Southern History Series: The Settlement of Trans-Appalachia

I’m studying the conquest and settlement of Greater Appalachia this morning which was won in a series of 18th century conflicts involving France, Britain, the Cherokee, Shawnee and Creek Indians.

The following excerpts come from Richard B. Drake’s book A History of Appalachia:

“Between 1715 and the American Revolution, it is estimated that 250 thousand Scots-Irish made the journey to America. The German migration was nearly as large during approximately the same period. Such a large infusion of peoples could not help but have an immense influence upon the whole of American society and culture during these decades before the American Revolution.”

As we have seen, the English arrived in the 17th century and built the great cultures of Tidewater and the Low Country on the Atlantic Coastal Plain between the coast and the Piedmont while poorer and more middle class English settlers settled in between in coastal North Carolina. The Scots-Irish and Germans arrived later in the early 18th century and between 1715 and the American Revolution poured out of southeastern Pennsylvania and moved southwest into the Great Valley of Virginia.

“The Scots-Irish spoke a dialect in the eighteenth century that was then a version of a dialect “already old by the time of Elizabeth.”The reference to “magnificent Elizabethan swearing”; the love of the “r,” as in fire (far), hair (har), and bear (bar); triphongs and quadrithongs, as “abaout” (for about) and “hairous” (for house); the “hyander” (yonder); the double and triple negative for emphasis (as in Chaucer); and the omission of the “g” in “ing” endings, all attest to the ancient form of English established in the Appalachian Mountains in the late eighteenth century.

The Scotch-Irish provided the language norm for the backcountry dialect. Despite the numbers of Germans in backcountry culture and the remarkable persistence of the German language (Pennsylvania Dutch) in southeastern Pennsylvania, and for a number of years in the Valley of Virginia, the German language was gradually lost as they migrated into the valley sections of Virginia and the mountains beyond. German culture floated on such a vast sea of English speaking that German as a language of communication gradually lost out. But other distinctly German cultural traits came to be part of the Appalachian backcountry culture – such traits as the sectarian tendency in religion, certain characteristic ways of building, and farming practices.”

This “Pennsylvanian” culture was so blended with Germans and Swedes (the log cabin is of Scandinavian and German origin) that there is some dispute as to whether it can be described as Scots-Irish. The important thing is that the German language disappeared over time and the Upland South became more German and Scots-Irish than the Lowland South. This is the proper distinction because Lowland Virginia is overwhelmingly English and is more like the Deep South in that respect.

Here is a current genetic portrait of White Southerners which shows the ethnic origins of the people of Greater Appalachia in northern England, lowland Scotland and the German Palatinate.

“Although the Germans and the Scots-Irish made up the majority of the backcountry populations, a substantial portion of this population was considered “English.” Perhaps as many as one-third of the Euro-Americans who came to the Appalachian frontier in the eighteenth century were of this miscellaneous group, drawn mostly from “come-outer” or dissenting elements or from those squeezed by overpopulation in the already established, low-country colonial society. Some were of English Quaker background, as the family of Daniel Boone, whose parents were thrown out of the Quaker Meeting for allowing their daughter to marry an outsider. Others were of French Huguenot background, such as the family of John Sevier. This miscellaneous so-called “English” group was a large one, and a high percentage of backcountry leadership came from it. However, this assorted English group lacked the cohesion and sense of group identity that both the Germans and the Scots-Irish had. These so-called “English” frequently played a key role in mediating between the Scotch-Irish and the Germans, who often did not mix together well in backwoods society. The Scotch-Irish had a reputation for impulsiveness, were very politically active, and were fierce Indian fighters. The Germans, on the other hand, were sober and perhaps the best farmers in colonial America, but they were generally politically apathetic. The migrations movement put these two groups in conflict with one another – first in southeastern Pennsylvania, then southwestward into the Shenandoah Valley, and westward into western Pennsylvania and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The cultural tensions in the mountain society of the colonial backwoods were considerable as these two separate and very different groups attempted to find ways of living together. …”

We tend to think of Greater Appalachia as the Scots-Irish heartland. This is definitely true, but two-thirds of the original settlers of Appalachia were English who migrated west across the Piedmont from the lowlands and the Germans who migrated with them from Pennsylvania.

