Author: Warren Hofstra

the Stewart Bell Professor of History at Shenandoah University, where he also directs the Community History Project of the university. He has written or edited several books on various aspects of American regional history, most recently Ulster to America: The Scots-Irish Migration Experience, 1680—1830 (University of Tennessee Press, 2011)

Backcountry Frontier of Colonial Virginia

The backcountry frontier of colonial Virginia reached westward from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the farthest extent of Virginia settlement in the eighteenth century. By royal charter, the extreme western boundaries of Virginia at this time extended to the Pacific Ocean, but the terms “backcountry” or “back settlements” specifically refer to new settlements in the eastern Appalachian Mountains—most notably in the Shenandoah Valley—that began taking shape in the 1720s. This term was commonly used in the colonial era, when “frontier” referred more specifically to national boundaries. In the 1720s and 1730s, British and colonial authorities encouraged settlement of the backcountry, particularly by non-English Protestant immigrants whose small-farm, non-slave communities might create a buffer against Indian attacks and French expansion while deterring runaway slaves seeking to establish independent colonies in the Appalachians. Due to its social, economic, political, and cultural distinctiveness, the backcountry frontier as a region played a significant role in the eighteenth-century history of Virginia and in the writings of historians about the influence of Virginia’s colonial period on the later history of the state and the nation. By the end of the eighteenth century, the backcountry had become a successful model for the development of mixed-farm, market-town settlements on new frontiers as Americans overspread the trans-Appalachian west.


Benjamin Borden (1675–1743)

Benjamin Borden, a land speculator, played a key role in establishing some of Virginia’s early settlements west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The New Jersey native had moved to the Shenandoah Valley by April 1734 and began receiving patents for large landholdings in the Valley of Virginia. Borden promoted settlement, notably attracting newcomers from the north of Ireland to his properties. He also held minor civic positions in Orange and later Frederick Counties.