North American Coastal Trade System, 18th Century

North American Coastal Trade System, 18th Century

Note: Boundaries are contemporary.

The early stages of North American development were strongly influenced by coastal and fluvial transportation since no other forms of transportation were readily available. Roads were limited and not suitable for any form of heavy haulage. Inland transportation costs compared with maritime or fluvial costs were very high; moving one ton of goods 30 miles (48 km) inland was as expensive at moving the same ton across the Atlantic. Consequently, most of the population lived close to the coast, which was related to the development of a system of coastal cities with small hinterlands and connected by a network of coastal shipping.

Gateways such as New Orleans and Montreal were at the head of a long-distance hinterland that could be serviced through a river system (Mississippi and St. Lawrence / Great Lakes respectively) and various portages. The constraints imposed by this system will be finally broken in the early 19th century when the first canals and turnpikes were built, enabling the development of a better connected inland transport system. The invention of the steamboat in the 1840s improved inland navigation along the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.