Connecting Colonial New Jersey

  • Deborah Epstein Popper College of Staten Island, City University of New York
Keywords: Colonial New Jersey, Nation-Building, Roads, Transportation, Mid-Scale Mobility


Using the case of colonial New Jersey, I argue that the mastery of mid-scale mobility signaled an important metamorphosis toward American nationhood. It marked the integration of people, place, and government. For 17th-century America, midscale mobility is more properly associated with Native Americans. American colonists immediately incorporated large-scale and local-scale movement. But midscale mobility, that is, regular coverage of regional distances, waited until the mid-18th century. Until then colonists moved much less comfortably through the landscape, adopting the paths shaped by others before them. Gradually the colonists adapted the paths, widened them, and constructed new roads, forming a regional transportation network. Demand came from diverse needs of life-to conduct business, worship, socialize, participate in civic life-and road construction fed further demand and increased interaction, and led to further construction. By the American Revolution, the road was an everyday part of life that linked the New Jersey colonists world and reoriented their social, economic, and political expectations. Colonial government played a key role in the development of the transportation network, designating where and how roads were to be built, mediating conflict over them, weaving New Jersey into an effective mid-scale governmental unit; it thus demonstrated its own usefulness. These changes together undergirded the next stage, New Jersey's joining together with comparable units to form the United States.


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