The year was 1817 and Europe was facing a devastating famine. Harvest failures in the years prior caused rising prices, while troops returning from the Napoleonic Wars faced rising unemployment. The combination led to poverty throughout Europe and mass migration, with many people jumping on ships to the Americas, while others migrated east to areas of Russia that hadn’t been hit as hard. Because so many of the immigrants were poor, many either traveled to the U.S. via Canada–a trip that cost less than traveling directly to U.S. ports. Many Irish immigrated to England, settling there or staying temporarily before moving on.
As refugees gathered in camps, disease also became a problem. Typhus was particularly prevalent in many areas of Europe, England, Scotland and Ireland. The typhus epidemic, which would last until 1819, claimed an estimated 65,000 lives in Ireland and parts of Scotland were also particularly hard hit as well.
Across the ocean, the U.S. was growing. Alabama Territory was split off from the Mississippi Territory, and Mississippi would achieve statehood later that year.
The growing country needed a growing transportation system and these needs were met in a variety of ways. The steamboat era had started six years prior, but until 1817 traffic was limited to travel between New Orleans and Natchez. In 1817, the steamboat Washington made the first round-trip voyage between New Orleans and Louisville. That trip took forty-one days.Â
Construction began at Rome, New York for another waterway that would provide a vital link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes via the Hudson River. The Erie Canal would be completed in 1825 and opened up areas west of the Appalachians to settlement and commerce.
An improved overland route westward was completed in 1817 as the Cumberland, or National Road reached from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia on the Ohio River (now part of West Virginia).
There was tension along the Florida border in 1817. Under the control of Spain, Florida was a popular haven for runaway slaves. Attempts to reclaim the fugitive slaves met with resistance from the Seminole Indians who lived in the northern part of Florida. They retaliated with raids on nearby Georgia homesteads and troops were called in under General Andrew Jackson. The First Seminole War would last into 1818 when Jackson captured the Spanish fort at Pensacola.
Image: National Road, Wilson Bridge, spanning Conococheague Creek at Route 40 (Old), Hagerstown vicinity, Washington County, Maryland