Coasting Trade

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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 .

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Coasting Trade

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