Ginery Twichell rode into legend on horseback in 1846 when he brought the news of the British elections from Boston to New York four hours faster than his rival who traveled by train and steamboat. His feat was made even more difficult by the deep snow that enveloped the Boston Post Road.
He was a stage-driver who made his fortune during the golden age of stagecoaches, then won a seat to Congress as the railroad eclipsed horse power. While in Congress he was named president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, then ran the Boston, Barre and Garden Railroad and the Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad.
As a young girl, historian Alice Morse Earle caught sight of the famous Ginery Twichell reliving his glory days. She was having her picture taken in a Worcester studio when the photographer’s assistant shouted, ‘Ginery is here.’ She looked outside and saw
…a great stage-coach with six horses which stood reeking, foaming, pawing, in front of the Baystate House across the street. A dignified and self-contained old man, ruddy of face, and dressed in a heavy greatcoat and tall silk hat, sat erect on the coachman’s seat, reins well in hand—and suddenly Ginery and his six horses were off with rattle of wheels and blowing of horn and cheers of the crowd; but not before there was imprinted forever in unfading colors on my young brain a clear picture of the dashing coaching life of olden days. It was an anniversary of some memorable event, and the member of Congress celebrated it by once more driving over his old-time coaching route to meet the cheers and admiration of all beholders.
Napoleon of the Mails
Ginery Twichell was born on a farm in Athol, Mass., on August 26, 1811. He quit school at 16 to work in a mill. He eventually got work helping a local farmer run a stage wagon that carried passengers, the mail and newspapers from Worcester into the countryside. By 1832, when he was 21, Ginery Twichell bought the farmer’s Worcester-to-Athol route.
He went to Washington, D.C., to get a contract to deliver the mail. His competitors assumed he would just try for one contract. They were surprised when he returned with a number of them. His stage lines expanded to 286 miles of route that required 156 horses to do the work, from Worcester to Northfield, Winchester, Keene, N.H., and Templeton, Templeton to Greenfield and Barre to Worcester. Four of his five brothers were tavern keepers along his stage lines.
He was viewed as a Napoleon of mail contractors.
But it was as an express rider that Ginery Twichell became known. He managed to bring election results from the four western counties in Massachusetts to Boston – on horseback in a blizzard — in time for the results to appear in the Boston Atlas the next morning. It had never been done before.
It was another ride that earned Ginery Twichell immortality.
In 1846, the New York newspapers were in cutthroat competition with each other. All wanted the news from England: would Sir Robert Peel be returned as prime minister of Great Britain, ensuring peace over the Oregon question?
The news would arrive on the Cunard line in Boston in January. James Gordon Bennett of the Herald arranged for his express rider, and only his express rider, to take a special Boston & Worcester train to Norwich, Conn., and then by boat to Long Island and on to his New York offices. No other train could leave within 15 minutes of the one hired by Bennett.
Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, asked Ginery Twichell if he could beat the Herald. Twichell said he could.
He knew he would have to ride horseback two-thirds of the distance between Boston and New York. He arranged for the best horses and most reliable stablemen to be ready for him between Worcester and Hartford, and New Haven and New York. He also ordered a special train to have its steam up and be ready to leave for Worcester 15 minutes after the Herald’s special train had left.
On Jan. 23, 1846, it snowed and snowed some more. Ginery Twichell got the dispatches, took the train to Worcester, and then rode 10 horses over the 66 miles to Hartford in three hours and 20 minutes. He took the train from Hartford to New Haven, and then rode another 76 miles between New Haven and New York. He arrived four hours ahead of the Herald’s dispatches.
The feat was much talked about at the time. An 1850 lithograph pictures him riding through the snow. It is entitled, “The Unrivaled Express Rider, Ginery Twichell, Who rode from Worcester to Hartford, a distance of sixty miles in 3 hours & 20 minutes, through a deep snow, Jan. 23, 1846.”
Ginery Twichell was 34 years old when he made his famous express ride. Shortly after he turned 35, he married Theolotia Ruggles. A year later he was made superintendent of the Boston & Worcester; a decade after that he was elected president of the railroad.
Twichell had a way with people that won him loyal customers – and later, voters. A friend recalled,
He had an inexhaustible fund of racy anecdotes which he would tell so well that it was a perfect treat to ride upon the box with him. He was a general favorite, especially with the country folks, and the boys and girls on the road, and with these he always had a joke to crack whenever it came his way to do so, to the infinite amusement of the travellers whom he had in charge.
An old stage driver remembered him as, “shrewd, quiet, persevering man of few words and those to the point. His voice was clear and low, never raised to horses or men.” He had a nervous habit of ribbing his hands when in earnest conversation, and he made friends and held them. The stage driver also revealed he always wore buckskin underwear on his long rides in winter.
In 1867, Ginery Twichell was elected to the first of three terms in Congress. He died on July 23, 1883, in Brookline, Mass., of typhoid fever.
The two-story frame Ginery Twichell House in Brookline, Mass., is on the National Register of Historic Places.
With thanks to The Old Post Road by Stewart H. Holbrook.