The Roxbury Coaches & Its Omnibus Tokens

In 1826 entrepreneur Brooks Bowman started the first hourly passenger service between Roxbury and Boston Massachusetts. Running coaches six days a week, he named his fleet ‘The Roxbury Coaches,’ and created a transportation empire that lasted over three decades …
View of Eliot Square, Roxbury Coaches Terminu

View of Eliot Square, Roxbury Coaches Terminus

On March 1st 1826 entrepreneur Brooks Bowman established passenger coach service between Roxbury Massachusetts and Boston. Running hourly with morning and afternoon service six days a week, his coaches ran from the ‘Town House,’ near Eliot Square to the Old South Church.  Sunday was the only day that service wasn’t available.

Beginning at 8am each morning, and again at 10:00, noon, 2pm, 4:00, and 6 o’clock, up to 20 passengers could engage an omnibus ride to downtown Boston for 12½ cents.  Return runs, for the same fare, disembarked from the Old South Church at 9am, 11:00, 3pm, 5:00, and 7 o’clock. Service each way took approximately 45 minutes.

Roxbury New Line CoachesUnlike prior service, which only ran once every two hours during the day, Bowman’s coaches were larger, could accommodate more passengers, and were pulled by a team of four horses.  The “Governor Brooks,” the first of several omnibuses christened for service, was the first omnibus coach for the city of Boston.

Immediately a hit with the general public, a second omnibus was added to the service. Named the “Northender,” soon Bowman’s services could no longer keep up with passenger demand, and the frequency of runs had to be increased to half-hourlies.

WaitingOmnibusAt each location, riders would line up and wait for the next coach, and upon its arrival, a post-horn was blown to notify customers of its readiness for boarding.

Interestingly, businessmen were not the initial riders of the service. Rather, its principal patrons were women, children, elderly, and the infirm.

Quickly other Bostonian entrepreneurs took notice of Bowman’s success. Satiating the public’s increasing demand for swift and frequent passenger service, Stephen Wiley launched the Charleston Hourlies soon after Bowman’s service was inaugurated. Ebenezer Kimball, another enterprising businessman who seized on the service’s popularity, established his Cambridgeport Hourlies.

1832 Map of the Town of Roxbury, Massachusetts

1832 Map of the Town of Roxbury, Massachusetts

In addition to new passenger services being launched, other businesses benefited from the new boon. Hotels and businesses at the terminuses of lines quickly experienced increased popularity. With the increase in foot traffic and awareness of once far-away local businesses, a whole new clientele of patrons emerged.

For the ensuring years thereafter, services between various points within Boston and its suburbs were launched and improved. Over time new companies were established, new lines were put in service, and competition became fierce.

In 1832 Horace King managed operations of the Roxbury Coaches. By this time a fleet of omnibuses were in service for the Roxbury Line. Ornately decorated and colorfully emblazoned, the omnibuses possessed flamboyant names like “Regulator,” “Conqueror,” and the “Aurora.”  As with the service’s fleet size, the number of locations it served also increased.

The “Governor Brooks,” possessing seats for 18 passengers inside and six atop, began in 1835 and provided regular service between Roxbury and Winnisimmet Ferry.

For the next two decades King oversaw the service, eventually becoming its owner. Over time the frequency of service also expanded. By 1853 some weekday lines ran as frequently as 7½ minutes, at a fare of only six cents.

After King’s departure from the business in the early 1850s however, the Roxbury Coaches survived but only a few more years. Supplanted by a maturing public transport system, including horse drawn passenger rail service, omnibuses could no longer profitably compete.

Metropolitan Horse Railroad Company - Boston & Roxbury Line

Metropolitan Horse Railroad Company – Boston & Roxbury Line

Numismatic Specimens

Below are several examples of the Roxbury Coach passenger fare tokens. Struck in German Silver and copper, each of the tokens were valued at 12 1/2 cents and could be utilized for fare.

All are dated 1837 and measure 18.7mm in diameter.  The following table outlines the two known types:

Roxbury Coaches Table of Token Varieties

The first specimen is holed.  As was often the practice during the era, coach drivers would pierce tokens so that they could be strung on twine.  This was done in an effort to mitigate token losses during the often bumpy rides.

HT-169 Roxbury Coaches New Line R-3 holed

The second specimen is solid.  It is unclear why some specimens are found holed, while others are not. Perhaps the practice of stringing tokens was not widespread across all routes and drivers.

HT-169 Roxbury Coaches New Line R-3 solid not holed

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The New England Historical & Genealogical Register and Antiquarian Journal Volume 20, S.G. Drake, 1866, pg.141
  2. The Town of Roxbury: Its Memorable Persons and Places, Its History and Antiquities, Francis Samuel Drake, 1878, pg.265
  3. Proceedings of the Bostonian Society Annual Meeting, Bostonian Society, 1895, pg.31
  4. American Journal of Numismatics Volume 38-39, ANS, 1904, pg.66
  5. The Numismatist Volume 28, ANA, 1915, pg.132
  6. United States Store Cards, Edgar H. Adams, 1920, pg.19
  7. Romantic Days in Old Boston, Mary Caroline Crawford, Little, Brown, and Co. 1922, pg.336
  8. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.146
  9. A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
  10. The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue, John M. Coffee and Harold V. Ford, AVA
  11. The Map of Roxbury (John G. Hales) 1832 at the JP Historical Society
  12. The Library of Congress Digital Archives

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.
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