Dangerous Life of Frontier Women

Coloial Backcounry

Frontier Back Country
Frontier Back Country

Migration Patterns

We know a lot about migration patterns but not that much about the efforts of the frontier families trying to construct these communities. Poverty was a common economic denominator among back country inhabitants in the north, south, and middle regions of the Trans-Appalachian frontier. There are historians researching this area of our history with the one of the best works probably being completed by Elizabeth Perkins, with regard to the settlement of Kentucky. In Kentucky communities were centered around small fortified clusters of houses known as stations.

The “forting up” process afforded the families some protection from Indians. Over time the customary European distinction between the military and civilian population blurred out of necessity. There were hostile Indians in some areas, like in the Ohio valley. Different areas were not necessarily settled in the same way. Historians have studied social, economic and political development of the back country. There has been very little assessment of the life of women in the back country.

Frontier Back Country

As more Europeans arrivedin the United States in the late 1600’s and the early 1700’s, their new life was much different from their homelands. Everyone wanted to own land. Families were generally larger than in Europe. Therefore, as the population grew more land was necessary for farmers in order for their sons to inherit. Gradually the coastal areas expanded further inland into more uncharted territory.

Today when we think of the Frontier in the United States we usually think of the Old West with cowboys. Actually the first frontier was the land that ran roughly from Oneida County, New York south to Augusta, Georgia, with the western border being the Proclamation Line of 1763.

The frontier was broken down into three sections referred to as colonial back country: (a) the northern back country, encompassing the frontier regions of New England and upstate New York; (b) the middle region, which includes central and western Pennsylvania, as well as Kentucky and the Ohio River valley; and, (c) the southern frontier, comprised mainly of the back country areas of lower Virginia and the Carolina highlands

The Proclamation Line is an imaginary line running down the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. It acknowledged the Native Americans owned the lands on which they were then residing and white settlers in the area were to be removed. However, provision was made to allow some licensed individuals and entities to operate fur trading ventures in the proscribed area. This had a two fold purpose; one was to avoid war with the Indians because the British had not deployed enough soldiers to keep the peace and secondly to concentrate colonial settlements on the seaboard where they could be active parts of the British mercantile system. Almost from its inception, the proclamation was modified to suit the needs of influential people with interests in the American West. This included many high British officials as well as colonial leaders.

Frontier Woman


The Pilgrim Frontier & The Dutch Frontier


The life of a frontier woman was difficult to say the least. Their social and economic network of female kin and friends was stripped away. The sporadic nature of many areas of the backcountry settlement made resumption of this female social infrastructure difficult and worked to increase dependency on husbands and fathers to define their social position. Women had no legal rights at this time with one exception. A woman's husband couldn't sell the land without the signature of his wife. If he should die, his widow had the legal right to live on the land until her death although the land would be deeded to a son.

The living conditions were primitive and their daily routines reflected this condition. There existed a general division of labor, particularly in hunting communities, where women did the bulk of the work. Their duties included child-rearing, tending livestock, food production, household maintenance and even defense of the settlement in times of attack. There was no leisure time. Women and children were sometimes taken by Indians and lived their entire lives with the Indians after watching their husbands and sons killed. It was a world full of all types of dangers with virtually no immediate help available. I’m not saying men had it easy as farming is not easy; neither is fighting Indians or hunting for food. The lifestyle of men is well documented.

I can’t imagine the loneliness of these women. Normally women enjoy each others company where they receive a lot of emotional support. I would assume most family members were close knit as there wasn't anyone else to lean on. I don't think many women would choose that tough lifestyle but circumstances beyond our control sometime guides our destiny. I wonder how this lifestyle of women being dependent on their husbands impacts the lives of women today?

I have studied genealogy for 20 years, and quite often the men might have 2 or 3 wives with children coming along about every other year, sometimes more often. I can see why the men often out-lived the women. Having babies that frequently without medical help is risky at best. However, the men and women were brave souls who helped to shape the world we live in today.

Comments 23 comments

Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


This is a fascinating subject. Since I live only 12 miles south of Whelling WV, the historic site of Fort Henry, I have always been very interested in Lewis Wetzel. He was seen as a heroic Indian fighter by his contempories but history hasn't been very kind to Lewis Wetzel. He is judged by most historians as a psycopathic killer of the Indians. I think this had a lot to do with his early (age 14) capture along with his brother by hostile Indians.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

Tom, it's nice to have you arrive first for a comment. I'm always interested always in what you have to share. I do think this is a very interesting topic and since there weren't very many written records I think we will always have unanswered questions. I haven't read about Lewis Wetzel but I'll see if he's mentioned in my sources. Thanks Tom.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

I often write about my exploits of moving and living in a new area of the country without knowing a single soul, but this of course is on another level completely. I give a great deal of credit to the first settlers for persevering through impossible odds. Thank you for sharing this, Pamela.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

dohn, I appreciate the comment.

eovery profile image

eovery 7 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

Great subject and hub.

Frontier life in general was hard.

Keep on hubbing!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Eovery

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

Outstanding Hub, Pamela. It is well conceived and executed. I enjoyed it very much. I definitely would have been a city boy.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks James. Yes, I would have been a city girl too.

hanna  7 years ago

i got some information from this website for a project we are doing in social studies this gives lots of information . great , ps it really helped out with my progect

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

Hanna, I'm glad I was able to help you. Hope you get a good grade,

Roberta99 profile image

Roberta99 7 years ago

I can't even imagine how rough the living conditions must have been for those people. Interesting story.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States Author

Roberta, I wonder that myself.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I can't imagine what life must have been like for these women. They were some tough gals!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Habee, I wonder how they survived having children about every other year and sometimes more often with never ending work. Life was hard for them and we are fortunate that we have such good lives.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

Hi, this is a different view of a world we grew up hearing about. Not much attention has been given to the woman's role. Interesting and thought provoking.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

mquee, Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast

Such an interesting time the frontier, the history books make it sound so exciting. You have supplemented the information so that it's a more accurate picture. Thanks Pamela.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Flightkeeper,Thank you so much for your comments. I love history but I want it to be accurate.

Bailey 5 years ago

This was good information thank you(: I am actually using some of this information for a school project right now so thank you(:

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Bailey, I am glad this information was helpful to you. Good luck with your project.

Bailey 5 years ago

Thank you (:

Jasmine 5 years ago

This UFO was very helpful thanku

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Baily, Thanks for your comment.

Jasmine, I'm glad this hub was helpful to you. Thank you for your comment.

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