4.1 The Mountain South: The Early Republican Era (1770-1831)



(16 states)


(24 states)





















Percent of U.S. population





Key events that shaped law and society:

  • Kentucky and Tennessee were created from land ceded by Virginia and North Carolina to the United States, and their early laws and lawmakers came from their parent states.  But both Kentucky and Tennessee were acutely aware that they owed their existence to the new nation and that they were the first outposts of that nation west of the Appalachians. 
  • A plantation culture took root in parts of both Kentucky and Tennessee, particularly in the Mississippi River flatlands which were well suited to a cotton culture, but not elsewhere.  Like their Midwestern neighbors, both states were settled primarily by small farmers and artisans from Southern coastal states seeking better economic opportunities and a more level social culture (at least among whites)  than they found at home. 
  • Settlers began to move over the Appalachian mountains in the 1770s.  The end of the Revolution opened the door to increased migration, and by the early 1790s, after Virginia and North Carolina had ceded their claims, both Kentucky and Tennessee were ready for statehood. 
  • Each state developed three regions that were politically and culturally distinct:  a mountainous eastern region,  not well suited to agriculture but rich in coal and minerals, with fewer slaves and more emotional attachment to the Union than other regions; a western region, oriented to the Mississippi River and better suited to a plantation culture; and a middle region that had elements of both its neighbors but tended to ally more often with the west. 
  • From the 1660s until 1803 upper Louisiana, which comprised Missouri and Arkansas, belonged to France and briefly (1763-1800) to Spain; it did not become part of the United States until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. 
  • Americans began to flow into Missouri in the 1810s, mostly from the upper South; they joined a substantial French population already present in the St. Louis area.  Missouri was ready for statehood by 1820 but was admitted only after a battle in Congress about the wisdom of admitting additional slave states.  The line of settlement did not reach Arkansas until  the 1820s and 1830s.  Like their mountain South sisters, both states had distinctive mountain regions (the Ozarks in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas), plantation regions (along the Mississippi River) and middle regions.   At the end of the early republican period, both states had much more of a frontier atmosphere than did Kentucky and Tennessee.    

Map of Kentucky and Tennessee, (1796) - courtesy Murray Hudson

New states:

  • Kentucky (1792)
  • Tennessee (1796)
  • Missouri (1820)

File:'Boatmen on the Missouri' by George Caleb Bingham, De Young Museum.JPG

George Caleb Bingham, "Boatmen on the Missouri" (1846) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons