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Did your family emigrate to the East coast and then follow the ever westward expansion into "The West"?

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The Way Westward - Early Migrations 1618-1827

The rapid settlement of the continental United States is one of the most compelling and important themes in American history. An immense region was settled quickly by individuals, families, and small groups of settlers who operated independent from, and sometimes in violation of, official government policy. Usually considered that area where established settlements of civilization meet the untamed wilderness, the frontier continually moved west with the migration of American pioneers who kept pushing open the gateways to “The West."

American westward migration began when the first English colonists came to the New World seeking land and socio-religious freedom. The spread of settlement away from the Atlantic coast pushed the frontier sometimes up to two hundred miles inland by the mid-1700s in the pursuit of inexpensive, arable land.

From Virginia and Maryland, colonists began moving into the interior in pursuit of new land for tobacco cultivation. In 1618, the head right system offered fifty acres to new migrants who contracted to raise tobacco. Also wealthy sponsors paid for the passage of emigrants, fueling a westward flow of land hunters and future tobacco farmers. While vast tracts of land in the tidewater region fell to ownership by an elite class of planter aristocrats, lesser farmers and aspiring landowners migrated farther westward. Outbreaks of conflict with the native inhabitants and tribes interrupted migrations temporarily, but by 1750, Pennsylvanians, Virginians, and Marylanders had successfully established numerous settlements along the entire length of the Potomac River. They entered the Shenandoah Valley and were poised anxiously to cross the Appalachian Mountains into the unclaimed interior of the continent.

In the New England colonies, westward migration followed a similar trend although with different factors including the pursuit of religious moderation from the intolerance of the old established Anglican and Puritan traditions. Another reason for migration was that the rocky soil of tidewater New England was poorly suited for farming. Agricultural practices in New England centered upon the cultivation of subsistence food items, such as wheat and corn, rather than a marketable cash crop like tobacco, so the desire to open new lands to cultivation was no less influential there than in Virginia. Beginning in 1636, with the Reverend Thomas Hooker and his followers, New Englanders moved into the lush Connecticut River Valley spreading westward into more fertile regions of New England. While native resistance to colonial encroachment in New England was fierce, two major conflicts--the Pequot War (1636–1637) and King Philip's War (1675–1676)--destroyed the larger tribal affiliations opening the interior of New England to migrant farmers. By 1750 New Englanders had reached west to New Hampshire and Vermont and stretched settlements north as far as Maine and the Canadian border.

In the middle colonies of New York and Pennsylvania the desire for new land continued to grow although there the confederations of native tribes tried blunt much of the earlier westward flow of American colonists. The powerful Iroquois nations, who inhabited the rich lands from the Mohawk River in northeastern New York to the upper Allegheny watershed in northwestern Pennsylvania, checked colonial expansion into their territory by maintaining a system of satellite tribes, included the Delawares, Shawnees, and Susquehannocks. These occupied a border region between the Iroquois and the colonials. All land sales or political treaties between these dependent peoples and the Americans required Iroquois acquiescence, a consequence of the subservient status forced on these peoples after the Iroquois conquest of many northeastern woodland Indians during the Beaver Wars (c. 1640–1680). The Delawares, however, were a more pacific tribe, and William Penn’s continued efforts of land purchase for the Quaker “empire” provided colonists with new lands in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the future state of Delaware. In the mid-eighteenth century increasing pressure for land in south-central Pennsylvania forced many Lenapes and Shawnees to cross the Appalachian Mountains into eastern Ohio and a flood of colonial migrants, led by fur traders and land speculators, followed on the heels of these retreating Native peoples.

The westward migration in the lower south, particularly in the Carolinas, developed more slowly until 1718, when a long series of violent Indian wars finally ended. Most migration after that point was driven by the restricted access to western lands in Pennsylvania and New York. During the 1740s and 1750s, migrants from the middle colonies traveled down the Shenandoah Valley and settled in the western portions of present North Carolina. These settlers, many of whom were Scotch-Irish and Germans only recently arrived in America, quickly filled the upland backcountry on the eastern slopes of the Appalachians and began looking for routes of access to the lands beyond the mountains.

The Appalachian Mountains that stretch nearly 1,500 miles from northeastern Alabama to northern Vermont and through which there are few natural passes, hindered early migration into the interior of North America. By 1750, however, colonial fur traders, explorers, and land speculators had begun to cross over the Appalachians and return to eastern communities with tales of vast and rich unclaimed lands to the west.

