The Rule of Ranging is about the history of the colonial frontier during the 18th century. It tells much more than wars, conquests, and development of trade. Survival, persistence, and tenacity of men, women, and children who lived in the frontier forts played the most significant role in merging of peoples and cultures. That resulted in the creation of new communities and values by which people identify the United States today. Despite continued violence and instability, women and children exhibited optimism, individualism, and self-reliance to overcome vulnerability and supported their men in battles, building farms, marking trails, and developing commerce.
The vast Ohio Valley became a ground for swelling contest between the English and French during the mid-eighteenth century. It was the gateway to the vast western expanse, control over waterways, and the lucrative fur trade. The French sought new settlements in the south while the British wanted to expand northward. Native Americans, living in the area repeatedly sided with one to attack and drive away the other. As the conflict escalated, the European settlers constructed frontier forts as a symbol of their dominance in the area, to secure their borders, and to further territorial and trading ambitions.
With the passage of time, these stone, brick, and masonry bastions were converted into auxiliary military communities hosting families. These structures began building on the coast and moved westward into the hinterland as the need for protection of the migrant population emerged. While such practice encouraged migration and creation of communities, it also helped the new nation grow and expand. The frontier forts providing security to settlers became centers of law enforcement and trade giving birth to today’s great American cities in the long run.
Life of Women and Children in the Frontier Forts
Frontiers forts, located in valleys, hillocks, ridges, and river forks and were among the most dangerous places in North America of the 18th century. The hostile attitude of native Americans and fear of French assaults rallied the inhabitants together and created an egalitarian social order. Women and children lived in those forts were most vulnerable to enemy attacks. In 1755, at least 50 women joined General Braddock’s expedition against the French, but only four returned home.
Women and children were entrusted the duty to ensure domestic stability and consolidation, as men engaged in constant warfare or trading in unfriendly regions. Overcoming challenges women adopted lifestyles most suitable to their security and local terrain, and new cultural values were born. Leaving aside the pampered upbringing and army caste system, wives of officers led the way in managing household affairs, educating children, initiating cultural programs, and writing literature.
Ordinary women living in wooden houses had a much harder life. Farm women were at the forefront of social life assuring the family of survival. Lack of adequate fresh supplies led them to create home gardens and manage farms despite frequent pregnancies.
Children suffered because of lack of good education and training and were entirely dependent on their mothers. The infant mortality rate was very high because of inadequate healthcare. There was no schools or scope for entertainment and children lived with severe restrictions. The rural environment allowed children to remain unaffected by age and gender hierarchies and became independent, self-reliant, and adaptable. They also suffered because of loneliness and had to contribute physical labor at a tender age.
However, ample scope for business and improvement within the military communities taught both women and children on how to fend themselves and cash on new opportunities in an unfriendly ambiance.
The firmness and resolve that the women in frontier forts exhibited for decades molded the American nation. Cities growing from those military settlements became the torchbearers of women empowerment and democratic values. The ability of inhabitants in frontier forts to create a new culture based on equality and freedom became the touchstone of the colonial struggle for independence.
(Image credits: Published by olegv on The Shooter’s Log)