The Genesis of a Backcountry Identity

The Genesis of a Backcountry Identity

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The Genesis of a Backcountry Identity

In the North American English[1] colonial experience and in the subsequent post- revolutionary American Republic, the ability to assimilate either individually or collectively into the hierarchy of power represented a continually evolving process. Previously, throughout Europe’s ancient régime, a ridged hierarchy had dominated the social interaction of every facet of life and dictated that social positioning was a product of one’s birth and not open to unwarranted acts of social promotion. With the opening of English colonization efforts in the new world during the seventeenth century, the ridged social hierarchy of the old world was transplanted to North America. Although the Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Area and the settlers at Jamestown came to North America with wildly divergent intentions, the two different groups nevertheless brought with them the social behaviors of the dominate English identity that they had both been accustom to. The geographical distance between England and North America, however, generated a logistically challenged environment that increasingly compelled colonial Americans to integrate their dominant English customs within the practical realities of living three thousand miles away from London. Maintaining traditional social order in the English North American colonies was therefore particularly problematic the farther west that English colonial expansion reached in North America. Consequently, in the ensuing one hundred and fifty plus years before colonial America entered the pre-revolutionary period in 1763[2], a gradual weakening of the traditional English hierarchical order of colonial life facilitated the development of a sectionalist conflict that would characterize the western expansion of North America.

The loosening of traditional social controls in the English North American colonies affected nearly every aspect of colonial society, but along the expanding frontier regions of colonial America the effects of the weakening hierarchy’s authority allowed a distinct frontier or backcountry identity to develop.[3] At the forefront of the backcountry’s collective identity lay the singular importance of land ownership because, as historian Alan Taylor suggests, “the distribution of …property would determine what sort of society would be reproduced over time as Americans expanded across the continent.”[4] Because property ownership ultimately represented the defining element for entrance into the governing ranks of early American society, some marginalized groups of white frontier settlers that were typically comprised of recently arrived immigrants, squatters, and tenant farmers, occasionally were compelled to rebel against the eastern colonial centers of authority. The Paxton

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Boy’s riot, The North Carolina Regulators, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, Maine’s Liberty Men, and a host of other eighteenth century backcountry insurgencies all exemplified the manifestation of a frontier identity that sought to define its position in the hierarchy of American society. As a result, a sectionalist-based conflict over the equitable distribution of land emerged between settlers on the western frontier and the eastern centers of colonial authority that galvanized around three fundamental backcountry grievances. The issues of proprietary landownership, racism, and competing ethnic religious ideologies worked either individually or in conjunction with each other during the eighteenth century to create a backcountry identity that ultimately shaped the future of western expansion in America.

Some of the recent historiography on early American history suggests that the appearance of a backcountry identity was predicated on the irregular development of the English colonies and the essentially dysfunctional society that the colonies produced. Rarely, in the past, had large groups of English citizens or Europeans, who traditionally lived their entire lives amongst ethnically, religious, and culturally similar individuals, been relocated piecemeal into a new environment like the English North American colonies. Consequently, as Edward Morgan suggests, “the American colonists were reputed to be a quarrelsome, litigious, divisive lot, and historical evidence bears out this reputation.”[5] Morgan’s appraisal of the negative colonial attitude originates from the idea that although colonial Americans attempted to maintain a physiological connection with the dominant hierarchical customs of England, they lived in heterogeneous society that developed on the margins of traditional western civilization.

Historian Benard Bailyn builds on Morgan’s idea that American colonial society was underdeveloped by illustrating the degree of separation that existed between the dominate English culture and the provincial colonial imitation of that culture. Bailyn argues that “the great landmarks of European life-the church and the idea of orthodoxy, the state and the idea of authority: much of the array of institutions and ideas that buttressed the society of the ancien regime-had faded in their exposure to the open, wilderness environment of America.”[6] As a result, Bailyn ultimately suggests that a cultural vacuum existed in America despite the English pretenses held by a majority of colonists. The gap between the metropolitan center of English identity and its provincial colonial copy would be eventually be filled by the “conceptualization of American life”[7] after the events of 1776, but the historical evidence indicates that more than one concept of American identity would eventually develop. For example, Gary Nash’s study of the emerging black community in Philadelphia provides collaborating evidence for the idea that a pluralistic concept of American identity existed in the eighteenth century.[8] Consequently, the same frontier environment that Bailyn claims helped dissolve the institutions of English identity in America eventually galvanized into its own unique backcountry personality.

