College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Carey Roberts


Lynchburg, Virginia, internal improvements, political economy




This research explores the economic and political considerations of internal improvements in antebellum southwest Virginia. Special emphasis is paid to local petitions submitted to the Virginia General Assembly between 1791 and 1829, as well as local newspaper editorials printed or reprinted in Lynchburg, Virginia during the same period. Questions of intentionality, self-interest, and sectionalism are raised in elucidating what role localities along the ‘old frontier’ played in connecting the underdeveloped western region of the state to the developed eastern region during the early 19th century. Border towns first settled in the colonial backcountry—specifically Lynchburg, Virginia—served as ‘first movers’ in implementing internal improvements in the backcountry for the explicit purposes of seizing emerging economic opportunity. Source records show that communities such as Lynchburg viewed an inevitable national improvement not as a centralized federal mechanism of public works, but rather as a decentralized collection of bridges, canals, and roads, forming collectively a national network of communication and travel for the benefit of communities. This research shows that a developmental model can be applied to help explain, in part, how improvement philosophies from the Scottish Enlightenment helped influence and reach the backcountry town of Lynchburg, Virginia.

Included in

History Commons