Let’s Talk About…American Frontier Expansion

The time: during the period between the Revolution and the Civil War.  Cruise-history-presenter, Aaron, shared his insights on this part of American history.

What was the political reality of the world at that time? Only a handful of men ruled the entire of Europe. These kings had the absolute right to claim entire continents in their name…. or explorers would claim it in their name. This is hard to comprehend today.  France claimed and owned the entire Mississippi River basin. England had the entire of New England. Spain claimed and owned most of the southwest and Florida. Men could not just legally settle anywhere they wanted (squatters exempted).

The stage was set for a civil war when Plymouth and Jamestown were first settled, due to the inherent differences in the men. (The book Albion’s Seed explains this beautifully.)  It took the settlers of Jamestown a long while to realize that they needed to focus on staying alive; forget about finding gold; they had to work, and work together, to stay alive even though they were “gentlemen” and this did not come easy for them.  Biggest problem with Williamsburg, was the old monarchial system into which Williamsburg fell, unfortunately. It was way too top heavy with gentlemen and rulers and not enough workers. Finally all settlements realized that survival tops heredity.

After the Revolution, and as the population increased and begin to spread westward, the biggest draw was water; towns began where there was water. Once in a spot, the settlers began clearing the land for crops; this was all important for survival. A place to live was secondary and the earliest of homes were dirt-floored-leaky-roofed-tiny huts. As the men began to cut down trees for land clearing, for homes and fences, they realized that the very biggest trees were nearly impossible for them to handle. So these giants were just girdled and left to die or felled and burned. Trees of most other sizes were used. Of course a number one building was the outhouse. In the beginning, both family and animals lived in one dwelling; soon barns began to spring up.

Eventually the first tiny structure was added onto, and added on to again and again. This is how many of our ancestors did it, started small and worked up to a decent home in fifteen years.  A fireplace was added as soon as possible, followed by a porch where most of the daily activities took place. Many of the historic homes still today show the evidence of this building-step-by-step.

Aaron, the presenter, went into more details and the where-when-why-hows of frontier settlements but overall he emphasized that “America was settled step by step…California became a state in 1850 only due to gold but there was a big empty gap in the middle, just waiting.”

P.S. I 100% recommend Albion’s Seed as the best book on understanding English emigation to America that you will ever read. Or listen to. Donna