How did people get to Montreal in the 18th century?

I’m darned if I can find satisfactory answers about this. I want to know how people traveled from the nascent United States (preferably New York state) to Montreal in the 1790s. I know, not many people did it, but surely some did?

I assume that taking a boat down the St. Lawrence river from Lake Ontario would be the way. Durham boats weren’t introduced to the St. Lawrence until 1816, though, so does that leave only bateaus? Could they possibly take passengers? How long did the journey take?

Did people go overland?

Please tell me people didn’t head for the east coast and sail all the way around Maine, into the basin, and land at Quebec. Some of these Scottish fur traders were coming from the US, surely, and some of them wanted to bring wives and families, surely?

This is probably not a complete answer, but it helps. Here’s a map of the invasion of Canada during the Revolutionary War.

Thanks, that is interesting. There was basically nothing as far west as Lake Ontario in the 1770s, so those invasion routes from eastern New York make sense. There *were *settlers in that area by the 1790s, though …

I’m starting to wonder if relations between the US and Britain in the 1790s were so bad that no one *did *travel that way. Maybe everyone going to Montreal was traveling transatlantic from Scotland or France.

Except there were canal projects constantly. So someone was. But who?

IIRC, the route from Montreal to New York was in use before the 1760’s (think* Last of the Mohicans*) and the British had forts on Lake Champlain to guard the route and assert their borders. A short overland from the Hudson river system to Lake Champlain, and the rest could be done by canoe. (Actually, first to Lake George then portage at Ticonderoga? There appears to be a Fort Edward near Glen Falls on the north end of the Hudson, a short jaunt to Lake George). I imagine by the 1790’s this was a fairly well-travelled route.

Benedict Arnold had a fleet of gunboats for the revolutionary war to guard Lake Champlain.

In the winter they crossed the ice. In the summer, they rowed across. In the 'tween seasons, they probably didn’t very often. By the mid 19th, they had regular ferries (steam powered, I assume) and even laid train tracks across the winter ice.

It was not an easy trip. From Wikipedia:

Throughout the North American colonies, sailing between coastal towns or using navigable rivers were the best ways to get anywhere. Roads were often in bad shape. Where there were no roads, the rivers had rapids & the natives might or might not be helpful–you could have a seriously bad trip. That’s why canals were dug in the next century, until it was railroad time…

mc2000 is essentially correct. For passenger travel, you’d go up the Hudson, portage to Lake George, portage to Ft. Ticonderoga on Champlain, and take the rivers from there.

The route was harder for freight, but once railroads came in to replace the portage, the route was no more difficult that any other of the time.

So really no one was coming from western New York up the St. Lawrence river?

Why the heck not? Water travel was faster, safer, and easier. That’s why the colonies hugged the ocean and major navigable rivers.

By the 1790’s, to be sure, land travel was fairly easy between the major population centers of the American seaboard. There were roads–not necessarily good roads, but roads–and inns and regular stage service. George Washington travelled from Mount Vernon to New York and Philadelphia, by land, in reasonable comfort.

But between New York and Montreal? I don’t think so. Northern New York was still pretty wild. I don’t know if you could even ride a horse. You’d have to canoe and portage–back-breaking work, unless you were a hardened fur trapper. Sailing as a passenger was easier.

Hell, it was often easier in the 1790s to travel from place to place within the United States by ship than it was by land.

The difficulty of overland transport in those days is difficult to comprehend today. If you’ve seen “The Revenant,” well, that’s basically how it was everywhere. Even the Eastern colonies in 1790 lacked much in the way of connecting roads.

Going to a port and taking a ship from, say, Philadelphia to New York or Boston to Montreal was just as logical and useful as how, today, I plan on getting to Forth Worth, TX by driving an hour to Toronto-Pearson airport, then fly to DFW, and then drive an hour or so from there to my destination, rather than just driving the entire way from my house. Hell, driving to Fort Worth from here would make more sense than a lot of overland travel in 1790 because there’s no serious hazard to my survival on Interstates. I’m not likely to be killed by exposure, wildlife, bandits or angry natives on I-57.

Okay. I was thinking that travelers starting in Allegheny County would save themselves a lot of miles by taking the Venango Path north to Presqu’ile on Lake Erie, cutting across to Lake Ontario, then doing the rest of the way by water, on the lake then the St. Lawrence river.

