Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley • Warren R. Hofstra • Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004 • xv, 410 pp. • $49.95
Reviewed by A. Glenn Crothers, associate professor of history at Indiana University Southeast. He is presently completing the book manuscript The Quakers of Northern Virginia: Negotiating Communities and Cultures, 1750–1865.
In The Planting of New Virginia Warren R. Hofstra has brought to fruition years of study of the Shenandoah Valley in a masterful analysis of the first century of European settlement in the region. Drawing on an impressive body of primary research and historical and geographical literature, Hofstra argues that a variety of factors—including imperial ambitions, Native American interests, settlers' specific economic and cultural goals, the effects of the regional topography and local political structures, and changes in the international economy—together shaped the "town and country landscape" and cash-based market economy that appeared in the Valley in the late eighteenth century. Throughout, Hofstra emphasizes—like the best of the new histories of the frontier—that the process was never linear, that the Valley was contested territory, and that the contingencies arising from the cultural interaction of Indians and a variety of Euro-Americans with differing goals ultimately decided the outcome.
At the core of Hofstra's study is his contention that the eighteenth-century peopling of the Valley went through three distinct, if overlapping, phases. In the first phase, the imperial ambitions of colonial officials encouraged the settlement of non-English Protestants—Germans, Scots-Irish, and Quakers—in the Opequon settlement of the lower (or northern) Valley to provide a buffer between eastern Virginia and a backcountry peopled by hostile Indians, French imperialists, and runaway slaves. Colonial officials intent on encouraging settlement across the Blue Ridge permitted land speculators and migrants to follow their own interests as they settled the land. The result was a dispersed settlement pattern, as newcomers interacted with the local environment (in part created by the Indians who preceded them) to establish farms on which they could achieve a "competency"—defined as the ability "to live independently" (p. 7).
In the second phase of settlement, colonial authorities—in response to the threat of war with the Iroquois and actual war with the French—decided in 1743 to give the Opequon community its own county government as a defensive measure. Winchester, the county seat of newly created Frederick County, soon became the center of local government and law courts. Equally important, the town became part of the local exchange economy developing in the Valley. Spurred by their desire for competency, local farmers participated in a variety of economic transactions that Hofstra argues were neither commercial nor subsistent in nature. Though all exchanges were measured in currency in book accounts, prices were set by consensus (not the market), and profit was not a primary concern. In short, farmers driven by the goals of competency created a local exchange network designed to meet their specific needs.
The third phase of development began in 1750s when the Virginia government designated Winchester a key strategic place in the Seven Years' War and began construction of Fort Loudoun. This decision, driven once more by imperial concerns, pumped cash into the local economy, sparked the creation of a commercial economy, and spurred the creation of a hierarchy of towns with Winchester serving as the Valley's central place. The opening of international markets for Valley grain in the post-Revolutionary era marked the final step in the development of a fully fledged commercial economy. Cash transactions ultimately superseded the exchange economy based on book accounts, and the civic life, architecture, and labor systems of the Valley were transformed by the region's increased wealth. Ultimately, Hofstra argues, the town and country landscape that appeared in the Shenandoah Valley by the late eighteenth century established a pattern of development that dominated the American landscape, particularly in the Midwest, throughout the nineteenth century.
By placing the eighteenth-century evolution of the Shenandoah Valley at the center of scholars' understanding of the development of "American mixed-agricultural settlement" (p. 334), Hofstra should attract a broad readership beyond Virginia historians. But for which American countryside did the Valley establish a pattern—northern or southern? By 1800 approximately 20 percent of Frederick County's population was enslaved, and this population made the town and country landscape of the Valley significantly different from similar areas in northern states. Certainly, the thousands of antislavery residents who left the region for Ohio and Indiana in the early nineteenth century believed so. Unfortunately, Hofstra downplays the significance of slavery in the Shenandoah Valley, arguing that it was incorporated into the local exchange economy. Thus, how slavery affected the economic, social, and cultural life of the region—and made it different from similar areas to the north—remains unexplored. In short, Hofstra makes a persuasive and important argument that the Valley's settlement established patterns and practices that were replicated throughout the nation, but he misses an opportunity to show how the region was also distinctively southern.