Uncertainty and Identity in the Early American West

The meeting of the Ohio and the Mississippi

What I guess is second in a series, here’s an essay I wrote about the interesting identity crisis faced by a lot of the settlers of the early American West. I think I make a little too much of it in the paper, but in general it is kind of curious how many instances of confusion one the part of Native Americans and Anglo settlers resulted from the very unstable conditions of the frontier. I argued that this whirl of uncertainty created a culture of surprising identity crises – where settlers married natives and natives adopted settlers, usually by force. In this open space, many were left bewildered – caught between worlds, as their land was between masters. Anyway, if you’re interested the paper is here and the first paragraph below the fold. 

In the 1770s through the early 1800s, as settlers poured into the Ohio River Valley, they encountered a world beset by violence and fear. “My father,” a Mrs. Morrison recalled of her father’s early settlement days, “…was 13 years in war.” This fear stemmed in large measure from fear of Native Americans, but also from fellow settlers and the constant threat of starvation. I argue, primarily using the interviews of Reverend John Shane, that this whirl of uncertainty created a culture of surprising identity crises – where settlers married natives and natives adopted settlers, usually by force. In this open space, many were left bewildered – caught between worlds, as their land was between masters.

Photo: Library of Congress

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