The First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860

By Wilma A. Dunaway | Go to book overview
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SLAVES, SKINS, AND WAMPUM: DESTRUCTION OF SOUTHERN APPALACHIA'S PRECAPITALIST MODE OF PRODUCTION, 1540-1763

Southern Appalachia as External Arena

"To enter the interior, seek alliance with the natives, spread the Gospel among the heathen and open a borderland trail" all the way from the coast of Florida to Mexico--these were the official objectives of the three sixteenth-century Spanish explorations into the indigenous Appalachian settlements of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Just as significant was their visionary search for a Northwest Passage that would link Spanish traders to the Orient. The Spanish also tramped into the mountains to kidnap slaves and "to trade for hides and pieces of guanin," an alloy of copper and gold that they believed popular among the Indians. Just as they had in other parts of the New World, the Spanish sought precious metals, filling their expedition journals with reports that "this land is very good and . . . there are metals of gold and silver." In similar fashion, the French were attracted by reports of mineral wealth; so their 1560s exploratory maps labeled this copper-bearing region the "Montes Appalatci."1

For more than a century after these earlier regional penetrations, there was little or no contact between the Southern Appalachian indigenes and the Europeans. Yet there was a constant flow of European goods into Southern Appalachia through the aboriginal trade networks from coastal areas. These early exchanges introduced into the southern mountains several European manufactured commodities, including glass and crystal beads, brass bells iron axes and knives, and looking glasses.2

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