Seeing the Realities of the Landscape: Mapping the Industry of the Antebellum Gulf South

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael Frawley, University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Seeing the Realities of the Landscape –

Mapping the Industry of the Antebellum Gulf South

Understanding the extent of manufacturing in the South on the eve of the Civil War is extremely important to any study of the war and Reconstruction. 1860 was a census year. Census marshals spread out across the United States to record many different aspects of American society, including information on population, agriculture and, most importantly for this study, manufacturing. The antebellum Gulf South has traditionally been viewed as a region with little industrial development, but both contemporaries and historians based their view of industry in the Gulf South on what was recorded in the census schedules. Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas were portrayed in the census as areas with little industrial development. But, as many historians have discovered, there were errors in the 1860 Census, especially errors of omission. The geography, resources, and people of the Gulf South gave the region the potential to create many manufacturing concerns that could have supported economic development and perhaps the future war effort.

I argue that the census understated industry in the Gulf South states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. This has given us a distorted view of the antebellum South. The region was not as agrarian as the census would lead us to believe. Other primary sources, such as newspapers, journals, local histories, city and county directories, and the R. G. Dun credit reports allowed many of these missing firms to be recovered. Census marshals missed almost 20% of the industrial concerns that existed in these three states. Moreover, the Gulf South was less dependent on imports, and industry was more geographically diffuse and locally intensive than historians have given it credit for. The South did not have the industry to win the Civil War, but, perhaps, these missed firms can help explain how the Confederacy was able to persist through four years of conflict with little outside support.

This poster session will present maps created with Graphical Information System (GIS) software based on the 1860 census and other, rediscovered, industrial firms, focusing on some of the more important counties in the Gulf South. By using a poster session with maps and charts observers will be able to see in detail what industry was missed and where it was missed, spurring discussions about industry in the South on the eve of the war and its place both in southern society and the southern war effort. In the end, what this session will show, is that the South was more industrially developed than the accepted data would have us believe. Moreover, this information will allow a new dialogue to develop about the economic development after the Civil War. While the South turned to agriculture to try and rebuild its shattered economy, that may not have been the only choice, as many Southerners had experience with manufacturing that could have been drawn upon.

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions