Sample Research Paper on History of the Frontiers of West Virginia

The word frontier is a term that carries a deep cultural meaning. To many American citizens, the word adduce clear representations of bleak landscapes that were full of wild animals and lurking Indians, for many people, the Frontier was a place to be feared as well as to be civilized by clearing the forests, building homes, erecting the fences, killing wolves and dealing with the prevalent Indian problem.[1] Despite the fact that such beliefs may be significant for individuals who are seeking an exciting setting for their movies or novels; it has very little analytical merit to a historian. For the Modern Historian, the frontier means much more than a place, it has a spirited human element, in other words, it is a place where distinct societies and cultural groups interact with one another, for example, through conflict, eventually creating the need for security and resulting in the creation of defense forts. In the setting of the American Frontier forts, this research paper will analyze the role of the Frontier Forts of West Virginia during the early European settlement.

1.     Background

A.    History of the Frontiers of West Virginia

To utterly understand the role of the Frontier forts in aiding the European outposts in West Virginia, it is noteworthy to understand the historic and cultural consequence of Frontiers. Historians asserted that, prior to the European invasion of Virginia; the Native Americans were the original occupants of this land.[2] The assertion of the historian is contrary to what many people believe; a majority of people believed that West Virginia was destitute of the native populations. Far from this misconception, archeological evidence reveal that West Virginia had an active and thriving Indian population, which succumbed to the European domination over a hundred and fifty year period, which ended in the late eighteenth century. It is worthwhile to note that the Frontier phase in Western Virginia did not begin in the year 1794 when the first Europeans took residence in the area, rather, the period began around the mid-seventeenth century, during this time, the European diseases, trade goods, and explorers began to infiltrate the region. [3]

B.    Cultural significance of Frontiers in Western Virginia

The recognition of the value as well as the significance of every cultural group is indispensable in helping historians to envision the Frontier Forts in Western Virginia as dynamic meeting grounds, where two or even more distinctive society related to one another and competed for dominance. The definition of the term frontier, using ethnic and cultural terms, is significant since it eliminates the idea that the North American Frontiers are different when compared to the other frontier in other parts of the world.[4]

Despite the fact that many aspects of human life are bound to change, culture change is rapid in a frontier environment. There are many elements that result to cultural transitions in a frontier environment, the first being the plurality of different cultures. In places where there is cultural diversity, then it is common to experience cultural borrowing; where the various ethnic groups selectively adopt cultural traits from the other groups.[5] In regards to the Frontier Forts of Western Virginia an Early settler by the name of Joseph Doddridge reported that a majority of the men who were living in the settlements had begun to adopt some Indian clothing when they went for hunting expeditions, many European settlers began using Indian canoes, foods; herbal remedies and select vocabulary from the Indians.[6] Many Indians borrowed extensively from the Europeans, especially in technology, by the early 1770’s some Indians had begun using the European Style of the horizontal log cabin that had gabled ends and shingled roofs for use during the cold winter months.

2.     Role of Frontier Forts in Aiding European settlement in West Virginia

A.    Freedom from direct control of powerful colonial administrators

For many people, the Frontier Forts of Western Virginia functioned as new physical environments. When the first settler crossed the Allegheny Mountains, they came across a landscape that was unusual; it had not been seen by a majority, the land was concealed with an extensive forest, the migration to this type of environment helped people to move from areas that were directly controlled by the powerful colonial administrators.[7] The frontiers were free from the reigns of the outside domination, many inhabitants who settled in the frontier  Forts were free to adapt their attitudes as well as lifestyles to the local conditions, for example, in the upper Monongahela valley; the first permanent settlers lived for almost one decade without any form of an elective government.[8]

To provide evidence of the new found freedom, many settlers even developed their own ways of dealing with criminals. Offenders were often banished from the settlements or even forced to carry the American Flag on their back, they were not allowed to enter forts; they could also be stripped thirteen times across their bare back with whips. The religious denominations that were created in the frontier did not exert much influence in the sparsely populated settlements of Western Virginia.[9] Many churches that emphasized on the congregational supremacy and lay ministers, for example, the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians attracted many adherents on the frontier, it was usual for services to be carried inside forts.[10]

B.    Creation of a powerful defense system

The prevalent violence, racial as well as ethnic intolerance gave rise to powerful propulsion for the settlers of West Virginia to become practical in their quest for the physical security. Many settlers did what they termed as necessary to survive the devastation of the backcountry warfare; the survival strategies included a manifold assortment of tactics, including the use of civilian refuge forts, long range scouting patrols, communal work parties and selection of community leaders on the basis of their ability to fight the Indians.[11] On the Frontier, survival was dependent on a person’s ability to adapt one’s daily regime to the realities of life in a pluralistic and heavily forested colonial capital.

