Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois

By Douglas K. Meyer | Go to book overview
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5
Emerging Regional Settlement Patterns

The Illinois has proportionably a less number of islands than any of the western rivers, and is seldom obstructed by bars. In many places the banks are elevated, and present the most beautiful town sites, being surrounded on all sides by the most fertile lands. -- Beck 1823

Pioneers converged on attractive settlement areas as national and regional transport networks slowly expanded. "Westward fever" was powerful and complex: "The advantages of the western country consist in the great fertility of the soil, the profusion of all the products of nature, whether of the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom, the cheapness of lands, and the newness of the country, which affords room and opportunity for enterprise. These, together with its commercial advantages, the total exemption from all taxes and political burthens, and the comparatively small portion of labour requisite to procure the necessaries of life, certainly render this a desirable home" ( Hall 1828, 317). In a January 1817 letter written from Springfield, Ohio, to his brother who remained a farmer and blacksmith in Richmond, Vermont, Gershom Flagg observed: "The whole movement seems to be to the Westward and when they get there they go on beyond the Westward" ( Buck 1912, 145). While crossing the Old Northwest, Morris Birkbeck noted: "Old America seems to be breaking up, and moving westward" ( 1818b, 31).

In assessing the American national character almost a century and a half ago, Tocqueville argued the "restlessness of character seems to me to be one of the distinctive traits of this people" ( Mayer 1960, 1 82)). Pierson stresses that Americans' restless temper shaped our character, attitudes, values, and look of the land ( 1954, 1962, 1964). He asserted that American history was linked to the "M-factor" of movement, migration, and mobility ( Pierson 1962). During the nineteenth century, the westward drift of pioneers displaced and replaced America's natural habitats and Amerindian population. According to Zelinsky, "America is process"

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