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Southern Cultures 8.4 (2002) 100-102

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After the Backcountry: Rural Life in the Great Valley of Virginia, 1800-1900 Edited by Kenneth E. Koons and Warren R. Hofstra. University of Tennessee Press, 2000 314 pp. Cloth $48.00

The Valley of Virginia lies along the state's northwestern edge, bordering both West Virginia and Maryland, and consists of a broad, lowland expanse between the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge mountain chains, watered for at least part of its length by two forks of the Shenandoah River. Geographically, the Valley served as a natural corridor of migration from the middle Atlantic colonies into the southern backcountry in the eighteenth century, and as such developed a distinctive character that was only marginally southern. Socially, culturally, and demographically, the Valley has often been perceived as an extension of Pennsylvania, [End Page 100] settled largely by Scots-Irish and Germans moving down from the north. They imposed on the region not only an ethnic diversity unlike that of other parts of the South, but an agricultural economy of mixed grain and livestock production that was more mid-Atlantic than southern in nature.

This essay collection, based on a 1995 conference in Lexington, serves as a chronological extension of a rich body of scholarship—produced by many of the same historians represented here—on colonial patterns of settlement and culture in western Virginia and beyond. If the Valley could be characterized as "Greater Pennsylvania" during that formative era, this volume demonstrates the extent to which, by the antebellum period, it was also "Greater Virginia." This was due not only to the small but significant number of Anglo-Virginians who moved westward to settle in certain parts of the Valley, but also to the fact that they brought slaves with them. Thus the region became what some have called "a third South," in which the peculiarly southern institution of black bondage was imposed on what editors Warren Rostra and Kenneth Cons term "a world made by wheat." In the nineteenth-century Valley, they maintain, "the imperative to produce wheat affected social and economic relations among producers and consumers, the free and the unfree, and townspeople and rural dwellers." These essays capture the complexity of those relations and the regional variables—some obvious, others more subtle—that made the region not quite like other parts of the South, highland or lowland.

Contrary to both popular and scholarly assumptions, slaveholding was alive and well in many parts of the Valley: in some counties slaves made up as much as one-fifth or one-fourth of antebellum residents. Such holdings meant a far more class-differentiated white populace than has generally been acknowledged in this former frontier region. Though racial issues are the subject of only a few essays, implicit throughout are their socio-economic, political, and even religious impact, as the anti-slavery sentiment of Mennonites, Methodists, and "Dunkers" (or Anabaptists) created local tensions in some areas.

The twenty essays here explore these and other issues through a wide variety of topics and methodologies. These include archaeological, architectural, and cartographic analyses of the emerging grain economy and the settlement patterns of the communities it supported. Many essays focus on individual communities, using microcosmic studies to provide broader insights into topics ranging from slave hiring (Augusta County) and free blacks (Rockbridge County) to iron manufacturing (Alleghany County), rural entrepreneurship (the Tye River Valley), and shifting political alliances both before the war (Frederick County) and after it (Lexington). Other essays offer innovative explorations of the networks among and beyond these communities as reflected by post office circulation and the routes of Yankee peddlers. Despite the dates in the book's title, the vast majority of the work deals with the pre-1860 years. [End Page 101]

Curiously, there is a disconnect between this scholarship and that, equally rich in quantity and sophistication, of pre-industrial Appalachia. There is no reference here, for example, to another important essay collection, Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century (UNC Press, 1995), nor to many...


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