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Reviewed by:
  • Kentucke's Frontiers
  • Benjamin Fitzpatrick (bio)
Kentucke's Frontiers. By Craig Thompson Friend. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. Pp. 400. Cloth, $34.95.)

Craig Thompson Friend's Kentucke's Frontiers examines the history of Kentucky from the sixteenth century to 1815. In a sense, this is a thricetold tale of Kentucky's transition from a "dark and bloody ground" to America's first western state. As Friend admits, "Many, many historians have told the story of frontier Kentucke, making it difficult for anyone to offer new insights and analysis" (xix). However, Friend has written a nuanced and imaginative study using a framework of race, class, gender, and region to understand the social and cultural evolution of Kentucke (frontiers) to Kentucky (statehood). Friend examines how "frenzies of mean fear made and unmade Kentucke, shaping the future not only of this trans-Appalachian region but of the American nation as well" (xx). On the Kentucky frontier, Euroamericans' ideas about manliness and social stability were deeply informed by their often violent interactions with Native Americans. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the experiences of intercultural frontier brutality helped to shape Kentucky's society into one that justified the implementation of slavery and the reification of patriarchy [End Page 515]

Conflict among competing Indian tribes and sometime violent encounters with white hunters marked the early frontiers in Kentucky. In the 1720s and 30s, the Ohio Valley was home to various Indian tribes, most prominently the Shawnee, who struggled to maintain their independence from the Iroquois and to negotiate with both the British and French who coveted their land. By the 1760s, Kentucky was both a geographic and imaginative frontier for the colonists who were eager to reap the rewards of British success after the French and Indian War. The Proclamation Line of 1763 and the exploits of hunters such as Daniel Boone only made whites want Kentucky even more, to "see it, touch it, and conquer it" (44). By the early 1770s Kentucky was a contested ground, as hunters, colonial agents, and land companies all laid claims to land. Meanwhile, Indians were split on how to react to white advancement. Shawnee leader Cornstalk initially took a diplomatic stance to accommodate white settlement, while other Indians advocated force to remove the whites.

During the American Revolution, whites viewed their fight against the Indians as based on survival and not a part of the war for independence. Friend convincingly persuades that the violence of the frontier took on new meaning as more women and children began to settle in Kentucky, making white men more committed to constructing defensible stations and forts that symbolized white male patriarchy. This fight for civilization was racialized as settlers used skin color—yellow, copper—to define Indians as terrifying "Others" (92). The continuing Indian attacks caused so much insecurity that white patriarchy could not attain a strong hold. This provided for fluid social and economic boundaries for white women and for African Americans, who shared the terror of Indian attacks with white men. Friend is at his best when he examines this contingency and the amorphous nature of Kentucky's frontiers. Because "social structures were unfixed and identity still malleable," the frontier offered new avenues of political participation for white men who envisioned Kentucky as a blank slate on which they could write their political and economic desires (163–64). Kentucky also provided chances for Christians such as Separate Baptists and Catholics, who faced discrimination and violence back east, to worship freely. Some churches reached out to women and blacks to fill their congregations. Churches brought stability to the frontier by imposing Christian morality on families, while simultaneously subverting patriarchy by preaching Christian egalitarianism to female and black converts. [End Page 516]

With the defeat of the Western Confederacy and the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, Kentuckians could finally construct the social and cultural institutions needed to support patriarchy. The state constitution of 1792 was instrumental in this process, as it defined citizenship in terms of race and gender. Also, the "southernization" of Kentucky began with antislavery whites leaving for southern Indiana and Ohio, while "portable planters" primarily from Virginia moved in to produce staple...


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pp. 515-517
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