Wilderness at Dawn; the Settling of the North American Continent
(Ted Morgan, New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1993. 541 pp., illustrations, maps, index, notes, introduction, paper).
In this book, Ted Morgan presents a series of discussions of migrations and settlements by various peoples into what is now the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. He starts with the first hunter-gatherers who started entering over the Asian land bridge about fifteen thousand years ago (a conservative estimate) and continues through to the arrivals, interactions and competitions of the various European colonists and ends with their status at the beginning of the 19th century.
The book divides into four major parts: (1) First Arrivals, (2) English Footholds, (3) The English Advance and the French Retreat, and (4) America for the Americans. Each part further subdivides into from four to eight chapter essays. Each essay can stand as an independent unit. For instance, chapter XX, in Part Four, entitled “The Ohio Company”, presents one of the better explanations of background and adoption of the “township and range” system of land surveying this reviewer has ever read. Another example: chapter XIV, in Part Three, entitled “The Quaker Frontier” contains a very readable account of infamous “walking purchase” imposed by the sons of William Penn on the Indians of Eastern Pennsylvania and its aftermath.
Mr. Morgan’s writing style is smooth and efficient. His background as a journalist serves him very well here. For the benefit of those who consider such things, I measured a Gunning Fog readability index of 11.3 for the book. That is supposed to mean that a slightly greater than 11th grade reading level is necessary to get through the book comfortably. Directing himself to the intelligent general reader,
Mr. Morgan emphasizes the deeds of ordinary people in telling of these stories. However, he does not provide the analysis needed by specialists. Therefore most reviews have recommended the book for undergraduate and public libraries as a useful survey of the colonial frontier, but not for graduate libraries or for specialists in the field.
I recommend the book to anyone interested in frontier history. It’s a goldmine of information and a good read well presented, although it will take most of us longer to get through it than it does a Western novel. Mr. Turner plans a sequel to cover the ninteenth century. I look forward to it.–jpp