When you look back at history it may be tempting to put on politically correct lenses. But that’s shortsighted and not always fair to the people of the time. We’re so enlightened today, right? We know better now don’t we? We would never participate in an activity that might bring harm to another people group today. We would never purchase cheap materials made in a communist country by a labor force that doesn’t play by the rules just so we can have the latest toy or gadget to amuse ourselves. Would we? Oops.
Indians, Native Americans, Africans, Negroes, African-Americans. Those are easy to judge because we can wrap hundreds of years of history and education around our understanding. We are so enlightened today. Yet, it has only been 50 years since Martin Luther King and civil rights. Enlightened indeed. Slavery is obviously wrong and I’d like to think I would never participate. But I’ve never owned land covered in cotton in the 18th century. We’ve all watched fast food chains try to make the most burgers out of the cheapest materials in the quickest way possible. All the while giving their workers the absolute minimum. Sounds like a form of slavery to me.
Honestly, it never dawned on me till a couple of months ago that my family could have owned slaves. They did live in Virginia during colonial times. And, according to one stat I saw, in the mid 1700s 40% of the population of that state was black during that time. But I’m happy to report that I’m pretty sure we weren’t slave owners. Why? Because we lived in the uppermost north of VA outside of Winchester. The further south you went the more likely you were to encounter slave owners on their big plantations. We did own hundreds of acres of land but it was timber and farm land. So where did all the help come from? Have you seen the size of my family?
They were Scottish Presbyterians and they were used to doing things themselves. Could they have hired workers or had indentured servants at some point? Maybe. I can’t say for certain. I do know they were alone. There wasn’t a temp agency or migrant workers or teens looking for work across town. There wasn’t even a town. There wasn’t anything. I know without a doubt they didn’t bring any “help” to PA in 1774.
Now as to the Native American question. Yes, my family were “Indian fighters”. But let’s not be hasty in our judgements here either. The land my family occupied was either purchased or granted or a combination of both. They earned it by a demonstration of commitment to it and a promise to invest in it. There wasn’t a Facebook post to remind them that Native Americans were there first and had been there for hundreds of years and just wanted to be left alone in peace. But those Indians had no “legal” claims. And that meant something operating in the “civilized” world. So in their “modern” society their land was rightfully theirs. There were no markers or boundaries before they got there. Just a general knowledge that Indians were out there somewhere. They hunted in this area. They fished on that river. The Iriquois would travel down The Great Wagon Road to trade but just as often to fight. Why? To wage war with the Shawnee. Why? Over territory, specifically the Shenandoah Valley. So even though Native Americans believed you couldn’t own land they still fought over it. Not so peaceful after all.
Remember or understand that this was all NEW. Counties and territories were just being named for the first time. Winchester, Virginia was first called Frederick Town and they changed the name not after the guy who invented the rifle but after the first county clerk’s birthplace, Winchester, England. “What should we call this village? Well, who was here first and who has a claim?”
There was this new mix happening. The established British inhabitants were along the Atlantic seaboard. The Indian tribes were inland. The French were pressing down from the north flexing their muscle. And who is in the middle? My family. I say that knowing how I would feel if it were really happening to me and my family. It doesn’t matter if its 1735 or 2016. My family comes first – their safety, their future, their investments and their inheritance.
And understand what they went through to get here. Religious persecution, extreme hardships and constant conflict with the British crown always imposing their way of doing things in Scotland & Ireland. So they sell everything they own and get on a ship for a 3 month trip across the ocean to a land they’ve never seen. They re-supply in Pennsylvania and get their bearings. They come together and plan their future. There’s word about this new land opportunity to the south for strong families who are willing to make the commitment. So they move. They build homes from scratch. They work land that’s never been worked before. They clear timber. They survive and advance. It’s not like they went to someone’s house and kicked them out then moved in. Other than a trail/dirt road to get them there, it’s all raw uncharted and barely surveyed. Everything is happening for the first time. Except for a few explorers who’ve passed through the region, no white people had ever sunk roots there before. The powers that be said, “This is your land. Just be careful there are savages in the region. You might come across them, you might not. But be prepared”.
And they were. Right or wrong, they were. So that’s my family – the pioneering, politically incorrect early settlers of Virginia before the United States even existed. They took up arms to defend their lives, their families and their beliefs. It wasn’t the first time. And it would not be the last.