The Shenandoah Valley was settled first between 1715 and 1750:

“Significant settlement of the Shenandoah followed quickly upon Virginia’s decision in 1730 to change her land law and award speculators one thousand acres for each family they settled west of the Blue Ridge, so long as they recruited such settlers from outside Virginia. Already some Germans and Scotch-Irish had settled in the lower Shenandoah. In 1717, the Pennsylvania Synod of the Presbyterian Church had a request from “Potomoke in Virginia” for a minister, and some Germans had settled in the Shepherdstown area by 1727. But with the fear of increasing French activity in the mountains, Virginia’s land laws were made more generous and a number of speculators obtained vast grants of ten thousand to one hundred thousand acres and more. The speculators brought settlers mainly recruited from among the Germans and Scotch-Irish of Pennsylvania.”

Greater Appalachia wasn’t won without a fight. This area was the scene of several of America’s most vicious frontier wars between 1750 and 1790: the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Anglo-Cherokee War, Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution.

“The yeoman ideal – the hope of having land of one’s own – impelled most Appalachian settlers to take up mountain farmers as soon as the region was reasonably secure from Indian attack. The French and Indian War of 1755-1763, and then the American Revolution of 1775-1783, drove most Indian nations beyond the mountains. For veterans of the American Revolution, large tracts were made available where veterans might receive their severance pay from a grateful government, especially from the new states of Virginia and North Carolina …

A great post-Revolutionary War migration of people flooded into the Appalachian Mountain area and suddenly changed the society of the mountains. Whereas before 1775 the presence of powerful Indian nations made Euro-American settlement precarious, after the American Revolution, Euro-Americans with their African slaves came into the newly secured region in large numbers. Sons and daughters of the American Revolutions, whether veterans, “sunshine patriots,” Loyalists, Negroes, Germans, Scotch-Irish, or English, came into the mountains by the thousands to take up farms.

In 1770 the Cherokee, the largest Indian nation in the southern mountains, probably outnumbered the Euro-Americans and their African slaves within the southern mountain area by about ten thousand. But by 1790, the year of the first U.S. Census, slaves and Euro-Americans in the mountain area from Pennsylvania southward totaled nearly 180 thousand, while the Indians in the region could never have exceeded 50 thousand. The Appalachian Mountains had suddenly become a “white man’s country.”

Appalachia didn’t just magically become a White Man’s Country. It first required ousting the French from Trans-Appalachia in the French and Indian War, putting down Pontiac’s Rebellion which was a brutal frontier race war, defeating the Cherokees in the Anglo-Cherokee War and expelling the British and defeating the Cherokee and their other Indian allies again in the American Revolution. Only then were the Indians subdued and pushed out securing the area for settlement. The Cherokee who remained were later deported in the 1830s to Indian Territory along with the other Five Civilized Tribes.

“There were large areas in Appalachia that became quite rich agriculturally, especially in the Ridge and Valley section in Virginia and East Tennessee. But in the vast, truncated highlands of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, where many pleasant valleys were drained by streams that then ran pure and were full of fish, the soil was thin and only had limited agricultural potential. But game – squirrels, deer, bear, mountain lions, even bison – filled the forests, and a man could build his cabin in some wide valley and be master of all he could see, whether landowner or squatter. The land was beautiful and the rainfall abundant, and one’s well or spring appeared never to run dry or offer bad water. A good spring was especially valued. Such forest agriculture could lead to major success in hog or cattle raising, and this kind of “ranching,” especially in the high Virginia mountains was preferred to spending one’s efforts in clearing the forest in order to raise a garden or corn.”

It must have seemed like a paradise to a Scots-Irish Presbyterian. After the Indians were kicked out as punishment for fighting for the British during the American Revolution, this was the perfect place on earth to raise a family and to be left alone to enjoy the blessings of liberty. They also received vast tracts of land in Trans-Appalachia as a reward for their service in the Revolution.

