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American History textbooks rarely spend much time on the Great Lakes; their importance as the barrier between the original thirteen colonies and French Canada — and later the barrier between the United States and British Canada — is seldom mentioned, nor is their roll in the calculations of power and trade in the early American interior given its just due. If the lakes are even mentioned, it is only to note that Commodore Perry won a famous battle and secured the lakes for us in the War of 1812. Theyrarely discuss is just why securing the lakes was vital, which is exactly what Warships of the Great Lakes: 1754 – 1834 by Robert Malcomson does so well.
There were only three main arteries into the American interior in colonial times: up the Mississippi River, up the Saint Lawrence River, or overland through the Appalachians. The latter option was treacherous for lack of roads, while the other two were under French control. The Saint Lawrence drains Lake Ontario and the other lakes beyond, but also drains — by way of navigable feeder rivers — Lake Champlain which, in turn, gives access to the interior of upstate New York and New England. The Great Lakes, however, allow access to the entire interior of North America as far as the Mississippi.