Skip to main content

Coasting Trade


COASTING TRADE. From the beginning of British settlement in North America until after 1850, shipping along the coasts was the principal means of transportation and communication between sections of the new country. In the colonial period it served to distribute European imports as well as to exchange local products. Colonial coasting trade was reserved to British and American vessels by the Navigation Acts of 1651 and 1660. The policy was continued after the formation of the federal Union. A prohibitive tax was placed on foreign built and foreign owned ships in 1789, followed by their complete exclusion from coastwise competition under the Navigation Act of 1817.

From 1800 until the Civil War, the schooner was the typical American coasting vessel. After 1865 steamers and barges towed by steamers were used increasingly, until by 1920 the sailing vessel had largely disappeared.

With the growing diversity of sectional production and the expansion of intersectional trade, coastwise shipping grew from 68,607 tons in 1789 to 516,979 tons in 1830 to 2.6 million tons in 1860. Manufactured goods of the Northeast were exchanged for the cotton and tobacco of the South, while the surplus agricultural products of the Mississippi Valley came to the Atlantic coast by way of New Orleans, Louisiana. Following the completion of railroad trunk lines along the coast and across the Appalachian Mountains after 1850, passengers, merchandise, and commodities of value traveled increasingly by rail, while such bulk cargoes as coal, lumber, ice, iron, steel, and oil were shipped by sea. After 1865 the tonnage engaged in coastal shipping continued to increase (4.3 million tons in 1900, 10 million tons in 1935) but not with the rapidity of rail and motor transportation. The late 1800s witnessed bitter struggles between ship and railroad operators, which were characterized by rate wars, followed by agreements and growing control of coast-to-coast trade by the railroads.


Shepherd, James F., and Gary M. Walton. Shipping, Maritime Trade, and the Economic Development of Colonial North America. Cambridge, U.K.: University of Cambridge Press, 1972.

John HaskellKemble/a. r.

See alsoClipper Ships ; Colonial Commerce ; Gibbons v. Ogden ; Industries, Colonial ; Pacific Fur Company .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Coasting Trade." Dictionary of American History. . 14 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Coasting Trade." Dictionary of American History. . (February 14, 2019).

"Coasting Trade." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved February 14, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.