In the 1600’s, all the prime farmland in the Southern colonies near the coast was claimed by wealthy English families. In the case of the Carolinas, the king gave this good land directly to noble families that had supported him. In the 1700’s, immigrants to America had to go further west to find land. The further west they went, the wilder and more rugged things got. The Appalachian Mountains represented the frontier of the English colonies – the border between English civilization and a vast wilderness (or sometimes a vast Native kingdom).
This map shows the extent of the Appalachians, which extend from north Georgia all the way into Maine. In North Carolina, you begin to encounter the Appalachians once you move west of Morganton, towards Asheville. In North Carolina, the section of the Appalachian mountains in our state is usually referred to as the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the North Carolina-Tennessee line, they are called the Great Smokies because of the frequent morning fog.
As England begins to industrialize, many people are displaced. Among these are the Scots-Irish – people that lived on the border of England and Scotland and in northern Ireland. The area they come from is hilly and mountainous and rugged – so when they got to America and found all the goo land taken, they had no problem moving west towards the frontier, towards the mountains. These Scots-Irish are the original English inhabitants of the Appalachian Mountains and their traditions (music, clothing etc.) are considered “hillbilly” today. Example: bluegrass music.
The Scots-Irish come from an “honor culture”. They were primarily sheep herders in their native Borderlands and there, the shepherd was often alone in the wilderness with his flock. There being no police, a shepherd counted on his reputation as a fierce warrior to keep thieves and outlaws from trying to steal his flock. Because his reputation was his only defense, a Scots-Irish shepherd would fight any time he felt like his honor was being insulted or his reputation damaged. The worse thing you can do to a man in an honor culture? Spit on him. Call him a coward. Sound familiar?
On the American frontier, like in the English borderlands, settlers were on their own. They could count on little or no help from the militias on the coast against fierce Natives in the mountains. Many Scots-Irish resented that their governors would not send out the army to help defend them from Native attack. For the wealthy aristocrats on the coast, sending the army out to the frontier would have ben very expensive – and why should a coastal aristocrat spend money to help defend an uncultured hillbilly? The frontier settlers kept weapons with them at all times because of the Native threat – and guns were a highly prized part of their culture. Sound familiar?
Native cultures lacked a tradition of private property so often, frontier disputes were started when Natives used something or took something that the settlers felt was their property. Add in the naturally combative nature of the Scots-Irish and their honor culture, and disputes were frequent and often escalated into major conflicts.
In the early 1700’s, most German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, although a large number also settled in Louisiana (then part of New France). The largest influx of Germans in North Carolina occurred when Moravian settlers in Pennsylvania bought 100,000 acres of land in what is now Winston-Salem and moved en masse to North Carolina. Like most immigrants, the Germans kept speaking their native language and kept up many of their distinct cultural traditions. Over time, German Americans have fully assimilated and, except for their last names, are indistinguishable from the descendants of the English settlers.
In the late 1600’s, tensions ran high between Scots-Irish settlers in the western parts of Virginia and the government of Virginia, based in Jamestown. At issue was use of the army to protect the western settlers from Native attacks. For the aristocrats in Jamestown, the army was too expensive and the western settlers not important enough to justify the army being sent out. Another fear involved touching off a massive retaliation by the Natives if the army intervened. For the western settlers – it was literally a matter of life and death. It should be noted that the western settlers were made up of both recent Scots-Irish immigrants and former indentured servabts who had earned their freedom and headed west trying to build a life for themselves.
Nathaniel Bacon was a leader of the western settlers in Virginia. He wanted the governor to send troops to the western counties to attack the Natives. The governor wanted peace with the Natives and so Bacon organized an army which then marched on Jamestown, drove off the governor and took control of the Virginia government. Bacon dies soon thereafter of a fever and without his leadership, the revolt starts to unravel. Bacon urged complete elimination of all Natives living in Virginia while he was in control. He even passed a law that made selling guns to the Natives a crime with the punishment of death.
Bacon’s Rebellion featured slaves and servants fighting together against the wealthy aristocrats who controlled most of the wealth (and all of the government) in the Virginia colony. When the Rebellion was over, the wealthy plantation owners moved away from indentured servitude and focused on importing more slaves, as slaves were easier to control in the long term and didn’t come with an “expiration date” in the form of a fixed indenture. More laws were passed to make contact between blacks and whites (called “miscegenation”) even more difficult.
By the 1700’s, Natives had acquired partial resistance to most European diseases. To put this another way, all the Natives that were susceptible to European diseases had already died by 1700. The Native cultures the western settlers were coming into contact with were powerful and complex. But the English were powerful too. King Phillip’s War proved that neither side was powerful enough to completely eliminate the other. So the question became – how can Native and English colonist coexist alongside each other?
The Iroquois made their decision to ally themselves with the British against the French. Because the Iroquois occupied lands that served as a buffer between New France and the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania, the Iroquois were valuable allies against the French and they were treated as a sovereign nation by the British. The Iroquois have a constitution of sorts that explains the rules of their government. Some historians believe this Iroquois Constitution had some influence over the creation of our own Constitution.
The Huron were bitter enemies of the Iroquois and thus, natural allies of the French. They received the same preferential treatment from France that the Iroquois received from Britain and for the same reason – they were a useful tool, against British expansion into territories claimed by New France. The use of Indian allies against each other by the British and the French is illustrated very well by the 1992 film “Last of the Mohicans”.
The Cherokee controlled western North Carolina, the upstate of South Carolina and north Georgia. They tried an assimilation strategy – adopt as many of the English ways as possible. White settlers often married Cherokee women and the “half-breed” children often held positions of authority in the Cherokee government. The Cherokee emphasis on education would result in the creation of their own unique alphabet so that books could be printed in the Cherokee language. In North Carolina, the Cherokee are the largest tribe and there is still an Eastern Band of the Cherokee People based in Swain County in western North Carolina.
These five tribes were prominent, populous and powerful in the southeastern part of the North American continent. All tried varying strategies including assimilation in their attempt to coexist with English settlers. These five tribes had stable and complex governments and often entered into treaties or contracts with the English settlers. Interesting note: some anthropologists consider the Five Civilized nations to be a remnant of the great Mound Builder culture that dominated the southeast until the arrival of European explorers (and their European diseases) in the early 1500’s.
blog comments powered by Disqus