The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln

By Robert Mazrim | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Goods in the Forests

The arrival of the first American families to Illinois coincided with significant changes in Western material culture. The beginning of mass production, mass marketing, and the industrial revolution was creating a new consumer class; casual purchases of nonutilitarian goods were no longer restricted to the affluent. The industrial revolution that began in England during the eighteenth century made it possible for the middle class to indulge in a variety of fashionable luxuries and novelties. The mass production that came with the industrial revolution also began to impose a certain sameness on a range of domestic environments, and by 1800, the interiors of homes of the middle class in America were becoming quite similar to those hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Although farming communities in frontier Illinois were still without adequate export markets for surplus produce, the fact that country stores would exchange durable goods for local farm produce gave remote farm families a comfortable purchasing power. This, combined with the low prices for wholesale goods that followed the close of the War of 1812, resulted in a surprisingly well-equipped frontier.

Within the American frontier period in Illinois, there is a line that divides a time when there was probably only limited, sporadic availability of imported goods (such as cast iron cookware, manufactured cloth, Staffordshire tablewares, or sugar from the West Indies), and a time when essential and nonessential goods were plentiful. That line lay between 1815 (the close of the War of 1812) and 1820 (two years follow

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