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   Chapter 5 COLONIZATION OF THE WEST (1820-1830)

Rise of the New West, 1819-1829 By Frederick Jackson Turner Characters: 24275

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


The rise of the new west was the most significant fact in American history in the years immediately following the War of 1812. Ever since the beginnings of colonization on the Atlantic coast a frontier of settlement had advanced, cutting into the forest, pushing back the Indian, and steadily widening the area of civilization in its rear. [Footnote: Three articles by F.J. Turner, viz.: "Significance of the Frontier in American History," in Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1893, 199-227; "Problem of the West," in "Atlantic Monthly, LXXVIII, 289; "Contributions of the West to American Democracy, ibid, XCI., 83.] There had been a west even in early colonial days; but then it lay close to the coast. By the middle of the eighteenth century the west was to be found beyond tide-water, advancing towards the Allegheny Mountains. When this barrier was crossed and the lands on the other side of the mountains were won, in the days of the Revolution, a new and greater west, more influential on the nation's destiny, was created. [Footnote: Howard, Preliminaries of Revolution, chap. xiii.; Van Tyne, Am. Revolution, chap. xv.; McLaughlin, Confederation and Constitution, chap. viii. (Am. Nation, VIII., IX., X.).]

The men of the "Western Waters" or the "Western World," as they loved to call themselves, developed under conditions of separation from the older settlements and from Europe. The lands, practically free, in this vast area not only attracted the settler, but furnished opportunity for all men to hew out their own careers. The wilderness ever opened a gate of escape to the poor, the discontented, and the oppressed. If social conditions tended to crystallize in the east, beyond the Alleghenies there was freedom. Grappling with new problems, under these conditions, the society that spread into this region developed inventiveness and resourcefulness; the restraints of custom were broken, and new activities, new lines of growth, new institutions were produced. Mr. Bryce has well declared that "the West is the most American part of America…. What Europe is to Asia, what England is to the rest of Europe, what America is to England, that the Western States and Territories are to the Atlantic States." [Footnote: Bryce, American Commonwealth (ed. of 1895), II., 830.] The American spirit-the traits that have come to be recognized as the most characteristic- was developed in the new commonwealths that sprang into life beyond the seaboard. In these new western lands Americans achieved a boldness of conception of the country's destiny and democracy. The ideal of the west was its emphasis upon the worth and possibilities of the common man, its belief in the right of every man to rise to the full measure of his own nature, under conditions of social mobility. Western democracy was no theorist's dream. It came, stark and strong and full of life, from the American forest. [Footnote: P. J. Turner, "Contributions of the West to American Democracy," in Atlantic Monthly, XCL, 83, and "The Middle West," in International Monthly, IV., 794.]

The time had now come when this section was to make itself felt as a dominant force in American life. Already it had shown its influence upon the older sections. By its competition, by its attractions for settlers, it reacted on the east and gave added impulse to the democratic movement in New England and New York. The struggle of Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia for the rising commerce of the interior was a potent factor in the development of the middle region. In the south the spread of the cotton-plant and the new form which slavery took were phases of the westward movement of the plantation. The discontent of the old south is partly explained by the migration of her citizens to the west and by the competition of her colonists in the lands beyond the Alleghenies. The future of the south lay in its affiliation to the Cotton Kingdom of the lower states which were rising on the plains of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rightly to understand the power which the new west was to exert upon the economic and political life of the nation in the years between 1820 and 1830, it is necessary to consider somewhat fully the statistics of growth in western population and industry.

