The First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860

By Wilma A. Dunaway | Go to book overview
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SETTLERS, SPECULATORS, AND SQUATTERS: COMPETITION FOR APPALACHIAN LAND RESOURCES, 1790-1860

Prerequisites for Capitalist Incorporation

Capitalist expansion does not proceed equitably or peacefully, for people are often culturally and spiritually anchored on the land in ways they are not attached to any other element of the production process (including their own labor). Initially, the commodification of land requires severing the powerful connections between indigenous peoples and their ancestral homes, followed by public policies that circumvent their "legal rights" to compete with new settlers for use of the soil. Dramatic changes in land tenure necessitate bloody displacements of peoples who had previously been producing their livelihoods on the frontiers of the world economy. In Southern Appalachia, settler capitalism could not advance until several Native American groups had been displaced.


Displacement of Native Americans

The British Proclamation Line Of 1763 marked the watershed of the Appalachian Mountains as the limits for white resettlement. Areas west of the line were reserved as Indian hunting grounds, and families who had "inadvertently seated themselves upon any lands . . . reserved to the Indians" were ordered "to remove themselves from such settlements." Because Tidewater elites speculated in lands beyond this line as early as the 1740s, permanent settlements had already been established too far west along the Virginia frontier. However, these engrossers were not deterred by such bureaucratic constraints. For example, George Washington surmised that the proclamation was nothing more than "a temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians." He admonished his peers that "any person, therefore, who neglects

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