Ohio History Journal

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Taking the Breaks and Working the

Boats: An English Family's

Impressions of Ohio in the 1830s


While the frontier was a great leveler of people, in putting them

back into log cabins and deerskins, it was also a zone of increasingly

varied economic opportunities, as the new settlements created a de-

mand for services and communications. Not only was there a need,

as the frontier moved across an area, for farmfolk to occupy land, to

clear the forests and to till the soil. Opportunities also arose for a host

of other trades and skills-road builders, millers, preachers and

many more. As the settlement frontier moved on, the openings for

some skills increased faster than others. Those pioneers faced with

much more competition often needed to move from place to place and

from trade to trade in order to survive and prosper. Frequently indi-

viduals combined farming, the predominant frontier activity, with

some other trade or skill to best meet these fast-changing circum-


Nowhere is this flexibility of activity and frequent change of lo-

cation better seen than amongst the British in the early period of set-

tlement in the midwest. The British formed a significant minority

amongst the foreign-born on most midwestern frontiers, including

that in Ohio, but because no language barrier hindered their spread

they dispersed widely and, unlike some foreign groups, formed few

areas of concentration. As a result, they have left behind little evi-

dence of their former existence either on the landscape or in the ar-

chives.1 What little can be learned of them would suggest, however,





Brian P. Birch is Senior Lecturer in Geography at Southampton University, England.


1. There are no texts on British settlers in the midwest and only a few books and ar-

ticles on them in individual states. Some reference can be found to British farm settlers

in nineteenth-century Ohio in Mary L. Ziebold, "Immigrant Groups in Northwestern

Ohio to 1860," Northwest Ohio Quarterly, 17 (April-July, 1945), 62-71; and James H.

Rodabaugh, "From England to Ohio, 1830-1832: The Journal of Thomas K. Whar-

ton," The Ohio Historical Quarterly, 65 (January, 1956) 1-27, 111-51.