"The Pedestrian" (1862) book digest

A digest of Edward Payson Weston's "The Pedestrian," compiled by Charlie Duane - see the original book here

The title page summarizes Edward Payson Weston's early career:

"The Pedestrian, being a correct journal of incidents on a walk from the State House, Boston, MA to the U.S. Capitol at Washington, DC, performed in ten consecutive days between February 22nd and March 4th, 1861. By Edward Payson Weston. Also, an account of his adventures while walking in disguise through Baltimore, MD at the commencement of the Rebellion [Civil War] of 1861; together with the plans of his intended walk in May, 1862 from Washington to Boston in eight consecutive days."

The copyright page indicates a 1982 printing in New York. The front and back matter contain advertisements for: an all-purpose remedy, candy, boots, clothing, rubber gear, sewing machines, and a hotel.

The descriptions below arrange Weston's early life in chronological order, beginning with some biographical material found in the addendum.

Early years

Born in Providence, RI on March 15, 1839, Weston had roving blood in his family. His father departed for the California gold rush, leaving his mother and three siblings to fend for themselves. Weston went on the road himself at the age of 10, in the care of the Hutchinson Family, selling candies and song-books at their concerts.

When his father returned, Weston sold pamphlets of his father's travels. During his teenage years, he worked as a "news-boy" at a railroad and on a steamer, clerked for a merchant and apprenticed under a jeweler. At the age of 17 he traveled with a Circus Company for the summer. Then he hooked up with Spalding & Rogers' Circus in Quebec, travelling "through the Canadas and the Western States" for the rest of the year as a drummer.

Returning home, he became "engaged in the book business," including the 1859 publication of a book by his mother, "Kate Felton; or a Peep at Realities."

The bet

During the Presidential campaign of 1860 Weston bantered with a friend over dinner that he would walk to the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, should he be elected. Later, he lined up two friends to follow behind him in a carriage to distribute advertisements. Their observations form the account of the journey.

In preparation, Weston made a couple tests of endurance, while performing some work at the same time.

On January 1, 1861 Weston walked from Hartford, CT to New Haven, CT, dropping off book circulars at 150 houses along the way. The 36-mile walk took 10 hrs 40 mins. On the next day he returned to Hartford, stopping at 125 houses and making several sales along the way. The return trip took 11 hrs 30 mins.

Later that January, Weston made another test, this time going from New Haven to Hartford and back. To increase the challenge, he distributed 350 heavy circulars and returned through Wallingford. He completed the journey of 76 miles in 23 hrs 35 mins, wearing off the soles of his shoes on icy roads.

The Walk

Worn out by preparations, and delayed by creditors, the 21-year-old pedestrian began his long-distance walk on February 22, 1861 at the State House in Boston, MA, with the aim of arriving at noon ten days later in Washington, DC. Weston walked down Beacon Street, cheered on by a crowd of several hundred people. Below are the towns he passed through.

22 Feb: Boston, Newton, Natick, Framingham, (snow and ice), Westboro, Worcester.

23 Feb: (~2 feet of snow) Leicester, East Brookfield, South Brookfield, West Brookfield, West Warren, Palmer.

24 Feb: (lame left knee) ~ Baldwinville, Wilbraham, (muddy) Hartford CT.

25 Feb: (dog attack, sprained ankle) Meriden, Yalesville, Wallingford, (painful knee, mud) New Haven, Milford, Bridgeport.

26 Feb: (lameness) Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, Darien, Stamford, Greenwich, Port Chester NY, New Rochelle

27 Feb: Harlem bridge, New York (photo shoot, visit sponsors), Newark NJ.

28 Feb: Elizabethtown, (deep mud) Rahway, New Brunswick, South Brunswick, (rough roads, lame ankles) Clarksville.

1 Mar: (sprains great toe) Trenton, enters Pennsylvania, banks of Delaware River, Bristol, Philadelphia.

2 Mar: Media, cross Brandywine at Chadd's Ford, Chester.

3 Mar: Port Deposit, (delay for ferry) cross Susquehanna River, Belair MD.

4 Mar: (toll gates, dogs) Baltimore, Washington DC.

In the early morning darkness of his last day, Weston faced repeated delays at toll gates, having to wake up the toll men to let his attending carriage pass through. Then the horse pulling his carriage went lame. So, after further delays, Weston went ahead and walked the final 30 miles alone. He arrived at the Capitol as the bell struck 5 pm, having lost his bet by four hours. He had walked at least 510 miles (including deviations) in ten days.


Weston was determined to walk back from Washington in ten days, to make good on his bet. However, a riot broke out in Baltimore on April 19, days before his departure. As Baltimore was on his route, the Civil War effectively canceled his plans. The pedestrian, who had been honored by a visit with President Abraham Lincoln and other dignitaries, had to borrow money for the fare home.

Subsequently, Weston he served as an undercover courier, taking mail across contested territory where his walk had taken him only weeks before. This adventure began in Philadelphia on April 26 and ended in Washington DC on May 2.

Still not giving up on his hope of repeating the walk with better results, Weston planned an eight-day walk from Washington, DC to Boston, MA, to take place a year later. He hoped an even more impressive stunt would help him pay his debts. The itinerary is included at the end of this book, but the walk apparently never came to fruition.

However, the plans may reveal a clue to his later walking projects, and possibly more. Between Saturday and Monday of his printed itinerary, Weston writes:

"Having made a promise to my "mother," that when I again attempted to walk from Washington to Boston, I would not use the Sabbath in the performance of my task; I feel that out of respect to her wishes, it is my duty to keep that promise, and therefore, under no circumstances whatever will I continue my journey between the hours of twelve, Saturday night, and twelve o'clock, Sunday night."

It would be remarkable to discover here the original stimulus for starting 6-day walking contests on Monday, considering Weston's pioneering role in the pedestrian sport.

Historical context

In 1861, the United States consisted of 31 states, including the recent additions of California and Oregon to the electoral college. However the vast expanse of territory between east and west had not yet achieved statehood.

Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the office of President, seven Confederate states seceded from the Union.

Fifty years after the publication of "The Pedestrian," when Weston undertook his transcontinental walks, the United States consisted of 48 states.