These Fine Prospects Frederick County, Virginia, 1738-1840

Hofstra, Warren Raymond, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Cross, Robert D., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
William, D., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

During the first half of the eighteenth century the lower Shenandoah Valley assumed strategic importance in a conflict between Virginia and the Northern Neck Proprietary over western settlement. Both claimed the Valley county of Frederick. To thwart the proprietary and establish a western buffer zone, the colony encouraged small farmers from northern colonies to settle western Frederick. Serving the interests of Virginia planters in holding land for speculation or long-range development, Robert Carter, proprietary agent, granted large quantities of land in east Frederick to members of Virginia's most prominent families. The conflict's resolution ensured the separate survival of northern, small farm and Tidewater, plantation influences in west and east Frederick respectively.

Small farmers began moving into west Frederick in the 1730's. By 1760 their economy focused on the commercial production of wheat. Winchester was their market town. Prominent planters commenced their move after the American Revolution. Small planters, tenants and quarters preceded them.

From the 1790's to the 1830's wheat brought economic prosperity and social stability to Winchester and Frederick County. Planters and farmers, alike, grew wheat. Opportunity for emigrants to acquire western lands and for persisters to increase their wealth blunted social tensions, but the concentration of Tidewater influence, large farms, developed land, wealth and slaves in east Frederick produced a sectional division. East Frederick's autonomy from Winchester and the decentralization of the local, flour export trade enhanced this division. Early in the period Winchester flourished from a brisk trade with western migrants and back country traders. The later decline of these trades plunged the town into a crisis, which it met with ambitious plans for economic expansion.

In 1836 Frederick divided into several counties in a way clearly reflecting its sectional geography. By the late 1820's the large farmers of east Frederick had achieved a nonpartisan unity in defense of the old order of Virginia politics against demands to reform the state's constitution. They carried this unity into the 1830' s and local struggles over internal improvements. Ultimately their efforts to establish a separate county reflected the desire to protect a conventional, agrarian community against an expansive, commercial one.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Frederick County, Virginia, Farmers, long-range developmet
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