Feeling Time in the 1800's

Have you ever thought about life without clocks and watches or without even a standard time between different parts towns? How would you know when to go to work or to school or even what time to go to bed? When would the train arrive or the stagecoach?


In the early 1800’s very few people in the United States owned timepieces. A home with a clock was very rare. (By 1900 a home without one was also very rare.)

Most people told time by their imaginations! This means they lived by the sun. They went to bed when it got dark outside and they got up when the sun rose in the morning. They ate their meals according to what the sun told them to do. Can you picture a world where homes and most business ran on guesswork? Phrases like “mid morning” or “mid afternoon” or some time “around midnight” certainly had a more important meaning than they do today!

What about traveling? Our transportation systems were not so sophisticated in the early 1800’s. So getting from place to place took a l-o-n-g time --- and you had no watch to tell you just how long it was really taking! Awful!

In 1800 it took an entire day to just get outside New York City; two weeks to reach Georgia or Ohio from New York City; and five weeks to get from NYC to Illinois or Louisiana. Wow! That’s soooo slow! [From the 1932 Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.]

And what time was it when you finally arrived at your destination? Who really knew!! Time in different parts of the country (really around the world) was calculated on imagination or best guesses according to the sun.

So how long did it take President George Washington and his wife, Martha, to travel from Alexandria, Virginia to their home in Mount Vernon, Virginia?

And what would this traveling FEEL like?

Carriage 1800.png