The western states ranked with the middle region and the south in respect to population. Between 1812 and 1821 six new western commonwealths were added to the Union: Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), and Missouri (1821). In the decade from 1820 to 1830, these states, with their older sisters, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, increased their population from 2,217,000 to nearly 3,700,000, a gain of about a million and a half in the decade. The percentages of increase in these new communities tell a striking story. Even the older states of the group grew steadily. Kentucky, with 22 per cent., Louisiana, with 41, and Tennessee and Ohio, each with 61, were increasing much faster than New England and the south, outside of Maine and Georgia. But for the newer communities the percentages of gain are still more significant: Mississippi, 81 per cent.; Alabama, 142; Indiana, 133; and Illinois, 185. The population of Ohio, which hardly more than a generation before was "fresh, untouched, unbounded, magnificent wilderness," [Footnote: Webster, Writings (National ed.), V., 252.] was now nearly a million, surpassing the combined population of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

A new section had arisen and was growing at such a rate that a description of it in any single year would be falsified before it could be published. Nor is the whole strength of the western element revealed by these figures. In order to estimate the weight of the western population in 1830, we must add six hundred thousand souls in the western half of New York, three hundred thousand in the interior counties of Pennsylvania, and over two hundred thousand in the trans-Allegheny counties of Virginia, making an aggregate of four million six hundred thousand. Fully to reckon the forces of backwoods democracy, moreover, we should include a large fraction of the interior population of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, North Carolina, and Georgia, and northern New York. All of these regions were to be influenced by the ideals of democratic rule which were springing up in the Mississippi Valley.

In voting-power the western states alone-to say nothing of the interior districts of the older states-were even more important than the figures for population indicate. The west itself had, under the apportionment of 1822, forty-seven out of the two hundred and thirteen members of the House of Representatives, while in the Senate its representation was eighteen out of forty-eight-more than that of any other section. Clearly, here was a region to be reckoned with; its economic interests, its ideals, and its political leaders were certain to have a powerful, if not a controlling, voice in the councils of the nation.

At the close of the War of 1812 the west had much homogeneity. Parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio had been settled so many years that they no longer presented typical western conditions; but in most of its area the west then was occupied by pioneer farmers and stock- raisers, eking out their larder and getting peltries by hunting, and raising only a small surplus for market. By 1830, however, industrial differentiation between the northern and southern portions of the Mississippi Valley was clearly marked. The northwest was changing to a land of farmers and town-builders, anxious for a market for their grain and cattle; while the southwest was becoming increasingly a cotton-raising section, swayed by the same impulses in respect to staple exports as those which governed the southern seaboard. Economically, the northern portion of the valley tended to connect itself with the middle states, while the southern portion came into increasingly intimate connection with the south. Nevertheless, it would be a radical mistake not to deal with the west as a separate region, for, with all these differences within itself, it possessed a fundamental unity in its social structure and its democratic ideals, and at times, in no uncertain way, it showed a consciousness of its separate existence.

In occupying the Mississippi Valley the American people colonized a region far surpassing in area the territory of the old thirteen states. The movement was, indeed, but the continuation of the advance of the frontier which had begun in the earliest days of American colonization. The existence of a great body of land, offered at so low a price as to be practically free, inevitably drew population towards the west. When wild lands sold for two dollars an acre, and, indeed, could be occupied by squatters almost without molestation, it was certain that settlers would seek them instead of paying twenty to fifty dollars an acre for farms that lay not much farther to the east-particularly when the western lands were more fertile. The introduction of the steamboat on the western waters in 1811, moreover, soon revolutionized transportation conditions in the West. [Footnote: Flint, Letters, 260; Monette, in Miss. Hist. Soc., Publications, VII., 503; Hall, Statistics of the West, 236, 247; Lloyd, Steamboat Disasters (1853), 32, 40-45; Preble, Steam Navigation, 64; McMaster, United States, IV., 402; Chittenden, Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri, chap. ix.] At the beginning of the period of which we are treating, steamers were ascending the Mississippi and the Missouri, as well as the Ohio and its tributaries. Between the close of the War of 1812 and 1830, moreover, the Indian title was extinguished to vast regions in the west. Half of Michigan was opened to settlement; the northwestern quarter of Ohio was freed; in Indiana and Illinois (more than half of which had been Indian country prior to 1816) all but a comparatively small region of undesired prairie lands south of Lake Michigan was ceded; almost the whole state of Missouri was freed from its Indian title; and, in the Gulf region, at the close of the decade, the Indians held but two isolated islands of territory, one in western Georgia and eastern Alabama, and the other in northern and central Mississippi. These ceded regions were the fruit of the victories of William Henry Harrison in the northwest, and of Andrew Jackson in the Gulf region. They were, in effect, conquered provinces, just opened to colonization.