Morgan and Bailyn’s arguments are further enhanced by the idea that the same contentious and irregular environment of American also held the singular possibility of providing a multitude of individuals with the chance of improving their lives through the acquisition of cheap land. The availability of abundant sources of land and the successive waves of both external immigration and internal migration that land produced is therefore a reoccurring theme in the academic analysis of colonial America. The movement of people throughout colonial North America, especially towards the western frontier regions, further undermined the traditional English identity and facilitated the development of a backcountry identity. As more people entered the frontier regions in search of land, Historian Gordon Wood argues from the similar dysfunctional society position held by Morgan and Bailyn’s that:

In some places people moved so rapidly and in such numbers that society as people had know it was not easily re-created. Hierarchies that gradually emerged out of raw frontier areas were necessarily jerry-built and precarious…In some areas [of the backcountry] even the barest elements of civilized society were hard to acquire…[and] in such a raw society distinctions were hard to come by, and those who sought to rule had difficulty sustaining their authority.[9]

This “truncated society,”[10] which besides weakening the traditional bonds of social control, accentuated the existing limitations of the colonial American economy that were already forcing thousands of settlers into the frontier regions of North America. Accordingly, in the continual search for useable land, as colonial Americans moved farther into the frontier regions of North America the less associated they became with the traditional hierarchy of social control and the more dependant they became on assimilating into a locale identity.

Morgan, Bailyn, and Wood’s claim that a unique American identity developed out of the abbreviated remnants of an English sensibility forms a central element in the neo –Whig historiographical position. These three historians fall into this categorization because each of their respective arguments points to the commonality of language and customs that American colonists developed under the weaken rule of English authority.[11] As the Imperial English authorities attempted to reassert their dominance over the colonies, the neo-Whig’s argument suggests that the policies like The Stamp Act, The Coercive Acts, and The Townsend Acts became counterproductive to Imperial desires because they solidified the rhetoric of Americanization into a specific identity. Although the neo-Whigs claim only a singular American character existed, the neo-progressive historians, such as Gary Nash, Alfred Young, and Alan Taylor have augmented the neo-Whig position by suggesting that a pluralistic concept of an American sensibility also emerged in the eighteenth century. For historians Young and Taylor, they further contend that elements of the non-homogeneous frontier that were becoming detached from the dominant hierarchy of English society and disenfranchised by a proprietary control of land also associated with the emerging American commonality.[12] Because of their increasing marginalization, however, the western frontier settlers began to assert themselves within a subgroup of the American experience. Consequently, as the range of the frontier expanded and became more populated, the historiographical evidence suggests that the issues of proprietary landownership, racisam, and ethnic religious conflicts enabled a distinctive backcountry identity to develop in North America.

All of the historiography and general analysis of the backcountry does not conceal the fact that the notion of a specific identity remains an abstract concept that is hard to qualify. Similar to other historical currents, it is impossible to suggest a single date or event that can definitively signify the genesis of an American backcountry identity. In the 1676 rebellion of Nathaniel Bacon, however, the likely precedent for the emergence of a backcountry identity appears evident. In Bacon’s rebellion, the disruptive tendencies inherent in the constantly expanding colonial American frontier galvanized into a sectionalist issue in seventeenth century Virginia. Bacon’s rebellion set the example of “yeomen [backcountry settlers] seeking free or cheap access to wilderness land to confront [the] gentlemen who had exploited their political connections to secure large land grants.”[13] The particular details of Bacon’s insurrection consisted of a group of poor white men who lacked the clout to receive a land grant and who were forced into the wilderness in order to secure property by rebelling against the establish Virginia elites when their attempts to seize land had failed. Bacon and his men also took a particular affront to the Virginian elites who failed to support their campaign to destroy the local Indians that had initially prohibited them from acquiring free sections of frontier land. Although Bacon himself was a man of privilege and his personal motives were divergent from the majority of his men, the issues surrounding the insurrection he lead still remained elemental to the creation of a backcountry character. Ultimately, a professional English Army that the Virginia Governor was forced to request from London defeated Bacon and his men, but the fundamental causes of Bacon’s rebellion would resurface in a succession of similar events in American history.[14]

