Westward: The History of One American Family from Jamestown to the City of Roses

The story of America is told in the every day lives of common people. The men and women who settled North America played their small part in the big events--the wars, revolts, migrations, and economic busts and booms.

This is one version of the story of America told through the lives of the author's ancestors, specifically, the ancestors of one of his grandmothers: Wilda Bowman Ballard. Wilda's earliest traceable ancestors arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1616, merchants, planters, adventures, establishing plantations. They established great tobacco plantations and imported the next generation of Englishmen and women, a whole new underclass of indentured servants. This next wave consisted of poorer people who endured years of mistreatment in order that they too could make a living for themselves. Some were Anglicans, but a good number were Quakers, seeking not only economic freedom in Britain's western colonies, but more importantly religions freedom. The freedom offered in Virginia went hand in hand with the slavery of thousands of Africans, imported, at first as indentures, but eventually deprived of the very freedoms that the New World promised. One of these unfortunates was John Punch, Wilda's 7th great-grandfather, a man from west Africa who was enslaved because of the color of his skin.

The next big immigration arrived from Switzerland and Germany. In the early 18th century, a branch of Wilda's family tree crossed the Atlantic and established themselves in eastern Pennsylvania. For nearly a century, Wilda's Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors carved a unique culture in the colonial heartland.

In the mid-1700s, Wilda's ancestors in Pennsylvania and Virginia faced revolts, Indian raids, and wars. By the time of the War of 1812, common people throughout North America had suffered through nearly a century of constant warfare. Yet, they now found themselves citizens of a new nation, a nation prepared to push westward into what is now called the American Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, and, finally, Iowa. Settling into the fertile farmland of eastern Iowa, Wilda’s ancestors put down deep roots. Until, Wilda herself moved to Portland, Oregon, during the Second World War.

Westward tells the story of hardship, perseverance, and an abiding need to push the borders of civilization in search of new opportunities.

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