The maps of the United States census, giving the distribution of population in 1810, 1820, and 1830, [Footnote: See maps of population; compare U. S. Census of 1900, Statistical Atlas, plates 4, 5, 6.] exhibit clearly the effects of the defeat of the Indians, and show the areas that were occupied in these years. In 1810 settlement beyond the mountains was almost limited to a zone along the Ohio River and its tributaries, the Cumberland and the Tennessee. In the southwest, the vicinity of Mobile showed sparse settlement, chiefly survivals of the Spanish and English occupation; and, along the fluvial lands of the eastern bank of the lower Mississippi, in the Natchez region, as well as in the old province of Louisiana, there was a considerable area occupied by planters.

By 1820 the effects of the War of 1812 and the rising tide of westward migration became manifest. Pioneers spread along the river- courses of the northwest well up to the Indian boundary. The zone of settlement along the Ohio ascended the Missouri, in the rush to the Boone's Lick country, towards the center of the present state. From the settlements of middle Tennessee a pioneer farming area reached southward to connect with the settlements of Mobile, and the latter became conterminous with those of the lower Mississippi.

By 1830 large portions of these Indian lands, which were ceded between 1817 and 1829, received the same type of colonization. The unoccupied lands in Indiana and Illinois were prairie country, then deemed unsuited for settlement because of the lack of wood and drinking-water. It was the hardwoods th

at had been taken up in the northwest, and, for the most part, the tracts a little back from the unhealthful bottom-lands, but in close proximity to the rivers, which were the only means of transportation before the building of good roads. A new island of settlement appeared in the northwestern portion of Illinois and the adjacent regions of Wisconsin and Iowa, due to the opening of the lead-mines. Along the Missouri Valley and in the Gulf region the areas possessed in 1820 increased in density of population. Georgia spread her settlers into the Indian lands, which she had so recently secured by threatening a rupture with the United States. [Footnote: MacDonald, Jacksonian Democracy (Am. Nation, XV.), chap. x. ]

Translated into terms of human activity, these shaded areas, encroaching on the blank spaces of the map, meant much for the history of the United States. Even in the northwest, which we shall first describe, they represent, in the main, the migration of southern people. New England, after the distress following the War of 1812 and the hard winter of 1816-1817, had sent many settlers into western New York and Ohio; the Western Reserve had increased in population by the immigration, of Connecticut people; Pennsylvania and New Jersey had sent colonists to southern and central Ohio, with Cincinnati as the commercial center. In Ohio the settlers of middle- state origin were decidedly more numerous than those from the south, and New England's share was distinctly smaller than that of the south. In the Ohio legislature in 1822 there were thirty-eight members of middle-state birth, thirty-three of southern (including Kentucky), and twenty-five of New England. But Kentucky and Tennessee (now sufficiently settled to need larger and cheaper farms for the rising generation), together with the up-country of the south, contributed the mass of the pioneer colonists to most of the Mississippi Valley prior to 1830. [Footnote: See, for Ohio, Niles' Register, XXI., 368 (leg. session of 1822), and Nat. Republican, January 2, 1824; for Illinois in 1833, Western Monthly Magazine, I., 199; for Missouri convention of 1820, Niles' Register, XVIII., 400; for Alabama in 1820, ibid., XX., 64. Local histories, travels, newspapers, and the census of 1850 support the text.] Of course, a large fraction of these came from the Scotch-Irish and German stock that in the first half of the eighteenth century passed from Pennsylvania along the Great Valley to the up-country of the south. Indiana, so late as 1850, showed but ten thousand natives of New England, and twice as many persons of southern as of middle states origin. In the history of Indiana, North Carolina contributed a large fraction of the population, giving to it its "Hoosier" as well as much of its Quaker stock. Illinois in this period had but a sprinkling of New-Englanders, engaged in business in the little towns. The southern stock, including settlers from Kentucky and Tennessee, was the preponderant class. The Illinois legislature for 1833 contained fifty-eight from the south (including Kentucky and Tennessee), nineteen from the middle states, and only four from New England. Missouri's population was chiefly Kentuckians and Tennesseeans.

