I am working on a history project for school and cannot seem to find information on the length of a journey on a ship from England to the Charleston area of South Carolina in the early 1700s (1730-1740). Additionally, would the upper class travelers face different conditions from the middle class?


2 Answers 2


How long would it take to travel from England to the colonies in the early 1700s?

The distance from England to the Charleston area of South Carolina is:

enter image description here

Speed of ships in the 1700's was around 5 knots1.

enter image description here

To convert all in same units: d = 4010 mi = 6453 km and u = 5 knots = 10 km/h, to get the time we use the following equation of motion:

t = d / u = 6453 / 10 = 645 hours => 27 days in the ideal situation. However, in reality weather conditions like storms, ocean currents2 etc, would prolong the journey up to 6 - 8 weeks.

Would the upper class travellers face different conditions from the middle class?

As an example of the conditions faced by the middle and lower class:

...The passage to America was treacherous by any standard. Many of the immigrants were too poor to pay for the journey and therefore indentured themselves to wealthier colonialists - selling their services for a period of years in return for the price of the passage. Crammed into a small wooden ship, rolling and rocking at the mercy of the sea, the voyagers - men, women and children - endured hardships unimaginable to us today. Misery was the most common description of a journey that typically lasted seven weeks...[1]

1. Dependent on their size (Hull speed) and the winds. .

2. About the same time Ben Franklin measured the (6 degrees) warmer temperature of Gulf Stream and created a map which would turn out to be very useful to sailors ("riding it the trip would shorten with a week").

[1] Mittelberger, Gottleb, Gottleb Mittelberger's Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the year 1754 (published by the German Society of Pennsylvania 1898)


As mentioned in the comment section there are alternative routes, in fact 18th Century British shipping routes visualised using modern mapping technologies look like:

enter image description here

which includes the one proposed above, however, if the general idea is understood the above calculation could be applied to any of the shown routes.

Dutch shiping routes 1750-1800 visualised using modern mapping technologies are closer to the proposed in the comment:

enter image description here

together with Spanish shiping routes in the same period 1750-1800:

enter image description here

  • 6
    Unfortunately this answer wrongly assumes a straight line route from England to Charleston. The actual route taken would have been to follow the trade winds down the European coast, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and up the American coast. Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 20:25
  • @KillingTime Thanks for the correction, it will be edited.
    – Ziezi
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 20:47
  • 1
    Only the Puritans took "the direct route" which is how most would end up arriving from Britain to the "New World"...meaning New York and New Jersey. Travel along the East Coast was very treacherous as well so most "Colonists" once they arrived immediately starting heading West. The two exceptions were Philadelphia (the richest City in the New World) and Maine (New England's "Colony.") The near totality of Slavery existed in the Coastal Lowlands of the South. The one prominent exception was Florida which had a strikingly powerful Native American military presence actually. Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 23:16
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    Gulf Stream flows West to East, so only assists the crossing in that direction. Travelling East to West would be optimized by taking a route lying South of the Gulf Stream. Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 6:46
  • What's the source of the shipping route graphics? Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 18:34

When John Adams sailed to France in 1777, the voyage took six weeks.

Accompanied by his oldest son, John Quincy, Adams embarked on a six week crossing of the Atlantic.

Source: Diplomatic Assignment – Paris 1777

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