Academic journal article American Studies

Kentucke's Frontiers

Academic journal article American Studies

Kentucke's Frontiers

Article excerpt

KENTUCKE'S FRONTIERS. By Craig Thompson Friend. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2010.

"Of all the places on the trans-Appalachian frontier that captured the attention of native peoples, early Anglo-American settlers, and later historians, the place that we know as Kentucky had two dominant features: it was the most violent, and it was the settlement experience most surrounded by myth and fantasy" (xiii). So write editors Malcolm J. Rohrbough and Walter Nugent in their foreword to Kentucke's Frontiers by historian Craig Thompson Friend, a new volume in the series on the Trans-Appalachian Frontier published by the Indiana University Press.

In this rich, challenging, and enjoyable book, Friend examines the social, cultural, economic, political, and military histories of Kentucke (now Kentucky) from the 1720s to the War of 1812. Celebratory histories of the Bluegrass State, he notes, have "led to a misperception that Kentucke embodied the American frontier experience, one that was uniformly and primarily a progression of (white American) civilization that repeated itself on each successive frontier as Americans continued westward" (xviii). Yet, he adds, this sanitized version of history demanded "frenzies of mean fear shaped in an atmosphere of random violence, large-scale war, and both real and imagined terror that inspired violent reaction and imbued martial manliness" (xviii-xix).

Progressing chronologically, Friend situates the "frontier" in the 1720s when the Shawnees and other Indians, pushed west by the Iroquois, flooded the region and initiated a re-examination of their interactions with one another and with French, British, and American interests. Moving to mid-century, Friend traces the increasingly violent clashes which erupted between Indians and whites as American hunters and settlers began to pour in greater numbers into the region. Although he notes that it might be tempting to close the frontier narrative in 1792 when Kentuckians achieved statehood, he argues against that because white Kentuckians had established slavery, thereby substituting blacks for the now-subordinated Indians as the dark and supposedly uncivilized foil against which they could continue to define themselves. …

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