The leaders of this southern element came, in considerable measure, from well-to-do classes, who migrated to improve their conditions in the freer opportunities of a new country. Land speculation, the opportunity of political preferment, and the advantages which these growing communities brought to practitioners of the law combined to attract men of this class. Many of them, as we shall see, brought their slaves with them, under the systems of indenture which made this possible. Missouri, especially, was sought by planters with their slaves. But it was the poorer whites, the more democratic, non-slaveholding element of the south, which furnished the great bulk of the settlers north of the Ohio. Prior to the close of the decade the same farmer type was in possession of large parts of the Gulf region, whither, through the whole of our period, the slave- holding planters came in increasing numbers.

Two of the families which left Kentucky for the newer country in these years will illustrate the movement. The Lincoln family [Footnote: Tarbell, Lincoln, I., chaps, i.-iv.; Herndon, Lincoln, I., chaps, i.-iv.; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, I., chaps, i.-iii.] had reached that state by migration from the north with the stream of backwoodsmen which bore along with it the Calhouns and the Boones. Abraham Lincoln was born in a hilly, barren portion of Kentucky in 1809. In 1816, when Lincoln was a boy of seven, his father, a poor carpenter, took his family across the Ohio on a raft, with a capital consisting of his kit of tools and several hundred gallons of whiskey. In Indiana he hewed a path into the forest to a new home in the southern part of the state, where for a year the family lived in a "half-faced camp," or open shed of poles, clearing their land. In the hardships of the pioneer life Lincoln's mother died, as did many another frontier woman. In 1830 Lincoln was a tall, strapping youth, six feet four inches in height, able to sink his axe deeper than other men into the opposing forest. At that time his father moved to the Sangamon country of Illinois with the rush of land-seekers into that new and popular region. Near the home of Lincoln in Kentucky was born, in 1808, Jefferson Davis [Footnote: Mrs. Davis, Jefferson Davis, I., 5.], whose father, shortly before the War of 1812, went with the stream of southward movers to Louisiana and then to Mississippi. Davis's brothers fought under Jackson in the War of 1812, and the family became typical planters of the Gulf region.

Meanwhile, the roads that led to the Ohio Valley were followed by an increasing tide of settlers from the east. "Old America seems to be breaking up, and moving westward," wrote Morris Birkbeck in 1817, as he passed on the National Road through Pennsylvania. "We are seldom out of sight, as we travel on this grand track, towards the Ohio, of family groups, behind and before us. … A small waggon (so light that you might almost carry it, yet strong enough to bear a good load of bedding, utensils and provisions, and a swarm of young citizens,-and to sustain marvellous shocks in its passage over these rocky heights) with two small horses; sometimes a cow or two, comprises their all; excepting a little store of hard-earned cash for the land office of the district; where they may obtain a title for as many acres as they possess half-dollars, being one fourth of the purchase-money. The waggon has a tilt, or cover, made of a sheet, or perhaps a blanket. The family are seen before, behind, or within the vehicle, according to the road or the weather, or perhaps the spirits of the party. … A cart and single horse frequently affords the means of transfer, sometimes a horse and packsaddle. Often the back of the poor pilgrim bears all his effects, and his wife follows, naked-footed, bending under the hopes of the family." [Footnote: Birkbeck, Notes on a Journey from Va. to Ill., 25, 26.]

