The Mechanics of Colonialism

Map showing forts, settlements, and migration routes into frontier-era Tennessee and Kentucky

Forts, Settlements, and Migration Routes into Frontier-Era Tennessee and Kentucky


During the 11th and 12th centuries, in an age before gunpowder, the Normans were able to conquer England by constructing forts (motte-and-bailey “castles”) on newly occupied land.

The exact same method – colonisation by fort-building – was employed in Southern Appalachia by land-hungry Americans in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

Settlers were not entering a wilderness.  They were entering lands with existing communities, trade networks, farms, and towns.

This is why the Americans who followed the first trappers and longhunters had to build “stations”, blockhouses, and forts along the trails and rivers by which they were entering and intruding upon land belonging to others.

With the advantage of an almost inexhaustible source population, gunpowder and firearms, this American-style “motte-and-bailey” system of occupation took far less time than the earlier, but similar, Norman subjugation of England.

This system can be seen in action to this very day, in places like the Levant, where illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (the equivalent of Appalachian longhunters and squatters) are eventually fully supported by the coloniser’s military installations and a judicial system weighted in favour of the coloniser.

But enough of comparisons and analogies.

Here is a map I made as an aid in understanding the mechanism of early American colonialism.

With the exception of  some scattered Spanish and French communties (which were often mostly Métis), every single place on this map was land still belonging to non-European Americans at the time.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #AmericanHistory #Appalachia #AmericanFrontier

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