In the complex history of the backcountry’s developing identity and the many sectional crisis that it fostered, the two incidents of the Paxton Boy’s Riot in Pennsylvania and the Regulator Rebellion in North Carolina encapsulates the primary reasons for the insurgency trend in the American frontier. Although each case of rebellion stands as an individual event, the Regulator and Paxton episodes illustrates that proprietary landownership, race, and ethnic religious differences were all fundamental aspects of the significant frontier rebellions in early American history. As a result, through the analysis of the Paxton Riots and the North Carolina Regulators a clearer understanding of the frontier grievances that fostered the backcountry identity can be illustrated.

The events of the Paxton Rebellion started on December 14, 1763 when a band of backcountry men raided an Indian settlement at Conestoga Manor, near the town of Paxton on the western frontier of Pennsylvania, and murdered six Indians who were living under the protection of the Quaker controlled colonial government. Fourteen days later, the backcountry men, now known as the Paxton Boys, attacked the surviving fourteen Conestoga Indians, who had been removed for their protection to a public house in Lancaster, and killed them. [15]

The Indians at Conestoga were not part of a homogeneous group from a single tribe, but in fact comprised of Indians from, as the Imperial Indian affairs chief Sir William Johnson described, “the five hitherto well affected [sovereign Indian] Nations.”[16] The Paxton Boys, however, either failed or simply did not care to recognize that the people they had killed were members of several peaceful tribes of Indians. The bloody fighting and atrocities committed by all of the combatants of the Seven Years War and Pontiac’s Rebellion before the Paxton Murders took place 1763 had produced a bitter anti-Indian sentiment amongst the white settlers of the western frontier region in Pennsylvania. As a result, the Paxton Riots assumed a vigilante attitude because the principle cause of the murders at Conestoga and Lancaster was the apparent belief of the Paxton Boys that the Indians were either hostile or in collaboration with other hostile Indian tribes along the frontier.

The anti-Indian tensions in western Pennsylvania escalated further after the initial Paxton Boy’s raids on the Indian settlements because they discovered the Quaker controlled government in Philadelphia maintained a friendly and supportive attitude with the five “well affected” nations that Sir Johnson had earlier alluded to. When it became known by the Paxton Boys and their leaders that the Quaker lead assembly, which a majority of the backcountry settlers suspected had purposely denied them of the necessary funds and supplies to maintain the frontier defenses against Indians, had guaranteed the safety of several dozen Indians in Philadelphia, the Paxton Boys reorganized and marched towards the colonial capital.

In the ensuing several days that the growing mob of Paxton Boys took to march on the city of Philadelphia, Lieutenant Governor John Penn asked the assembly to organize the local militia and a group of Royal Americans (Imperial Marines) to defend the city against the approaching frontiersmen. In order to avoid any more bloodshed, the assembly also asked Benjamin Franklin to negotiate with the Paxton Boys. Franklin was indeed successful in negotiating the withdraw of the Paxton Boys in exchange for a written list of their frontier grievances be delivered to the assembly. The conditions of Franklin’s negotiations were subsequently met and the brief murderous career of the Paxton Boy’s rebellion came to an anticlimactic end in mid February of 1764.

Although the Paxton Boy’s rebellion occurred within the confines of several weeks, the insurgency of the North Carolina Regulators developed over a period of several years. The colony in North Carolina, similar to Pennsylvania, was also established as a large proprietary land grant. Instead of a monetary debt, however, King Charles II was indebted politically to eight gentlemen who had helped him restore the monarchy after the English Civil War. As a repayment of their loyalty, the King provided the men with a large land grant in 1663 that subsequently became North Carolina. The descendants of seven of the original eight proprietors governed North Carolina until 1729 when they sold their interest back to the Crown and the territory was then chartered as a royal colony. Lord Granville, a descendant of the one original proprietor who retained his interests in North Carolina continued to hold rights to the lands that encompassed nearly all of the northern half of North Carolina after 1729. This “Granville District” was eventually the principle scene of the many disputes over land distribution that eventually was responsible for the North Carolina Regulator rebellion.[17]