The West Virginia Forts acted as defensive systems which helped people in the advocacy of the European westward crusade into the present West Virginia. Many forts that were located in West Virginia were built during the periods of international conflict and intense boundary disputes between different communities which was prevalent during the colonial period. Since the Indians did not have any sophisticated weapons, it was very hard for them to attack the Forts; they could only depend on the burning arrows to set the Forts on fire. Many Indian Chiefs did not have the experience of ordering a group to take an assault on a fort.

The Fronts cardinally protected settlers from Indian, they served as a wedge for the purpose of opening up the vast Indian country; they were significant as a nucleus for settlement. In this notion, it is significant to mention; government, military as well as exploring expeditions which were immensely indebted to earlier path makers, Indian tour guides, traders as well as trappers. All groups were significant components of governmental conquest adventures.[12] Each conquest adventure served as a paragon of previous elements in the Western Advances.  Some distinguished forts during this period included;

a.     Fort Ashby

Fort Ashby was a stockade on the Eastern bank of Patterson Creek, it was put up in 1755 through the help of Lieutenant John Bacon; he was under the orders of Colonel Washington. The Fort had a barricade that was protected by sixty able-bodied men.

b.     Fort Chiswell

Chiswell was created in 1758 at the meeting point of Richmond and Virginia valley. The cardinal aim of building this fort was to provide protection against Indian Cherokees. The location of this Fort was on a portage between Holston as well as New River.

c.      Fort Christy

This Fort was located on Jackson River fifteen miles from Fort Dinwiddie on the same stream and eighteen miles from Trout Rock, the fort had a garrison of forty men.

d.     Prickets family forts

The pricket family fort was created in 1774; the fort was significant because it provided a place of refuge for the Pricket family against the Indian attackers. This fort had two block houses which were built in the four corners of the twelve inch walls. The fort had 14 tiny cabins that acted as hideouts for both the women and the children.

C.    Regulation of the Frontier

Many West Virginia citizens feared the results of an unregulated advance of the frontier, for this reason, they looked for ways to guide and check it. The most viable way was the use of forts, settlers located their forts in areas of significance resource endowment; this resulted in a heated conflict with the Indians who perceived this as a threat to their natural harmony.[13] For the settlers to thrive and establish their presence in West Virginia, it was significant for them to regulate how the Indians accessed the land and significant natural resources. Since forts could not be easily removed, they acted as important landmarks which were used to mark the settler dominance over a region that was previously occupied by the Indians. In some cases, different forts joined forces to drive the Indians far away into the country, as they expanded their territories and acquired lands that were deemed as productive and supporting the settler’s way of life.

D.    Forts served as marking points for settlement expansion

Many settlers who settled in West Virginia learned to benefit from some of the weakness of the settlers. Despite the fact that the Indians were cunning, one of the most important lessons that they did not learn was the lesson of proper security, for this reason many of them did not post a guard at night. The Indians were not skilled in fighting during the cold seasons, the European pioneers used this as an advantage; they would ambush Indians by surprise and retreat to their forts once they were through. A majority of forts were built on the western bound line of each settlement in the colonies; the forts were not characterized by elaborate earth and masonry infrastructures that were prevalent in Britain but uncomplicated rectangular composition.[14] Forts were usually shifted as the line of settlement changed; this brought increased settlement spaces for the European settlers.

E.     Forts threatened the economic activities of the settlers

Despite the fact that the refuge forts in Western Virginia mitigated the destruction that was caused by the Indian attacks. The construction of the fort and their use diverted a significant amount of time and labor away from agriculture, artisanal work and the development of the industry. Great effort was required to construct a single fort, even the modest stockades required extensive labor and time. To build a Fort, it was imperative to have a hundred able bodied men, the building process usually took one week to be completed.[15] Assuming that all the men who helped to build the fort worked for approximately forty hours in one week, then it is evident that the construction of this kind Fort would require a labor investment of four thousand man hours.

Despite the fact that this may not seem like an inordinate amount of labor, one would reconsider this point by focusing on the dozens of defensive structures that were found in the Virginia backcountry. In the upper Monongahela region, forty five refuge forts and blockhouses were used for the purpose of providing shelter to people.  It is important to note that, sometimes people stayed in the forts for days and even weeks, this means that they could not work in the fields, the cardinal aim during this period was getting rid of the enemy; this was done at the expense of the economic activities.

The militia troops that were responsible for defending the forts were involved in numerous activities; however, the main activity was garrisoning forts and scouting for any Indian activity.[16] The Militia carried dispatches between different forts, it is from the forts that the Militia pursued the Indian War parties, recovered settlers who had been held captives by the Indians and even took part in the distant military campaigns. The story of Jacob Bush; a militia leader, can be used to illustrate the amount of time that it and efforts that could be asked for the country militia. In 1781, Bush together with his company of Militia marched from Buckhannon Fort to Nutter Fort; they had gone to present Morgantown and Pittsburg.

