The Ohio Frontier: Crucible Of The Old Northwest, by R. Douglas Hurt
I must admit this was not the most exciting book in the world to read. It was not written by someone who approached the subject of Ohio’s relatively brief days as a frontier in gripping or compelling prose. Nonetheless, although this book was written in a somewhat plain fashion, it did tell an important story of how it was that Ohio was turned from a sparsely populated area that was fought over between various groups of tribes and traders and early pioneers to an area that is heavily populated and full of farms and cities that strikes many of us as quintessentially Midwestern in nature and not always the most interesting of places. I have myself lived in Ohio (although not for particularly long) and so I found myself having enough reason to cheer on the growth of cities and industry and the importance of property security in securing the growth of Ohio. And it must be admitted that Ohio grew a great deal as it ceased to be a frontier, demonstrating that areas with unsettled property rights and active conflicts did not particularly encourage a lot of settlement but that there were a lot of people willing to come in when land rights were secure.
This book is about 400 pages long and is divided into thirteen chapters. The book begins with the first settlers of various tribes (sadly not talking about the mound building culture) (1) and then moving on to discuss the clash of cultures that happened when various tribes and traders started fighting over the Ohio country in the 18th century (2). After that the author discussed the American Revolution in the Ohio country (3) as well as the immense violence that took place in the time immediately after the Revolution as America sought with small armies to bring the tribes of the area to the bargaining table to extinguish their claims to land that settlers wanted (4). After that the author discusses the Battle of Fallen Timber and its consequences (5) as well as the Ohio fever that led to a large amount of settlers moving in after that battle opened up settlement in most of the territory (6). The author then moves from a narrative history to discuss the early settlements in Ohio that provided places for trading and business activity (7) as well as the importance of farming to early settlers (8) and what they raised and grew. A discussion of the culture and ethnicity of the early settlers on the frontier (9) as well as a discussion of the religious complexity of Ohio follows (10). After that, the book concludes with a discussion about the period before and during the War of 1812 (11), the first and last farmers of the frontier period (12), and the settled community of Ohio that followed the closing of that part of the frontier as it moved further west (13) before a bibliographical essay and index close the book.
In a book like this one it is the details that are rather telling about how Ohio grew and how its politics proved to be intensely divisive to this day. Settled both by New Englanders as well as Virginians, the state had a pretty sharp divide between the politics and worldview of the two, making Ohio a classic “border” or “swing” region between America’s own culture. Interestingly enough, Yankees and many Germans tended to settle far more strongly than the transient Southerners who quickly moved to other areas that required less effort to deal with and that offered quicker wealth. The business acumen of some Ohio settlers, especially those who were able to profit from the difference in prices between cows and other animals, as well as the struggle that Ohio farmers had in making money off of butter, is rather intriguing as well. This is a book that provides a lot of interesting detail about land prices and the struggle of political and civil leaders to deal with the requirements of representative democracy and the land speculation that was a fairly traditional part of American frontier expansion. And that is enough to make it well worth reading if frontier history is an interest of yours.