The Backcountry Comity: Patterns of Migration, Settlement, and Association

The borderers were a restless people who carried their migratory ways from Britain to America. There had been many folk movements in their history before the Atlantic crossing, and many more were yet to come. The history of these people was a long series of removals from England to Scotland, from Scotland to Ireland, from Ireland to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania to Carolina, from Carolina to the Mississippi Valley, from the Mississippi to Texas, from Texas to California, and from California to the rainbow's end.

Rates of geographic migration were very high in this culture. In Britain, some of the highest rates of rural migration were to be found on the northern borders. The Scottish village of Fintray, for example, had a turnover of 75 percent in five years (1696-1701) a rate much above the parishes of southern England.141

The backsettlers thought about moving in a way that was different from more sedentary people. There was a folk-saying in the southern highlands: "When I get ready to move, I just shut the door, call the dogs and start." This was the footloose way in which . Andrew Jackson was said to have come into the backcountry, with nothing but two riding horses, a gun at his side, and a pack of hunting dogs at his heel.142

Most geographic migration in both the British borderlands and the American backcountry consisted of short-distance movements that covered only a few miles, as families searched for slightly better living conditions. Frequent removals were encouraged by low levels of property-owning and by characteristic atti. tudes toward wealth and land and work in this culture.

During the first few years of settlement, backcountry folk settled close to one another for mutual protection. The result was the planting of "stations" in Tennessee, and "forts" in Kentucky. But as the backcountry gradually became more secure, another pattern appeared one that was very different from the comities of Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The backcountry ideal was a scattered settlement pattern in isolated farmsteads, loosely grouped in sprawling "neighborhoods" that covered many miles. The German traveler Schoepf observed that in North Carolina the farms were "scattered about in these woods at various distances, three to six miles, and often as much as ten or fifteen or twenty miles apart."143 North Carolina Congressman Nathaniel Macon startled his Yankee colleagues by arguing that "no man ought to live so near another as to hear his neighbor's dog bark."144 That attitude was widely shared in the backcountry. In this culture, a house became a hermitage, beyond sight and sound of every human habitation. Once again, Andrew Jackson personified his culture. Jackson's home in Tennessee was actually called the Hermitage. When he was away from it he wrote home to his wife expressing his longing for "sweet retirement," apart from other people. 145


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