“In the 1770s, British settlers from Virginia were edging out the beleaguered Shawnee from the Kanawha region. Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, was induced into assertive action by various frontier incidents that goaded the usually pro-British Shawnee into “taking up the hatchet.” The specific incident that triggered this war was the murder of the family of Chief Logan, a chief of the allied Mingo nation, a western branch of the Seneca nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mingo and the Shawnee then joined forces under Cornstalk, the Shawnee chieftain, a military genius and one of the great figures of frontier America. With limited supplies and manpower, Cornstalk tested an army twice his strength. Then he divided his force in the face of the enemy and skillfully attacked one group of Virginians separately. But at the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, he found that he could not defeat even a part of the force sent against him. He immediately sued for peace, thus ending Lord Dunmore’s War. The price of peace for the Mingo and the Shawnee was to surrender all claims south of the Ohio River, a claim contested during the American Revolution by some Shawnee, but never with Cornstalk’s approval. As much as any single Indian nation, the Shawnee suffered at the hands of the Appalachian frontiersman. Cornstalk and his son were ultimately lynched in 1777 by a group of soldiers at Fort Henry (present-day Wheeling, West Virginia), while he was a guest at the fort and under the protection of a flag of truce.”

Such is the story of how West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky was won after the Shawnee “took up the hatchet” to drive out the backwoodsmen. It ran through the Treaty of Front Stanwix, Lord Dunmore’s War, the Battle of Point Pleasant and ended with the lynching of Cornstalk.

“During the decade prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, more and more settlers made their way also into the upper Tennessee Valley. Significant settlement in the Watauga area and the upper Holston Valley had begun in 1768 after the Treaty of Hard Labor had secured the area. Persons moving down the Great Valley of Virginia had built substantial settlements on the upper Holston by 1772. A number of those who came to the Watauga and upper Holston area were upcountry yeomen who had participated in the Regulator Movement, a protest movement of Yadkin-area farmers who had been defeated by North Carolina authorities at the Battle of Alamance in May of 1771.”

Northeastern Tennessee was being settled during this same time period. These Overmountain men bloodied the British and the Loyalist militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 during the American Revolution. They also destroyed their Cherokee allies:

“Despite the predominant advice of the British, the war party among the Cherokee led that nation into a war in 1776 in an operation designed to wipe out the Watauga settlements in East Tennessee. But the news of this attack was leaked to the Wataugans by Nancy Ward, a prominent Cherokee leader. Attacks were widespread from the Watauga country to Rutherford County, North Carolina, and the adjacent areas of South Carolina. The patriot retaliation was immediate. Captain Thomas Howard led a small force of Carolina militia into the mountains, surprised a sizeable Cherokee band, and completely destroyed it. The major force was launched by the four colonies of Virginia, both Carolinas, and Georgia, and was placed under the command of General Griffith Rutherford. Beginning on September 1, Rutherford led some two thousand colonial militia (some sources claim five thousand) and several hundred Catawba Indians, though Swannanoa Gap into Cherokee country. The Cherokee retreated before this vast army, as the invaders systematically destroyed every dwelling and the growing crops, as well as all the stored grain they could find. Nothing was spared as the invaders made their way through the Upper and Valley Cherokee lands into the Overhill areas. There were many skirmishes, but no real pitched battles. The Cherokee merely abandoned their towns to the invaders. In all, some sixty-six Cherokee towns were and villages were destroyed before a treaty was signed in May of 1777, in which the Cherokee surrendered sizable portions of their territory to North and South Carolina.”

The Cherokee attempted to wipe out the Wataugans and lost badly. The war was resumed by Thomas Jefferson while he was the governor of Virginia:

“Despite the fairly close support of Cornwallis’s massive British army in the south and by a small force of Chickamauga Indians, the bulk of the Cherokee were not well prepared for the hostilities in the south in 1780. Immediately after the Battle of Kings Mountain, the leader of the Wataugans, John Sevier, selected two hundred and fifty of his best men and led them by forced marches across the Blue Ridge into the central settlements of the Overhill Cherokee. Even the sacred city of Echota was destroyed by this sudden, ruthless campaign. The Overhill Cherokee were unresisting and astonished, for they supposed that Sevier was moving against the offending Chickamauga farther south down the Tennessee River. The governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, initiated this war on the Cherokee, hoping to strike at the Chickamauga and define a new boundary.

