The Land Beyond the Mountains: The Trans-Appalachian Frontier and the Formation of Appalachian Identity

The field of Appalachian history often discusses the existence of an identity quintessential to Appalachia. In the opinion of many scholars, this identity, typically characterized as a sense of “otherness” compared to the rest of the nation, dates back to the post-Civil War period when the authors from outside the region began to write about the people of the mountains as inherently different and strange compared to other regions of the United States. However, the sense of otherness in Appalachia dates far before this period and even predates the establishment of the United States as a sovereign nation. Combining present scholarship on Appalachia with frontier methodology, this thesis analyzes how the trans-Appalachian frontier period before the American Revolution establishes a sense of otherness in the region. Due to the pre-existing identities of early settlers, conflicts in the regions, and geographic characteristics of the Appalachian regions, the frontier experience in Appalachia formed an identity of otherness compared to the outside regions. This sense of otherness has driven popular ideas of what Appalachia and the people who live there are, normally in a negative light. Using frontier methodology, this work seeks to understand the foundations of Appalachian otherness and to answer the question as to where these popular notions came from.