They Way They Lived Then:
Suggested Readings on Life in Virginia During the Colonial Period


by Terry Gruber

These readings are good sources for background on the character of development in the region of Hardy County, Virginia during the colonial period. They will give some insight into a world very different from our own. To understand your ancestors, you must be able to look at their world through their eyes. Our 20th or 21st century notions do not apply.

A good general book would be David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed, Four British Folkways in America.

There are two volumes that take a close look at the people of Virginia's colonial frontier, particularly the Shenandoah valley. Even though most of these works deal with the Shenandoah Valley and its colonial inhabitants, the people of the South Branch were often the same or related to those in the Valley, and many of the same land patterns seen in the Shenandoah Valley are repeated in the South Branch region.

I strongly suggest beginning with Robert Mitchell's Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives On The Early Shenandoah Valley. Mitchell is a geography professor at the University of Maryland and has produced the most comprehensive look at the Virginia colonial back country yet written. It is a work of historical cultural geography. Since land was the main draw for our region, this look at the interaction between people and land is an excellent starting point for investigating the roots of settlement in the region.

Then read the series of essays in Michael J. Puglisi's Diversity and Accommodation: Essays on the Cultural Composition of the Virginia Frontier. Some of the essays are titled, "Ethnicity and Community Formation on the Shenandoah Valley Frontier, 1730-1800," "Religion, Migration, and Pluralism: A Shenandoah Valley Community, 1740-1790" (this was written by the same history professor who wrote the most recent Hardy County history, Dr. Richard MacMaster), and "The Outlook of Rhinelanders on the Virginia Frontier." There are several essays on Indians and Blacks, in-depth looks at community-ties, and the impact of ethnicity upon vernacular architecture.

Political Culture
For a look at political culture on the Virginia frontier, try: Albert Tillson's Gentry and Common Folk: Political Culture on a Virginia Frontier, 1740-1789. He looks at the upper Shenandoah Valley and the effects of the influx of Pennsylvania Germans into what was essentially and English society.

Ethnic Groups
More studies of ethnic groups can be seen in Robert Mitchell's Appalachian Frontiers: Settlement, Society, and Development in the Preindustrial Era. Three particularly pertinent essays are in this work, the one relating to ethnic groups is that written by Elizabeth Kessel titled "Germans in the Making of Frederick County, Maryland".

Land
Land figures heavily in the interactions of the Virginia Frontier and in addition to the previously mentioned Commercialism and Frontier by Robert Mitchell, you can find another essay in his edited work Appalachian Frontiers written by Warren Hofstra "Land Policy and Settlement in the Northern Shenandoah Valley". I also have a paper that was presented to the Southern Colonial Back country Conference in 1993 by Turk McClesky titled Shadow Land: Imperfect Real Estate Claims and the Settlement of Virginia's Late Colonial Frontier. E-mail me for a PDF copy to read. gruber@hardynet.com

Another book to get hold of for several of its essays is Warren Hofstra's George Washington and the Virginia Back country. Essays of particular interest would be Bruce Ragsdale's "Young Washington's Virginia: Opportunity in the Golden Age of a Planter Society," Robert Mitchell's "Over the Hills and Far Away: George Washington and the Changing Virginia Back country," and Warren Hofstra's " A Parcel of Barbarian's and an Uncouth Set of People': Settlers and Settlements of the Shenandoah Valley."

Happy reading,
Terry Gruber


The author welcomes your e-mail comments and questions: Terry Gruber

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