Charting the Shire lines
If there were a complete map of the Shire available, showing placenames and folklands, it would be most helpful indeed. But there doesn't seem to be one. So all guesses are wild. Nonetheless, given what we know about Hobbits, we can make some reasonable guesses about where they would have settled first, and why.
Of course, it always helps to look at their possible motivations. In the year 1601, Argeleb II was king of Arthedain. Rhudaur had been destroyed nearly 200 years before in the War of 1409. Angmar shouldn't have been much of a threat any more because it was suppressed for a long time with help from Lindon and Imladris. In fact, the next documented war with Angmar wouldn't be until 1851, when Araval fought off an attack with help from the Elves.
Hobbits first entered Eriador in the year 1050. The Harfoots migrated over the High Pass and settled in Rhudaur, presumably between the Mitheithel and the Weather Hills, although they could also have settled in the foothills of the mountains and the northern lands which had not yet fallen into evil. 100 years later the Fallohides came down into Rhudaur and the Stoors crossed the Redhorn Pass and settled in western Dunland near Tharbad. But some of the Stoors also migrated north to settle in the Angle, the lands of Rhudaur between the Mitheithel and Bruinen.
So, things got rough in the old homeland (the Vales of Anduin) around the year 1050, then conditions worsened about the year 1150. In that century of time the power of Gondor achieved its height, but the power of Dol Guldur began to rise, and Sauron was quietly encouraging Easterlings to settle in the southern vales of Anduin (or in southern Mirkwood, as Greenwood the Great was now called). The Northmen who lived in the Vales of Anduin, the forest, and the eastern lands became restless, and some of them openly attacked Gondor in alliance with the Easterlings.
So, in the year 1248 Minalcar, then regent of Gondor, fought a brief war which pushed back many of the Easterlings and resulted in a new alliance between Gondor and the Kingdom of Rhovanion, which had been established in the lands just east of Mirkwood. Sauron was effectively cut off from the east for a while, and he changed his strategy. He sent the Lord of the Nazgul north to found the realm of Angmar, which lay on both sides of the Misty Mountains. But Angmar's chief function was to afflict the Dunadan realms of Eriador.
It would seem, nonetheless, there must have been a large migration of peoples (soldiers, at least) to the north. Was it conducted in secret? And were there any Orcs, Trolls, or other evil creatures among the colonists? In any event, the Lord of the Nazgul established himself in what became the city of Carn Dum, and with his Ring-induced sorcery and the terror he wielded he took control over the region. Whatever Men lived there accepted his lordship, or left, or died.
So, by 1300 people in Rhudaur knew there was a new realm in the north, and it wasn't friendly. The Dunedain and their subjects must have experienced raids and skirmishes along the borders at first. Add to that the appearance of Orcs in the mountains who were beginning to attack the Dwarves (presumably taking Gundabad away from the Longbeards) and things must have looked pretty grim to the people in Rhudaur.
And as stories of the terror in the north and the mountains spread south and west the Hobbits would have remembered their family history. The Harfoots had been in Rhudaur only 250 years. The Fallohides and Stoors had been there only 150 years. And it's doubtful the Kings of Rhudaur would have accepted an influx of settlers without getting some sort of explanation of what was going on.
So in all probability the Hobbits of Rhudaur remembered the tales of their grandfathers which led them to migrate west in the first place, and they must have had a few debates over whether the evil had followed them across the mountains. All that we know is the Tale of Years says "the Periannath migrate westward; many settle at Bree" for the year 1300. It sounds very much like there was wholesale panic. The Kingdom of Rhudaur must have been very weak and incapable of defending itself. The King might have had to seek peace with Cardolan. Quite possibly, the last King of Rhudaur and his heirs may have died in battle trying to stem the tide.
Whatever the problems in Rhudaur, we know that the Hobbits migrated west in the year 1300, and that many settled at Bree. Bree was probably then much larger than at the end of the Third Age, and may have boasted a population of several thousand Men. But why would it be so attractive to the Hobbits? Undoubtedly because of the hill. Hobbits liked hills. More importantly, Hobbit chieftains would want to live in hills, even if their followers had to live out in the open.
