The Westward Movement
by Phil Norfleet
The migrational behavior of the Campbell families discussed at this web site display, in microcosm, many of the characteristics associated with the westward movement of the American Frontier prior to the Civil War. In 1893, the leading historian of the American Frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner, said:
In my opinion, this almost never-ending pursuit of free or at least cheap land constitutes the primary motivation for our ancestors to migrate in the direction of the frontier as it existed in their time. My own research concerning the history of the Black David Campbell family reveals a similar and consistent pattern of westward movement.
For example, Alexander Campbell (c. 1685-1758) and his sons and daughters, moved from their ancestral home in Ulster Province, Ireland to Beverley Manor, in Augusta County, Virginia Colony, in about the year 1744. Captain William Campbell (1748-1800) and his uncles Robert (d. 1797) and Alexander (d. 1787), belonging to the third and second generation, respectively, of Alexander Campbells descendants, moved from Augusta County, Virginia southwestward into Fincastle and later Montgomery County, Virginia in the 1770s. During the early 1780s they migrated to Washington County in Northeastern Tennessee. Later, in 1784, they moved to Fayette County, Kentucky. In the early 1800s, Captain Campbells Widow, his eldest son David (1772-1838) and most of his other sons and daughters moved to Muhlenberg County in Western Kentucky. David Campbells eldest son, William (1793-1885), migrated first to Missouri (Saline County) in 1839 and later crossed the Great Plains to California (Santa Clara County) in 1846.
Three Waves of Migration
This westward advance may be described as having occurred in a series of three waves. Pecks New Guide to the West, published in Boston in 1837, tells us the following:
I believe Pecks description presents an excessively glorified image of the first wave of emigrants, whom he calls the "pioneers." Instead of "pioneers," a more accurate but less favorable term "squatters" could also have been used. Squatters were people who settled on land located beyond the official frontier, in areas still designated as Indian Territory. The squatters had no title or right to such land, which, though vacant with respect to white settlement, was used by the Indians for their hunting grounds. As soon as the land became exhausted from poor farming techniques and the game had been hunted out of existence, these people would pack up and move westward to squat on new land which was still fertile and had plenty of game animals. As their migrations were almost always in violation of the prevailing Indian treaties, these squatter "pioneers" were the whites who most angered the Indians. Consequently, their settlements/stations were frequently the target of Indian raids and many squatters were killed and/or scalped! Their Indian fighting prowess notwithstanding, far from being heroes, many of these people were shiftless, scoundrels who were unwilling or unable to make their way in more civilized society!
Southwest Virginia Campbells Belong to the Second Wave
I believe I can state that, based on Pecks definitions cited above, the Campbells described at this web site definitely seem to belong to the second wave or class of emigrants. In spite of their Scotch-Irish ancestry, I know of not a single instance where these Campbells squatted on land. They frequently patented land in areas where no white man had previously settled. However, these lands were always in areas that had been legally set aside by the established government (colonial, state or federal) for land grant purposes. I know of no instance where a Campbell attempted to settle on land that was still part of recognized Indian Territory.
1. From the preamble of a paper presented at a meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago on 12 July 1893. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, dated 14 December 1893.
2. Ibid., pages19-21.