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The Allegheny Frontier

The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings, 1730--1830

Otis K. Rice
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 468
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    The Allegheny Frontier
    Book Description:

    The Allegheny frontier, comprising the mountainous area of present-day West Virginia and bordering states, is studied here in a broad context of frontier history and national development. The region was significant in the great American westward movement, but Otis K. Rice seeks also to call attention to the impact of the frontier experience upon the later history of the Allegheny Highlands. He sees a relationship between its prolonged frontier experience and the problems of Appalachia in the twentieth century.

    Through an intensive study of the social, economic, and political developments in pioneer West Virginia, Rice shows that during the period 1730--1830 some of the most significant features of West Virginia life and thought were established. There also appeared evidences of arrested development, which contrasted sharply with the expansiveness, ebullience, and optimism commonly associated with the American frontier. In this period customs, manners, and folkways associated with the conquest of the wilderness to root and became characteristic of the mountainous region well into the twentieth century. During this pioneer period, problems also took root that continue to be associated with the region, such as poverty, poor infrastructure, lack of economic development, and problematic education.

    Since the West Virginia frontier played an important role in the westward thrust of migration through the Alleghenies, Rice also provides some account of the role of West Virginia in the French and Indian War, eighteenth-century land speculations, the Revolutionary War, and national events after the establishment of the federal government in 1789.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6438-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Chapter One A Land Wild and Tremendous
    (pp. 1-12)

    The Allegheny Highlands, consisting of an eastern escarpment known as the Allegheny Front and a westward-sloping and hilly expanse of the Appalachian Plateau, are one of the most distinctive physiographic regions of the United States. Embracing the western parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland, most of West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia, they are part of the Appalachian system, which extends from the St. Lawrence Valley to Georgia and Alabama. This great chain separates the Atlantic coastal plains from the interior of the North American continent and in colonial times stood as an almost inpenetrable barrier to westward expansion. For English settlers,...

  5. Chapter Two Westward to the Alleghenies
    (pp. 13-32)

    During the seventeenth century the energies of the middle Atlantic colonies and those of the upper South were absorbed in the development of their Tidewater and Piedmont areas, and not until well into the eighteenth century did they direct a major thrust westward toward the Alleghenies. In the extension of settlement beyond the Blue Ridge, Virginia assumed a conspicuous lead. Prior to the 1750’s she directed the main force of her advance into her Valley and Ridge Province, particularly into the Valley of Virginia and along the upper Potomac. The only other settlements of consequence were made by Pennsylvanians in...

  6. Chapter Three Barbarous Circumstances
    (pp. 33-53)

    Unlike the peaceful and uninterrupted advance of immigrants into the Valley of Virginia and the upper Potomac region, the movement of settlers into trans-Allegheny areas was impeded by rivalries which led to one of the great international confrontations in American history. By 17 48 competition between those ancient enemies, England and France, was approaching a climax, and the Ohio Valley, of which trans-Allegheny West Virginia was a part, had become a focal point of tension. Neither country regarded the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which had just ended nearly ten years of bloody European strife, as more than a truce in their...

  7. Chapter Four Across the Alleghenies
    (pp. 54-87)

    Impatient settlers and land-hungry speculators who expected the British occupation of the forks of the Ohio in 1758 and the spectacular successes over the French on other fronts the following year immediately to open the trans-Allegheny regions were to suffer keen disappointment. In fact, at the very outset of the French and Indian War the British government, stunned by the defection of all the western tribes to the French, had set up machinery for imperial supervision of Indian affairs and had in effect served notice that in the future it would not countenance an unregulated expansion westward. Moreover, the increasing...

  8. Chapter Five British at the Back Door
    (pp. 88-117)

    News of the momentous events in Boston in the spring of 1775 momentarily diverted the attention of the Allegheny pioneers from matters of frontier security. Despite their isolation and their preoccupation with their own problems, settlers in the backcountry had followed with lively interest accounts of the political and ideological conflicts which had for several years troubled relations between Britain and her American colonies. In general, West Virginia pioneers, like most other frontier residents, reacted to events with intense enthusiasm for the American cause. Adam Stephen, whose estate, “Bower,” was located near Martinsburg, undoubtedly spoke for many of his western...

  9. Chapter Six The Alienation of the Land
    (pp. 118-149)

    One of the great ironies of the history of the Allegheny area is that most of the land which had been won at such painful cost from the British and the Indians should have fallen not into the hands of the pioneers who had shed their blood and spent their treasure in gaining it but into the clutches of speculators, many of whom never set foot in the mountains. Most of the grandiose and imaginative schemes of pre-Revolutionary years did not survive the war, but in their places were scores of lesser ventures, which in their cumulative effects had a...

  10. Chapter Seven Compromising with Nature
    (pp. 150-169)

    Seldom have environmental factors more profoundly shaped the life of a people or exerted a more enduring influence upon them than in the Allegheny Highlands. Their effects were particularly evident in the mountainous areas of West Virginia. There geographical features such as topography, rivers, forests, and soils determined in large measure the response of the settler to his problems of survival, the relationship of much of the state to the mainstream of late eighteenth- and early nineteenthcentury American migration, and the stability or fluidity of the early settlements.

