US Migration Canals

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United States  >  Migration  >  Canals

Historic Background

Transportation canals in the United states helped connect isolated rural areas to urban population centers. The golden age of historic transportation canals was from 1820 until railroads replaced canals about 1860. Settlers flooded into regions serviced by such canals and the waterways they connected because they could use the waterways to sell their agricultural products and obtain manufactured goods. The Erie Canal connected New York City to the Great Lakes. The Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system. The short two mile Louisville and Portland Canal by-passed some waterfalls to make the entire length of the Ohio River from the Mississippi River to Pittsburgh available to boats or rafts. Pennsylvania combined canals and railroads. New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, and Indiana also built canals that were enticing to settlers.[1]

Understanding the transportation systems available to ancestors can help genealogists better guess their place of origin. Connect the place where an ancestor settled to the nearby canals, waterways, trails, roads, and railroads to look for connections to places they may have lived previously.

List of Significant Canals

Some of the most significant transportation canals to affect American settlement were:

Chronological List of United States Canals Used by Settlers
Name Date Opened Origin Destination
Champlain Canal 1818/1823 Hudson River (Troy, New York) Lake Champlain (Whitehall, New York)
Erie Canal
1825/1832 Hudson River (Albany, New York)
Lake Erie (Buffalo, New York )
Ohio and Erie Canal 1828/1832 Lake Erie (Cleveland, Ohio)
Ohio River (Portsmouth, Ohio)
Louisville and Portland Canal 1830 Ohio River (Louisville, Kentucky) 2 mile (3.2 km) waterfall by-pass
Delaware and Raritan Canal 1834 Raritan River (New Brunswick, NJ) Delaware River (Bordentown, NJ)
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
1836 Georgetown, D.C. Cumberland, Maryland
Miami and Erie Canal 1845 Ohio River (Cincinnati, Ohio) Lake Erie (Toledo, Ohio)
Illinois and Michigan Canal 1848 Lake Michigan (Chicago, Illinois) Illinois River (Peru, Illinois)


  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Canal" in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 22 June 2009).