Regional Economy and the American Revolution

Regional Economy and the American Revolution

Advancements in transportation and communication within colonial America in the 18th century helped create the conditions for independence.


3 - 12


Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History

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Throughout history, improvements in transportation and communication have brought about enormous changes in economic, social, and political conditions. The American Revolution is one major example.

The American Revolution was an uprising against British colonial rule. It was supported by the steady improvement of infrastructure such as roads and bridges, as well as ways in which people could communicate. These improvements helped bind the 13 North American colonies together. Before then, the colonies had felt closer to Britain than to each other.

Scattered Outposts

In the early decades of colonial America, there was no national community whatsoever. The first settlers lived in scattered outposts along the Atlantic coast or by inland rivers. At the outset, survival was their overwhelming task. Slowly, the British colonists progressed beyond simply surviving. They developed an agricultural economy based on trade with Britain, the mother country. However, their settlements remained separated from each other by large areas of dense wilderness.

The early colonists did much of their traveling over water. By the early 1700s, many harbor towns had sprung up, and some coastal trade had developed. Land routes were slowly cleared as inland areas were settled and the colonial population grew. Throughout the 18th century, a number of important cities developed along the Atlantic coast. As these cities grew, new roads were built to connect them.

Postal Service: A Means of Communication

Postal service was one of the main means of communication in colonial North America. However, this primarily involved mail sent between the colonists and European countries. Only in the mid-1700s was a reliable network of post roads established between the 13 colonies. This achievement was overseen by Benjamin Franklin, who had become a postmaster general for the colonies in 1753.

Franklin was also deeply involved in his time's other primary medium of communication: printing. Franklin was in the newspaper business for a quarter century. He also founded one of the first American magazines in 1741.

The story of the American newspaper begins with a single sheet published in 1690 by a Boston coffeehouse owner named Benjamin Harris. The British crown shut the paper down after only one issue. By the 1750s, the British authorities had relaxed their efforts to control the content of newspapers. They did, however, attempt to institute a tax on the printing trade through the Stamp Act of 1765. This legislation sparked an angry uprising in the colonies. Within a few months, the British were forced to drop the tax. Here was the first clear sign of American resistance to British rule.

By 1765, a network of overland travel routes was being developed as settlement expanded westward. New bridges and new roads were built. Over time, a network of post roads and other large graveled roads grew into intercolonial highways. These improved roads led to major growth in trade between colonies.

Newspapers Spread the Word

Newspapers—often called "gazettes"—were equally important. They were now operating in every colony. The gazettes no longer focused chiefly on information provided by the British government. Instead, they tried to keep colonists informed of events and trends occurring elsewhere on the North American continent. To provide more news to their readers, the various papers freely exchanged stories.

Colonists from Maine to Georgia became increasingly acquainted with one another through the weekly gazettes. They began to recognize the common interests between themselves and other British subjects in North America. A sense of a shared identity as Americans began to take shape for the first time.

Commentators such as Samuel Adams, John Dickinson, and Thomas Paine also found an audience during this time. Their words were read by many thousands of people across British North America. Soon, their ideas were being discussed in coffeehouses and market squares. For the first time, the colonists had a growing sense of sharing a common future.

Colonialists Band Together

The effects of this transformation were revolutionary. To protest excessive taxes, the colonists banded together and vowed to stop buying British goods. In 1776, they took the final step and declared their independence from Britain.

Following the revolution, the new United States set out to shift away from dependence on trade with Britain. It swiftly established commercial relations with other countries. It also quickly developed trade within the country. By the early 19th century, the United States had become one vast nationwide market. The wealth this generated made the country into a worldwide power.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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