The first migrants to cross the Appalachians soon discovered that the mountains were not the only obstacles to westward settlement. The migrations of British colonists beyond the mountains was a principal cause of the French and Indian War (1754–1761). In the early 1740s, migrants from Pennsylvania and Virginia advanced claims to the Ohio River valley, a territory the French in Canada considered their own. In 1753 the French launched an initiative to block further American expansion by erecting a line of forts along the upper Ohio River corridor. American colonial efforts to stop the French from building Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio River (present Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) began thate final conflict between France and Great Britain for control of North America. The war's effect on the westward movement of American colonists was compelling and most westward migration during the war came to abrupt halt when the Native inhabitants living in the vicinity of present-day Ohio allied themselves with the French and attacked the western fringes of colonial settlement in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. In some places the frontier of settlement was driven eastward for several hundred miles. Only the capture of Fort Duquesne in 1758 and the subsequent defeat of a coalition in 1763–1764 reopened the trans-Appalachian region to westward settlement.

After the war, migrants crossed the mountains in increasing numbers despite a British 1763 proclamation prohibiting settlement beyond the Appalachians but neither government prohibitions nor army blockades could stop the onrush of settlers pouring west after 1765. Separated by mountain ranges and hundreds of miles from the center of political authority in the East, migrants followed their own designs and ignored government policies which they felt was inconsistent with their interests. The migrations were greatly assisted by two military roads left over from the war: the Braddock Road, which carried migrants from the headwaters of the Potomac River in western Maryland to Pittsburgh; and the Forbes Road, which ran from eastern Pennsylvania to arrive at Pittsburgh. Thus Pittsburgh became a launching point from which thousands of settlers migrated farther west down the Ohio River to settle portions of what are now West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Other routes through the Appalachians were also discovered including the Cumberland Gap, which brought migrants to eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.

By 1775 the frontier had pushed beyond the Appalachian Mountains, but renewed war with Native tribes living in the Old Northwest and the western Carolinas as part of the American Revolutionary War, slowed the strong westward push. However, despite the war, migrants continued to move west -- some to escape the ravages of war along the east coast, but more simply seeking land and opportunity. They settled in the western Carolinas and Kentucky. By the end of the war in 1783, migrants had established settlements and farms in the Old Northwest.

In 1790, the population of the trans-Appalachian region was estimated at over 120,000. The large number of Americans living west of the Appalachians made the management of westward migration a top priority for the new federal government, which hoped to peaceably maintain political authority over its western citizens and allow the settlers to extend the political boundaries of the young nation with their movements. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 offered a solution by providing for the organization of the Northwest Territory and preparing the new territories for statehood. The system successfully managed the steady migration of settlers into the Old Northwest Territory, which eventually became the states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

To further the westaward expansion, President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. This immense new territory, a portion of which was explored and mapped by the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804–1806, encompassed much of the interior land between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Northwest. Jefferson believed the Louisiana Territory would provide a key to the future prosperity of the then-agrarian nation by bringing a seemingly endless supply of potential farmland within American territorial borders.

During the War of 1812, Native resistance again slowed migration into the fertile region lying between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River but after the war. thousands of settlers forged westward into the Old Southwest. The system of managed expansion that had proved so successful in the Old Northwest Territory was replicated in the South, and by 1836, several new states, including Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, entered the union.

Technological advances in transportation made a more organized, manageable westward advance possible, and contributed to the rapid settlement of the Midwest. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided convenient access for thousands of New England migrants who eventually settled in Michigan, northern Illinois, and Wisconsin. In the south, steamboats assisted countless migrants moving up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers into Arkansas and Missouri, where a staging ground for future migration into the trans-Mississippi West was established at Independence, Missouri, in 1827.

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Started by William S Dean. Last reply by William S Dean Jul 31, 2009. 6 Replies

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Comment by William S Dean on August 1, 2009 at 7:55pm
More on Kentucky -- and the dangers of the westward trek:

In an earlier post, I admit to a mistake. I had said that prior to 1789 there were no permanent settlements in Kentucky. In reality, of course, that depends greatly on one's definition of "permanent". In tracing back my Barger line, I find an ancestor by the name of John Wesley Barger who married Mary Agnes Mahan in Indiana in 1833. Mary Agnes was the daughter of Rainey (Rene) Mahan whose parents were John Mahan and Agnes LaForce. Rainey's parents were Patrick and Isabella Mahan and this is where we get into a tale of the dangers of early migration in Kentucky...

Kentucky started out -- as you may know -- as a part of the Virginia colony and the westward treks had begun in the territory before the Revolutionary War, so that by 1775 in what would become Bourbon county, John Hinkston had established a settlement here with fifteen cabins but Native hostiles caused its abandonment fifteen months later. The site was enlarged and fortified by Isaac Ruddell in April, 1779 and became known as Ruddell's Station. A great many people lived here and at Martin's Station in 1780 when both sites were captured by the British and Natives under Captain Byrd. Among the settlers captured were Patrick Mahan and his wife, his son John Mahan and wife Agnes LaForce, and others of the Mahan family, including the youngest Elizabeth, age 13.

