History of Trade Boats

While researching local history, I recently ran across this article in a family scrapbook and offer this fascinating summary of the article:

Back in the 1800’s in the Puget Sound area there weren’t any highways or freeways to depend upon to deliver goods, but there were floating stores or as they became better known  as “trade boats”. Besides carrying groceries, tools, firearms, dress goods and medicines and supplies, some of these floating stores also had postoffices with their own postmasters. Newspapers were brought to the settlers from areas in the Sound to help keep them more up to date with local news.

Money wasn’t readily available in the pioneer days and during the panic of the 1890’s hardly any was to be found.  So the early settlers and boat traders sold or traded materials from potatoes, to fur pelts, duck feathers and dried fish and dogfish oil which was sold to sawmills and logging camps.  Shingles were traded,  and bark, chickens and apples too.  Some boats most notably the Josephine, a steamer, also traded barrelled beer.

Settlers for miles around would welcome the whistle of the trade boat’s arrival and according to an old-timer years ago, the Publisher of the Vashon Island Press, Oliver S. VanOlinder, the settlers who lived in Vashon when there weren’t any roads at all preferred having their goods delivered by boats rather than going to stores.

Captain John Parker Jr. who owned the 40-ton schooner Emily Parker, the first boat built at Olympia would supply goods at wholesale to small traders who operated boats called plungers or as they were locally called “whiskey boats”. In 1853, there were about 300,000 Indians in the Puget Sound who at that time sold items like furs, sea otter, bears and other animals in exchange for money and other goods.

Although times were simpler then, the same opportunity to connect with the community exists with programs like Farmboat, encouraging locals to participate in the sustainable ways of the “trade boat” concept and maritime adventures.



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