From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the First World War, the "New South" underwent enormous social and economic changes, as its residents struggled to reconstruct their lives. In the countryside farmers sought to eke out a living by planting the traditional staple crops of cotton and tobacco in their already exhausted soil. Immigrant Jewish peddlers traversed the rural areas and provided the poverty-stricken families with their basic needs. As historian Thomas D. Clark indicates, many of these peddlers became successful merchants by establishing dry goods and specialty stores in numerous southern towns. These businessmen did not create the ruinous agricultural system, but they nonetheless became identified with it in the minds of farmers because they accepted promissory notes and mortgages in lieu of cash payments. Thus the merchants gained more and more land while their customers went deeper into debt. In spite of this source of friction, Clark asserts: "It is a remarkable fact that large masses of Southerners were free of feelings of anti-Semitism."