They Sought a Land: A Settlement in the Arkansas River Valley, 1840-1870

Article excerpt

They Sought a Land: A Settlement in the Arkansas River Valley, 1840-1870. By William Oates Ragsdale. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997. Pp. vii, 139. Acknowledgments, notes, sources, index. $24.00.)

They Sought a Land is William Oates Ragsdale's focused study of the migration of Scots-Irish farmers from Pisgah, Lincoln County, North Carolina to Pope County, Arkansas. Relatively prosperous in North Carolina, they nonetheless uprooted their families for the opportunities afforded by the inexpensive, plentiful, and fertile farmland of the Arkansas River Valley. In contrast to Arkansas, by the mid-1800s good farmland was becoming scarce, expensive, and depleted in North Carolina.

The migrations began slowly in the 1840s and increased substantially in the 1850s. Traveling in covered wagons, the settlers came up the Arkansas River to an area just east of present-day Russellville. Families from North Carolina were joined in Arkansas by relatives and acquaintances from South Carolina and Tennessee. This "web of family connection" (p. 5) played an important role in persuading Carolina farmers to resettle in Arkansas. Through family letters and unpublished family histories, Ragsdale recounts the arguments families in Arkansas used to encourage their Carolina kin to join them in Pope County.

The new Pisgah in Pope County was a relatively homogeneous community of Scots-Irish yeoman farmers. The families came from the same background, enjoyed strong family ties, and were members of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The church was a unifying force in the community, a center for worship and socializing. However, as Arkansas was the frontier, it was often difficult for the community to secure the services of any but an itinerant preacher. In 1853 one such preacher, the Rev. John Patrick, guided community leaders in organizing the Pisgah Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. …

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