Book Review: Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania


by Patrick Spero

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 344. Maps, figs., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0812248619

Border Wars in the American Wilderness

Spero, Director of the American Philosophical Society Library, a specialist in eighteenth century, explores the protracted conflict over the definition of colonial boundaries during the colonial period and early Republic, thereby unearthing a largely forgotten chapter in American colonial history. His study is focused on Pennsylvania’s long struggle to confirm its frontiers with regard to the claims and counter claims of adjacent states, and to impose its control over them, an effort that did not end until after the establishment of the Constitution.

Spero identifies several interrelated problems that caused conflict over inter-colonial – and later interstate – frontiers. Royal carelessness in defining the territorial limits of the various colonies, coupled with a lack of accurate geographical knowledge, often led to colonies having overlapping claims. There was also often great difficulty in asserting colonial authority over distant frontier populations, given the distance, poor infrastructure, and weak institutions of most colonies, as well as the problem of keeping peace between unruly and expansionist-minded settlers and often friendly Native Americans.

Spero discusses “border wars” that erupted between Pennsylvania and Maryland, Virginia, and even Connecticut, settler attacks on peaceful Indians, and local uprisings by western frontiersmen against colonial government in the settled eastern region of the state, some culminating in attempted armed marches on Philadelphia.

Although specifically about the problems Pennsylvania had over defining and controlling its territory, Frontier Country, a volume in the Penn “Early American Studies” series, is a must read for anyone seriously interested in colonial history, as it is the first to provide such an in-depth look at a problem common to virtually all of the Thirteen Colonies.

Note: Frontier Country is also available in several e-editions

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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