I am often asked the question, “Who was on the frontier and why?”. However, that question, in and of itself, is far too broad to allow for a concise answer. I first have to determine what frontier I am being asked about. Is it the frontier of the Roman Empire, or maybe it is the frontier between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire? Of course, usually people are asking about the American frontier, but even that question is tough to answer without more clarity. Most of Colonial and United States history in North America includes a frontier. From 1607 to the 1890s, the history of America was the history of pushing back that “frontier” at the expense of some and to the benefit of others. This is a good example of the importance of pointed and specific questions when researching the past. Without clear and
For the sake of this blog, I will limit the scope of the original question to frontier Tennessee and Kentucky. Even then, it is a tough question to answer. The people that migrated here came from every background. There were Germans, Scotts-Irish, Welsh, French, Scottish, and Irish to name a few. They came from every class of society; wealthy, poor, and in between. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the indigenous people that lived in and around Tennessee and Kentucky. They played a significant role in shaping how we live today. I have found that in spite of my years of observation, research, and experimental archaeology, my view of the people that came to the Tennessee frontier is still evolving because they were incredibly diverse. I firmly believe that I will never know “everything” about them, but that is what I like about history; there is always another layer of the onion to peel back.
Now to the question at hand. To really understand the settlers who came here and why, I suggest researching what their lives were like before they came. Going back to not only their colonial lives, but examining their history before they left Europe. Learning how they lived their lives, and the trials they faced as a people in Europe might shed some light on why they came to Tennessee and how they managed to carve out a life here.
Through a series of blog posts, I hope to explore how the diverse population of early Tennessee and Kentucky lived their lives in day to day terms. I am sure I will make mistakes along the way, but that is how we learn. I plan on posting once each quarter, the next one coming in May. I hope you will join me on this journey, and in the process learn a little more about yourself. So, to borrow a phrase from Captain Kirk; “Set a course for the past Mr. Sulu, warp speed ahead!