In the early years of the new nation, the U.S. government faced a population crisis. The number of American citizens was rapidly outgrowing the land available in the original 13 states. Since the American economy was based on agriculture, this meant that younger generations of white Americans did not have the means to support themselves or their families. To solve this problem, Thomas Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the new nation. U.S. citizens immediately began moving into the territory, ignoring the rights of the Indigenous communities that had lived on the land for centuries. The first settlers lived incredibly challenging lives far removed from the supportive communities that existed in the east. Even so, thousands were willing to take the chance to provide for themselves and their families.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft set out to explore the new settlements in the Louisiana territory on foot in 1818. He hoped to publish his impressions of the new territory and become a successful travel writer. He explored the Ozarks in 1818 and 1819 and the Upper Great Lakes Region in 1820-1821.
Before traveling west, Henry spent his whole life living in comfort in Watervliet, New York. He found his journey very challenging, and his journal is full of accounts of the hardships he faced. He was shocked by the lives of the white settlers he encountered along the way. Instead of acknowledging the circumstances that made their lives so different from those of Americans back east, Henry judged them for failing to live up to his standards. These three excerpts provide valuable information about what the lives of white women settlers were like in this early period. But they also reveal how women who failed to live up to Federal period standards of womanhood were judged harshly for their perceived failings.