Upon examination, looks like basically no one was living in that area along the southern shores of lakes Erie and Ontario at the time, though. Someone opened a grist mill near Rochester in 1789. It closed in 1792 due to lack of business.

Not to mention the St. Lawrence was the boundary between the US and Britain, who were on distinctly prickly terms at the time. Britain had refused to abandon the forts along the way, and banned commercial ships from traveling on the lakes.

Soooo … taking the road from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to New York, then the trip up the Hudson River etc.

Might have been simplest to sail from NY to England to Montreal. Foreshadowing later airline travel in terms of really going out of your way to get somewhere quicker.

Good point. Think about the major colonial cities in those days - Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Trenton (NJ), Alexandria (VA), Norfolk (VA), Charleston (SC), etc. What do they all share in common? They were (and are) on the ocean, a bay, or a river.

The town of Dumfries, VA is now a sleepy drivethrough town, but used to be a major colonial port. What happened? Landslides and erosion filled in the harbor so that large ships could no longer get in. Bye bye economy.

I mentioned a little about this in the thread on state capitals. This is how it was since basically forever. All cities were more or less defined by their transportation networks. Either they were located on natural waterways or were able to dominate nearby transportation networks. In colonial times, it cost about as much to move goods 20 miles inland as it did to transport them across the sea. Macadamized* roads were hugely popular once the technology became available, but they grew way more useful later, after canals essentially turned them into local links of a true national transportation system. Canals were vital to early development in the northern United States after the Revolutionary War. In areas where they made sense, they connected entire regions together overnight. You could literally travel from New Orleans to New York without ever touching land or entering the ocean! Of course, steamboats made this even more useful.

Rail them turned the entire system on its head. For the first time ever, land transport actually became cheaper than sea or river transport, connecting entire regions that simply could not have been economically linked before. The price to move goods dropped to almost nothing. This wasn’t just convenience - it was vital to the growth of cities. Today, we don’t even think about it, but before the 19th century, food was a major preoccupation for urbanites around the world.

For example, Rome built a massive port of Ostia - which should have been accounted one of the wonders of the world - more or less for the sole reason of ensuring a grain supply from Egypt. The largest cities were those which could draw upon large, secure, and fertile regions for food, usually by river, with easy access to sea trade. If you’re a farmer anywhere on the Seine, Oise, or Yonne riverse, for example, you can easily send your products to Paris. If you’re in Paris or want to trade there, it’s relatively easy to access global trade via the Channel. In London, you see much the same thing - the Thames stretches right into the heart of southern England.

*Macadamized roads are more or less the same technology in our modern roadways, incorporating several layers and a surface useful to carriages (then) or cars and trucks (now), as well as a slight angle to facilitate drainage.

Cities, heck. REGIONS.

The creation of the American breadbasket in places like Iowa, Nebraska and the rest of the Midwest is not possible without rail. You could not get the grain from there to the Eastern cities without railroads; prior to rail, the East had to grow its own food. There was once a day when New England was largely deforested, because it was all farms. Once rail made it possible to do so the farmers moved west, where the soil is better, and New England grew its trees back as the forest reclaimed the abandoned farms - and in some cases whole towns that vanished along with the farmers.

If I may steer this thread back to the original question: okay, so suppose we’re passengers headed to clerk for the North West Company in Montreal. We’re taking the Hudson-Lake George-Lake Champlain route in 1795. What sorts of boats are we taking? Barks? Schooners? Something else entirely?

Probably nothing as big and majestic as a full blown schooner if you weren’t planning on a serious Great Lakes trip. A small keel boat or some such cheap, easily operated boat would be more common in riverine transport for the time.



Minor nitpick but the area was populated pretty well with Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandot and Iroquis Confederacy…

Nittier pick: Since I’m talking about Scottish fur traders taking boats across the great lakes to St. Lawrence, “basically no one” operating said boats is what I meant.

Having said that, the native tribes were already losing that land at that time. The Phelps Purchase took away most of the land between lakes Erie and Ontario. A reservation remained beneath the eastern tip of Lake Erie, but most of the native inhabitants had already relocated to Canada after the Treaty of Paris (or so my sources tell me).

Edit: thanks, RickJay. (starts researching keelboats)

By chance, I was reading a biography of Hamilton this morning, and he used a commercial schooner service when travelling from NYC to Albany on the Hudson. My impression was that this was a pretty standard way for late 18th century folks to make the trip, at least those of Hamilton’s social class.