Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Cumberland Road

Synopsis

The Cumberland Road, also called the National Road, was the first major highway in the United States to be built by the federal government. Construction began in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland and reached to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1818. This road came about during the Transportation Revolution of the early 19th century when new and faster ways of traveling were being developed.

Lyrics

© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

I’m seeing my country change
Used to be just home on the range
Got my wagon and horse-drawn load
And I’m riding down the Cumberland Road
Where I’m going, I don’t know
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road

My Daddy never left our farm
‘Cept twice a month to ride to town
Had an uncle who tried going west
But bumps and stumps bested his quest
Yeah, roads back then were a horrible mess

But more and more folks had to travel
So they built these roads of gravel
Mile by mile the states paved the way
With every stone they laid
Chargin’ tolls for travelers to pay

I’m seeing my country change
Used to be just home on the range
Got my wagon and horse-drawn load
And I’m riding down the Cumberland Road
Where I’m going, I don’t know
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road

Connected like never before
To the North, South, East and West we soar
Steamboats can now ferry upstream
Chuggin’ up river faster than dreamed
Old man Fulton and his engine of steam

Now they’re diggin canals in New York
Can’t believe this could work
Joining the Hudson up with Lake Erie
So goods can swiftly be carried
350 mile on a ferry!

Turnpikes and highways
Steamboats and canals
Brand new ways of movin’
Transportation Revolution!

I’m seeing my country change
Used to be just home on the range
Got my wagon and horse-drawn load
And I’m riding down the Cumberland Road
Where I’m going, I don’t know
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road
I’m just riding down the Cumberland Road

Vocabulary

The Cumberland Road— Also called the National Road, it was the first major highway in the US. It stretched from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia. It took seven years to construct, from 1811 to 1818.

“Fulton and his engine of steam”— Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was an American inventor who is credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat, which is a boat that uses an engine run with the power of steam to paddle upriver, against the current.

“Joining the Hudson up with Lake Erie”— This line refers to the Erie Canal which is a manmade waterway in New York that runs 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Construction began in 1817 and it officially opened on October 26, 1825. The Erie Canal was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard and the western interior of the United States and cut transport costs by about 95%.

Transportation Revolution— A period in United States history when transportation became cheaper and more efficient. Many canals, roads, and railroads were built at this time.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

What was the Cumberland Road?

What was the Transportation Revolution?

Tier 2 Questions

Name three innovations of the Transportation Revolution and explain their importance.

Tier 3 Questions

Pretend you are the person singing this song. Write a letter to your best friend about how the Cumberland Road has changed your life.

Test Prep Questions

1) During the 19th century, the completion of the Erie Canal and the transcontinental railroads contributed to the industrial growth of the United States by

  • (1) making the movement of goods easier and cheaper
  • (2) protecting the United States from low-priced foreign imports
  • (3) encouraging subsistence farming
  • (4) connecting the United States to markets in Mexico and Canada

2) In an outline, which main topic would include the other three?

  • (1) Erie Canal
  • (2) 19th-Century Internal Improvements
  • (3) Transcontinental Railroad
  • (4) National Road

3) What economic change resulted from the transportation revolution before the Civil War?

  • (1) The Northeast became better connected to the western section of the country.
  • (2) Trade between the United States and Europe was sharply reduced.
  • (3) The system of slavery on southern plantations began to disappear.
  • (4) The federal government began to regulate new businesses.

DBQ 1

Historical Context: Between 1800 and 1900, the United States experienced great economic growth. Two factors that contributed to this growth were government policies and technological developments.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document.

  • Discuss how government policies and technological developments influenced the growth of the United States economy between 1800 and 1900.

. . . The war [War of 1812] exposed not only weaknesses in defense, but also in transportation. Modes and methods of transportation were totally inadequate. Generals moved troops slowly by carriages, or on foot, on poorly developed roads. President James Madison supported the idea of internal improvements, yet he vetoed an internal improvements bill, which would have provided for the construction of roads. He felt that roads and canals that would benefit local communities should be funded by the respective states and private enterprises. He did, however, approve monies for a National Road, solely on the grounds that it would benefit national defense. This road began in Maryland and stretched all the way to Ohio, joining the Northeast with the western frontier. An equally significant improvement was the completion of the Erie Canal, linking the Great Lakes with New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. . .

Source: Kerry C. Kelly, “Anti-railroad Propaganda Poster—The Growth of Regionalism, 1800–1860,” U.S. National Archives & Records Administration

According to Kerry C. Kelly, what was one government action that improved transportation?

Based on the information on this map, state one benefit of roads, canals, and/or navigable rivers on the United States economy.

Thematic Essay 1

Theme: Territorial Expansion (1800–1900)
Various events or developments have influenced the territorial expansion of the United States. In 1800, the United States was a new nation of approximately 895,000 square miles of territory. By 1900, the nation had grown to about 3,000,000 square miles of territory.

Task: Identify two events or developments that had a significant impact on United States territorial expansion between 1800 and 1900 and for each event or development identified:

  • Discuss the historical circumstances surrounding the event or development
  • Evaluate the importance of the event or development on the growth of the United States

You may use any example from your study of United States history. Some suggestions you might wish to consider include Louisiana Purchase (1803), completion of the Erie Canal (1825), War with Mexico (1846–1848), Homestead Act (1862), completion of the first transcontinental railroad (1869), and Native American Indian policies (1800–1900).