About the Book

Borderers: Becoming Americans on the Southern Frontier is a story of race, religion and community at the dawn of America, tracing the 150-year journeys of two families of ordinary southern backwoodsmen from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast.  Those journeys form a thread that ties together a larger narrative of America becoming itself, shaping itself around them as they traveled, and shaping them into Americans. Through their lives we can watch the evolution of their world.

Beginning in the remote, swampy forests of the Virginia-North Carolina border, between the Great Dismal Swamp and Albemarle Sound, their journeys took them through the great upheavals of the late 18th century, across the mountains, across the Mississippi, through the turmoil of frontier Arkansas, to California and halfway back.  Along the way they interacted with  Quakers, radical Baptists, enslaved African-Americans, free people of color, rebellious Regulators,  Highland Scots, Freemasons, the Scots-Irish of the Appalachians, the French colonists of the Mississippi valley, and the Indian nations driven from their homelands over the Trail of Tears.  They found or created small communities—extended families, Baptist churches, Masonic lodges—that provided them with  islands of support amid the chaos of the frontier, and those communities in turn educated them in the skills they needed as citizens of a republic. They survived revolution and civil war; they founded towns and churches.  One of them was briefly a governor.  Some of their descendants were white, some black.  Their stories take place against the background of a country in the process of  creation, and help to illuminate some of the forces that formed that country.