Old Roebuck Road
Did an ancestor travel the Old Roebuck Road of Massachusetts and Rhode Island? Learn about this settler migration route, its transportation history, and find related genealogy sources.
The Old Roebuck Road started as an ancient American Indian footpath connecting Massachusetts Bay to Narragansett Bay. In colonial days Europeans expanded that trail into a wagon road going 43 miles (69 kilometers) from Boston, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island. Boston was founded in 1630; Providence was established in 1636. The Old Roebuck Road attracted European settlers along its route in Massachusetts and Rhode Island because it provided access to markets for settler goods and services.
Overlapping routes. Part of the Old Roebuck Road followed the exact same route as a part of the Bay Road (to New Bedford) at least as far as Norwood. Moreover, the whole of the Old Roebuck Road also became a leg on the lower Boston Post Road between Boston and New York City. In the 1760s and 1770s it was also part of the King's Highway from Boston to New York City and all the way south to Charleston, South Carolina.
Stagecoach service. In the 1760s stagecoaches began to traverse these roads carrying regular mail and passengers. Inns for stagecoach passengers and other travelers usually were established near the time of American Revolution. By 1800 an advertisement suggested stage service from Boston to Providence took only ten hours. Nevertheless, travel between colonial towns was more often by sea than it was over land until just before the American Revolution.
Cobb's Tavern. The history of Cobb's Tavern reflects on the history of the Old Roebuck Road. Cobb's Tavern is about half way between Boston and Providence, about a day's stagecoach travel from each. The land which eventually held the Cobb's Tavern in Easton was first purchased in 1725 by the Hixon brothers. Later, Elizah Fisher purchased the land in 1797. Fisher operated a tavern there. He sold out, and Jonathan Cobb significantly expanded the tavern as traffic along the Old Roebuck Road improved about 1800. In 1819 he was appointed postmaster, and the role of the building as post office continued until at least 1895.
Toll roads. Massachusetts and Rhode Island developed turnpike (toll) systems for wagon roads in the early 1800s including most of the route from Boston to Providence. The Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike in Massachusetts charged tolls from 1806 to 1856. The Providence and Pawtucket Turnpike in Rhode Island was authorized in 1807 and the last toll houses were closed in 1869. Most of these early pathways continue as roads today. Modern freeways usually parallel the older road systems.
Decline. However, the use of early roads and turnpikes for moving settlers waned with the introduction of railroads. Settlers could travel faster, less expensively, and safer on railroads than on wagon roads. So, as railroads entered an area, the wagon-road traffic in that area declined. The first railroad from Boston to Providence opened in 1835. Also, another important railroad from Boston reached Worcester in 1835, and then reached to Providence, Rhode Island in 1847. In 1863 a horse-rail line from Providence to Central Falls laid its tracks in part of the Providence - Pawtucket Turnpike and travelers on that horse-rail line had the experience of passing turnpike toll houses until they were closed six years later.
Connecting Routes. The Old Roebuck Road connected with other migration routes:
Boston, MA connections
- Bay Road connects Boston (Massachusetts Bay) to New Bedford (Buzzards Bay).
- Coast Path follows an ancient Indian path near the shoreline from Boston to Plymouth.
- Kennebunk Road links Boston along the New England coast to Augusta, Maine.
- King's Highway also known as the Boston Post Road goes from Boston, Massachusetts to New York City, and south to Charleston, South Carolina with extensions on each end. In Massachusetts and Connecticut there were at least three competing routes for the Boston Post Road. Parts were laid out 1650 to 1735; its length remained in heavy use through 1783, and some parts are used to this day.
- Mohawk or Iroquois Trail This trail was established in 1722 from Albany to Utica to Rome to Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario. The Boston to Albany side of that route probably preceded the Albany to Oswego route by many years.
- Old Connecticut Path a pre-historic Indian path from Boston, Massachusetts to the Connecticut River Valley at Springfield, Massachusetts and south to Hartford, Connecticut.
Providence, RI connection
Modern parallels. The modern roads that roughly match the Old Roebuck Road from Boston to Providence are:
Boston was founded in 1630 by Puritan immigrants from England. Providence was first settled in 1636 by Puritan dissenter Roger Williams. The Indian path between Providence and Boston attracted settlers who would be able to more easily get access to the markets. Many of the earliest settlers along the Old Roebuck Road would have been from Boston, Massachusetts area, and prior to that from England. Look at the earliest deeds, tax records, and histories of towns along the Old Roebuck Road to learn the names of the first settlers. If you already know the name of a settler near the Old Roebuck Road, you have a good chance of finding his or her genealogy in sources like:
- Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, 3 vols. (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, c1995). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974 W2a.
- Walking the Post Road
- Boston Post Road in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 17 October 2014).
- Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 9th ed. (Logan, Utah: Everton Pub., 1999), pages 531 and M-48. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 1999.
- Frederic J. Wood, The Turnpikes of New England and the Evolution of the Same Through England, Virginia, and Maryland (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1919), 86-87. Internet Archive version online.
- Wood, 25.
- Cobb's Tavern in Rising Star Lodge, A.F. and A.M. (accessed 16 October 2014).
- Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 86-100.
- Wood, map between 286 and 287, and 302-306.
- Boston and Providence Railroad in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 29 October 2014).
- Boston and Albany Railroad in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 29 October 2014).
- Wood, 305.
- Wood, 305-306.