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A Town In-Between

Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the Early Mid-Atlantic Interior

By Judith Ridner

Publication Year: 2010

In A Town In-Between, Judith Ridner reveals the influential, turbulent past of a modest, quiet American community. Today Carlisle, Pennsylvania, nestled in the Susquehanna Valley, is far from the nation's political and financial centers. In the eighteenth century, however, Carlisle and its residents stood not only at a geographical crossroads but also at the fulcrum of early American controversies. Located between East Coast settlement and the western frontier, Carlisle quickly became a mid-Atlantic hub, serving as a migration gateway to the southern and western interiors, a commercial way station in the colonial fur trade, a military staging and supply ground during the Seven Years' War, American Revolution, and Whiskey Rebellion, and home to one of the first colleges in the United States, Dickinson.

A Town In-Between reconsiders the role early American towns and townspeople played in the development of the country's interior. Focusing on the lives of the ambitious group of Scots-Irish colonists who built Carlisle, Judith Ridner reasserts that the early American west was won by traders, merchants, artisans, and laborers—many of them Irish immigrants—and not just farmers. Founded by proprietor Thomas Penn, the rapidly growing town was the site of repeated uprisings, jailbreaks, and one of the most publicized Anti-Federalist riots during constitutional ratification. These conflicts had dramatic consequences for many Scots-Irish Presbyterian residents who found themselves a people in-between, mediating among the competing ethnoreligious, cultural, class, and political interests that separated them from their fellow Quaker and Anglican colonists of the Delaware Valley and their myriad Native American trading partners of the Ohio country.

In this thoroughly researched and highly readable study, Ridner argues that interior towns were not so much spearheads of a progressive and westward-moving Euro-American civilization, but volatile places situated in the middle of a culturally diverse, economically dynamic, and politically evolving early America.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Maps and Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-11

Why Carlisle? is a question I was asked frequently while I worked on this project. Some people have never heard of Carlisle. Others know it only as a place where Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearly meet, or they have heard of the Carlisle Barracks, home to the U.S. Army War College and former site of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Still others actually know ...

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Chapter 1. Creating a Town In-Between

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pp. 12-43

In 1751, Pennsylvania governor James Hamilton journeyed westward to Carlisle, the recently founded seat of the sprawling new interior county of Cumberland. Upon his return to Philadelphia he admitted with surprise that this interior village, which he had assisted the colony’s principal proprietor, Thomas Penn, in planning, had “exceeded my Expectations in all respects.” ...

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Chapter 2. Negotiating the Boundaries

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pp. 44-74

As the 1750s progressed, it was clear that creating Carlisle would be neither the simple nor predictable process Thomas Penn anticipated. Surveying a town determined its borders and asserted provincial authority over contested territory, but these were only first steps. To control this new town and its first inhabitants, survey lines had to be made meaningful and preserved over ...

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Chapter 3. New Lines Drawn

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pp. 75-111

In May 1768, Joseph Rigby, an agent of the Philadelphia trading firm of Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan, noted in a letter to his employers that he hoped to forward the lead he was holding at the company’s warehouse in Carlisle with the troops who would soon be “going up” to Fort Pitt.1 Although at first glance this seems a routine correspondence, it was not. Rigby’s presence in ...

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Chapter 4. War and Revolution

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pp. 112-149

Soon after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, John Montgomery—one of Carlisle’s wealthiest men by the 1770s and chair of the county’s Committee of Inspection and Observation, the political body then governing the town—wrote “With pleasure” to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, to “assure you that a noble Spirit appears ...

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Chapter 5. Still In-Between

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pp. 150-176

It was December 26, 1787. Another year nearly over, but with little to celebrate. The 1780s were a tough decade in America. The Revolutionary War was won, but victory had costs. In Pennsylvania, these costs included a postwar economic depression that worsened cash scarcity, accelerated declining land prices, gave rise to property foreclosures, and encouraged...

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Chapter 6. Adapting to the Next Century

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pp. 177-208

"Upon the whole,” said one visitor, Carlisle had “a respectable appearance” by the nineteenth century. No longer was it the woods that Euro-Americans such as the fur trader James LeTort encountered in the 1720s when he built his cabin along the creek that later bore his name. Nor was it the fledgling interior town said to be “much at a Stand” in the 1760s when a host of fur traders, ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 209-214


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pp. 215-272


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pp. 273-284

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pp. 285-287

A project that has taken as long as this one incurs many debts. Where do I begin to offer my thanks? To be sure, the staff at many libraries and archives aided immensely in this work. While researching this book, I spent months at the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The staffs at these libraries offered ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205398
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242362

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Early American Studies