Our Early Maritime Heritage
Maritime archaeological and historical studies are important because they provide a more balanced view of our past. Many nations take pride in their long association with the sea, including exploration, settlement, commerce and warfare. America certainly deserves inclusion among the world’s great maritime civilizations. It was the major maritime powers in Europe that, in the late 15th century, began the amazing process of discovery, exploration, settlement, and development of the New World. Beginning in 1492 and continuing a remarkable pace, Europeans began influencing change in the Americas, from the West Indies of the Caribbean Sea to what is now Canada.
Therefore, from the very outset, America developed as a maritime nation. At first the new colonies were highly dependent upon supplies, equipment, and colonists from their countries of origin. Eventually, as the colonies matured and expanded they began growing their own crops and exporting crops such as tobacco and rice to trade for the materials they still required from the Old World. All of this commerce depended upon ships and skilled sailors, as well as cartographers to accurately charts and maps of the coasts, bays, and rivers.
Early colonists were very closely connected to the maritime aspects of everyday life. There were no roads, so travel was by boats for all their needs, including exploring for new lands to settle and develop, fishing for sustenance, communicating with other settlements and towns, and even for getting to church. Just think: every adult and child in Colonial America would have been as familiar with boats and ships as we are with cars and airplanes! Many of the ships trading with other colonies and the Old World would have been recognized on site.
Maritime Aspects of Modern America
Building small boats progressed to the construction of oceangoing ships for commerce and warfare. America’s merchant marine and navy began to develop rapidly following the American War for Independence and the formation of the United States of America. Today, The U.S. maintains the most powerful navy in the history of the world, and we build all of our major warships, including massive aircraft carriers and other powerful surface ships, plus the world’s largest fleet of stealthy attack and missile-carrying submarines.
The U.S. has lost its edge in the construction and operation of merchant vessels, yet the volume of cargo flowing to and from U.S. ports continues to grow. The U.S. is a major player in world markets and commerce, and most of the cargo continues to travel by sea.
We may have lost some of our intimate contact with the sea, but, as they say, we still have salt water running through our veins. A huge portion of our population lives within 60 miles of the coast, and waterfront property, even on lakes, is always priced at a premium. Water sports—swimming, diving, fishing, boating and sailing, cruising—are among the most popular leisure activities.
It would be terrible for us to forget our rich and diverse maritime heritage, which has shaped the success and very nature of our country. Maritime heritage studies, including maritime history and underwater archaeology, strive to preserve that heritage through ongoing research, publication, and information sharing.