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FRONTIER REBELS by Patrick Spero


The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776

by Patrick Spero

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-63470-9
Publisher: Norton

A persuasive effort to locate the origins of the American Revolution not in Boston Harbor but in the dense woodlands of western Pennsylvania.

The Black Boys Rebellion, commemorated in the 1939 John Wayne vehicle Allegheny Uprising, takes its name from a Pennsylvania militia outfit’s practice of dressing in Indian garb and blackening their faces before going into the field. They had formed to battle Indian raids on what was then British America’s far western frontier. At the conclusion of the Seven Years War, the British Crown had decided to make peace with the Indian nations, in part by forbidding Americans from settling in country that they regarded as rightfully theirs. “Colonists in war-torn regions felt there could be no peace with Native Americans,” writes Spero (Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania, 2016, etc.), the librarian of the American Philosophical Society. “These colonists instead saw Native groups as threats that needed to be removed.” When the British government sent agents to the frontier to bring trade goods as peace offerings to the Natives, the militia turned their arms on their colonial masters. Although the story of their rebellion is in itself a small one relative to the larger history of the British Empire in North America, Spero does a good job of examining its implications. There was a class element, for example, in the hope of landholders to slowly settle the West “instead of permitting colonists to pursue their desire for unfettered expansion,” and there were significant differences in the attitudes of the first frontier president, Andrew Jackson, and predecessors such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in how Native peoples were to be treated. Interestingly, the author also locates an early stirring of the Second Amendment in Black Boys’ leader James Smith, who drafted the revolutionary constitution of Pennsylvania that asserted that “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state.”

A welcome contribution to frontier history.