Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition

Article excerpt

Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition. By John R. Finger. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Pp. xxiii, 382. Illustrations, maps, foreword, introduction, conclusion, essay on sources, index. $39.95.)

More than a hundred years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the frontier had provided the single most important catalyst for American development. He suggested there were recurring patterns in the settlement of frontier "zones." John R. Finger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, focuses on "market making" and "land taking" in discussing the development and passing of Tennessee's frontiers. Finger divides the state into three frontier zones-east, central, and west-which roughly correspond to natural geographic divisions. Each zone went through stages of transition, beginning with the early interactions of Native Americans and European Americans and culminating around 1840 when European Americans gained not only complete political control of the state but had also developed a market economy.

Finger's work is ordered chronologically, with trade, warfare, politics, economy, and social fabric interwoven into each of the eleven chapters. There are no chapters on religion, transportation, or daily life, though those topics appear within other contexts.

Two major themes are present in this book. The first is what Finger calls "access to opportunity"-the belief of frontier people that North America offered unique opportunities for social and economic advancement. The acquisition of land was the foremost means of this advancement. The second theme is the continuing tension between local autonomy and central authority. Frontier people expected government to acquire Indian lands, provide military protection, and make internal improvements. While seeking such favors, these same frontier people resisted imposition of outside controls.

Interaction of whites and Indians on the frontier was not the only arena of cultural interaction. Often conflicts occurred within each of these groups. There were distinctions between frontier elites and "lesser" whites and struggles between the elites themselves for control. Likewise, Native Americans were in repeated turmoil over the proper course of action in regard to relations with whites and other tribes. Though Indians would ultimately lose in some fundamental ways, they succeeded in creatively adapting to new situations in order to retain their own identity. …

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