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frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant. There is not tabula rasa. The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious summons to accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing things are also there; and yet, in spite of environment, and in spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier. What the Mediterranean Sea was to the Greeks, breaking the bond of custom, offering new experiences, calling out new institutions and activities, that, and more, the ever retreating frontier has been to the United States directly, and to the nations of Europe more remotely. And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.
THE FIRST OFFICIAL FRONTIER OF THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY!
In the significance of the “Frontier in American History,” I took for my text the following announcement of the Superintendent of the Census of 1890:
Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, the westward movement, etc., it cannot therefore any longer
have a place in the census reports. Two centuries prior to this announcement, in 1690, a com. mittee of the General Court of Massachusetts recommended the Court to order what shall be the frontier and to maintain a committee to settle garrisons on the frontier with forty soldiers to each frontier town as a main guard.? In the two hundred years between this official attempt to locate the Massachusetts frontier line, and the official announcement of the ending of the national frontier line, westward expansion was the most important single process in American history. The designation“ frontier town” was not, however, a new “
, one. As early as 1645 inhabitants of Concord, Sudbury, and
1 Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, April, 1914, xvii, 250-271. Reprinted with permission of the Society. 2 Massachusetts Archives, xxxvi, p. 150.
Dedham, “ being inland townes & but thinly peopled," were forbidden to remove without authority; 3 in 1669, certain towns had been the subject of legislation as “ frontier towns;” - and
;' in the period of King Philip's War there were various enactments regarding frontier towns. In the session of 1675-6 it had been proposed to build a fence of stockades or stone eight feet high from the Charles “ where it is navigable” to the Concord at Billerica and thence to the Merrimac and down the river to the Bay, “ by which meanes that whole tract will [be] environed, for the security & safty (vnder God) of the people, their houses, goods & cattel; from the rage & fury of the enimy.” This project, however, of a kind of Roman Wall did not appeal to the frontiersmen of the time. It was a part of the antiquated ideas of defense which had been illustrated by the impossible equipment of the heavily armored soldier of the early Puritan régime whose corslets and head pieces, pikes, matchlocks, fourquettes and bandoleers, went out of use about the period of King Philip's War. The fifty. seven postures provided in the approved manual of arms for loading and firing the matchlock proved too great a handicap in the chase of the nimble savage. In this era the frontier fighter adapted himself to a more open order, and lighter equipment suggested by the Indian warrior's practice.? The settler on the outskirts of Puritan civilization took
the task of bearing the brunt of attack and pushing forward the line of advance which year after year carried American settle
3 Massachusetts Colony Records, ii, p. 122. 4 Ibid., vol. iv, pt. ii, p. 439; Massachusetts Archives, cvii, pp. 160-161.
6 See, for example, Massachusetts Colony Records, v, 79; Green, “Gro. ton During the Indian Wars,” p. 39; L. K. Mathews, “ Expansion of New England," p. 58.
6 Massachusetts Archives, lxviii, pp. 174-176.
7 Osgood, “ American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, i, p. 501, and citations: cf. Publications of this Society, xii, pp. 38–39.
ments into the wilderness. In American thought and speech the term “ frontier” has come to mean the edge of settlement, rather than, as in Europe, the political boundary. By 1690 it was already evident that the frontier of settlement and the frontier of military defense were coinciding. As population advanced into the wilderness and thus successively brought new exposed areas between the settlements on the one side and the Indians with their European backers on the other, the military frontier ceased to be thought of as the Atlantic coast, but rather as a moving line bounding the un-won wilderness. It could not be a fortified boundary along the charter limits, for those limits extended to the South Sea, and conflicted with the bounds of sister colonies. The thing to be defended was the outer edge of this expanding society, a changing frontier, one that needed designation and re-statement with the changing location of the “West.”
It will help to illustrate the significance of this new frontier when we see that Virginia at about the same time as Massachusetts underwent a similar change and attempted to establish frontier towns, or “co-habitations," at the “heads,” that is the first falls, the vicinity of Richmond, Petersburg, etc., of her rivers.
The Virginia system of “particular plantations” introduced along the James at the close of the London Company's activity had furnished a type for the New England town. In recompense, at this later day the New England town may have fur. nished a model for Virginia's efforts to create frontier settlements by legislation. 8 Hening,
“Statutes at Large,” ii, p. 204; cf. 1 Massachusetts Historical Collections, v, p. 129, for influence of the example of the New England town. On Virginia frontier conditions see Alvord and Bidgood, “First Explorations of the Trans-Allegheny Region,” pp. 23-34, 93-95. P. A. Bruce, “ Institutional History of Virginia,” ii, p. 97, discusses frontier defense in the seventeenth century. (See chapter iii, post.]
An act of March 12, 1694-5, by the General Court of Massachusetts enumerated the “ Frontier Towns” which the inhabitants were forbidden to desert on pain of loss of their lands (if landholders) or of imprisonment (if not landholders), unless permission to remove were first obtained. These eleven frontier towns included Wells, York, and Kittery on the eastern frontier, and Amesbury, Haverhill, Dunstable, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough,19 and Deerfield. In March, 1699-1700, the law was reënacted with the addi. tion of Brookfield, Mendon, and Woodstock, together with seven others, Salisbury, Andover,11 Billerica, Hatfield, Hadley, Westfield, and Northampton, which, “tho' they be not frontiers as those towns first named, yet lye more open than many others to an attack of an Enemy.” 12
In the spring of 1704 the General Court of Connecticut, following closely the act of Massachusetts, named as her frontier
9 Massachusetts Archives, lxx, 240; Massachusetts Province Laws, i, pp. 194, 293.
10 In a petition (read March 3, 1692-3) of settlers“ in Sundry Farms granted in those Remote Lands Scituate and Lyeing between Sudbury, Concord, Marlbury, Natick and Sherburne & Westerly is the Wilderness," the petitioners ask easement of taxes and extension into the Natick region in order to have means to provide for the worship of God,
“Wee are not Ignorant that by reason of the present Distressed Condition of those that dwell in these Frontier Towns, divers are meditating to remove themselves into such places where they have not hitherto been conserned in the present Warr and desolation thereby made, as also that thereby they may be freed from that great burthen of public taxes necessarily accruing thereby, Some haveing already removed themselves. Butt knowing for our parts that wee cannot run from the hand of a Jealous God, doe account it our duty to take such Measures as may inable us to the performance of that duty wee owe to God, the King, & our Familyes” (Massachusetts Archives, cxiii, p. 1).
11 In a petition of 1658 Andover speaks of itself as a remote upland plantation” (Massachusetts Archives, cxii, p. 99).
12 Massachusetts Province Laws, i, p. 402.