Read Chapter III - The Back Country and the Border of The Conquest of the Old Southwest, free online book, by Archibald Henderson, on

Far from the bustle of the world, they live in the most delightful climate, and richest soil imaginable; they are everywhere surrounded with beautiful prospects and sylvan scenes; lofty mountains, transparent streams, falls of water, rich valleys, and majestic woods; the whole interspersed with an infinite variety of flowering shrubs, constitute the landscape surrounding them; they are subject to few diseases; are generally robust; and live in perfect liberty; they are ignorant of want and acquainted with but few vices. Their inexperience of the elegancies of life precludes any regret that they possess not the means of enjoying them, but they possess what many princes would give half their dominion for, health, content, and tranquillity of mind. Andrew Burnaby: Travels Through North America.

The two streams of Ulstermen, the greater through Philadelphia, the lesser through Charleston, which poured into the Carolinas toward the middle of the century, quickly flooded the back country. The former occupied the Yadkin Valley and the region to the westward, the latter the Waxhaws and the Anson County region to the northwest. The first settlers were known as the “Pennsylvania Irish,” because they had first settled in Pennsylvania after migrating from the north of Ireland; while those who came by way of Charleston were known as the “Scotch-Irish.” The former, who had resided in Pennsylvania long enough to be good judges of land, shrewdly made their settlements along the rivers and creeks. The latter, new arrivals and less experienced, settled on thinner land toward the heads of creeks and water courses.

Shortly prior to 1735, Morgan Bryan, his wife Martha, and eight children, together with other families of Quakers from Pennsylvania, settled upon a large tract of land on the northwest side of the Opeckon River near Winchester. A few years later they removed up the Virginia Valley to the Big Lick in the present Roanoke County, intent upon pushing westward to the very outskirts of civilization. In the autumn of 1748, leaving behind his brother William, who had followed him to Roanoke County, Morgan Bryan removed with his family to the Forks of the Yadkin River. The Morgans, with the exception of Richard, who emigrated to Virginia, remained in Pennsylvania, spreading over Philadelphia and Bucks counties; while the Hanks and Lincoln families found homes in Virginia Mordecai Lincoln’s son, John, the great-grandfather of President Lincoln, removing from Berks to the Shenandoah Valley in 1765. On May 1, 1750, Squire Boone, his wife Sarah (Morgan), and their eleven children a veritable caravan, traveling like the patriarchs of old started south; and tarried for a space, according to reliable tradition, on Linville Creek in the Virginia Valley. In 1752 they removed to the Forks of the Yadkin, and the following year received from Lord Granville three tracts of land, all situated in Rowan County. About the hamlet of Salisbury, which in 1755 consisted of seven or eight log houses and the court house, there now rapidly gathered a settlement of people marked by strong individuality, sturdy independence, and virile self-reliance. The Boones and the Bryans quickly accommodated themselves to frontier conditions and immediately began to take an active part in the local affairs of the county. Upon the organization of the county court Squire Boone was chosen justice of the peace; and Morgan Bryan was soon appearing as foreman of juries and director in road improvements.

The Great Trading Path, leading from Virginia to the towns of the Catawbas and other Southern Indians, crossed the Yadkin at the Trading Ford and passed a mile southeast of Salisbury. Above Sapona Town near the Trading Ford was Swearing Creek, which, according to constant and picturesque tradition, was the spot where the traders stopped to take a solemn oath never to reveal any unlawful proceedings that might occur during their sojourn among the Indians. In his divertingly satirical “History of the Dividing Line” William Byrd in 1728 thus speaks of this locality: “The Soil is exceedingly rich on both sides the Yadkin, abounding in rank Grass and prodigiously large Trees; and for plenty of Fish, Fowl and Venison, is inferior to No Part of the Northern Continent. There the Traders commonly lie Still for some days, to recruit their Horses’ Flesh as well as to recover their own spirits.” In this beautiful country happily chosen for settlement by Squire Boone who erected his cabin on the east side of the Yadkin about a mile and a quarter from Alleman’s, now Boone’s, Ford wild game abounded. Buffaloes were encountered in eastern North Carolina by Byrd while running the dividing line; and in the upper country of South Carolina three or four men with their dogs could kill fourteen to twenty buffaloes in a single day.” Deer and bears fell an easy prey to the hunter; wild turkeys filled every thicket; the watercourses teemed with beaver, otter, and muskrat, as well as with shad and other delicious fish. Panthers, wildcats, and wolves overran the country; and the veracious Brother Joseph, while near the present Wilkesboro, amusingly records: “The wolves wh. are not like those in Germany, Poland and Lifland (because they fear men and don’t easily come near) give us such music of six different cornets the like of wh. I have never heard in my life.” So plentiful was the game that the wild deer mingled with the cattle grazing over the wide stretches of luxuriant grass.

