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Poor Whites of the Antebellum South: Tenants and Laborers in Central North Carolina and Northeast Mississippi [Hardcover]

Charles C. Bolton


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Book Description

February 1994
In Poor Whites of the Antebellum South, Charles C. Bolton gives a distinct voice to one of the most elusive groups in the society of the Old South. Bolton's detailed examination reveals much about the lives of these landless white tenants and laborers and their relationship to yeoman farmers, black slaves, free blacks and elite whites. Providing a provocative analysis of the failure of the Jeffersonian yeoman ideal of democracy in white-majority areas, this book also shows how poor whites represented a more significant presence on the political, economic, and social landscape than previously had been thought.Looking at two specific regions--the settled central piedmont of North Carolina and the frontier of northeast Mississippi--Bolton describes how poor whites played an important, though circumscribed, role in the local economy. Dependent on temporary employment, they represented a troubling presence in a society based on the principles of white independence and black slavery. Although perceived by southern leaders as a threat, poor whites, Bolton argues, did not form a political alliance with either free or enslaved blacks because of numerous factors including white racism, kinship ties, religion, education, and mobility. A concluding discussion of the crisis of 1860-61 examines the rejection of secession by significant numbers of poor whites, as well as the implications for their future as the Old South turned toward the new.Poor Whites of the Antebellum South sheds light on a group often neglected in southern history. It is an important contribution that will be of interest to all students and historians of the American South.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Duke Univ Pr (Tx) (February 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822314282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822314288
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 621 g

Product Description

Review

"This is a fine book that sheds new light on the common whites of the South. Bolton looks at his subject from a different perspective and arrives at sensible and reasonable conclusions." --Richard Lowe," American Historical Review"

About the Author

Charles C. Bolton is Director of the Mississippi Oral History Program and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential For Anyone Interested in Southern History March 29 2001
By "teamfound" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Poor Whites of the Antebellum South, Charles Bolton effectively reveals the economic, social, and political complexity of landless white tenants and laborers in antebellum North Carolina and Mississippi. Through census and tax records, court and insolvent debtor documentation, and personal accounts, the lives of Old South poor whites paint a picture that tells far more of their dynamic story than does the stereotypical label "white trash." Bolton focuses on four counties of the South: Randolph and Davidson counties in the central Piedmont of North Carolina and Pontotoc and Tishomingo counties in northeast Mississippi. Arguably the most notable characteristic of the poor whites was their mobility and versatility. Many of them made frequent relocations because of their need to look for employment and the desire to make economic advancements. Poor whites, such as Edward Isham, possessed a wide range of marketable skills since the slave labor in the South made long-term jobs hard to find. Although the most common occupation was a tenant farmer or farm laborer, some poor white males worked as railroad workers, miners, and stock drivers. The wives of these men, like the yeomen, were responsible for many domestic chores, as were the children; however, unlike the yeomen, many poor white women worked outside the home. The meager wages of the poor whites gave them enough money to pay for food, but personal property was scarce (the lack of material possessions facilitated their frequent moves). With regards to the slave society of the antebellum South, poor whites basically disrupted the line between white independence and black dependence. Free blacks and poor whites had many things in common, being as they represented the backbone of the South's workforce - often working side by side in the fields. Both of the groups had horrible clothing, substandard housing, and unhealthy food. Some free blacks and poor whites even engaged in the illegal exchanging of goods such as liquor, while others gathered to gamble, drink, or make love. However, factors such as white racism, kinship ties, religion, and mobility, prevented the development of any political alliance between landless whites and blacks. Between 1830 and 1850, many poor whites began moving to the southwest frontier of the cotton kingdom in hopes of acquiring wealth and land. For the most part, however, poor white emigrants failed to become landowners. The unfortunate story of Benjamin Scarborough, whose dreams of becoming a landowner, was more common than the rags to riches story of Thomas Allred. In Mississippi, for example, the poor whites had several unpromising options: they could obtain the worst land in the area, they could travel elsewhere, or they could live as squatters or tenants on decent land owned by speculators and wealthy planters. Most of them pressed farther west towards Texas and Arkansas, but few found prosperity. Overall, this book is an interesting and comprehensive look at the lives of poor whites of the antebellum South. Bolton's strongest tool in making his presentation is his use of individual stories. The tales of the various poor whites supplies powerful imagery for the reader, and without these personal accounts the book would not be as effective.

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