How long did it usually take to sail from Philadelphia to Boston in the 1700s? I've been able to find lots of sources talking about sailing time between England and the colonies, but I haven't found anything yet about sailing time between the colonies.

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    For a ballpark - take those England to colonies sailing times, divide by the distance from England to the US, and then multiple by the coastal distance from Philadelphia to Boston: so, 60-80 days to cross from Ireland to Boston (about 3,000 miles), and Philly to Boston is about 500 miles or so (including heading down the Delaware) so, about 10-15 days.
    – user13123
    Jun 1, 2016 at 4:07
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    @HorusKol, that sounds sensible to me and you, but I don't know if it's actually the case. With winds and currents being so important to travel in those days, I'm not sure we can make that inference.
    – Joe
    Jun 1, 2016 at 6:24
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    Travelling from Philadelphia to Boston. you'd have had the prevailing winds working in your favor. Of course, the exact journey time would have been dependent on the weather and if the ship was stopping along the way.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 1, 2016 at 6:37
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    For individuals (rather than cargo), I wonder if it might have been faster to go overland to New York and ship from there rather than sail all around New Jersey.
    – bgwiehle
    Jun 1, 2016 at 11:11
  • Benjamin Franklin Journal of a voyage from England to Philadelphia 1726: July 22 thru October 11: 3 1/2 months, London to Philadelphia, in 1726, with a daily diary, though the average time was 60-80 days westbound. Longer trips are also recorded. Jun 1, 2016 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


The problem you have with such a journey, at the time, is there is no direct way to travel between the two. From most texts I have read about shipping to Philadelphia entry is only through the Delaware River that makes up the border of New Jersey and Delaware. When reading about Howe's exit from Philadelphia this is prominent as the Colonials were attempting to blockade the river with ships. To get from Boston you would need to go down the coast and then travel up the Delaware River.

With that in mind I looked at first to see if there was anything that showed how fast ships could travel at the time.

I did find a site asking such a question a few years ago, on the American Patriot blogspot where they extrapolated the speed of sailing ships. Which is really needed to answer this, see the site for how they determine that rate. The speed they come up with is 8.3 mph, I will use that to base my answer.

If you look on Google maps you can get a straight line distance of roughly 310 miles, land based. That is by current roads, which is not what you would have even had at the time. There are numerous texts that note how long it takes to travel up and down the East Coast, no need to cover that. Using Google Maps you can drag the roadways along the coasts and get a closer approximation of 603 land miles (or 524.6 nautical miles) which gives a travel time of about 63 hours.

As a check if you look up the Port Distances between Boston and Philadelphia you get 535 nautical miles, which is very similar to the Google Map conversion I just did.

So, if the trip was a straight shot, without stopping (which I highly doubt) you would be looking at 63 hours/ 2.5 days of travel time to get from Boston to Philadelphia. As noted below this is not how you would travel, pulling into ports to stop, avoid storms, or trade along the way would definitely increase your travel time.

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    Reading naval texts of the time, it's clear that often a significant part of the elapsed time for a journey (i.e. from when they intend to set off to their arrival at the destination) could be spent waiting for a favorable wind to get them out of port, along an estuary or safely around a headland. Also tacking along a river or a coastline would be considerably slower than sailing on the open sea with the wind to your back.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 1, 2016 at 12:38
  • Travel from Buffalo to Detroit sometimes took 3 weeks, before steamboats. Jun 1, 2016 at 13:37
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    @SteveBird very true, noted that as well. Good points, thanks. It was more of a distance/rate conversion, but there are many other factors that would increase the time
    – MichaelF
    Jun 1, 2016 at 16:55

Did a google map thing and followed the coastline as close as possible, came out to 700 miles give or take. That is 608.something nautical miles, so call that 600 for easy math. More googling shows a few papers citing 4.something knots as the average speed of the average ship of the time. At a speed of 4 knots (4 nm/hr) call it 100nm per 24 hr period. So about a week. Add in delays due to waiting for a harbor/river pilot, the proper tidal stage, bad weather, wind in wrong direction (speed towards destination when tacking drops dramatically even though you can be moving fairly fast), etc. and call it a 7-14 day sail.

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