The Weather Hills were a contested frontier. It would not be safe for the Hobbits to dwell there. The North Downs and the South Downs (in Cardolan) were apparently still held in force by the Dunedain themselves, or other Men. But Bree itself was located near other hills, such as the hills of Tyrn Gorthad. Hobbits may well have settled in both Arthedain and Cardolan, along with many Men from Rhudaur.
From 1300 to 1600 the fortunes of Arthedain rose and fell. In 1349 Argeleb I claimed lordship over both Rhudaur and Cardolan, because no more heirs of Isildur lived in either of those lands. The lords of Cardolan apparently accepted the claim, but Rhudaur had by now fallen into the hands of a lord of the hill-folk. So war broke out and Argeleb I was slain in battle in 1356. Arveleg rallied his people with help from Lindon and Cardolan and set up a frontier. There is no mention of Hobbits in these wars and they must not have played much part. In fact, it could be that the Hobbits didn't have a large population at the time.
Let us suppose that the Harfoots, who were the largest group, first migrated west from the Vales of Anduin because of war in their former lands. They had been accustomed to living with Edainic Men who, in exchange for food and trade, helped to defend them. The population may have suffered a decline. Then, when Rhudaur came under attack 250 years later, the Harfoots may have suffered great losses again. Although Rhudaur was not overrun, the sudden Hobbit migration out of Rhudaur seems rather alarming. The departure of the Harfoots and Fallohides may imply they suffered grievous losses in the initial war with Angmar.
The Stoors remained in the Angle until the year 1356. Their continued presence implies they felt relatively safe until the next war erupted. The Stoors either fled back east to the Vales of Anduin or south to Dunland. Why would any of them want to return to the Vales of Anduin, unless they felt they were in grave danger in Rhudaur? Apparently the influence of Angmar was very real and palpable. Suddenly the Stoors found themselves living under the rule of a hill-lord who was not as benevolent and friendly as the Dunadan kings had been, and he was allied with the Witch-king of the north.
The diminished Harfoot and Fallohide populations could therefore settle in Bree and nearby lands without severely crowding the Men already living there. If there were only a few thousand Harfoots and Fallohides left by this point, their arrival would not have caused much more than a local stir. The Stoors, on the other hand, may have actually become the largest population for a while, even though they were now far separated from the Harfoots and Fallohides.
The Stoors of the Angle must have held some sort of moot to decide what course of action to take, and they apparently didn't all agree. It seems odd that they would just start fleeing pell-mell without a plan. Those who fled back over the mountains must have felt that even Dunland was in danger of attack (and quite probably Tharbad came under siege in the next war). Those who fled to Dunland must have decided that the Vales of Anduin didn't offer much hope of safety, either.
In 1409 Angmar sent an army which overran Rhudaur and Cardolan. Tolkien doesn't explain why Rhudaur had to be destroyed but it may be there were enough people left there who resisted the Witch-king's influence that he decided to do away with them once or for all. The invasion poured into Cardolan and pushed the Dunedain westward. If any of the Hobbits had indeed settled in the South Downs they were either destroyed or driven west, too.
Bree must have come under attack, as Tyrn Gorthad and the Old Forest were attacked. It seems unlikely the Hobbits would go unmolested if the Men were being slain or driven off. So, once again, the Stoors in Dunland seem to have been spared the brunt of the invasion, but perhaps only because Tharbad does seem to have held out. It may be that Gondor was still powerful enough to maintain a garrison at Tharbad, and with Gondor's help Tharbad's people stopped the invasion. It could also be that Tharbad was deemed too far south to be of much strategic importance.
With help from the Eldar of Lindon and Imladris, and the Silvan Elves of Lothlorien, Araphor of Arthedain drove Angmar's forces back into the north and peace was restored to western Eriador. From this point forward until the year 1600 we hear nothing more about events in Arthedain. Valacar, King of Gondor, died in 1432 and was succeeded by his son Eldacar. Eldacar was deposed in 1437 by Castamir the Usurper and in 1447 Eldacar led a great army out of the north to take back his throne. Eldacar slew Castamir, but the usurper's sons and many supporters escaped to Pelargir and in 1448 they fled to Umbar, where they set up a rebel kingdom.