The militia boarded boats and descended to the Ohio river to the present site of Louisville, where the leaders decided to abandon their initial plan of carrying an assault on an Indian town in the central Ohio, the army disbanded in Kentucky, every man was required to find their own way back home.[17] Unfortunately, Bush and many other Militias became sick with fever, they managed to travel back home the following year. From this story, it is evident that though the Militia was able to perform critical services on the frontier, it placed very heavy demands on its members, eventually.

The living standard of the militia was reduced and they were forced to labor in activities that did not in any way contribute to the competency of their households. In the final quarter of the eighteenth century, the fighting between Indian and settlers denied both groups the full economic benefits of possessing the land together with the resources. Many Indian tribes grew weary of fighting, the European settlers who had built Forts and were gradually settling on the remaining land of the Indian tribes.


In the context of the American Frontier forts, this research paper has analyzed the role of Frontier Forts of West Virginia in the European settlement. As stated by the paper, the American Frontier forts assumed a cardinal role in the settlement of settlers in West Virginia. The frontier forts gave settlers freedom from direct control of the powerful colonial administrators; many West Virginian settlers utilized forts to resist the influence of powerful colonial administrators. The frontiers were free from the reigns of the outside domination, many inhabitants who settled in the frontier  Forts were free to adapt their attitudes as well as lifestyles to the local conditions, for example, in the upper Monongahela valley; the first permanent settlers lived for almost one decade without any form of an elective government.

The forts were significant in the creation of a powerful defense system, the Indians were immensely hostile towards the new settlers; they attacked and killed settlers as an expression of their displeasure, they were against the Settlers settling in Virginia, to protect their families the settlers built forts which proved to be powerful defense systems.  The Fort acted as point for regulating the frontier, it was used as a marking point for the settler dominance over West Virginia, besides serving as regulation points, the forts also served as marking points for the settlement expansion, they could be moved in regards to how the settlements expanded. Despite the positive roles, the Forts were also seen as factors that contributed to the decline of economic activity around settlements, this is due to the fact that they required many hours to construct, and in many cases people often took refuge for days or weeks losing significant working hours


Primary sources

Boardman, Daniel. Papers . West Virginia University Library, 1803-1826.

Presbetyrian Church. Records of the Presbetyrian Church. West Virginia Library, 1832-1894.

Griggs, Lee. Account Book. West Virginia Department of Archives, 1821-1831.

Rodgers, John. Papers. West Virginia University Library, 1777-1857.

U.S Bureau of the Census. Agriculture of the United States in 1860. Washington DC, 1864.

Withers, Tavenner. Papers. Duke University Library.

Secondary sources


Barnes, Jeff. Great Plains Guid to Buffallo Bill, The: Forts, Fights and other Sites. Charleston: Stackpole Books, 2014.

Field, Ron, and Adam Hook. Forts on the American Frontier. New York: Osprey Publishing , 2006.

Preston, David L. Braddocks Deafeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Rice, Otis. The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings 1730-1830. Kentucky : University Press of Kentucky , 2014.

Sheumaker, Suzanne, and Craig Sheumaker. America’s Living History – The Early Years (A Traveler’s Guide). New York: Red Corral Publishing , 2007.

Starbuck, David R. The Legacy of Fort William . Lexington: UPNE, 2014.


[1]  Jeff Barnes. Great Plains Guid to Buffallo Bill, The: Forts, Fights and other Sites (Charleston: Stackpole Books, 2014), 56.


[2] Ron Field and Adam Hook. Forts on the American Frontier (New York: Osprey Publishing , 2006),43 .

[3] Barnes. Great Plains Guid to Buffallo Bill, The: Forts, Fights and other Sites.

[4] Barnes. Great Plains Guid to Buffallo Bill, The: Forts, Fights and other Sites.


[5] Tavenner Withers. Papers. Duke University Library), 23.

[6] Virginia-Historical and Archeological Explorations (Charleston: State Historic, 2003), 56.

[7] U.S Bureau of the Census. Agriculture of the United States in 1860 (Washington DC, 1864.

[8] John Rodgers. Papers (West Virginia University Library, 1777-1857), 24.

[9] Lee Griggs. Account Book ( West Virginia Department of Archives, 1821-1831), 45.

[10] Presbetyrian Church. Records of the Presbetyrian Church (West Virginia Library, 1832-1894).

[11] Daniel Boardman. Papers (West Virginia University Library, 1803-1826), 45.

[12] David L Preston. Braddocks Deafeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 65.


[13] Otis Rice. The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings 1730-1830 (Kentucky : University Press of Kentucky , 2014), 56.


[14] Rodgers. Papers

[15] Suzanne Sheumaker and Craig Sheumaker. America’s Living History – The Early Years (A Traveler’s Guide) (New York: Red Corral Publishing , 2007), 45.


               [16] David R Starbuck. The Legacy of Fort William (Lexington: UPNE, 2014), 43.


               [17] Starbuck. The Legacy of Fort William .