed, a hymnal, sheep, pigs, a plow, and other items, but no buggy. Another list I found from eighty years later includes a buggy among the items given as a dowry for the family’s sons. Sometime between those two dates, buggies became part of Amish life, as they still are today.
Related to that, in my research for the trilogy, I found that the families would walk to church or to visit friends on Sundays. Since the horses worked six days a week, Sunday was observed as a day of rest for them. It was good for the horses to have a day when they did nothing more than graze in the pasture. Today, families have work horses and, in addition, one or two buggy horses. So rather than walking on a Sunday, they use their horse and buggy for transportation.
If you’ve been to Amish Country, you know the tranquility a horse and buggy adds to the atmosphere. The rhythmic clip-clop of a quick-stepping horse on a country road is an unforgettable sound, taking us back to former times, when horses were the only mode of transportation for our ancestors.
More about Naomi’s Hope:
Despite growing pains in her 1846 Amish community in Indiana, Naomi Schrock has settled into a comfortable life in her parents’ home with her adopted son, Davey. Surrounded by family and friends, she tries not to think about the fact that she’s not at the top of any man’s list of potential wives. Yet when Cap Stoltzfus moves into the area and befriends Davey, Naomi finds herself caught between the plans she has made for her future and the tantalizing thought that Cap might be part of a life she never dared to hope for.
When a couple shows up claiming to be Davey’s true family, Naomi and Cap must unite to make the decision that will determine the boy’s future as well as their own. How can she relinquish him to these unknown relatives? And can God somehow bring wholeness to her heart?
Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of thirty-five years, where she enjoys hiking in the Hills and spending time with their expanding family. She is the author of several books from Love Inspired, as well as Hannah’s Choice, Mattie’s Pledge (finalist for the 2017 Holt Medallion), and Naomi’s Hope, all part of the “Journey to Pleasant Prairie” series from Revell.