Episode 2: The Birth of Bourbon, Part 2, History Notes

So for the new Episode, I just have a few data notes, mostly concentrated early in the episode. The whole James Wilkinson bit has relatively few data points that spring to mind, and I presented Kentucky migration data in the previous post. So check that out if you're interested in the Kentucky data.

So first off, let me offer some information about western Pennsylvania.

The above chart shows the Census-reported population for each county in western Pennsylvania. I've chopped Pittsburgh out of Allegheny County, then summed up the westsylvanian counties, minus Pittsburgh; i.e. the potential rural population in the area. Census data collected in 1790 and 1800 obviously didn't capture 13,000 militiamen showing up in the mid-1790s. So the high red line is the total westsylvanian rural population. For comparison, I've put the population of Philadelphia.

As you can see, Westsylvanians did have something to complain about. There were more of them than there were Philadelphians, yet it should be transparently obvious that Philadelphia has played a larger role in early American politics than Westsylvanians. That's because of them mountains there. Tellingly, this imbalance between Philadelphia and Pennsylvania's growing central and western populations led to a shift of the state capital in 1812 from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, a smaller city out on the eastern fringes of the Appalachian mountains. Still separated from the west, but at least symbolically closer. By that time, of course, there were better roads through the mountains too.

So how about that demographically significant army? 13,000 militiamen (presumably plus support personnel?) in an area with just 66,000 or so residents. That's pretty crazy. This is an issue I haven't thought about very much in the past, but I really wonder about the demographic footprint of armies now.

Consider the Civil War siege of Vicksburg. Vicksburg's county had 20,000-25,000 residents. The siege, lasting almost 2 months, involved 100,000 combatants. How insane is that? The battle of Gettysburg, fought over 3 days, involved almost 180,000 men in a county with just 30,000 people. Now, these battles occurred in a larger context of war, and in a period with better infrastructure, which could limit the demographic impact.


But 13,000 guys camping out in western Pennsylvania for a few weeks or months, at a time when probably few of them would have even considered that journey otherwise, seems likely to have some kind of impact. Aside from any local dalliances, it seems plausible that military procurement would alter demand for goods and services, altering urbanization patterns and industrial mix and labor demand. And it would also seem almost inevitable that some of these guys would say, "Well hey, I made it this far: why not just stick around, or go farther west?" Militiamen are likely to be able-modied, male, young adults: ideal candidates for migration. Add in draftee discontent, likely antifederalist sentiment among many militiamen, and the transaction cost concerns discussed in the episode, and I'd be shocked if the follow-on migration from Washington's army is under 500 or 1,000 people.

I meant to give you a route map in my last post, but I forgot. So here's a belated sketch map of the major westward migration routes, starting points given as New York and Philadelphia, the two biggest ports of entry as of 1780-1800. Alexandria, Virginia was also a big entrepôt at that time, and its routes basically differed by having some roads across northern and central Virginia, but by all accounts those routes were much less traveled, and many migrants arriving by Alexandria still headed up to Philadelphia. Immigrants arriving via Boston would eventually link up to the Mohawk Trail in the north (sleigh-riders!). Immigrants via southern cities like Savannah and Charleston were not doing much westward migration in the 1780s, or honestly even up to the early 1800s. Most migration of southerners in the early period headed north via Kentucky and Tennessee, or around the coastal areas of the Gulf. Not until the War of 1812 did mass migration across the southern states really get going in earnest.

As you can see, my "just four routes" was a bit of a simplification. But the remarkable thing is I found little to no evidence of migration in routes through northern Pennsylvania/Southern New York, or directly through West Virginia, or directly through the TN/NC borderlands, etc. There are obvious topographical reasons why (i.e. big reason' mountains), but still, as a 1790s migrant, I would be pretty frustrated that to go west, I had to spend half the journey doing cross/cutting north/south moves.

So aside from the route map above, I figured it'd be good to give a map of north america in 1790, to give a sense of what's going on. So, here it is:

From wikipedia. Notice independent Vermont. That's what some Kentuckians wanted.

From wikipedia. Notice independent Vermont. That's what some Kentuckians wanted.

So this is something I've become really interested in since starting research for this podcast: the weird absence of Spain from the classic American history textbook narrative. Sure, it crops up here or there, but American history as told by my high school and college education pretty much cast the US as existing in an international millieu of France, Britain, and essentially nobody else.

But look at that map. Spain is everywhere. Spain is all the way up in Canada. Spain is claiming Alaska. Spain has forts in Florida. Spain is climbin' in yo window. This is a big deal. So this Spanish secession issue is really interesting, because it represents a kind of geopolitical what-might-have-been that's really interesting. The War of 1812 is often considered a "2nd war of independence." Because obviously, if the US was going to be re-colonized, it would have been by Britain.

But maybe that view is wrong. What if we've forgotten that a plausible post-1783 world was one of a fragmentary United States being gobbled up piecemeal by Spain? Attempts were made in Westsylvania and Kentucky. Later on, (former) Spanish holdings will be gobbled up by an expansionist United States. Indeed, if any readers know a really good history of U.S.-Spanish relations including this early period, I'd be really interested. Let me know.