In the midst of this sylvan paradise grew up Squire Boone’s son, Daniel Boone, a Pennsylvania youth of English stock, Quaker persuasion, and Baptist proclivities. Seen through a glorifying halo after the lapse of a century and three quarters, he rises before us a romantic figure, poised and resolute, simple, benign as naïve and shy as some wild thing of the primeval forest five feet eight inches in height, with broad chest and shoulders, dark locks, genial blue eyes arched with fair eyebrows, thin lips and wide mouth, nose of slightly Roman cast, and fair, ruddy countenance. Farming was irksome to this restless, nomadic spirit, who on the slightest excuse would exchange the plow and the grubbing hoe for the long rifle and keen-edged hunting knife. In a single day during the autumn season he would kill four or five deer; or as many bears as would snake from two to three thousand pounds weight of bear-bacon. Fascinated with the forest, he soon found profit as well as pleasure in the pursuit of game; and at excellent fixed prices he sold his peltries, most often at Salisbury, some thirteen miles away, sometimes at the store of the old “Dutchman,” George Hartman, on the Yadkin, and occasionally at Bethabara, the Moravian town sixty odd miles distant. Skins were in such demand that they soon came to replace hard money, which was incredibly scarce in the back country, as a medium of exchange. Upon one occasion a caravan from Bethabara hauled three thousand pounds, upon another four thousand pounds, of dressed deerskins to Charleston. So immense was this trade that the year after Boone’s arrival at the Forks of Yadkin thirty thousand deerskins were exported from the province of North Carolina. We like to think that the young Daniel Boone was one of that band of whom Brother Joseph, while in camp on the Catawba River (November 12, 1752) wrote: “There are many hunters about here, who live like Indians, they kill many deer selling their hides, and thus live without much work.”

In this very class of professional hunters, living like Indians, was thus bred the spirit of individual initiative and strenuous leadership in the great westward expansionist movement of the coming decade. An English traveler gives the following minute picture of the dress and accoutrement of the Carolina backwoodsman.

“Their whole dress is very singular, and not very materially different from that of the Indians; being a hunting shirt, somewhat resembling a waggoner’s frock, ornamented with a great many fringes, tied round the middle with a broad belt, much decorated also, in which is fastened a tomahawk, an instrument that serves every purpose of defence and convenience; being a hammer at one side and a sharp hatchet at the other; the shot bag and powderhorn, carved with a variety of whimsical figures and devices, hang from their necks over one shoulder; and on their heads a flapped hat, of a reddish hue, proceeding from the intensely hot beams of the sun.

Sometimes they wear leather breeches, made of Indian dressed elk, or deer skins, but more frequently thin trowsers.

On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggings, made of coarse woollen cloth, that either are wrapped round loosely and tied with garters, or laced upon the outside, and always come better than half-way up the thigh.

On their feet they sometimes wear pumps of their own manufacture, but generally Indian moccossons, of their own construction also, which are made of strong elk’s, or buck’s skin, dressed soft as for gloves or breeches, drawn together in regular plaits over the toe, and lacing from thence round to the fore part of the middle of the ancle, without a seam in them, yet fitting close to the feet, and are indeed perfectly easy and pliant.

Their hunting, or rifle shirts, they have also died in a variety of colours, some yellow, others red, some brown, and many wear them quite white.”

No less unique and bizarre, though less picturesque, was the dress of the women of the region in particular of Surry County, North Carolina, as described by General William Lenoir:

“The women wore linses [flax] petticoats and ‘bedgowns’ [like a dressing-sack], and often went without shoes in the summer. Some had bonnets and bedgowns made of calico, but generally of linsey; and some of them wore men’s hats. Their hair was commonly clubbed. Once, at a large meeting, I noticed there but two women that had on long gowns. One of these was laced genteelly, and the body of the other was open, and the tail thereof drawn up and tucked in her apron or coat-string.”

While Daniel Boone was quietly engaged in the pleasant pursuits of the chase, a vast world-struggle of which he little dreamed was rapidly approaching a crisis. For three quarters of a century this titanic contest between France and England for the interior of the continent had been waged with slowly accumulating force. The irrepressible conflict had been formally inaugurated at Sault Ste. Marie in 1671, when Daumont de Saint Lusson, swinging aloft his sword, proclaimed the sovereignty of France over “all countries, rivers, lakes, and streams ... both those which have been discovered and those which may be discovered hereafter, in all their length and breadth, bounded on the one side by the seas of the North and of the West, and on the other by the South Sea.” Just three months later, three hardy pioneers of Virginia, despatched upon their arduous mission by Colonel Abraham Wood in behalf of the English crown, had crossed the Appalachian divide; and upon the banks of a stream whose waters slipped into the Ohio to join the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, had carved the royal insignia upon the blazed trunk of a giant of the forest, the while crying: “Long live Charles the Second, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, Ireland and Virginia and of the territories thereunto belonging.”

