The Westward Movement
by Phil Norfleet
The migrational behavior of the Norfleet families discussed at this web site exhibit, in microcosm, many of the characteristics associated with the westward movement of the American Frontier prior to the Civil War. In 1893, the leading historian of the American Frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner, said:
In my opinion, this almost never-ending pursuit of free or at least cheap land constitutes the primary motivation for our ancestors to migrate in the direction of the frontier as it existed in their time. My own research concerning the history of the Norfleet family reveals a similar and consistent pattern of westward movement.
The first Norfleet immigrant to America, Thomas Northfleete, moved from his ancestral home in County Kent, England to the Southern Branch of the Nansemond River, in Virginia Colony, in about the year 1666. Some of the second and third generation of Thomas Northfleetes descendants moved from their plantations in Nansemond County, Virginia south into the Albemarle Region of North Carolina (Chowan and Perquimans Counties) in the early 18th century. During the 1740s and 1750s, many of the third and fourth generation Norfleets moved westward to the Roanoke River Valley of North Carolina in Bertie, Northampton, Edgecombe and Halifax Counties. Members of the fifth generation of Norfleets in America moved westward to settlements within the Cumberland River Valley Region of Kentucky (Pulaski and Wayne Counties) and Tennessee (Montgomery and Robertson Counties) in the 1790s and early 1800s. The sixth generation of Norfleets moved westward into Central Missouri (Callaway and Cole Counties) in the 1820s and 1830s and to Northern Mississippi (DeSoto and Marshall Counties) in the 1830s and 1840s. Members of the sixth and seventh generation of Norfleets finally reached Texas (Collin, Burnet and Henderson Counties) and California (El Dorado County) in the 1850s.
Three Waves of Migration
This westward advance may be described as having occurred in a series of three waves. Pecks New Guide to the West, published in Boston in 1837, tells us the following:
I believe Pecks description presents an excessively glorified image of the first wave of emigrants, whom he calls the "pioneers." Instead of "pioneers," a more accurate but less favorable term "squatters" could also have been used. Squatters were people who settled on land located beyond the official frontier, in areas still designated as Indian Territory. The squatters had no title or right to such land, which, though vacant with respect to white settlement, was used by the Indians for their hunting grounds. As soon as the land became exhausted from poor farming techniques and the game had been hunted out of existence, these people would pack up and move westward to squat on new land which was still fertile and had plenty of game animals. As their migrations were almost always in violation of the prevailing Indian treaties, these squatter "pioneers" were the whites who most angered the Indians. Consequently, their settlements/stations were frequently the target of Indian raids and many squatters were killed and/or scalped! Their Indian fighting prowess notwithstanding, far from being heroes, many of these people were shiftless, scoundrels who were unwilling or unable to make their way in more civilized society!
Norfleets Belong to the Second Wave
I am happy to state that, based on Pecks definitions cited above, the Norfleets described in this book definitely seem to belong to the second wave or class of emigrants. I know of not a single instance where Norfleets squatted on land. They frequently patented land in areas where no white man had previously settled. However, these lands were always in areas that had been legally set aside by the established government (colonial, state or federal) for land grant purposes. I know of no instance where a Norfleet attempted to settle on land which was still part of recognized Indian Territory.
1. From the preamble of a paper presented at a meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago on 12 July 1893. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, dated 14 December 1893.
2. Ibid., pages19-21.