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

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

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

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

Excerpt

The advantages of the western country consist in the great fertility of the soil, . . . 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

Immigrants spread across transAppalachia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Perceived New West advantages in the Old Northwest sparked a surge in geographic mobility, known as the Great Migration. The directional- biases of immigrants affected shifting settlement frontiers and the diffusion of cultural traditions. Westward movement emerged as the dominant American migration theme. Historians have employed the framework for explaining settlement expansions and cultural changes between the Atlantic and Pacific shores (Billington 1967; Merk 1978; Turner 1920). Parker contends that rather fixed, homogeneous immigrant zones arrayed east-west in the Old Northwest (1975, 12-13). "Any reconstruction of a regional character must be partly imaginary, particularly at a hundred years' distance, and a tracing of its origins must involve a degree of plausible myth" (11).

Analysis of unpublished county birthplace data for 1850 unmasks diverse immigrant patterns across Illinois. There is little attempt to narrate a history of individuals or groups who participated in the settlement of a particular place or area. Local libraries and genealogical societies, newspapers, diaries, scrapbooks, family genealogies, household attics, and personal recollections furnish the stuff for a historical or genealogical approach to the immigrant landscape. The most readily available late-1800s historical sources of birthplace data are county histories, county atlases, and county biographies, known as "mugbooks." A genealogical approach to immigrant patterns functions at the micro-scale of individual families, rural townships, urban places, and intracounty movements. Additional sources of . . .

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