"O’er mountains and rivers": Community and commerce in the Greenbrier Valley in the Late Eighteenth century

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Sarah Ellen McCartney (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Greg O'Brien

Abstract: In the eighteenth-century Greenbrier River Valley of present-day West Virginia, identity was based on a connection to “place” and the shared experiences of settlement, commerce, and warfare as settlers embraced an identity as Greenbrier residents, Virginians, and Americans. In this dissertation, I consider the Greenbrier Valley as an early American place participating in and experiencing events and practices that took place throughout the American colonies and the Atlantic World, while simultaneously becoming a discrete community and place where these experiences formed a unique Greenbrier identity. My project is the first study of the Greenbrier Valley to situate the region temporally within the revolutionary era and geographically within the Atlantic World. For many decades Greenbrier Valley communities were at the western edge of Virginia’s backcountry settlements in what was often an “ambiguous zone” of European control and settlers moved in and out of the region with the ebb and flow of frontier violence. Settlers arriving in the region came by way of the Shenandoah Valley where they traveled along the Great Wagon Road before crossing into the Greenbrier region through the mountain passes and rivers cutting across the Allegheny Mountains. Without a courthouse or church, which were the typical elements of community in eighteenth-century Virginia society, until after the American Revolution, Greenbrier settlers forged the bonds of their community through other avenues, including the shared hardships of the settlement experience. Beginning in 1771, a store established by brothers Sampson and George Mathews, who were merchants in Staunton, Virginia, in partnership with Greenbrier settler John Stuart formed a hub around which community developed as the store served as a place for Greenbrier settlers to exchange goods as well as a place to meet for social gatherings. Greenbrier settlers were active participants in the 1774 frontier expedition known as Lord Dunmore’s War as the Greenbrier Valley served as the rendezvous point for the army before they marched across miles of Appalachian terrain and faced the Shawnees on the banks of the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. Although Dunmore’s War strengthened settlers’ connections to place, the years of the American Revolution further cemented their communities as they sought to defend the region physically from the threat of Native American and British foes. The experience of violence and warfare during the Revolutionary War reinforced the bonds of community as settlers embraced an identity as Americans in addition to being Greenbrier settlers and Virginians. In the midst of the American Revolution, the process of community formation also resulted in settlers seeking legal recognition and protection for their homes as they petitioned to be recognized as a new Virginia county, named Greenbrier, which allowed them easier access to county courts where they could legitimize their land claims. At the end of the American Revolution, Greenbrier was still considered a backcountry; however, much had changed as a result of the revolutionary era and the region became a gateway for America’s western expansion.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
American Revolution, Backcountry, Eighteenth Century, Frontier, Virginia, West Virginia
Greenbrier River Valley (W. Va.) $x History $y 18th century
Greenbrier River Valley (W. Va.) $x Commerce $x History $y 18th century
Community development $z West Virginia $z Greenbrier Valley
United State $z History $x Revolution, 1775-1783

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