Thursday, April 10, 2008

Migration into the "Backcountry" in Colonial Times - II

Geographic Barriers and the Politics of Conquest Directed Early Migrants from Virginia to the South and then the Southwest

Classic migrants, settlers looking for market opportunities in 17th and 18th century Virginia seem to have, as much as possible, avoided passage through market farming country. That is, smart migrants stayed as close to the frontier as comfortably possible to avoid paying market rates for provender. Frontier farmers, farming for subsistence, sold their excess to passing travelers at whatever rates that trade would bear.

In Virginia, the earliest routes of migration followed in the footprints of traders and explorers along paths and trails long known to prior residents. North from Jamestown in earliest times was a difficult option as stream after uncrossable stream flowing toward Chesapeake Bay intersected the way. These waterways forced northbound traffic westward, toward shallower fords, deeper into lands occupied by increasingly unfriendly Native Americans.

South of the James River, though, were passable streams and arable lands. Probably already in the middle decades of the 17th century the road from Bermuda Hundred to Norfolk was well traveled. By the last quater of that century, the roads to the Tuscarora west of the Chowan River were well known. And, after Bacon's Rebellion (1676) the trails into the central and western piedmont were all open for business.
Into them a trickle of desperate frontier migrants in the middle of the 17th century became a steady flow by the start of the 18th century and a flood by the middle of the 18th century. So, travel into the Carolina backcountry from VA spread like a fan with its base at the falls of the James River from south to southwest and then westward to the Blue Ridge where it stalled a while.

These people, the early, desperate, frontier subsistence folk and then the pioneer market farming settlers, 'without benefit of law or clergy,' made it up as they went along and created a multi-cultural, multi-racial society so vibrant, so authentic, and so effective that the good the bad and the ugly of it now comprise a large part of American identity.
It is for this reason and none other that we must save the archaeology of these early colonial years so that one day we may understand how it is we became what we have become. For, in the final analysis we each and every one and all of us are what we were.

trm

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