La Salle’s dream of a New France in the heart of America was blotted out in his tragic death upon the banks of the River Trinity (1687). Yet his mantle was to fall in turn upon the square shoulders of Le Moyne d’Iberville and of his brother the good, the constant Bienville, who after countless and arduous struggles laid firm the foundations of New Orleans. In the precious treasury of Margry we learn that on reaching Rochelle after his first voyage in 1699 Iberville in these prophetic words voices his faith: “If France does not immediately seize this part of America which is the most beautiful, and establish a colony which is strong enough to resist any which England may have, the English colonies (already considerable in Carolina) will so thrive that in less than a hundred years they will be strong enough to seize all America.” But the world-weary Louis Quatorze, nearing his end, quickly tired of that remote and unproductive colony upon the shores of the gulf, so industriously described in Paris as a “terrestrial paradise”; and the “paternal providence of Versailles” willingly yielded place to the monumental speculation of the great financier Antoine Crozat. In this Paris of prolific promotion and amazed credulity, ripe for the colossal scheme of Law, soon to blow to bursting-point the bubble of the Mississippi, the very songs in the street echoed flamboyant, half-satiric panegyrics upon the new Utopia, this Mississippi Land of Cockayne:

It’s to-day no contribution
To discuss the Constitution
And the Spanish war’s forgot
For a new Utopian spot;
And the very latest phase
Is the Mississippi craze.

Interest in the new colony led to a great development of southwesterly trade from New France. Already the French coureurs de bois were following the water route from the Illinois to South Carolina. Jean Couture, a deserter from the service in New France, journeyed over the Ohio and Tennessee rivers to that colony, and was known as “the greatest Trader and Traveller amongst the Indians for more than Twenty years.” In 1714 young Charles Charleville accompanied an old trader from Crozat’s colony on the gulf to the great salt-springs on the Cumberland, where a post for trading with the Shawanoes had already been established by the French. But the British were preparing to capture this trade as early as 1694, when Tonti warned Villermont that Carolinians were already established on a branch of the Ohio. Four years later, Nicholson, Governor of Maryland, was urging trade with the Indians of the interior in the effort to displace the French. At an early date the coast colonies began to trade with the Indian tribes of the back country: the Catawbas of the Yadkin Valley; the Cherokees, whose towns were scattered through Tennessee; the Chickasaws, to the westward in northern Mississippi; and the Choctaws farther to the southward. Even before the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the South Carolina settlements extended scarcely twenty miles from the coast, English traders had established posts among the Indian tribes four hundred miles to the west of Charleston. Following the sporadic trading of individuals from Virginia with the inland Indians, the heavily laden caravans of William Byrd were soon regularly passing along the Great Trading Path from Virginia to the towns of the Catawbas and other interior tribes of the Carolinas, delighting the easily captivated fancy and provoking the cupidity of the red men with “Guns, Powder, Shot, Hatchets (which the Indians call Tomahawks), Kettles, red and blue Planes, Duffields, Stroudwater blankets, and some Cutlary Wares, Brass Rings and other Trinkets.” In Pennsylvania, George Croghan, the guileful diplomat, who was emissary from the Council to the Ohio Indians (1748), had induced “all-most all the Ingans in the Woods” to declare against the French; and was described by Christopher Gist as a “meer idol among his countrymen, the Irish traders.”

Against these advances of British trade and civilization, the French for four decades had artfully struggled, projecting tours of exploration into the vast medial valley of the continent and constructing a chain of forts and trading-posts designed to establish their claims to the country and to hold in check the threatened English thrust from the east. Soon the wilderness ambassador of empire, Celoron de Bienville, was despatched by the far-visioned Galissoniere at Quebec to sow broadcast with ceremonial pomp in the heart of America the seeds of empire, grandiosely graven plates of lasting lead, in defiant yet futile symbol of the asserted sovereignty of France. Thus threatened in the vindication of the rights of their colonial sea-to-sea charters, the English threw off the lethargy with which they had failed to protect their traders, and in grants to the Ohio and Loyal land companies began resolutely to form plans looking to the occupation of the interior. But the French seized the English trading-house at Venango which they converted into a fort; and Virginia’s protest, conveyed by a calm and judicious young man, a surveyor, George Washington, availed not to prevent the French from seizing Captain Trent’s hastily erected military post at the forks of the Ohio and constructing there a formidable work, named Fort Duquesne. Washington, with his expeditionary force sent to garrison Captain Trent’s fort, defeated Jumonville and his small force near Great Meadows (May, 1754); but soon after he was forced to surrender Fort Necessity to Coulon de Villiers.

The titanic struggle, fittingly precipitated in the backwoods of the Old Southwest, was now on a struggle in which the resolute pioneers of these backwoods first seriously measured their strength with the French and their copper-hued allies, and learned to surpass the latter in their own mode of warfare. The portentous conflict, destined to assure the eastern half of the continent to Great Britain, is a grim, prophetic harbinger of the mighty movement of the next quarter of a century into the twilight zone of the trans-Alleghany territory: