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Showing posts from April, 2008

Roads-Trails-Paths Finding Model

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Finding old routes is remarkably simple. Finding remnants of the old routes is somewhat more demanding.

Arbitrary Definitions:
roads carry wheeled vehicles, trails are routes used by quadruped/critter carriers, and paths are the routes of bipedal/human cargo carriers.
Commercial transportation is a very rational and predictable activity governed by economics and physics. A column of burdened porters moved under the same imperatives as does an eighteen-wheeled truck. They and all other carriers seek the most efficient, fastest route from "A" to "B." Efficiency issues of importance to the operator of the carrier included:
security and
fuel costs, and
fuel/energy expenditure.Questions drivers of men, animals, wagons, or trucks need to answer about route selection include: "Are there secure places at which to stop and repair gear along the way?", "Is there sufficient and cost effective game/fodder/diesel along our route to fuel the vehicle?" In…

The Technologies of Colonial Transportation: How people and cargo moved in pre-modern times

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People, common people made commercial transportation work in England's southern colonies in North America. From over-burdened porters to vernacular engineers, people made it happen.

Before the invention of mechanized transportation cargo traveled on the backs of porters, on the backs of beasts of burden, in carts and then in wagons. Perhaps the greatest tonnage carried in pre-modern times, when muscles powered transportation was carried in water-craft. We will not deal with watercraft now, but limit this short note to terrestrial transportation of goods.

Before and immediately after the English invasion of southeastern North America at Roanoke Island and at Jamestown, Native Americans carried most commercial cargo. These porters carried tens of pounds over hundreds of miles. They were replaced by pack horses. Their replacement culminated with Bacon's Rebellion, the definitive moment of technological change. After 1676 there would be little porter borne commerce in England…

Migration into the "Backcountry" in Colonial Times - II

Geographic Barriers and the Politics of Conquest Directed Early Migrants from Virginia to the South and then the Southwest

Classic migrants, settlers looking for market opportunities in 17th and 18th century Virginia seem to have, as much as possible, avoided passage through market farming country. That is, smart migrants stayed as close to the frontier as comfortably possible to avoid paying market rates for provender. Frontier farmers, farming for subsistence, sold their excess to passing travelers at whatever rates that trade would bear.

In Virginia, the earliest routes of migration followed in the footprints of traders and explorers along paths and trails long known to prior residents. North from Jamestown in earliest times was a difficult option as stream after uncrossable stream flowing toward Chesapeake Bay intersected the way. These waterways forced northbound traffic westward, toward shallower fords, deeper into lands occupied byincreasingly unfriendly Native Americans.

Sout…

Migration into the "Backcountry" in Colonial Times - I

Frontier Folk Were Seldom Settlers and Vice Versa

English colonists began migrating inland, away from their colonial plantations and settlements almost the instant they landed, first at Roanoke (1585-1587) and then on Chesapeake Bay(starting in 1607). These migrating emigrants were usually the invisible to historians and barely visible to archaeologist; indentured servants and other less affluent folk. Their motives for migrating away from their countrymen ranged from curiosity to animosity. Some went to see what they could see and never came back. Some went to escape an odious labor contract and others to escape debt or other inconveniences common in the English colonial settlements, like wholesale hunger. But, more or less, all escaped into the backcountry, the unmapped, unknown frontier lands away from the coastal enclaves.

In the earliest years of settlement this meant escape into Indian country. And it flies in the face of most conventional beliefs to say that English men, w…

Why we look at dirt first, then paper.

A random concatenation of events got me thinking about why we do what we do the way we do. It all came together when a volunteer asked about what documents to look for in order to find a stage coach road. My reply, more or less verbatim, follows:

Muscle powered transportation is my definition of "pre-modern" and those are the defining technologies for the old traces the Trading Path Association seeks. But (and this is a major but) muscle powered transport persisted well into the industrial age and the farther into that age it persisted the farther the roads deviated from their original course. For example, railroads caused wholesale rerouting of local roads and extinguished many a town that thrived until snuffed by cessation of wagon commerce. So, by the time scheduled bus service (stagecoaches) entered the backcountry there is no knowing where the original roads went. This is one reason that I pretty much reject the normal process of history which consists of looking …