The first chapter of John Alexander Williams’ Appalachia: A History is an account of the settlement of Appalachia by the first White settlers, the Germans and English, who were soon followed into the Great Valley from Pennsylvania by the Scots-Irish.
It also focuses on the displacement and destruction of the Indian tribes who once inhabited Appalachia, from north to south, the Iroquois, Shawnee, and Cherokee.
Here’s the final paragraph of the chapter that sums up how Appalachia became a “white man’s country”:
“With the tragedy of the Trail of Tears, the first phase of Appalachian history came to a close. Thanks to the rumors of gold that had circulated three hundred years earlier, the aboriginal peoples of the mountains first faced the disease and destruction that accompanied the European invasion of America. Now the actuality of gold in north Georgia gleamed briefly but brightly enough to lead the process of destruction and loss to its logical end. After 1838, Appalachia was “a white man’s country,” surrounded on all sides by Euro-American settlements. In the course of the nineteenth century, the violent frontier of displacement and repopulation gave way to a different type of frontier, one that blended the culture of the colonial and early republican backcountry with that of an emerging industrial society.” (John Alexander Williams, Appalachia: A History, p.81)
Geologically, Appalachia consists of five sub-regions:
“Geologists have marked off five or six different physiographic provinces within the Appalachian system: the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge, the Great Valley (and sometimes a separate “ridge-and-valley” province consisting of the Allegheny ridges and valleys that parallel the Great Valley on its northwest side), the Allegheny (or Cumberland) Mountains, and finally the Appalachian Plateau. These provinces comprise all of eastern North America’s uplands south of the Adirondacks and extend from the coastal to the interior plains.”
It is a myth that Appalachia is poor because of slavery: the most prosperous era in Appalachian history was the antebellum era, and Appalachia’s economic development was on par with the rest of the South until about 1850:
“The succeeding era, extending variously from the 1760s in the Valley of Virginia to the late antebellum period in the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus, constitutes the second phase. During this period, Euro-American and African-American labor established the farm-and-forest economy of what might be called classical Appalachia and made it the region’s most prosperous era relative to other parts of the nation.”
Here’s a straightforward account of how Euro-American settlers, overwhelmingly Scots-Irish, English, Scots and Germans, arrived in Appalachia, displaced the Indians, and repopulated the region between 1730 and 1830:
“The era typically defined as the age of the frontier and settlement in Appalachia was actually an era of displacement and repopulation. There were four geographic phases of this process during the roughly one hundred years after 1730. The first phase extended from 1730 to 1763 and involved Appalachian Pennsylvania and Maryland, western parts of Virginia, specifically the Great Valley, the adjacent parallel valleys of the Greenbriar and Upper Potomac, and a fringe of territory along the Monogahela and Ohio Rivers in what is now West Virginia. The second phase was completed by 1789 and planted Euro-American settlements in upper East Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina, and the central part of Kentucky. Between 1790 and 1820, repopulation proceeded in the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio, plus the Great Valley in middle East Tennessee and the Blue Ridge and adjacent foothills territory in western North Carolina. The final displacement and repopulation came between 1820 and 1840, when the Cherokee nation was expelled from its lands in southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, north Georgia, and both the Great Valley and Cumberland plateau lands of northeast Alabama.”
The Germans arrived early in both Virginia and the Carolina backcountry:
“In Virginia, many of the earliest valley settlers called “Dutch” were actually “Switzers,” that is, natives of the German Protestant cantons of Switzerland. In South Carolina, some 3,700 German immigrants entered the colony between 1748 and 1759, almost all of them arriving through the port of Charleston. Roughly a third of these came in a single year, 1752, from the southwest German province of Württemberg. The majority clustered in compact settlements in the Broad and Saluda valleys in the north central part of the province, away from both the Cherokee path and the road leading northward to Pennsylvania. …In contrast with Pennsylvania, there is no record of hostility between English and German speakers in the Carolinas, nor did English settlers already planted in a district abandon it when Germans moved in.”
The Scots-Irish poured into the Southern backcountry through the Great Valley from Pennsylvania after the 1730s:
“In Virginia, Irish Protestants poured into the middle and upper reaches of the Shenandoah Valley, beginning in the 1730s. ..
In the Carolinas, the Irish settled in enclaves interspersed among German enclaves in the valleys of the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers in North Carolina as well as in the Waxhaws … An analysis of names recorded in the 1790 census discloses that 18.9 percent of the population of South Carolina was Scots-Irish, 17.8 percent of Tennessee’s, 16.5 percent of Kentucky’s, 15.1 percent of Pennsylvania’s, 12.2 percent of Georgia’s, and 11.7 percent of Virginia’s, compared with 10.1 percent of the overall US population. It should be kept in mind that Ulster immigration resumed after the Revolution and reached its peak after 1815.”
“Greater Appalachia” would later extend all the way to eastern New Mexico:
“The backcountry migration was one of the great folk movements in American history. To accommodate it, the Warrior’s Path of the Great Valley became a Great Trail, then a Great Wagon Road connecting Pennsylvania with the South. At its Southern end it was known as the Philadelphia Road, in Pennsylvania as the Virginia Road. Where it forked in the Roanoke section of the Great Valley , the southwestern branch became the Wilderness Road, while the Southern branch became the Carolina Road.”
The southern and northern ends of Appalachia were secured as part of the American Revolution when the Cherokee and the Iroquois sided with Great Britain and were defeated by the Continental Army.