The American Revolution had the effect of passing control of the Appalachian frontier to the new government of the United States. First, Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774 had pushed the formidable Mingo, Shawnee, and the Ohio Indians from the area of West Virginia. Then the Cherokee had been pacified by the massive campaign of Griffith Rutherford in 1776. Finally, even the mighty Iroquois were defeated by the Sullivan-Clinton campaign of 1779. Yet the Ohio Indians – the Wyandot, Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, and others – remained as a significant force in the area north of the Ohio River. Even though the dramatic winter 1777-1778 campaign of George Rogers Clark and his Kentuckians into the area of the Old Northwest resulted in victories over the British and their allies at Kaskaskia and Vincennes, Indian power north of the Ohio River was considerable. In June 1782, the Wyandot defeated a colonial militia of some five hundred near Sandusky, Ohio; and in September, a force of about three hundred British and Indians laid siege unsuccessfully to Fort Henry on the south side of the Ohio River in (West) Virginia. But at Blue Licks in Kentucky, in the last large-scale battle of the American Revolution, the Indians – mainly Shawnee – were stunningly successful against a patriot party that included Daniel Boone. …

Thus, the effective Indian challenge to the occupation of the Appalachian area was removed. With the British also removed as a factor in the drama of western settlement, the story of the Appalachian Mountains became wholly related to the history of the United States of America.”

The American Revolution broke the power of the Shawnee and the Cherokee in the Southern Appalachians, expelled the British from eastern North America and secured and opened Trans-Appalachia up to White settlement. This is what the war had been about in the backcountry.

“During the years following the British defeat in the Revolutionary War, thoes who were moving into the Appalachian Mountain area were largely absorbed in local issues. Yet great events were moving toward important conclusions on the eastern seaboard. A new national government was taking shape as delegates met in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787 to draw up a new constitution.

The constitutional revolution of 1787-1789 was largely a product of the eastern seaboard. No western leader was prominent in the constitutional debates in Philadelphia. In fact, the nearest thing to a spokesman for the west at that time, Patrick Henry from Henrico County, Virginia, refused to attend the Philadelphia sessions even though he was elected as a delegate from Virginia.”

Greater Appalachia played no role in creating the American Constitution and largely opposed the ratification of the document which was largely brokered between Yankeedom, Tidewater and the Deep South. The latter only ratified the Constitution because it secured slavery.

The following excerpt come from John Alexander Williams book Appalachia: A History:

“Land hunger acquired a new focus in the southwestern party of Appalachia at the turn of the nineteenth century. Georgia, the youngest, most southerly, poorest, and least populous colony before 1776, grew rapidly during the postrevolutionary decades, its population increasing from 50,000 people right after the Revolution to 162,000 in 1800 and 691,000 in 1840. Leading the migrant stream – which now turned west along the trading path that stretched from Augusta on the South Carolina border across central Georgia through Alabama and Mississippi – were the sort of people that the Indians called “Virginians,” the descendants of the migrants who had earlier filled up the Carolina backcountry. Spilling out across the Piedmont of central Georgia, the tide of settlers provoked new Indian confrontations, culminating in the Creek War of 1813-1814. Andrew Jackson’s victory over the Creeks and his unauthorized invasion of Florida five years later led to further Indian land cessions and to Spain’s withdrawal from Florida in 1821. By 1826, the Creeks and allied peoples had ceded all of their lands in Georgia extending to the Chattahoochee River, which formed the state’s western boundary. …”

Further to the south, we have already seen how the Scots-Irish filled up Upcountry South Carolina after 1750. By the time of the Revolution, 2/3rds of South Carolina’s population was in the Upcountry. After the Revolution, many of these families poured across the Savannah River and moved south of the Cherokee lands into the Georgia Piedmont. In the early 19th century, they would follow the Old Federal Road through South Alabama to Mobile and across South Mississippi to New Orleans.

About Hunter Wallace 12381 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. Blormpf’s FBI works with Wall St. Pro-Public and Antifa to imprison R.A.M……

    What’s the one thing that the Yudes have learned historically about Whites??

    It’s easy to Divide and Conquer…….

  2. Awesome post Hunter!
    You are writing about my ancestors, one of whom fought in both Lord Dunmore’s War and the AmRev. And I have both Ulster-Scot and German ancestors who were in this backcountry, frontier Kentucky and mountainous Grayson County, Virginia. My Kentucky ancestors were there by 1780, and a few knew Daniel Boone fact to face. And then you mention Brig. Gen. George Rogers Clark, whom I admire, and have visited his memorial in Vincennes and his final home (Locust Grove plantation in Louisville) both this year! Then you note that the AmRev in the Southern Backcountry was more about displacing the Indians than about British authority and abstract theories about liberty! YES! This article was right up my alley.

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