By 1755 a large influx of settlers had settled into the Piedmont area of western North Carolina and tensions over the equitable distribution of land began to rise. Absentee landlords, who resided in the establish centers of population in the eastern sections of the colony, predominantly controlled the large tracts of land that made up the western Piedmont and Granville regions in North Carolina. Beginning with a series of disputes over land assessment fees, taxation rates, and accusations of political favoritism, a loosely organized association of western settlers in North Carolina began to voice their opposition to what their eventual spokesman, Herman Husband, saw as “ the most notorious and intolerable abuses of the practice of law…[that] we suffer by the malpractice of those empowered to manage our public affairs.”[18]

As the opposition in the western lands continued to grow, incidents of violence between the government officials and settlers started to occur and the dispute became polarized into an east vs. west contest of who held the legitimate control of the region. When the eastern proprietary controlled legislature of North Carolina attempted to assert its authority to control the western settlers, Husband and his supporters called for the “reformation”[19] of the colonial government and the irregularly contested rebellion of the North Carolina Regulators began.

The Regulator Rebellion in North Carolina consisted of several protest incited courthouse coup'detats and an ongoing series of official search and seizures of regulator held property, leaders, and suspected supporters. Each official action was customarily meet by a regulator response and vice versa, but on May 16, 1771, after several years of localized incidents, two thousand armed Regulators meet fourteen hundred North Carolina militia men at Alamance Creek. In the ensuing battle, eighteen men were killed outright and nearly a hundred were wounded, but in the end, the disciplined militia of North Carolina routed the disorganized and unprepared Regulators. As a result of their defeat, twelve regulators were tried for treason, six were hanged and the other six were pardoned by the governor. Herman Husband and several of the other leaders of the Regulators had previously escaped before the battle of Almance Creek began. Over the next six months, some six thousand Regulator supporters accepted the North Carolina governor’s offer of clemency. In the wake of the ensuing colonial independence crisis, the regulator movement slipped into obscurity, but it would again surface in North Carolina during the nineteenth century.

The two episodes of the Paxton Riots and the North Carolina Regulator Rebellion form a small case study of three fundamental aspects of frontier rebellions in early American history. In each of these two insurgencies, the three issues of proprietary land ownership, racial superiority, and ethnic religious differences are paramount to their origins and they simultaneously illustrate the principle characteristics of the developing backcountry identity in early America.

I. Proprietary Land Ownership:

The Paxton Boys Riots originated from the fact that the colony of Pennsylvania, from its inception with the Penn charter in 1682, was a large proprietary estate. Presented as a grant to William Penn in lieu of the large debt incurred by King James II to Penn’s father, Pennsylvania was established essentially by Penn as a refuge for the members of his religious faith: The Society of Friends (Quakers). Many settlers and special interest groups had either already been established in the region before the Penn grant was issued or they managed to later assert a nominal influence through the electoral process of the Pennsylvania unicameral assembly. As Brook Hindel suggests by the middle of the eighteenth century “the politics of the colony were nearly confused as the population.”[20] The confusion Hindel refers to stems from the nature of the diverse demographic features of the Pennsylvania colony during the second half of the eighteen century (see map, page ). The many nationalities and religious faiths that coexisted in Pennsylvania originally immigrated to the colony because of its well-documented policies of social, political, and religious inclusion, but by the middle of the eighteenth century, the remains of the proprietary interests in Pennsylvania and the Quakers dominated the legislative assembly. Consequently, although Pennsylvania remained a haven for persecuted white settlers of many backgrounds, entrance into the hierarchy of colonial rule remained open only to the members of the dominant English identity.

