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  • The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley
  • Carol Ebel (bio)
The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley. By Warren R. Hofstra. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. xv, 410. Illustrations, maps. Cloth, $49.95.)

The term "New Virginia" denoted an eighteenth-century geographic division between planter and small farm economies in the Old Dominion. For Warren R. Hofstra, the name reflects new cultural and economic directions that emerged in the West during the colonial era and the early republic. Hofstra probes that development by placing the scope of the study within the larger geographical and historical context of the Virginia backcountry. The Planting of New Virginia investigates patterns of settlement and economic development as expressed in the landscape of the northern Shenandoah Valley between the 1730s and the early 1800s. That area symbolized changes taking place in the entire valley as it evolved from a peripheral region to a "forcountry" (1) with an interconnecting "town and country landscape" (2) based upon strong commercial ties to the Atlantic trade.

Hofstra combines the terminology of cultural geography, economic studies, and history to argue that landscapes are the products of intricate forces that extend over several generations. By using this approach, he rejects Turnerian and eurocentric interpretations that fail to trace the intricate complexities of that development. Landscapes, Hofstra explains, are encoded with specific historic backgrounds that denote the impact of human groups as they negotiate their coexistence with and manipulation of the environment. To trace the development of the lower Shenandoah Valley landscape, Hofstra extracts elements from models of economic development, including central place and strategic place theories. He then interweaves accounts of external forces and human agents that shaped the Shenandoah Valley: the natural environment, the presence of Native American and European immigrants, provincial and British imperial policies, and the impact of trade. [End Page 289]

Hofstra draws the reader into the work by employing a narrative-biographical approach to describe the phases of settlement. In Chapter 1, Hofstra creates a visual description of the landscape fashioned by Native Americans and European immigrants. He transports the reader to 1742 by describing a hypothetical tour of the Shenandoah Valley based upon the journey of thirty Iroquois warriors. Hofstra strongly advocates the study of native accounts to provide a more accurate evaluation of native impact upon the landscape and their reception to European changes. Hofstra then probes the "text" (113) of property and survey tracts made by European settlers in the lower valley during the 1730s and 1740s.

The "cadastre" (112), or shape of the surveyed tracts made in the lower valley during the 1730s and 1740s, reflect the historical effort to settle the region and the impact of European immigration. The Virginia government sought quick occupation of the valley by populating it with Protestant German and Scots-Irish settlers to protect its western lands from French expansion. Provincial leaders authorized the dispersal of land through speculator-agents such as Jost Hite and his partner, Robert McKay, who allowed settlers to negotiate their selection of land. Settlers fashioned a "vernacular landscape" (138) consisting of small groups of dispersed homesteads and businesses. Such a development also was found in Tidewater Virginia. But the backcountry landscape reflected cultural practices and pragmatic use of the natural environment to achieve "economic competency" (7). This vernacular landscape remained generally free from outside forces that shaped landscapes in other backcountry regions during the 1700s—in spite of the imperial policies that populated the valley.

First-generation immigrants did not operate isolated, subsistent farms, nor did they engage in a commercial, market town economy. Settlers conducted an exchange economy in which goods and services were transferred over a large area. This activity provided competency for the householders, rather than profit or speculative opportunities with excess capital. Surviving account records reveal the complex networks of exchange in the lower valley. Grain crops, coin money, animal furs, livestock, linen, and artisan skills, as well as indentured servant and slave labor, served as mediums of exchange. This type of economy did not produce towns. Their absence created an informal design of triangular connections in the vernacular landscape involving roads...


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