Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
VIRGINIA LOOKS BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS

JUST as Virginia was the first transatlantic experiment of the Mother Country, so was the Old Dominion the first colony to venture across the Appalachians. Almost a century and a quarter elapsed between England's transatlantic and Virginia's transmontane advance. While they hugged the coast for decade after decade, the colonists were ever aware of the exciting possibilities of the unknown and fearful hinterland: furs and precious stones; mines and lush acres; and, most important of all, that intriguing ignis fatuus, a short route to the wealth of the Indies. In 1626 Governor Yeardley wrote to the Privy Council that "discoveries by land . . . are of great hope both for the riches of the mountains and the probabilities of finding the passage to the South Sea. . . ." In 1642 the House of Burgesses passed an act for the encouragement of Western exploration. Ten years later a second act was passed giving first choice of land to the explorer, but prohibiting him from excluding others. Following the calamitous Indian uprising of 1644 the defenseless state of the colony was remedied by the erection of a chain of inland forts at the fall line of the rivers. These strongholds gave a new fillip to Western explorations. They furnished the most satisfactory base for such operations, and they bred a new race of men. Here an individualistic, hardy generation grew to maturity--our first backwoodsmen, facing with greater intrepidity the evils of the ancient forests in whose shadow they had been reared.

In 1650 a little company led by Edward Bland and Captain Abraham Wood filed out from one of these outposts, located on the site where Petersburg was to rise, and traveled southwestward for sixty-five miles, discovering "New Brittaine, a pleasant Country, of temperate Ayre, and fertile Soyle." Wood was for many years in command at Fort Henry whence they started on the journey and was an important factor in Western explorations at this period, sending out several expeditions. There is evidence tending to show that he himself reached one of the westward flowing rivers as early as 1654.

From the time of Sir William Berkeley's arrival in Virginia in 1642 he took an active interest in exploring the West. He encouraged Captain Wood in his Western enterprises, and year after year he himself planned

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