    As elsewhere in the Alleghenies, West Virginia’s rugged, forested terrain with its...

  11. Chapter Eight Mountaineer Ways and Folkways
    (pp. 170-189)

    In 1861, when he began scouting activities in the Kanawha Valley, General Jacob D. Cox found “little farms in secluded nooks among the mountains, where grown men . . . had never before seen the American flag, and whole families had never been further from home than a church and country store, a few miles away.” Luther Haymond, a member of a prominent Clarksburg family, declared that he was well past twenty-one years old before he ventured beyond the bounds of three Monongahela Valley counties.¹

    The isolation which these observations bespoke, unrelieved by a transcendent system of education, preserved customs...

  12. Chapter Nine Repairing Broken Constitutions
    (pp. 190-209)

    The common belief that the wilderness was conquered by men and women of unusual physical strength and robust health is without solid foundation. Instead, the difficulties which lay across the path of civilization were overcome by pioneers whose physical vigor was sapped by privation, disease, exposure, and debilitating seasonal ailments. Such an accomplishment by no means diminishes—rather, it enhances—the heroism of the conquerors.

    With frequent need for medical attention, but often far removed from competent aid, the early settler became, of necessity, his own physician. For knowledge of anatomy and the causes and nature of diseases he substituted...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. Chapter Ten The Midnight of Ignorance
    (pp. 210-234)

    In the spring of 1845 a colporteur for the American Tract Society, accompanied by a young lawyer named Francis H. Pierpont, journeyed into “the country among the mountains” around Fairmont for the purpose of distributing a stock of books. His experience was, for the agent, “like a translation from sunlight into darkness—from a high civilization into one of ignorance and superstition, with here and there a family of wealth and refinement.” He found whole families who did not know the alphabet and visited as many as fourteen houses in succession in which there was not even a Bible. Pleading...

  15. Chapter Eleven A Glimmering of the Light
    (pp. 235-266)

    Despite the low level of educational attainment during her pioneer period, West Virginia did not completely succumb to “the midnight of ignorance.” Along her major streams and nestled among her hills were little frontier towns, several of which were thriving centers of learning and culture. Besides common schools of better than ordinary quality, many of these towns boasted academies, printing establishments which produced newspapers, books, and periodicals, libraries both public and private, and flourishing literary societies. With such advantages, they stood as beacons—faint though their gleam may have been—whose rays reached into the recesses of the mountains and...

  16. Chapter Twelve The Power of Spiritual Truths
    (pp. 267-308)

    Lord Bryce’s characterization of the American South as “a land of high religious voltage” has, historically, perhaps even greater relevance to the American frontier. Certainly the description is applicable to the Allegheny frontier. The heterogeneity of its pre-Revolutionary War population, among whom the English, Germans, and Scotch-Irish were but the dominant elements, gave the region, from its beginnings, a variegated religious complexion. As in other parts of the Alleghenies, settlers who streamed into the Potomac section of West Virginia after 1730 were of Presbyterian, Lutheran, German Reformed, Dunkard, and Quaker backgrounds and dissenters from the Anglican Church, the established religious...

  17. Chapter Thirteen The First Flush of Seeming Wealth
    (pp. 309-341)

    Once they had freed their lands of the Indian menace and established their homesteads upon an enduring basis, Allegheny pioneers began to give thought to their need for domestic manufacturing. Cut off by the mountains from eastern and foreign sources of supply, early settlers from the time of their arrival had been forced into simple household manufactures. Fortunately, nature had compensated for their isolation and the ruggedness of the terrain by endowing the land with abundant mineral resources, including salt, coal, and iron ore, covering it with thousands of acres of superb timber, and supplying it with countless streams suited...

  18. Chapter Fourteen Government of and for the People
    (pp. 342-375)

    The motto of West Virginia,montani semper liberi,or “mountaineers always free,” might well have been applied to most of the American West during the decades following the Revolution. For West Virginians, however, the phrase expressed a hope rather than a reality. As heirs to the ideas and ideals of the Revolutionary era, West Virginians, like other Allegheny residents, subscribed to the philosophy that government should not only protect liberty and property but should be an instrument whereby the people might achieve political and economic fulfillment. Moreover, their preoccupation with providing protection against hostile Indians, clearing homesteads, and establishing economic...

  19. Chapter Fifteen An Enduring Past
    (pp. 376-380)

    Although his descendants looked back upon the frontier era with nostalgia as a time of romance and accomplishment, the truth is that the settler who cut his way into the Alleghenies wanted to get the pioneer period behind him as quickly as possible and to establish the political, social, and economic institutions which seemed essential to the fulfillment of the promise of American life. The conquest of the Alleghenies proved no easy undertaking, and in the attempt the pioneer himself seemed likely to be subdued. Indeed, his efforts to cast off the restrictive influences of a frontier environment and at...

  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 381-394)
  21. Index
    (pp. 395-438)