Frontier - Colonial North America

Colonial North America

See also: Colonial America, British colonization of the Americas, French colonization of the Americas, and Spanish colonization of the Americas

In the earliest days of European settlement of the Atlantic coast, the frontier was essentially any part of the forested interior of the continent lying beyond the fringe of existing settlements along the coast and the great rivers, such as the St. Lawrence, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna River and James.

English, French, Spanish and Dutch patterns of expansion and settlement were quite different. Only a few thousand French migrated to Canada. These habitants settled in villages along the St. Lawrence river, building communities that remained stable for long stretches, rather than leapfrogging west the way the Americans did. Although French fur traders ranged widely through the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as far as the Rocky Mountains, they did not usually settle down. Actual French settlement in these areas was limited to a few very small villages on the lower Mississippi and in the Illinois Country. Likewise, the Dutch set up fur trading posts in the Hudson River valley, followed by large grants of land to patroons, who brought in tenant farmers that created compact, permanent villages. They did not push westward.

In contrast, the English colonies generally pursued a more systematic policy of widespread settlement of the New World, for cultivation and exploitation of the land, which required the extension of European property rights to the new continent. The typical English settlements were quite compact and small—under a square mile. Conflict with the Native Americans arose out of political issues, i.e. who would rule. Early frontier areas east of the Appalachian Mountains included the Connecticut River valley. The French and Indian Wars of the 1760s resulted in a complete victory for the British, who took over the French colonial territory west of the Appalachians to the Mississippi River. Americans began moving across the Appalachians into areas such the Ohio Country and the New River Valley.

Most of the frontier movement was east to west, but there were other directions as well. The frontier in New England lay to the north; in Nevada to the east; in Florida to the south. Throughout American history, the expansion of settlement was largely from the east to the west, and thus the frontier is often identified with "the west". On the Pacific Coast, settlement moved eastward. In New England, it moved north.

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