In eighteenth century Pennsylvania, as in all of the colonies, land ownership or a specific amount of personal property in the form of specie was required to receive legislative representation and suffrage rights. The majority of the settlers on Pennsylvania’s frontier could meet the requirements for enfranchisement, but due to the unfair apportionment of representatives in the assembly, the five western counties, which contained a substantial larger amount of qualified voters than the more urbanized eastern counties, received only half of the total number of combined representatives that the three eastern counties and the city of Philadelphia received.[21] In total, the five western counties of Pennsylvania in 1763 had only ten seats in the assembly as compared to twenty-six seats that the city of Philadelphia and the three eastern counties had. [22] As Brook Hindel argues, “legislation [in Pennsylvania] was inevitably attuned to eastern interests and to the interests of wealth.”[23] As the western settlers repeatedly sought to redress their unfair representation, their petitions for equality were dismissed by the proprietary and Quaker dominated assembly. Consequently, the Pennsylvania backcountry settlers became increasing hostile to both the proprietary landholders and Quakers because they routinely exclude the backcountry contingent from the decision making process of the colonies.

In North Carolina, the representation between the eastern and western counties of the colony was even more disproportionate. The rapid growth of the Piedmont and Granville regions of North Carolina after 1750 had created a problem of introducing new counties into the legislature. The county represented the unit of apportionment in North Carolina and before 1750 there had been more counties in the east than in the west. In order to retain control of the legislature, however, the eastern proprietary landowners manipulated the creation of counties by assuring that for every western county created, according to the resulting population expansion, they would create a new eastern county[24] (see map, page ).The fact that there was no corresponding immigration increases into the eastern counties of North Carolina after the middle of the eighteenth century did stop the eastern dominated legislature from continuing their unfair apportionment practices. As a result, the western settlers of North Carolina quickly became embittered with what they saw as the eastern dominated colonial government that refused to recognize their new majority status.

This marginalization of the western counties in both the Pennsylvania and North Carolina legislatures became a central enabler of the Paxton and Regulator episodes. The lack of a legitimate status in the colonial hierarchy, despite having a majority of either the legally apportioned seats in their locale legislatures or simply comprising a majority of the population in their colony, represented a major issue in the frontier rebellions of early America and ultimately lead to the development of a backcountry identity.

2. Race:

In Pennsylvania the effects of the perpetual frontier Indian wars had institutionalized Indian hatred throughout the majority of western settlers. Years of pleading with the colonial assembly to reinforce the western defenses against Indian attacks had gone virtually unnoticed because of the dominant Quaker held position of trying to negotiate with the friendly Indian tribes. For many backcountry settlers, however, the distinction between friendly or hostile Indian was a non-issue as they maintained a traditional Euro centric belief that all Indians were naturally inferior and unworthy even to exist.[25] The assembly’s position of negotiating with the Indians was considered yet another attack on the interests of the western settlers by the members of the colonial hierarchy. The frontier settler’s negative viewpoint of the Indians and their general complaints about the lack of colonial Indian defenses were regularly expressed in the local papers:

who cannot help repeating their surprise at the infatuation of the People in our province, who tamely look on while their brethren are being butchered by the savages [the Indians] when, without a doubt, it is in their power, by exerting the proper spirit not only to protect the settlements, but to punish the Indians that are hardy enough to disturb them in[26]

Consequently, for many of the backcountry settlers in Pennsylvania, the Indians stood in their way to receiving proper recognition of their interests. The further dehumanization and destruction of the Indians therefore became incorporated into the backcountry’s efforts to achieve recognition for their status in the colony. As Aladen Vaughn suggests, “ The Paxton Boys’ principle legacy in Pennsylvania was [to institutionalize] ‘open season’ on the Indians.[27]

Indian hatred was also pervasive in North Carolina, but the existence of African slavery in the colony ultimately proved just as divisive. The eastern proprietary landholders in North Carolina had earlier in the colony’s history introduced the plantation slavery system of agricultural production. Although the Regulator leader, Herman Husband, saw that slavery was a dangerous threat to the western settlers because, as Rodger Ekirich suggests, slavery for Husband meant “that there was less productive land for industrious husbandmen and laborers…deprived of land and work, many whites would lose out to masters and overseers and be further engulfed by ever-multiplying numbers of slaves.”[28]

Ironically, however, during the Regulator period from 1755 to 1771 African slavery in North Carolina increased because many of the new immigrants to the colony, who had come from Virginia, were slavery was institutionalized, believed that cheap land and slave labor were the requirements for imitating the wealth of the established elites.[29] As a result, it appears that some of the regulator’s hatred for the eastern landholders in North Carolina was based to some degree on the envy of their success. That possible envy does not discount, however, the fact that the landownership basis of the proprietary elites power was recognized by the marginalized western settlers as the key element they needed to secure their status in the colonial hierarchy. If slave ownership was the model for acquiring more land, then the record shows that many the western settlers in North Carolina were perfectly willing to accommodate that need.

