I'm editing a wonderful new biography of William Penn, and while reading one passage I pondered, as I often do, how the Internet has changed Everything.
It seems that Penn and the proprietor of Maryland had a long-running and vitriolic dispute over their colonies' boundary lines, and Penn returned to London to try to persuade the king that the matter should be resolved in Pennsylvania's favor. Upon reaching England two months later, though, he found that his secretary had failed to pack the relevant documents!
These days, of course, we'd just send an e-mail and the papers would show up in PDF form within no more than hours. But back then, as a waggish friend said, "they had to use e-sail." Sending for the papers meant a delay of months (if you were lucky and the ship didn't sink or wasn't hijacked by pirates).
And because Penn, while waiting for the legal papers, had to spend more time away from Philadelphia than he wanted, he couldn't keep an eye on things and had to rely on secondhand, self-serving accounts of what was really going on.
It's a fascinating and well-written book that was a pleasure to work on. Chester County is even mentioned a few times.