Salt in the New World

Salt has played a prominent role in the European exploration of North America and subsequent American history, Canadian history, and Mexican history as well. The first Native Americans "discovered" by Europeans in the Caribbean were harvesting sea salt as on St. Maarten. When the major European fishing fleets discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the end of the 15th Century, the Portuguese and Spanish fleets used the "wet" method of salting their fish onboard, while the French and English fleets used the "dry" or "shore" salting method of drying their catch on racks onshore; thus, the French and British fishermen became the first European inhabitants of northern North America since the Vikings a half-century earlier. Had it not been for the practice of salting fish, Europeans might have confined their fishing to the coasts of Europe and delayed "discovery" of the "New World."

Salt motivated the American pioneers. The American Revolution had heroes who were saltmakers and part of the British strategy was to deny the American rebels access to salt. And salt was on the mind of William Clark in the pathbreaking Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The first patent issued by the British crown to an American settler gave Samuel Winslow of the Massachusetts Bay Colony the exclusive right for ten years to make salt by his particular method. The Land Act of 1795 included a provision for salt reservations (to prevent monopolies) as did an earlier (1778) treaty between the Iroquois' Onondaga tribe and the state of New York. New York has always been important in salt production. The famed Erie Canal, opened in 1825, was known as "the ditch that salt built" because salt, a bulky product presenting major transportation difficulties, originally was its principal cargo. Syracuse, NY, is to this day proud of its salt history and its nickname: "Salt City." Salt production has been important in Michigan and West Virginia for more than a century. Salt played an important role on the U.S. frontier, including areas like Illinois and Nebraska which no longer have commercial salt production.

Salt played a key role in the Civil War and on the the present. In December, 1864, Union forces made a forced march and fought a 36-hour battle to capture Saltville, Virginia, the site of an important salt processing plant thought essential to sustaining the South's beleaguered armies. Civilian distress over the lack of salt in the wartime Confederacy undermined rebel homefront morale too. Salt was critical to locating the city of Lincoln, Nebraska and West Virginia claims salt as its first mineral industry. The important role of salt in Kansas history will be captured in a new salt museum in Hutchinson, KS. The vast distances in the American West sometimes required passage over extensive salt flats. In Canada, Windsor Salt is more than a century old. In the American West, a "salt war" was fought at El Paso, TX and we know that Nevada was not known only as a silver state. Many cities, counties, land features and other landmarks reflect the importance of salt. Salt, of course, has many uses; some techniques using salt such as production of "salt prints" in 19th Century photography have been superseded by new technologies -- others have not. Several salt prints are viewable online Not all American "salt history" is so old, either. Salt-glazed pottery is still popular. Salt is even associated with the struggle for women's rights in the U.S.

e-Check

Order with Confidence

Secure Shopping Policy

Return Policy