One of the most realistic evaluations of the class situation in the West at the time of settlement was written by Theodore Roosevelt. In his Winning of the West, he writes: 10Next Page
The hunter and trapper came first . . . Close behind the mere hunter came the rude hunter-settler . . . He was adventurous, restless, shiftless . . . .
The third class consisted of the men who were thrifty as well as adventurous, the men who were more industrious than restless. These were they who entered in to hold the land, and who had handed it on as an inheritance to their children and their children's children . . . .
Yet a fourth class was composed of men of means, of the well-to-do planters, merchants, and lawyers, of the men whose families already stood high on the Atlantic slope . . . These men soon grew to take the leading places in the new commonwealth. They were of good blood -- using the words as they should be used, as meaning blood that had flowed through the veins of generations of self-restraint and courage and hard work, and careful training in mind and in the manly virtues.
Whether the classes were all found in the same migration or followed each other tandem fashion is immaterial to the point under discussion. The fact is that the West was not settled by people who lived in essential equality with each other, not did the conditions of the West reduce them to one common denominator.
To carry through the thought that the several classes settled the West, it is necessary that a description be given of the movement westward of the various classes, as such.
The westward movement of the upper and middle classes. Concerning "American aristocracy," Fish writes that "few towns or country sides of the West were without its representatives. Its mode of life thus presented a model toward which most Americans had always looked with desire, and now could look with confidence." 11 That the poor whites who lived near Mr. Clay of Ashland arose into the aristocracy is not a matter of record, but that the settlements of the West contained representatives of eastern aristocrats can go unchallenged. They were there, and their houses were furnished with plush.
In writing of Kentucky one author says: 12
The beauty of the country and richness of the soil, however, excited general attention soon after the peace, and many persons of respectability and fortune fell in with the current of popular rushing westward.
In a book not specifically dedicated to the rise of the common man during the early nineteenth century, and therefore under no pressure of reiterating the social mobility of the period, the historian Fish describes the influx of well-bred elements into Kentucky at the turn of the century in these words: 13
The leadership of the new party in thought and personnel was Virginian. The Virginia stock was now at its prime. The hardships of the early years had weeded out the physically weak, and the cavalier immigration had infused an element of high refinement, which served to excite the emulation of the rest . . . . Finally, at this period the Virginia . . . stock controlled Kentucky, and also Ohio, which became a state in 1803.
The leadership in part of the new West was, then, furnished by the planter class of the east; the poor in the West could only have descended from the poor whites described in the previous chapter.
Instead of the state of Kentucky becoming egalitarian with time, it was in less than two decades of migration "a State different no more from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina than these differed from one another." 14 There was scarcely time in that short interval for the processes of social class mobility to account for the diversity within the Kentucky population. Only the immigration of these different classes could make that state in that time so nearly like those back east.
That the West, the "raw settlements," were the recipients of a large and effective immigration of "gentry," made up of planters and sons of men of means is fully described by Roosevelt, who remarks that they deemed "it a place that afforded unusual opportunities to the man with capital no less than to him whose sole trust was in his own adventurous energy." 15
Not only did the planters of the South join in the settlement of Kentucky -- the officers (but not the common soldiers) of the Revolution took title to thousands of acres of rich lands as recompense for their service to the colonial cause.
10. Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, vol. II (New York, 1917) pp. 181 - 183.
11. Carl Russell Fish, The Rise of the Common Man (New York, 1927) p. 19.
12. Felix Flugel and Harold U. Faulkner, Readings in Economic and Social History of the United States (New York, 1929) p. 138.
13. Carl Russell Fish, The Development of American Nationality (New York, 1938) p. 87.
14. Roosevelt, op. cit., p. 16.
15. Loc. cit.