From 1448 to 1551 Umbar occupied Gondor's attention, although Eldacar's son King Aldamir was slain in battle in 1540. Angmar was too weak to move against Arthedain and Cardolan. Sauron seems to have used these years to prepare a new weapon against the West, once which would give him greater freedom. But in the meantime the population of the reconstituted Arnor (Arthedain and Cardolan) must have increased considerably. And that would mean the Hobbits had expanded as well.
So, by the year 1600 there were too many Hobbits living east of the Baranduin river. Even if they had colonized the South Downs, they would have been reluctant to move too far east, and they would have been competing for the highlands with the Dunedain and other Men of Cardolan. Nonetheless, it seems there must have been Hobbit traffic between Bree and Dunland, and such contact would have been facilitated by settlements along the Greenway.
Thus, when Marco and Blanco decided to colonize a new land, they were probably limited in their prospects by other colonies which must have been established after the War of 1409. It may be that Hobbits began expanding into Cardolan by 1450, but certainly the recolonization of Cardolan by Hobbits and Men must have been well underway by 1500. So all that really remained, it seems, was the old royal demesne beyond the Baranduin, a region now largely denuded of people and only occasionally used by the kings for hunting.
Furthermore, the lands west of Baranduin offered a new supply of hills. Hills were not just comfortable places to dig holes: they would be easier to defend in case war really got bad. But the best hills seem to have been the White Downs, and beyond them the Far Downs. That is, these were the types of hills that the Dunedain themselves favored. And they were far removed from the frontiers with Angmar while also being situated on main roads.
And the prospect of settling in hills would have seemed attractive to many Hobbits, especially younger families just setting out on their own. So the brothers most likely surveyed the land and decided to settle down at the most comfortable spot: Michel Delving in the White Downs. Michel Delving was located at a major crossroads. Traffic between Arnor and Lindon would have passed through it. The Hobbits would be able to expand in all directions: north and south through the White Downs, west to the Far Downs, and east to the Green Hills and the Hills of Scary. And, of course, they'd eventually settle all the lowlands in-between.
Michel Delving remained the largest township of the Shire throughout the rest of the Third Age. The Mayor of Michel Delving eventually became the chief official of the Shire, and the town was as close to the heart of the highlands of the Shire as a point could become. It should not therefore seem odd that the Westfarthing was probably the most heavily populated part of the Shire for many centuries. Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, Little Delving, and Waymoot were all in the Westfarthing.
The years 1601 to 1630 seem to represent the last migration period of the Hobbits. Most likely new families moved west every year. But the old settlements seem to have survived, and it would be via correspondence with the folks back home that the colonists would be able to entice friends and relatives to cross the Baranduin. That may explain why it would be 29 years before Stoors began migrating to the Shire. They would have heard of it, but being far away they would not have been as tempted to settle there. Nonetheless, the Stoors must also have been feeling population pressures, and they would be competing for hill-lands with the Dunlendings and Dunedain.
After all, why else would the Stoors elect to settle in a swamp, which is what the name "Marish" means? They may have liked rivers, but did they really like swamps and marshes? But the fact the Stoors accepted the marshlands of Eastfarthing implies that the lands were not inhospitable, as well as that the folklands must already have been claimed. So, who claimed them?
The Tooks settled in the Green-hill country and eventually established Tuckborough and Tookbank. It's not often mentioned, but "Tuck" (pronounced "took" or "tuke") is an old Scottish word meaning to "beat or tap a drum". What has that to do with Hobbits? Well, there are the Hornblowers of Southfarthing. As unlikely as it seems, the early colonists of the Shire may have included some musical families.
There were also probably some hunters. The Fallohides didn't much like farming, and they preferred (originally) to live in or near forests and to hunt for food, if they could. The Tookish skill with weapons and bows in particular may be an indication of a strong Fallohidish tradition. But the Bracegirdles, a wealthy family from Hardbottle, may have been another Fallohide family who had developed a reputation for using armguards -- something archers would use, among other skilled professions.
The Boffin family is another indication of Hobbit martial traditions. Only they didn't have such traditions. At least, Tolkien says they were never warlike, and only fought to defend themselves. The name refers to a scientist or researcher who engages in military research. Although this could be one of Tolkien's little linguistic jokes, if we take it literally we may infer that this family, at least, was descended of one or more hobbits who rose to prominence in studying the ways of war, a not particularly useful skill during the migration period.
