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

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

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

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

Synopsis

In The First American Frontier, Wilma Dunaway challenges many assumptions about the development of preindustrial Southern Appalachia's society and economy. Drawing on data from 215 counties in nine states from 1700 to 1860, she argues that capitalist exchange and production came to the region much earlier than has been previously thought. Her innovative book is the first regional history of antebellum Southern Appalachia and the first study to apply world-systems theory to the development of the American frontier.

Dunaway demonstrates that Europeans established significant trade relations with Native Americans in the southern mountains and thereby incorporated the region into the world economy as early as the seventeenth century. In addition to the much-studied fur trade, she explores various other forces of change, including government policy, absentee speculation in the region's natural resources, the emergence of towns, and the influence of local elites. Contrary to the myth of a homogeneous society composed mainly of subsistence homesteaders, Dunaway finds that many Appalachian landowners generated market surpluses by exploiting a large landless labor force, including slaves. In delineating these complexities of economy and labor in the region, Dunaway provides a perceptive critique of Appalachian exceptionalism and development.

Excerpt

Outsiders have had a long-running love affair with Southern Appalachia. Setting forth at the Gulf of Mexico, the Spaniards undertook three sixteenthcentury expeditions into the inland mountains to search for silver and the "fountain of youth" among the vast indigenous chiefdoms of northern Georgia, western North Carolina, and East Tennessee. Because they believed these ranges to be mineral rich and inhabited by exotic kingdoms, the French and the British were also lured into the southern backcountry, labeling it on their early maps the "Montes Appalatci." Numerous pre-Revolutionary explorations were made into the rugged terrain, and early travel diaries called attention to the region's primeval splendor and geological significance.

Euro-American settlers on the Atlantic Coast were just as infatuated with this region. the Allegheny-Appalachian mountain systems lay at the back doors of seven of the original colonies, separating the seaboard from the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys (see Map 1.1). Southern Appalachia is the land of the Cumberland Gap, the first western frontier of the United States, and the Watauga Association--all glorified in popular culture as symbols of the American dream of freedom and equality. Imposing mountain sites like Hawk's Nest, the Cyclopean Towers, the Natural Bridge, and the Tallulah Gorge rejuvenated the spirits of antebellum adventurers. Those escaping the summer epidemics of the plantation South sought serenity and "exclusive company" at 134 mineral springs sprinkled throughout the mountains. the persistence of the region's tourist appeal is evidenced by contemporary public funding of forests and recreational areas, like Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smoky Mountains. in fact, federal and . . .

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