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 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
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
How They Traveled
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
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.
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.
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.
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