19th C. overland travel
November 27, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

How did 19th century immigrants cross Pennsylvania en route to Ohio River transportation?

A family of ten, with children ranging from 2 to 18, arrives in New York City in the early nineteenth century. They would eventually take riverboat transportation down the Ohio River. Getting to the Ohio, though, required them to travel to the vicinity of Pittsburgh. What would have been their options for the journey? What might it have cost? Is it possible, or even likely, that the family stopped temporarily while the father and oldest sons labored to earn additional funds?

Bonus points for source material that can shed additional light.
posted by John Borrowman to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Between 1834 and 1850 or so, they would have taken the Pennsylvania Canal. Before that they would have had to take a stage coach.
posted by octothorpe at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2011

I have a family china pitcher that I remember my mother telling me went west with the family to Ohio by covered wagon. But stage coach sounds more plausible in retrospect.
posted by ldthomps at 5:14 PM on November 27, 2011

You could get to Lake Erie and Ohio by way of the Erie Canal, through New York State, since 1825.
posted by Brian B. at 5:21 PM on November 27, 2011

Some of my ancestors arrived in Boston from England in the 1860s. They could have stayed on the boat until New York but I don't think they could afford it. They lived in Boston for three years to earn enough money to travel West. The boat journey had depleted their savings completely.

I think they were a family of 7 when they landed in America, two more kids were born while they were in Boston (not twins) and at least one more was born later. I can look it up if you need specifics. I'm descended from the one born later.

I'm sorry I don't know how they got to Ohio but I do know how they got farther West.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:54 PM on November 27, 2011

In my wife's family, they went by oxcart.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2011

Early American migration routes.

Is it possible, or even likely, that the family stopped temporarily while the father and oldest sons labored to earn additional funds?

It's pretty likely that the family would stop somewhere, perhaps for years at a time. One thing that was a factor was the opening up of areas for settlement and the formal selling of land.

One set of my ancestors worked their way from the Baltimore area to middle Ohio, stayed there a few years, resettled in Indiana, stayed a few, then permanently settled in Iowa. I don't think Iowa was necessarily always their goal: it was probably more like "I hear there's fertile land out west". This was happening on a grand scale so it was very much word of mouth and hearing from relatives and friends about a good place to move to.

In early years, settlement patterns very much followed the rivers, and navigable waters dictated the locations of larger towns. Later, the development of things like the modern windmill allowed the establishment of farms away from running water supplies and to some extent irrigation of the uplands, and this changed American agriculture dramatically, and settlement patterns along with it.

But stage coach sounds more plausible in retrospect.

Conestoga Wagon. The workhorse of the Westward Expansion, especially across the Appalachians. Not to be confused with the lightweight Prairie Schooner you've seen in many a Western. Stage coaches existed, but settlers would more likely have been using a "moving van" like the Conestoga. Or the menfolk would go by wagon, and the women arrive later. I think the average Conestoga pretty much required livestock, but for smaller wagons, draft animals were often optional.

It was really, really difficult to get from the Eastern Seaboard to the interior, and construction of the Erie Canal made the development of places like Chicago possible. The early streets of Chicago make tribute to the sources of the city's wealth: Canal, Clinton (Gov. DeWitt Clinton, largely responsible for the canal), Ohio, Erie, and Ontario, not to mention Fulton, inventor of the steamboat. The canal was like the internet of its day and resulted in wholesale change in migration, with cities like Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit the obvious benefactors. Personally, I don't think many people used the canal to get to Pittsburgh; the middle north counties of Pennsylvania were some of the last to be settled and chartered. The state's development radiated inward from the SE corner (Philadelphia) and SW (Pittsburgh), and the lower tier of important cities shows how they were connected.
posted by dhartung at 6:17 PM on November 27, 2011

US 30 was open as a stagecoach road by 1820 or so. The Susquehanna could take you by boat deep into the interior of Pennsylvania. (Hollidaysburg, PA)

Canals west started soon thereafter, with the Union Canal opening the interior of PA as early as 1828; the slide over the Alleghenies opened in 1834.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:45 PM on November 27, 2011

To amplify my previous post: yeah, if they arrived in NYC, it's relatively easy and cheap to reach the Ohio and Pittsburgh via the Erie Canal. After 1844, there was a
canal from Lake Erie to the Allegheny River

But to cross directly Pennsylvania required a (1400-foot vertical) 36-mile portage over the Alleghenies. The Main Line of Public Works was open in 1834.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2011

Read Boy With A Pack, if you can find a copy. (He walks, and sometimes gets to ride on canal boats.)
posted by Rash at 11:17 PM on November 27, 2011

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