The Southern Frontier

Virginia richly valued, by the description of the maine land of Florida, her next neighbour … London: Felix Kyngston for Matthew Lownes, 1609.  Acquired ca. 1950 (A 1609 .V57)

From 1539 to 1543 Spanish adventurers under the command of Hernando de Soto explored vast stretches of the southeastern United States, trekking from Florida up to North Carolina, westward to Arkansas, and down to Texas and Louisiana. An anonymous account of the expedition was first published in Lisbon in 1557. This first English translation, prepared by Richard Hakluyt, was one of several works issued by the Virginia Company to promote its Virginia settlements. Although Virginia itself is not described, the Company hoped that readers would believe the colony to be as attractive as the lands to the south.

A brief description of the province of Carolina on the coasts of Floreda … London: Printed for Robert Horne, 1666.  Original McGregor Library (A 1666 .B75)

This promotional tract enticed potential settlers away from Virginia and towards Carolina—the vast, newly opened region between Virginia and Spanish Florida. Carolina’s fertile soil, timber, wildlife, and agricultural prospects—tobacco, indigo, cotton, and silk cultivation—are described in hyperbolic terms. More attractive were the land grants promised to “younger Brother[s]” (who knew they would inherit little from their fathers’ estate), and guaranteed marriage prospects for women who were “but Civil, and under 50 years of Age.” The map depicts the new English settlements along the Charles (i.e. Cape Fear) River.

John Lederer, The discoveries of John Lederer in three several marches from Virginia, to the west of Carolina London: Printed by J. C. for S. Heyrick, 1672.  Original McGregor Library (A 1672 .L44)

In 1670 Governor William Berkeley commissioned a young German immigrant, John Lederer, to scout the still largely unexplored Virginia interior. In a series of three expeditions that year, Lederer became the first European to climb the Blue Ridge Mountains, view the Shenandoah Valley and the Appalachian Mountains beyond, and follow the Blue Ridge south to present-day Charlotte, N.C. Lederer’s report, which demolished the common belief that the Pacific was “but eight or ten days journey over from the Atlantick,” was quickly translated into English and published with an engraved map identifying geographical features by their Indian names.

Robert Montgomery, A discourse concerning the design'd establishment of a new colony to the south of  Carolina London, 1717.  Acquired 1958 (A 1717 .M657)

The first English attempt to settle what is now Georgia began in 1717, when Sir Robert Montgomery received a land grant from the Carolina Proprietors. In this prospectus, Montgomery outlined plans for a 400-square-mile colony, the Margravate of Azilia. The engraved plan places Azilia’s capital in the center encircled by open space, then by a ring of estates owned by landed gentry, another ring of open space, and outlying mile-square farming districts. Centered in each quadrant was a “great Park” for hunting and grazing. A grand palisade would protect the colony from attack. Montgomery’s impractical enterprise advanced no further.

An historical description of  Carolina North, and South … Belfast: James Blow, 1717.  Acquired 1951 (A 1717 .H567)

This is the only known copy of a promotional tract inviting Scotch-Irish emigration to the Carolinas. During the 17th century Britain encouraged thousands to emigrate from southern Scotland to northern Ireland. Chafing under religious and political restrictions despite being in the majority, the “Ulster Scots” began a mass emigration to the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies in the early 18th century. This pamphlet describes the Carolinas in predictably glowing terms, emphasizing the demand for labor and cheap cost of good land. The chief inducement, however, is religious toleration, as explained in five of the pamphlet’s fifteen pages.

John Pope, A tour through the southern and western territories of the United States of North-America Richmond: John Dixon, 1792.  Acquired 1940 (A 1792 .P674)

From 1790 to 1791 Col. John Pope took an extended journey from Richmond to Pittsburgh, down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, then overland to South Carolina before returning home. Pope’s objectives were unclear—some suspect he was spying on Spanish fortifications—but back in Richmond he published this entertaining, insightful, and now very rare travelogue. Of particular value is Pope’s account of the Creek Indians and their powerful chief, Alexander McGillivray. Pope closes with a few poetical squibs, causing an early reader to write in this copy, “Pope you are a damned fool.”

Alabama, Constitution of the state of Alabama adopted August 2d, 1819. Huntsville: John Boardman, 1819.  Acquired 1980 (A 1819 .A5)

The McGregor Library contains an extensive collection of early southeast territorial and state documents. Their dry prose belies the complicated and politically fraught origins of our diverse state governments. Alabama’s first constitution, drafted in 1819 prior to statehood, reflected political compromises between north and south, liberal and conservative. Universal white male suffrage and certain legal protections for slaves were counterbalanced by a weak executive and powerful legislature tasked with filling many government posts by appointment. Unable to select a permanent site, the convention chose Cahawba (now a ghost town) as Alabama’s interim capital.