- Reclaiming Congressman Philip Doddridge from Tidewater Cultural Imperialism
Western Pennsylvanians reacted with praise or condemnation when President Donald Trump declared "Pittsburgh, not Paris" in June 2017 as a reason for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. In doing so, Trump conjured a vision of Pittsburgh that has not existed for at least thirty years. It was not the first time a well-connected, wealthy, political leader of the United States used an exaggerated depiction of life just west of the Alleghenies to promote a political vision. In 2008, then US senator Barack Obama faced accusations of elitism when he provided his own outsider's interpretation of small-town Pennsylvanians during a private campaign stop in San Francisco. He described the region's working-class citizens as "bitter" and "cling[ing] to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."1 This was nothing new.
From the earliest days of European settlement, people in the upper Ohio River Valley of southwestern Pennsylvania, western (later West) Virginia, and the Ohio Country have been subject to misrepresentation by better-connected writers from Yankee New England and the Virginia Tidewater. This upper Ohio Valley region, hereinafter the trans-Allegheny West, is not truly mid-Atlantic or Midwestern.2 It is Appalachian. Speeches by President Trump and then senator Barack Obama show the trans-Allegheny region remains misrepresented by outsiders who use it as a prop to further political goals. Edward Watts describes this as "Yankee cultural imperialism."3 It is helpful to consider a parallel Tidewater cultural imperialism when examining Virginia history. A century after West Virginia historian Charles Ambler's defining study of sectionalism, some historians might be tired of hearing variations on a theme of east/west divisions. However, east/west sectionalism remains evident as historical accounts continue to prize eastern views.4 Amanda E. Hayes posits, "Of the acceptable prejudices that remain, [End Page 1] the negative mainstream American attitude toward Appalachia has gone largely unchallenged for decades."5 Hayes is too kind. Anti-Appalachian views have influenced historical accounts for centuries as told by those living east of the Allegheny Mountains.6 These views seem impermeable to the debunking tendency among historians who continue to perpetuate elements of the self-serving, hagiographies first peddled by early Virginia's Tidewater elite. This is compounded by the oft-repeated truism that there is more known about Appalachia that is untrue than any other region of the country. These themes remain pervasive in portrayals of Philip Doddridge (1773–1832), a congressman who represented part of the upper Ohio Valley in what is now West Virginia. This article considers ways he is portrayed in order to offer a useful and critical view of his role as a politician.
Doddridge's efforts on behalf of western Virginians are now shrouded by generations of misrepresentation. Old Dominion elites in Richmond used Doddridge's roots in the trans-Allegheny West to dismiss his arguments, a bias enshrined in primary sources used by historians. These sources and the narratives created using them deserve greater scrutiny. Some historians have reduced Doddridge to a caricature by relying too heavily on sources laden with the anti-Appalachian views of Virginia's eastern elites motivated by self-preservation of their plantation lifestyles reliant on black slavery. In other instances, historians omit Doddridge's name from accounts of historical events in which he played a key role. Similarly, advocates for an independent West Virginia later used Doddridge to fit their own purpose to highlight western needs to separate from Richmond. These competing approaches continue to influence lopsided narratives that sometimes bizarrely exclude Philip Doddridge from summaries of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–30 for which he was a chief proponent and the leading reformer. By better examining his efforts and including them in recounting Virginia history, historians can help redress Tidewater cultural imperialism that continues to dominate popular understandings of Virginia history.
Doddridge as Historical Prop
Philip Doddridge's legacy faded more rapidly in the nation's capital and Richmond than it did in the trans-Allegheny West. A few days after his death, Washington, DC, aldermen requested a portrait of Doddridge for council chambers...