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Colonial Travel

Whether by land or by sea, eighteenth century colonial travel was arduous, expensive, and many times dangerous. Because of this, many few people traveled very far from their homes - a striking difference from the world of today, where a trip across the ocean takes only a few hours, compared to a voyage of several months in Colonial times.

18th century american travel
18th Century Steamcoach, Remingon

Who Could Travel

In those days, it was fairly expensive to travel. Because of this, generally only government officials, merchants, and planters took the risk. They had to make trips for business or for official duty - but they were among the select few who could afford it.

Also, it was the men who did the traveling. Women, for the most part, were expected to stay home and look after the children and to tend to their husband's affairs in his absence.

African-American slaves were also not allowed to travel in many parts of the country without permission or the accompaniment of their masters. If any were caught without a written pass signed by their masters, they were assumed to be runaways.

How They Traveled

By Land

Although there weren't motor vehicles, airplanes, or even steam technology at the time, there were various modes of transportation available to the Colonists. The most common mode, and the cheapest, was walking. People would travel by foot for extraordinary distances to get supplies or visit friends and family. The lower classes rarely, if ever, travelled for pleasure.

Another popular means of travel, especially in the southern colonies, was by horseback. Because of the ease of transport horses afforded, many colonists bought a horse as soon as they could afford its maintenance. The price of a horse ranged from £5 - £1000, depending on breeding, speed, and ability. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson frequently would enjoy long rides in their Virginia country estates, and riding became as much as a source of leisure as it would be an essential means of transport.

Covered Wagon - Conestoga Wagon
Conestoga Wagon, Newbold Hough-Trotter

Many people, who could afford it, had a wheeled vehicle at their disposal as well. Farmers, especially, used carts and wagons for work around the farm and to cart supplies into town for sale or trade. The Conestoga Wagon (shown above) was used to transport large amounts of materials over long distances. The wagon was named after the Conestoga River near what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and was the earliest American form of the Covered Wagon, which early pioneers would use to settle the area west of the Appalachian Mountains.

By Sea

Although the colonists had made many technological advancements in transportation since the arrival of the Mayflower in the early seventeenth century, transcontinental journeys were still treacherous and time consuming. Ships traveling across the Atlantic took at least six to eight weeks, sometimes longer depending on weather conditions.

Early American Ships
18th Century Dutch Fluyts

Some of the threats early seafarers faced, apart from cabin fever in cramped quarters, were disease, shipwreck, and piracy. If they managed to avoid these, many of the passengers dealt with chronic seasickness, and the perpetual rocking of the ship kept them bedridden throughout their voyage.

Because the journey took such a long time, visitors to different countries would stay for months, sometimes even years. It was a very different world than the one that exists now, but it's thanks to the extraordinary bravery of these men and women who made these difficult journeys that America is the thriving nation it is today.




Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0



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