The captured settlers were force marched to Fort Detroit where Patrick Mahan died shortly after arrival. The rest of the Mahans -- and other settlers -- were taken to Montreal where they were held prisoners for two years. The Mahans who survived eventually made their way back to Virginia and later back to Bourbon County, Kentucky from whence they had begun. John Mahan died there in 1795 at the age of 42. His son, Rainey (Rene) would later move westward still into Indiana, where his daughter, Mary Agnes, would marry John Wesley Barger...and join my family tree.
Comment by William S Dean on July 31, 2009 at 6:32pm
Can you track your ancestors with this 1763 map?

Comment by William S Dean on July 31, 2009 at 6:21pm
The Migration Into Kentucky

When the treaty of peace between England and America was signed in 1783 there was a great rush of new-comers into Kentucky. They came over the Wilderness Road and down the Ohio River; they climbed over the Cumberlands. The new population flowed in at a rate estimated at about 8,000 to 10,000 a year. These were Ango-Saxon stock and of English descent, descendants of Huguenots from France, Germans from the Palatinate, Scotch-Irish from Ulster, Northern Ireland. They were youth veterans fresh from the Revolutionary War to whom land grants had been given. They came from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the Carolinas, and another large group from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

The early settlers of Kentucky were principally an overflow from the great stream of immigration westward bound from the seaboard towns of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland and the plantations of Virginia and the Carolinas. They were, for the most part. home-seekers. Making their way up the great Valley of Virginia with the Blue Ridge to the East and the Alleghanies to the West, most of these pioneers passed from the Shenandoah into the headwaters of the New River, and thence to the Holston, the Clinch and Powell Rivers. From this point the most traveled trail led them through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky over the Wilderness Road. Some kept on, however, following down the Clinch and the Holston and made their way over into Central Tennessee. Still others continued to push even further to the Southwest.

During the height of this great trans-montane migration from 1785 to 1810 a few of the pioneers turned northward up into the New River Valley. Others left this main trail for the North at Fort Chiswell (in present day Wythe County, Virginia). These were mostly Virginians and Carolinians attracted by the reports of the rich bottom lands of the river valleys. They made their way over the heads of the Kentucky, the Tug and the Levisa forks. Others especially those from New Jersey, New York and New England, continued westwardly to Pittsburg and from there came down the Ohio River in flatboats.

History shows no record of migrating colonists permanently settled in the mountain region of Kentucky before 1789, but shortly thereafter emigrants began coming to the Big Sandy Valley from Virginia and Maryland. In that year the Leslies attempted to form a settlement at the mouth of Pond Creek on the Tug River, but were driven out by the vigilance of the Natives. The Leslies returned in 1791; but instead of locating at their original point, they crossed over to Johns Creek and formed what was later known as the Leslie Settlement. About this time came the Damrons, Harmons, Auxiers, Grahams, Browns, Marcums, Johns, Hammonds, Weddingtons, Morgans, Harrises, Pinsons, Walkers, Williamsons, Marrs, Mayos, Lackeys, Laynes, Prestons, Borderses, and many others. Following these closely came the Clarks, Belchers, Brewers, Bevins, Dixons, Cecils, Goffs, Ganards, Hatchers, Meades, McGuires, McDowells, Millards, Fulkersons, Hatfields, Porters, Runyons, Friends, Ratliffs, Osborns, Staffords, Strattons, Robinsons, and Stumps.

While these pioneer families were immigrating to the Big Sandy Valley, the Adames, Campbells, Mays, Finleys, Martins, Hayes, Blackburns, Andersons, Saylers, Days Smiths, Taylors, Combses, Stallards, Lewises, Collinses, Webbs, Wrights, Kellys, Caudills, Crafts. and Hammonds were settling on the head-waters of the Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers. Many of these families also came to the Big Sandy. Peace having been restored along the frontier settlements by the Treaty of Greenville (1795). after the defeat of the Natives by General Mad Anthony Wayne at Fallens Timbers (1794). With no further dangers being expected from hostiles, there was a great rush to the most desirable parts of the New River Valley and westward by the people from eastern Virginia and western North Carolina. The middle New River settled rapidly. At the same time a vast throng of people from the New River settlements and the Ohio settled on the Big Sandy, the Guyandotte and the Coal waters, even reaching the Ohio.