Of course, the study of family names quickly breaks down. The Brandybucks, for example, are descendants of the Oldbucks, who in turn are descendants from Bucca of the Marish, the first Thain of the Shire (elected in 1979). Sam Gamgee's descendants include Fairbairns, Gardners, and Gamgees, but he himself is a descendant of Ropers. Families had a tendency to change their names when their stations in life changed. Hob Hayward, for example, probably came from a family which tended the High Hay in the Buckland, but that probably wasn't their original name.
Some of the wealthier families seem to have adopted names for particular traits, such as the Whitfoots ("white foot"), Proudfoots, and Bolgers. Some families may have become known for commodities in which they traded, such as the Chubbs (a chubbe is a fish with a bloated appearance) and Sackville (as in "Sackville-Baggins", "sackville" means "dweller at the dry-built farm" according to one source, although Tom Shippey feels it is a joke about cul-de-sacs).
The naming conventions of Hobbit families thus depict their lifestyles or descent, or their professions or locations, as many surnames do, and they don't help much in placing who settled where when.
What seems most likely, however, is that after Marco and Blanco established the first colony (probably Michel Delving) they began enticing other families to cross the Brandywine and settle in various regions. They might not all have settled in the hill-lands out of preference. The Southfarthing, for example, with its plantations and wealthy farmers, seems to have been perfectly suited for large family farms which would eventually grow into the plantations. The inhabitants were most likely Harfoots with little Fallohidish blood.
The Fallohide families would have been drawn to the Green Hills and woods leading down to the Marish, as well as the woods in the Northfarthing. The northern lands were probably settled last, however. After the White Downs and Far Downs had been colonized, the Hobbits would have "backed up", as it were, and spread eastward. Hence, the Tooks probably came in a later wave than the first settlers, and they may represent a smaller migration. The Stoors were left with the Marish in the southern part of the Eastfarthing.
In 1636 everything changed anyway. The Great Plague swept north and wiped out the Stoors of Dunland and nearly all the Hobbits outside of the Breeland and the Shire. Why? Probably because they maintained close contact with one another and lived along the Greenway. They would have spread the Plague quickly and easily, and suffered as grievously as did the other peoples of Cardolan.
Tolkien says the Hobbits of the Shire survived though the Plague reached them, too. That would seem to imply they were not yet very numerous, and that there were wide lands between the major communities. Hence, the folklands of the Tooks, Baggins, Chubb, Bolger, and other leading families may have been only sparsely populated.
The most significant consequence of the Great Plague would be the resulting insularity of the Shire. The Hobbits would have learned to their horror that their relatives beyond the Baranduin were mostly dead. They had no real reason to maintain contact with the outside world.
As when the ancient world had to recover from devastating plagues, Arnor would have had to change its economic practices to cope with the devastation wrought by the Great Plague. Labor would have become expensive, and communities would have been reduced in size. The period would represent an opportunity for younger sons to branch out and try new things rather than just stay at home and help with the family farm. So the years 1637-1974 may have represented an expansion and revitalization for the Hobbits. They would have founded new towns and learned new trades.
All to come crashing down in the final war with Angmar. Tolkien notes in a couple of places that the Hobbits sent some archers to the aid of the king at Fornost. These Hobbits were never heard from again, and undoubtedly either died before reaching Fornost or were lost with the royal army when it was defeated by the forces of Angmar. Such a loss might have seriously impacted the relatively peace-loving Hobbits. But it also weakened them. They couldn't withstand the onslaught that followed in the wake of Arnor's collapse and they had to flee into hiding.
Where would they hide? Many undoubtedly fled across the Lhun, but others must have fled into the woods and hill-lands far away from the towns. Michel Delving was probably occupied or destroyed. The Hobbits survived, and again they sent out archers to help overthrow Angmar. These brave souls (or some of them) probably survived the war to return home proudly. But there would have been little home to return to.
When one looks at the Tale of Years, one cannot help but notice there is a gap of several years after the fall of Angmar (1975) before the Shire chieftains elected a Thain (1979). Why did it take them so long to make this decision? Aranarth had decided in 1976 he would not restore the Kingdom of Arnor. There must have been darned little left for him to govern, and that would mean the Shire must have been almost completely destroyed, its people scattered (and diminished by losses to war and famine).
