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

By Wilma A. Dunaway | Go to book overview

9
APPALACHIAN COMMUNITIES AND NONECONOMIC ARTICULATION WITH THE CAPITALIST WORLD SYSTEM

Looking at the Big Picture

Up to this point, my discussion has focused upon the intricacies of Southern Appalachia's market linkages and upon the historical transformations in its dominant mode of production. I have attacked the popular image of preindustrial Appalachia as an undeveloped society shut away from the outside world. On the one hand, the picture is incomplete in most conventional accounts because analysts fail to take into consideration those Cherokees who lived as a racially and legally segregated "region of refuge" on the fringes of dominant Appalachian society. On the other hand, these local economies were much more complex and diverse--both internally and across the region--than they are typically portrayed. Appalachian towns, villages, and counties were not simply agrarian hinterlands. Indeed, the countryside was a mosaic of agriculture, industry, commerce, and town life.1

While the region's local communities were differentiated by the degree to which they had diversified their development, every Appalachian subzone had some mix of the three major economic sectors. In fact, the shift to nonagricultural activities began in this region much earlier than has previously been recognized. Even as early as 1820, more than one of every seven of the region's free heads of household were employed outside farming. Over the forty-year period, new commercial and industrial sectors emerged and expanded at an uneven pace. Thus, by 1860, nearly two-fifths of the region's free households were earning income from nonagricultural activities, either as their sole occupations or as pursuits supplemented by agriculture. Surprisingly, more than one-third of Southern Appalachia's free labor force had left farming.2

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