Pennsylvania as a test case

Frontier Country focuses primarily on the story of Pennsylvania. It tracks the emergence of frontiers within a once peaceful colony and shows that the appearance of frontiers created governing crisis that was only resolved with the American Revolution.

Pennsylvania’s long history of peace made it a perfect case study for the way frontiers were perceived in the eighteenth century.  Before the Seven Years’ War, few Pennsylvanians spoke of frontiers, while other colonies bore the brunt of imperial wars.  The Seven Years’ War brought frontiers to the colony’s geopolitical landscape, and the crisis that followed that war centered on a debate over whether the government should still treat certain areas as militarized zones.

Pennsylvania as a Test Case

The video and maps below depict this transformation.

This animated video shows the virtual absence of “frontiers” from the colonial records until the Seven Years’ War.  The war brought about a dramatic increase in the use of the term, demonstrating that Pennsylvania had become what one contemporary called “a frontier country.”  While the use of “frontiers” dropped after the war, spikes coincide with either conflicts or warfare.  Notably, the video ends in 1774, when Virginians launched an offensive war against the Shawnees near Fort Pitt and invaded Pennsylvania, an often-overlooked but significant event in colonial history.  Spero covers Dunmore’s War, as this conflict was known, in great detail in Frontier Country.


Pennsylvania pre-1740
Before 1740, there are only a few mentions of frontier in Pennsylvania’s government archives.
During the Seven Years’ War, Pennsylvania officials and regular colonists began describing certain areas as frontiers. The appearance of such zones marked a dramatic change to the colony’s geopolitical landscape.
As the war wound down, so too did reports of areas being frontiers.
Pontiac’s War, however, caused a spike in the use of frontiers. There was also a shift west in where colonists perceived frontiers, a change caused by the settlement of colonists near Fort Pitt and the expansion of colonists onto new lands.
The cessation of warfare in 1765 brought about a dramatic drop in the use of the word, demonstrating how tied frontiers were to warfare.


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