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Map of U.S. population density n 1880. *

    1. the act of traveling from place to place. 2. a going around from place to place in the discharge of duty or the conducting of business.

There is a question, I suppose, concerning a distinction between itinerancy and vagabond-ish-ness. Itinerancy suggests purpose, while a vagabond has neither specific intent nor destination in mind. My suspicion is that 19th century America involves a good deal more of the second category.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” must have something to say about the processes of western, trans-Appalachian migration but it’s been a long time since I did more than glance at it. Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip is a localized and more up-to-date treatment with a thesis that, when contrasted with Turner, offers grim prospects for Midwestern population of the 19th century.

The opposite phenomenon is staying put; too much of that limits the gene pool. [Michael Lesy’s contention is that too many of the wrong people were staying put — in Wisconsin, at least.] So, in the 19th century there were several mechanisms to avoid that danger. The annual county fair was one and it served to add variety to the genetic makeup of both human’s and livestock. Another, not focused on reproduction, was the periodic rotation of clergy. Methodists, for example, imposed a strict three-year limit on a minister’s connection with any one congregation and their relocation was rarely “just down the road.” I’m more familiar with the Protestant Episcopal church in 19th century Dakota Territory and can attest to a fairly regular cycling of priests prior to 1900. An itinerant medical profession, by contrast, would have wreaked havoc on general community health. So, somewhere in my self-conscious subconscious I’ve given due consideration to these various and varying patterns of movement.

* Consider the “empty” zone just below the map’s center and straddling the gutter. That’s Oklahoma Territory, held out from settlement until 1889. Smaller, more localized exceptions like this have added unpredictable eddies and swirls to patters of transhumance, Agincourt being among them.

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