Mapping the Mathews’ Store: Commerce and Community in Virginia’s Revolutionary-Era Backcountry
In 1771, brothers Sampson and George Mathews established a store on the banks of the Greenbrier River near present-day Ronceverte, West Virginia. Located in close proximity to several migration routes, the store became central to the frontier exchange economy and the development of a community on the western edge of Virginia’s settlement. By the end of the decade, Greenbrier settlers had endured Virginia’s Anglo-Indian conflict known as Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution to become a thriving backcountry community in the Appalachian Mountains.
The poster data derives from Sampson and George Mathews’ Greenbrier store records, which are the cornerstone of my dissertation project. The store records have not been utilized as a central source for any scholarship and they provide a window into a frontier community, the creation of identity in its subsequent development, and the role of commerce as an architect of that community in the Revolutionary era. The Mathews’ ledger alone includes more than 350 customer names with margin notes identifying kinship ties, locations of settlement, and professions, thus identifying Greenbrier settlers and passersby who may not appear in other records. Studying the Mathews’ records in conjunction with other sources enables me to place the Greenbrier Valley within the context of other backcountry communities and their material connection to the Atlantic World.
Trade networks crisscrossed the Appalachian Mountains, and Sampson and George Mathews’ store accounts provide a record of consumption patterns and the flow of goods and people through the Greenbrier region during the Revolutionary era. My analysis considers the types of goods exchanged in the store and the methods of payment. The use of diverse payment methods reveals customers’ social status, relationships, and available resources within Greenbrier’s frontier economy. My project examines material culture through the ledger itself, but also through the history and utility of the goods listed in the ledger. The items are distinctly informative about time and place and provide information that is not available in other types of sources. This work will ultimately change the way we conceive of backcountry life on the eve of the Revolution.
The centerpiece of the poster is two maps of Virginia and West Virginia highlighting the Greenbrier Valley and orienting viewers with the inclusion of current state borders and towns. Using distinct colors, I will plot Greenbrier’s settlers and kinship on one map, and goods purchased at the store on the other. I will highlight my methodology by providing a description of items found in the records and including images from the ledger and daybook to show how that information is positioned in the primary source material. The poster will also provide a brief list of the historiographical works that influence my project.