Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Colonial Chesapeake: The Land of the Haves and Have Nots

In the Colonial Chesapeake, coastal planters were the "ruling class". They were early arrivals to the Chesapeake and thus had control over the cleared lands on the riverfront. They were closer to ports, abundant in political influence, and were "orderly" families that would intermarry frequently to create a dense network of political power and wealth, known as a "little commonwealth". The coastal planters would often buy both servants and slaves to work, multiplying their plantations' productivity. It is also important to say that these coastal planters lived upriver because in other parts of the Colonial Chesapeake, such as the backcountry, life was a whole different story.

What is a backcountry?
~A backcountry is territory beyond the core settlements (think borderlands); the territory is usually on the peripheries of imperial power (meaning, the Crown didn't pay a lot of attention to what was going on in the backcountry).
~Because of the weak imperial presence, the colonial governments had to be satisfied with influence rather than control.
~The backcountry was usually the leading edge of colonial expansion, and therefore was often more volatile because the colonists were trespassing on Indian lands.
~There was a greater frequency of intercultural contact, interdependency, and cultural bleeding in the backcountry.

Where is the backcountry?
~The backcontry's location changes over time as the colonists expand further west.
~In the Atlantic colonies of the 17th century, English and African migration reaches only about 100 miles beyond the coast by the 1640s--although peripheral, but the Empire's center is in England.
~After the final defeat of the Powhatan in 1644, the English (and a few African) settlers spread up right to the foothills of the Appalachian range. The coastal rim was now well-established. Now the interior becomes the periphery and culturally distinct.

Why do backcountries form?
Backcountries form for a lot of different reasons, here's the reasons for why the Chesapeake backcountry formed.
~Because of loss to the indigenous population there was less populated land.
~Export crop production (tobacco) requires a lot of land.
~Land in the interior is generally cheaper than on the shore, or free.
~Late arrivals to the colonies cannot find well-wooded land on the coast.
~Some colonists were lured there by greater opportunities for trade; there were animal-rich rivers and eager customers who might be blocked from coastal trade.
~Some English settlers do not want the burden of government (no tax officers, no land lords, no overseers of the poor, no one to make one fence in cows and other livestock, and no one to prosecute you if you killed an indigenous trespesser or steal a feral hog).

The Chesapeake Backcountry (1620-1675)
~Elites invest in the fur trade with the Susquehannock Indians in the interior--Virginia and Maryland elites wanted to encourage Indian residency and productivity (buying corn so that they can plant more tobacco), and wish to limit English settlement.
~Cheap lands for tocacco cultivation lures poor men and former indentured servants into the interior. Tobacco is difficult and expensive to transport once above the "fall line" and they are forced to gorw more if they want to make a profit.
~Livestock is a predictable supplement to their incomes--they don't fence in their cattle and hogs, which creates a mess in the Indians' fields.
~The indigenous are triple-pressured--there is an increased commodity of hunting for pelts, radical transformations of the landscape by these new European animals, and there is competition for lands.

Gender, Race, and the Chesapeake Backcountry
~The English sex ratio was skewed--there were far fewer Englishwomen in the backcountry than there were men, and there were some miscegnatory (interracial) marriages.
~Without women and children, the colonists who lived in the backcountry needed to purchase laborers, but they had very little cash to do so.
~There was an overrepresentation of enslaved Africans in the coastal areas--this causes a great resentment among backcountry farmers.
~Backcountry Englishmen felt disenfranchised by laws that connected proof of ownership (a paper title) with a political voice.

Although living in the backcountry was fine for some, there was a lot that could have gone wrong because:
~There was very little military protection--the backcountry was often the front line of conflict because it was often the source of conflict itself.
~There were few guarantees that one's property claims (pre-emption rights) would be recognized--farmlands might have to be forfeited if someone with a paper title shows up.
~The colonists who lived in the backcountry were perceived as "wild" or "rude" or "uncivilized" by one's coastal countrymen--they were sometimes referred to as "our wood kern".

Backcountry Pressures Lead to War
Metacom's War (1675) was a war provoked by livestock, land competition, language, religion, and culture. Metacom is Massasoit's second son--when Massasoit died, his son Wamsutta took over but died mysteriously on a visit to the English. Metacom is increasingly annoyed at the English's sights and swagger. Metacom mobilizes in 1675; it was a multinational coalition which made a series of devastating raids.Early victories went to Metacom and his forces; because of his forces, parts of western New England burned to the ground. At first, the English were not very coordinated and suffered appalling losses. It wasn't until Metacom's supplies were running low, and the English had formed an alliance with the Five Nations of the Iroquois to form the Covenant Chain, when the tides of Metacom's War had changed. The English benefitted greatly from using Iroquois troops as a mercenary force. In 1676, Metacom was killed and the English won.

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