Settlement of America’s Appalachian river valleys began in the late 1720s. The colony of Virginia enacted land policies to attract settlers to create a buffer of Protestant farmers on the colony’s western frontier. Virginia granted large blocks of western land to individuals and companies with the requirement that it be divided and sold to settler families within a few years. To meet this requirement, grantees offered land in parcels up to several hundred acres in size on easy terms. Virginia’s land policy attracted diverse groups of Old World settlers to its western frontier, or “backcountry.” This encounter between different ethnic groups in western Virginia shaped American culture for generations to come.
Life in the Frontier Farmhouse
After selecting a parcel of land and securing legal title, the family built shelter and cleared land for crops. Their first house was often a one or two room log cabin, built by family members with the assistance of neighbors, and possibly an indentured servant or slave. Cabin furnishings were few and simple. Few settlers owned tables, chairs, or bedsteads; plain benches and stools served as seats and work surfaces, and settlers slept on the floor or on a simple bedstead built into the wall. Cooking equipment consisted of a cast iron pot and possibly a frying pan, and food was served on wooden platters or pewter dishes. Clothing was made of linen and wool cloth, or of a cloth combining the two fibers called linsey-woolsey. Spinning-wheels and looms, and the skill to use them, were important tools for backcountry women, and cloth production emerged as an early home industry in the region.
The American Revolution opened up vast new possibilities for expansion of settlement into the Ohio Valley and Kentucky. In spite of a royal proclamation reserving the trans-Appalachian west for the Indians, the years leading-up to the American Revolution saw the frontier move west and these regions become the new backcountry. Many settlers in the older backcountry areas, such as the Valley, moved west. Those who owned land took advantage of rising land values to sell at a profit and begin again with more land and resources. Backcountry inhabitants unable to buy land in the more established settlements could try their luck in new circumstances.