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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: March 2008

6 - Economic and Social Development of the South

Summary

THE SOUTH ON THE EVE OF INDEPENDENCE

At the eve of the American independence movement, the idea of the South is an anachronism, a concept whose time is yet to come. If by the colonial South one means the area bounded on the north by (roughly) the Ohio and Susquehanna rivers, at the west by the Mississippi, and at the east and south by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, there is little to tie the region together. Even under more restricted definitions confined to territory long-claimed by the British (excluding, that is, the newly acquired Floridas and the French settlement at Louisiana) or the more limited region actually colonized by the British (excluding the trans-Appalachian west), the area has little unity. In 1775, there was no “South” with a single, integrated economy, a unifying culture, or a cohesive ruling class with a shared vision of the future. We are best served by recognizing diversity from the start and rejecting the notion of a “South” in favor of a concept of “Souths,” four proximate but separate regions with distinctive characteristics: the tobacco colonies around Chesapeake Bay; the rice and indigo districts of the Carolina–Georgia lowcountry; an area of mixed farming or “common husbandry” in the backcountry and around the periphery of the plantation districts; and a frontier zone dominated by cross-cultural trade. However, if the South was not yet a region, the factors that would give it greater unity and define its character during the early nineteenth century were firmly in place: an expansive plantation agriculture, African slavery, and an emerging planter class with a sense of purpose.

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