So it took 3 years for the Shire families to come together again and decide to be a single community rather than many smaller communities. Whether they held moots before the year 1979, they had to have one in that year. And the Thain would have been more than a figure-head: he commanded the Shire-muster and the Shire-moot. In those years these would have been important functions. If the Boffins did indeed engage in "military research", this would have been the time for them to rise to prominence, and perhaps their functions as researchers lasted only long enough to ensure the Hobbits could protect themselves. After a few generations, at most, they would have settled down to being well-to-do whatevers.
In the years 1979 to 2340 the Shire enjoyed relative peace, and Gorhendad Oldbuck, the twelfth Thain, decided it was time to lead a new migration. He founded the Buckland, and changed the family name to Brandybuck. The Tooks were then awarded the Thainship, and the fact that the Thainship was continued by the Shire-folk implies it was deemed still necessary. At the very least, Shire-moots must have continued to this time.
The Shire must have conducted business with Bree, the Buckland, and the Dwarves of Ered Luin. Although they need not have had contact with the Elves, the Hobbits lay directly between Imladris and Lindon. It would be necessary for Elves to pass through the Shire, and the Dunedain may have visited the land from time to time to ensure everything was peaceful and prosperous. But there may have been other communities, especially in the years prior to 2758 (the year the Long Winter began), where Men and/or Hobbits still lived outside the Shire.
One of the curious aspects about the Shire at the time just prior to the War of the Ring is that the Bounders, the branch of the Shirriffs charged with "beating the bounds", had been greatly expanded. "There were many reports and complaints," Tolkien wrote in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, "of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders, or over them...." Years later, in 3019, Sam tells Ted Sandyman in The Green Dragon that "others besides [his cousin] have seen queer folk crossing the Shire -- crossing it, mind you: there are more that are turned back at the borders. The Bounders have never been so busy before."
Who were these "queer folk" Sam's cousin and the Bounders were running into, especially on the north moors? Saruman had sent agents abroad to spy upon and watch the Shire, but were they all working for him? Or were people slowly moving across Eriador, looking for safer lands to dwell in, as word spread north and west of the troubles brewing in Mordor?
Tolkien writes there were no settled dwellings of Men (besides Bree) closer than about 300 miles (more-or-less the Angle, where Aragorn's people lived). But what constitutes a settled dwelling? He does note "there were probably many more Outsiders [Hobbits who lived beyond the Shire and Buckland] scattered about in the West of the World in those days than the people of the Shire imagined."
So, it seems there were still Hobbits living outside the Shire and Bree, and that many of these Hobbits may have been restless wanderers. But there could also have been many Men, living alone or in groups too small to form real communities. These Men could have been simple farmers, hunters, or wanderers. They might have supported themselves wholly in the wild or through occasional work in the Shire and Bree-land.
There were no towns, not even villages. All the former communities were gone. Tharbad, the last town beyond Bree had vanished in floods in 2912, more than 100 years before the War of the Ring. The Shire itself continued to flourish and grow, although there were setbacks during the centuries. After the Brandybuck migration in 2340 there would have been the Long Winter and the Days of Dearth in 2758-60, and the Fell Winter in 2911. So every 300-350 years or so the Hobbit populations seem to have been reduced by famine, war, or plague. It was enough to prevent them from spreading across Eriador, but insufficient to reduce them to a haggard, struggling people.
Inevitably, in the Fourth Age, the Hobbits must have come to play a significant if undercredited role in the revival of Arnor. Just as there was another migration to the lands between the Far Downs and the Tower Hills in the year FoA 31 (Shire Reckoning 1451, which would have been the year 3051 of the Third Age), so there may have been other Hobbit expansions northward to the refounded Annuminas and eastward to former lands once occupied by ancient Hobbits.
1050-1150 represented the first migration period. Then came the migration period of 1300-1356, and then the Shire migrations of 1600-1630, and a long hiatus interruped by the Great Plague in 1636 and the final war with Angmar in 1974-5. Another migration began in 2340, and agsin a setback occurred in 2758-60. It would seem that Tolkien looked very carefully at the calendar and realized that the Hobbits, if unchecked, should have flourished and expanded continually into the lands formerly occupied by Elendil's people. But he ensured that enough hardships afflicted them that they would make only slow progress. The history of Hobbits in Eriador is very well-conceived.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.