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Dangerous Life of Frontier Women

Coloial Backcounry

Frontier Back Country

Frontier Back Country

Migration Patterns

We know a lot about migration patterns but not that much about the efforts of the frontier families trying to construct these communities. Poverty was a common economic denominator among back country inhabitants in the north, south, and middle regions of the Trans-Appalachian frontier. There are historians researching this area of our history with the one of the best works probably being completed by Elizabeth Perkins, with regard to the settlement of Kentucky. In Kentucky communities were centered around small fortified clusters of houses known as stations.

The “forting up” process afforded the families some protection from Indians. Over time the customary European distinction between the military and civilian population blurred out of necessity. There were hostile Indians in some areas, like in the Ohio valley. Different areas were not necessarily settled in the same way. Historians have studied social, economic and political development of the backcountry. There has been very little assessment of the life of women in the backcountry.

The Pilgrim Frontier & The Dutch Frontier

Frontier BackCountry

As more Europeans arrived in the United States in the late 1600’s and the early 1700’s, their new life was much different from their homelands. Everyone wanted to own land. Families were generally larger than those in Europe. Therefore, as the population grew more land was necessary for farmers in order for their sons to inherit. Gradually the coastal areas expanded further inland into more uncharted territory.

Today when we think of the Frontier in the United States we usually think of the Old West with cowboys. Actually the first frontier was the land that ran roughly from Oneida County, New York south to Augusta, Georgia, with the western border being the Proclamation Line of 1763.

The frontier was broken down into three sections referred to as colonial backcountry: (

  • the northern backcountry, encompassing the frontier regions of New England and upstate New York;
  • the middle region, which includes central and western Pennsylvania, as well as Kentucky and the Ohio River valley
  • the southern frontier, comprised mainly of the backcountry areas of lower Virginia and the Carolina highlands

Appalachian Mountains and Indians

The Proclamation Line is an imaginary line running down the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. It acknowledged the Native Americans owned the lands on which they were then residing and white settlers in the area were to be removed. However, provision was made to allow some licensed individuals and entities to operate fur trading ventures in the proscribed area. This had a two fold purpose; one was to avoid war with the Indians because the British had not deployed enough soldiers to keep the peace. Secondly, they needed to concentrate on the colonial settlements on the seaboard where they could be active parts of the British mercantile system.

Almost from its inception, the proclamation was modified to suit the needs of influential people with interests in the American West. This included many high British officials as well as colonial leaders.



Lonely Life Style

The life of a frontier woman was difficult to say the least. Their social and economic network of female kin and friends was stripped away. The sporadic nature of many areas of the backcountry settlement made resumption of this female social infrastructure difficult and worked to increase dependency on husbands and fathers to define their social position.

Women had no legal rights at this time with one exception. A woman's husband couldn't sell the land without the signature of his wife. If he should die, his widow had the legal right to live on the land until her death although the land would be deeded to a son.

The living conditions were primitive and their daily routines reflected this condition. There existed a general division of labor, particularly in hunting communities, where women did the bulk of the work. Their duties included child-rearing, tending livestock, food production, household maintenance and even defense of the settlement in times of attack. There was no leisure time. Women and children were sometimes taken by Indians and lived their entire lives with the Indians after watching their husbands and sons killed.

It was a world full of all types of dangers with virtually no immediate help available. I’m not saying men had it easy as farming is not easy; neither is fighting Indians or hunting for food. The lifestyle of men is well documented.

I can’t imagine the loneliness of these women. Normally women enjoy each other's company where they receive a lot of emotional support. I would assume most family members were close knit as there wasn't anyone else to lean on. I don't think many women would choose that tough lifestyle but circumstances beyond their control would sometimes guides their destiny. I wonder how this lifestyle of women being totally dependent on their husbands impacts the lives of women today?

Women Were the Settlers


I have studied genealogy for 20 years, and quite often the men might have 2 or 3 wives with children coming along about every other year, sometimes more often. I can see why the men often out-lived the women.

Having babies that frequently without medical help is risky at best. However, the men and women were brave souls who helped to shape the world we live in today.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 15, 2011:

Baily, Thanks for your comment.

Jasmine, I'm glad this hub was helpful to you. Thank you for your comment.

Jasmine on October 14, 2011:

This UFO was very helpful thanku

Bailey on October 14, 2011:

Thank you (:

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 12, 2011:

Bailey, I am glad this information was helpful to you. Good luck with your project.

Bailey on October 12, 2011:

This was good information thank you(: I am actually using some of this information for a school project right now so thank you(:

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 30, 2010:

Flightkeeper,Thank you so much for your comments. I love history but I want it to be accurate.

Flightkeeper from The East Coast on August 30, 2010:

Such an interesting time the frontier, the history books make it sound so exciting. You have supplemented the information so that it's a more accurate picture. Thanks Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on May 18, 2010:

mquee, Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

mquee from Columbia, SC on May 18, 2010:

Hi, this is a different view of a world we grew up hearing about. Not much attention has been given to the woman's role. Interesting and thought provoking.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 06, 2010:

Habee, I wonder how they survived having children about every other year and sometimes more often with never ending work. Life was hard for them and we are fortunate that we have such good lives.

Holle Abee from Georgia on April 06, 2010:

I can't imagine what life must have been like for these women. They were some tough gals!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 16, 2010:

Roberta, I wonder that myself.

Roberta99 on February 16, 2010:

I can't even imagine how rough the living conditions must have been for those people. Interesting story.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 06, 2010:

Hanna, I'm glad I was able to help you. Hope you get a good grade,

hanna on January 06, 2010:

i got some information from this website for a project we are doing in social studies this gives lots of information . great , ps it really helped out with my progect

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 01, 2009:

Thanks James. Yes, I would have been a city girl too.

James A Watkins from Chicago on November 30, 2009:

Outstanding Hub, Pamela. It is well conceived and executed. I enjoyed it very much. I definitely would have been a city boy.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 30, 2009:

Thanks Eovery

eovery from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa on November 30, 2009:

Great subject and hub.

Frontier life in general was hard.

Keep on hubbing!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 30, 2009:

dohn, I appreciate the comment.

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on November 30, 2009:

I often write about my exploits of moving and living in a new area of the country without knowing a single soul, but this of course is on another level completely. I give a great deal of credit to the first settlers for persevering through impossible odds. Thank you for sharing this, Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 30, 2009:

Tom, it's nice to have you arrive first for a comment. I'm always interested always in what you have to share. I do think this is a very interesting topic and since there weren't very many written records I think we will always have unanswered questions. I haven't read about Lewis Wetzel but I'll see if he's mentioned in my sources. Thanks Tom.

Tom Whitworth from Moundsville, WV on November 30, 2009:


This is a fascinating subject. Since I live only 12 miles south of Whelling WV, the historic site of Fort Henry, I have always been very interested in Lewis Wetzel. He was seen as a heroic Indian fighter by his contempories but history hasn't been very kind to Lewis Wetzel. He is judged by most historians as a psycopathic killer of the Indians. I think this had a lot to do with his early (age 14) capture along with his brother by hostile Indians.

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