The Second Continental Congress, acting as the national government of what was soon to become these United States, met in Baltimore from December 1776 until February 1777. During this time, Baltimore was the largest seaport through which most of the young country’s imports and exports moved. It wasn’t until the 1830s that New York supplanted Baltimore.
What was responsible for New York replacing Baltimore as the largest trading city in the country? In my view it was nothing but a great big ditch about forty feet wide and four feet deep that stretched 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie.
It was the largest, most daunting and most expensive engineering project imaginable. Tens of thousands of men dug it with their picks and shovels. The earth was moved by horses pulling primitive equipment. The Erie Canal took eight grueling years of men relentlessly driving through limestone mountains and cutting through dense forest. Rocks and tree stumps were blown up with black powder since dynamite would not be invented for another forty years. It rose 600 feet from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes necessitating the construction of 48 magnificent stone locks to raise and lower boats.
The canal was completed in 1825 and began carrying passengers and cargo across New York State at a fraction of the cost of wagons. The economy of New York grew meteorically as it rapidly became the busiest seaport in the country.