Abstract of Boulware, T., “A ‘dangerous sett of horse-thieves and vagrants’: Outlaws of the Southern Frontier during the Revolutionary Era”.
This paper focuses on a particular group of ‘social deviants’ who played a critical role in shaping frontier society in the American South during the Revolutionary era. This essay examines the threat this “dangerous sett [sic] of horse-thieves and vagrants” posed to the establishment of settled agriculture on the fringes of the British Empire. It demonstrates more precisely how outlaws and other ‘marginals’ significantly influenced the definition of self and society – a process that was increasingly defined by a small, yet aggressive, group of planters and aspiring planters.
In the recent past, scholars have oftentimes failed to thoroughly connect the social ills of the mid-eighteenth century southern frontier to the ‘uncivil war’ that later erupted during the Revolution. We must recognise, however, that those who distressed the emerging planter class near mid-century were the same ones that took advantage of the dislocation caused by the war with Britain. The outlaw problem, therefore, needs to be placed in a broader context. It should be seen not as an anomalous and brief uprising of moral deviants, but rather as evidence of a larger social conflict that plagued the southern borderlands for much of the long eighteenth century.
South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 26 September 1768. Back