The face of racism is less obvious in the Regulator Rebellion than in the Paxton Riots, but ultimately it existed as a central element in the designs of many western settlers as the fastest method to secure their interests in the colonial hierarchy. Racism is an ugly part of the entirety of American history, but in the frontier revolts of the eighteenth century it was extremely prevalent. Unfortunately, the wanton killing of Indians and the willingness to enslave blacks ultimately became a distinguishing feature of the backcountry identity in America

III. Ethnic Religious Differences:

The dominant English identity’s control of Pennsylvania’s society was predicated on the ethnocentric superiority of the English culture. The Pennsylvania colony was unique in the respect that besides the traditional Anglican disposition, an English Quaker element shared the dominant religious positions in the hierarchical structure of the colony. Accordingly, Brook Hindel illustrates that “in the Pennsylvania colony, which contained an increasingly cosmopolitan population after the middle of the eighteenth century, the dominance of English cultural institutions remained; despite the influx of many Scotch- Irish, German, and various religious orientated immigrants to Pennsylvania the infrastructure of colonial life there maintained a decidedly English Appearance.”[30]

If the established eastern sectors of the Pennsylvania colony were English in their cultural appearance, then the western frontier was decidedly comprised of a Scotch-Irish identity.[31] The western frontier of Pennsylvania was primarily settled by groups of Scotch –Irish Presbyterians (see map, page ), who constituted the majority of the Paxton Boy rioters and who possessed a deep psychological hatred for the English Anglican and Quaker elites. As pamphleteer Hugh Williamson argued, “For God’s sake, are we always to be slaves, must we groan for ever beneath the yoke of three Quaker counties.” The eastern hatred for the Scotch- Irish Presbyterians was also well documented, “it is very evident, from undeniable facts, that they [Scotch-Irish Presbyterians] are by no means proper men, not men fit to hold the reigns of government, either in peace or war.”[32] As the Scotch-Irish Paxton Boys marched on the city of Philadelphia, an English pamphleteer satirized their supposed bravery:

As to their bravery no body will ever dispute it, that has heard of their gallant and loyal behavior at Lancaster; where only fifty of them completely[sic] armed were able to vanquish a numerous company of eight men and women, and even seven small children, all disarm’d and coo’d up in a goal-The fame of this noble exploit ought surly to be recorded in the annals of America for the honor of the religious, Christian Presbyterians.[33]

In North Carolina the system of English cultural superiority was essentially the same as in Pennsylvania. The eastern proprietary land owners were predominantly English and belonged to the Anglican church and the western settlers, including the majority of the Regulators, were of Scotch-Irish descent and belonged to the Presbyterian church (see map, page ). For much of the colonial North Carolina history, the Anglican Church was the unofficial prerequisite for membership into the elite society and for achieving a position of authority in the colony.[34] In the regulator Rebellion, a significant issue arose from the fact that the English proprietary government had passed a taxation measure to provide for the salaries of Anglican parish priest. Regulator leader Herman Husband was incensed at this development and argued that dissenters [Presbyterians] would be subjected to a “yoke of bondage”…“an oppression to grievous to bear.”[35]

The deep hatred and suspicion that existed between the English and the Scotch- Irish was systemic. Throughout all aspects of their colonial interactions The institutional hatred that existed between groups like the Scotch-Irish Paxton Boys and their English Anglican/ Quaker detractors or the Regulators and the North Carolina English Anglican elites ultimately became a fundamental aspect of the development of a backcountry identity throughout the North American frontier.

Since its inception as a colonial enterprise, the North American English colonies were dominated by the social, political, and cultural designs of England. The harsh and distant environment of the colonies, however, tempered the resiliency of those traditions and facilitated the creation of a practical, but uniquely American commonality to develop. Although it is often suggested that the American identity that emerged during the pre-revolutionary period was singular in is inception, the immature colonial society that existed within the shadow of its metropolitan superior facilitated a pluralistic conception of itself to develop. As a result, the appearance of a specific frontier mentality, which was part and parcel to the creation of a recognizable American experience, constitutes a recognizable product of the pre-revolutionary period in colonial America.

