Print

Before 1800, Vermonters walked, rode horses, or drove wagons on miserable roads if they wanted to get anywhere. Most people rarely ventured beyond their local community. Travel was mostly for the rich (who had time and money) and for the poor (who were forced to move frequently to find jobs).

But during the first half of the 19th century, Vermonters built better roads. When new forms of transportation—canals, steamships, and railroads—came to Vermont, trips that once took days took only hours. Vermont's waterways and railways became increasingly important in the effort to link the state to major urban centers. Storekeepers could now receive goods from Boston or other cities quickly and cheaply. Manufacturers sent their wares by canal to new markets in Canada and the Western Territories. Internally, Vermont had been expanding and improving its roads and canal systems through private investment. Though these new transportation systems helped Vermonters expand their economic markets, it also made it easier for people to move west rather than to the unsettled areas of the state. 

Advanced transportation technology linked Vermont to the world. New opportunities beckoned from outside Vermont's borders. Many residents left for manufacturing jobs in southern New England or to make beginnings in the Western Territories. For these people, Vermont was a dead end. Good farmland was expensive, and some resources, like trees and topsoil, had been exhausted. As a result, the population boom that started with Vermont's entry into the United States in 1791 had slowed by the 1820s and almost stopped by 1850. In fact, during the 1840s, 96,000 left Vermont, some motivated by the discovery of gold in California. Existing population centers in southern Vermont also began to shift as more people moved into the central and western parts of the state. Some historians refer to this time as the beginnings of the great migration from Vermont.

Along with this growth in transportation, the perception of time began to change. Before these changes, most people lived by the rising and setting of the sun. Stagecoach and steamship lines created a need for keeping to schedules not just for meeting traveler's needs but also for mail and freight deliveries. The telegraph also affected perception of time. Prior to the telegraph, communication across any distance required the physical movement of the information by man or animal. As telegraph wires followed railroad tracks, information passed from town to town in minutes. Schedules were confirmed and time synchronized. Clocks and pocket watches became more common as it became necessary to know what time it was and their cost decreased as a result of technological innovation and mass production.