The southerners who came by land along the many bad roads through Tennessee and Kentucky usually traveled with heavy, long-bodied wagons, drawn by four or six horses. [Footnote: Hist. of Grundy County, Ill., 149.] These family groups, crowding roads and fords, marching towards the sunset, with the canvas-covered wagon, ancestor of the prairie-schooner of the later times, were typical of the overland migration. The poorer classes traveled on foot, sometimes carrying their entire effects in a cart drawn by themselves. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXI., 320.] Those of more means took horses, cattle, and sheep, and sometimes sent their household goods by wagon or by steamboat up the Mississippi. [Footnote: Howells, Life in Ohio, 1813-1840, 86; Jones, Ill. and the West, 31; Hist, of Grundy County, Ill., 149.] The routes of travel to the western country were numerous. [Footnote: See map, page 226.] Prior to the opening of the Erie Canal the New England element either passed along the Mohawk and the Genesee turnpike to Lake Erie, or crossed the Hudson and followed the line of the Catskill turnpike to the headwaters of the Allegheny, or, by way of Boston, took ship to New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, in order to follow a more southerly route. In Pennsylvania the principal route was the old road which, in a general way, followed the line that Forbes had cut in the French and Indian War from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by way of Lancaster and Bedford. By this time the road had been made a turnpike through a large portion of its course. From Baltimore the traveler followed a turnpike to Cumberland, on the Potomac, where began the old National Road across the mountains to Wheeling, on the Ohio, with branches leading to Pittsburgh. This became one of the great arteries of western migration and commerce, connecting, as it did at its eastern end, with the Shenandoah Valley, and thus affording access to the Ohio for large areas of Virginia. Other routes lay through the passes of the Alleghenies, easily reached from the divide between the waters of North Carolina and of West Virginia. Saluda Gap, in northwestern South Carolina, led the way to the great valley of eastern Tennessee. In Tennessee and Kentucky many routes passed to the Ohio in the region of Cincinnati or Louisville.

When the settler arrived at the waters of the Ohio, he either took a steamboat or placed his possessions on a flatboat, or ark, and floated down the river to his destination. From the upper waters of the Allegheny many emigrants took advantage of the lumber-rafts, which were constructed from the pine forests of southwestern New York, to float to the Ohio with themselves and their belongings. With the advent of the steamboat these older modes of navigation were, to a considerable extent, superseded. But navigation on the Great Lakes had not sufficiently advanced to afford opportunity for any considerable movement of settlement, by this route, beyond Lake Erie.

In the course of the decade the cost of reaching the west varied greatly with the decrease in the transportation rates brought about by the competition of the Erie Canal, the improvement of the turnpikes, and the development of steamboat navigation. The expense of the long overland journey from New England, prior to the opening of the Erie Canal, made it extremely difficult for those without any capital to reach the west. The stage rates on the Pennsylvania turnpike and the old National Road, prior to the opening of the Erie Canal, were about five or six dollars a hundred-weight from Philadelphia or Baltimore to the Ohio River; the individual was regarded as so much freight. [Footnote: Evans, Pedestrians Tour, 145.] To most of the movers, who drove their own teams and camped by the wayside, however, the actual expense was simply that of providing food for themselves and their horses on the road. The cost of moving by land a few years later is illustrated by the case of a Maryland family, consisting of fifteen persons, of whom five were slaves. They traveled about twenty miles a day, with a four-horse wagon, three hundred miles, to Wheeling, at an expense of seventy- five dollars. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XLVIII., 242.] The expense of traveling by stage and steamboat from Philadelphia to St. Louis at the close of the decade was about fifty-five dollars for one person; or by steamboat from New Orleans to St. Louis, thirty dollars, including food and lodging. For deck-passage, without food or lodging, the charge was only eight dollars. [Footnote: Ill. Monthly Magazine, II., 53.] In 1823 the cost of passage from Cincinnati to New Orleans by steamboat was twenty-five dollars; from New Orleans to Cincinnati, fifty dollars. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXV., 95.] In the early thirties one could go from New Orleans to Pittsburgh, as cabin passenger, for from thirty-five to forty-five dollars. [Footnote: Emigrants' and Travelers' Guide through the Valley of the Mississippi, 341.]

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