Within the truncated society of colonial America and its search for self recognition, the trend of a somehow disenfranchised group of men, who attempted to augment their position in society by either duplicating the forms of control that the established elite maintained or by devaluating another group’s claims to legitimacy, represents a particular phenomenon of American frontier history. The issues of proprietary landownership, racism, and ethic religious differences are what formed the basis of this rebellious tendency to emerge in western America during the eighteenth century. Present in the frontier rebellions like the Paxton Boys Riots and the North Carolina Regulators rebellion, these three characteristics are not universally associated with the entire spectrum of frontier insurgencies, but in some degree or in a combination of degrees with each other, proprietary land rights, racism, and ethnic religious conflicts enabled a unique backcountry identity to develop in America.


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[1] The distinction between English and British is a an important one, and although it is proper to refer to the North American colonies as being British After the Act of Union in 1707, for the sake of continuity the term English will be used throughout this paper.

[2] Historians commonly refer to the twelve years between the Proclamation of Oct. 1, 1763 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 as the pre-revolutionary period in colonial America.

[3] The concept of a frontier mentality originates from Historian Fredrick Jackson Turner’s 1893 speech entitled: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.”

[4] Alan Taylor. Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier, 1760-1820 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). 5.

[5] Edward S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic:1763-89 (Chicago and London:University of Chicago Press, 1956), 5.

[6] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1992), 19.

[7] Bailyn, 20

[8] Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom: the Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community: 1720-1840 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1988).

[9] Gordon S. Wood. The Radicalism of the American Revolution

(New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 130-1.

[10] Wood, 109.

[11] Edward Countryman, xvi

[12] Alfred F. Young, ed. Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism( DeKallb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993), 342-43.

[13] Alan Taylor, 4.

[14] Howard Zinn. A Peoples History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins,1995), 40-42.

[15] John R. Dunbar, ed. The Paxton Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954), 34.

[16] Pennsylvannia Colonia Records or Minutes of the Provincal Council (Harrisburg, 1852), IX, 62; in Brook Hindel, 472.

[17] Farnham, Thomas J., Huhta, James K., Powell, William S., eds. The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776 (Raleigh: State Dept.of Archives and History, 1971), xxiv.

[18] Extract from Herman Husband’s book on the Regulation June 6, 1765 in The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776 (Raleigh: State Dept.of Archives and History, 1971), 23.

[19] Ibid, 38.

[20] Brook Hindel, “The March of the Paxton Boys” William and Mary Quarterly 3, no. 4 (1946): 462.

[21] C.H. Lincoln The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, 1760-76

(Cos Cob, Connecticut: John E. Edwards Publishing, 1968), 76-77.

[22] C.H. Lincoln, 81.

[23] Brooke Hindel, 463.

[24] Lefler Powell, Colonial North Carolina: A History (New York: Scribners, 1973), 218-19.

[25] Aladen T Vaughn, Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 ), 82.

[26] Pennsylvania Gazette, July 5, 1763, in Bruce Hindel, 465.

[27]Aladen Vaughn, 88.

[28] Rodger A. Ekirch, “A New Government of Liberty: Herman Husbands Vision of Backcountry North Carolina, 1755 William and Mary Quarterly 34, no.4

(Oct. 1977): pp.636.

[29] Rodger A. Ekirch, 637.

[30] Brook Hindel, 474.

[31] The term Scotch-Irish refers to the descendants of the Scottish settlers used by the English to colonize areas of Northern Ireland. The Scotch-Irish were predominantly comprised of Presbyterians who were subject to the systematic discrimination policies of the English. Consequently, a deep sense of hatred and mistrust characterized the relationship between the English and Scotch-Irish populations of the English North American colonies because the ethnocentric superiority of the English culture was virtually complete.

[32] “A Looking Glass for Presbyterians” in John R. Dunbar, ed. The Paxton Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954), 246.

[33] “A Looking Glass for Presbyterians” in John R. Dunbar, ed. The Paxton Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954), 253.

[34] Lefter, 220.

[35] Ekirch, 636.
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