3. Peasants and Farmers
The Westward Move And Wheat Cultivation
(i) After the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783 and the formation of the United States of America, the white Americans began to move westward. By the time Thomas Jefferson became President of the USA in 1800, over 700,000 white settlers had moved on to the Appalachian plateau through the passes. Seen from the east coast, America seemed to be a land of promise. Its wilderness could be turned into cultivated fields. Forest timber could be cut for export, animals hunted for skin, mountains mined for gold and minerals.
(ii) In the decades after 1800 the US government committed itself to a policy of driving the American Indians westward, first beyond the river Mississippi, and then further west. Numerous wars were waged in which Indians were massacred and many of their villages burnt. The Indians resisted, won many victories in wars, but were ultimately forced to sign treaties, give up their land and move westward. As the Indians retreated, the settlers poured in. They came in successive waves. They settled on the Appalachian plateau by the first decade of the eighteenth century, and then moved into the Mississippi valley between 1820 and 1850. They slashed and burnt forests, pulled out the stumps, cleared the land for cultivation, and built log cabins in the forest clearings. Then they cleared larger areas, and erected fences around the fields. They ploughed the land and sowed corn and wheat. In the early years, the fertile soil produced good crops. When the soil became impoverished and exhausted in one place, the migrants would move further west, to explore new lands and raise a new crop. It was, however, only after the 1860s that settlers swept into the Great Plains across the River Mississippi.