Among those pioneer settlers were the McCommases, Chapmans, Lucases, Smiths, Coopers, Naipers, Hunters, Adkinses, Accords, Allens, Fryes,Dingesses, Lusks,Shannons, Baileys, Jarrells, Egglestons, Fergusons, Marcums, Hatfields, Bromfields, Haldeons, Lamberts, Pauleys, Lawsons, Workmans, Prices, Cookes, Clays, Godbeys, Huffs, McDonalds, Whites, Farleys, Keezees, Perdues, Ballards, Barretts, Toneys,Conleys, Stallings, Strattons, Buchanans, Deskins, Bryans, Van Hooses and many others who largely peopled the section and left descendants thoughout the area. A great number of these families finally settled on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork and the Big Sandy River.

Near the forks of the Big Sandy, Samuel Short built his cabin (near Cassville) about 1796, followed by others in 1798 and the subsequent years. On the upper waters of Twelve Pole, the first settlers arrived in 1799. The present territory of Cabell County was settled at a comparatively later date. The earliest settlements in the territory were on the Savage Grant, made in 1775, to Captain John Savage and his company of soldiers of the French and Indian War.
Comment by Ron Roberson on July 31, 2009 at 4:43pm
My Bourne ancestors came to the Massachusetts area in the early 1600's from England. I cannot find a trace of them beyond Sir John Bourne who was born in Abt 1498 of Bobbingworth, Essexshire, England. Sir John Bourne was alegedly employed as Secretary of State to Mary Queen of Scots until the rebellion which cost Queen Mary her life. Sir John escaped to France where he lived in exile for a number of years. When the political atmosphere cooled in England, Sir John returned to England where he served the English government for the remainder of his life. I can find no trace of any ancestors beyond him. Can anyone shed light on this family line? Also, I lose my Newland ancestors in Pennsylvania in the late 1700's. James Albert Newland, my Great Grandfather was born in Washington County, Penn on 22 March 1830 and migrated west to Dakota Territory where he operated his freighting busines, hauling frieght from Fort Pierre, DT, to Deadwood, DT, to Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. He made that round trip 3 or 4 times a year through the 1870's and '80's. He also hauled freight to the Union Army during the Civil War, and to the gold camps around Pikes Peak, Co Territory at about that same time... Can anyone help me with James A. Newland's ancestors in Pennsylvania?
Comment by Sue Lederer Geiger on July 30, 2009 at 9:25pm
Hi William! Yes,I've spent a lot of time looking for McKnights and McClures in Chester County.In fact a couple years ago my family stopped there and took photos of gravestones at the Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church.Jesse and David's father was Paul McKnight.He was a Chester County freeman,landowner,and tavern keeper, and in 1776 there was a meeting at his house in make saltpeter for gunpowder for American soldiers.I'm trying to connect him to the McKnights in Rowan Co.,North Carolina, who moved to Orange Co.,Indiana and Clay Co.,Illinois.
Comment by William S Dean on July 30, 2009 at 8:53pm
Hello again, Sue

Yes, I see there are several listings of David McKnight, and one each of Jesse and Mary McKnight under "Affidavits, Depositions, Interrogatories 1781-1834" at the Chester, PA Archives site here:

You've probably already seen these.
Comment by Sue Lederer Geiger on July 30, 2009 at 8:25pm
Yes,Charles and James were the two sons.I've seen the land claims from 1839,but there is also one filed in 1837 when they apparently lived in Clay Co.,IL.Their father,Jesse McKnight.died in the 1820's,and his land was sold to pay debts.The four children were young,so they probably stayed with Jesse's brother David until he died in 1835.It was his widow who traveled west with them.
Comment by William S Dean on July 30, 2009 at 7:53pm
Hello and welcome Sue

Are James and Charles McKnight part of this group who immigrated from PA to Coles County, IL? And could it have been 1839 instead of 1837? There is apparently a land record of James and Charles McKnight claiming land in Coles County. Much of this area -- Coles County -- has recently been opened up to settlers, most townships being only ten years old or younger. There is a similar occurence in one of my lines where the father originally came out to claim some land then went back for the family and died, so the widow and children went out alone to settle on the claimed land.
Comment by Sue Lederer Geiger on July 30, 2009 at 7:11pm
My Scotch-Irish ancestors migrated from Chester Co.,Pennsylvania to Illinois about 1837.Mary McClure McKnight,a widow,traveled with her four teen aged children and a widowed sister-in-law .Mary died in Coles County,Ilinois in 1842,and her will was filed in Pennsylvania.I can't believe the family traveled alone.I've tried to use census and land records to find others who came on the same "wagon train", but to no avail.I would love to know how they chose their destination.Does anyone have any suggestions?

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