Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: March 2008

6 - Economic and Social Development of the South



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.

Alsop, George, “A Character of the Province of Maryland” (1666), in Hall, Clayton Colman, ed., Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633–1684 (New York, 1910)
Beverley, Robert, The History and Present State of Virginia (Chapel Hill: 1947 [orig. publ. 1705]).
Browne, W. H. et al., eds., Archives of Maryland (Baltimore, 1883–).
Byrd, William to Smith, C.Mr., 10 October 1727, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography IX (1901–2).
Campbell, R. H., Skinner, A. S., and Todd, W. B.An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. (Oxford: 1976 [orig. pub., 1776]).
Carman, Harry J., ed., American Husbandry (New York: 1939 [orig. publ. 1775]).
Carr, Lois Green, Menard, Russell R., and Walsh, Lorena S., Robert Coke’s World; Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland (Chapel Hill: 1991).
Cart, Lois Green and Menard, Russell R., “Land, Labor, and Economies of Scale in Early Maryland: Some Limits to Growth in Chesapeake System of Husbandry,” Journal of Economic History 49 (1989).
Carter, Robert to Jones, Robert, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 101 (1993).
de Charlevoix, Pierre Francois Xavier, History and General Description of New France, 6 vols., trans. Shea, John Gilmary (New York, 1866–72).
Edgar, Walter B., ed., The Letterbook of Robert Pringle, 2 vols. (Columbia, SC, 1972).
Franklin, Benjamin, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.” (1751), in Labaree, Leonard W. et al., eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, CT: 1959–).
[Glen, James], A Description of South Carolina … (London: 1761).
Greene, Jack P., “Independence, Improvement, and Authority: Towards a Framework for Understanding the Histories of the Southern Backcountry during the Era of the American Revolution,” in Hoffman, Ronald, Tate, Thad W., and Albert, Peter J., eds., An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry during the American Revolution (Charlottesville, VA, 1985).
Hewatt, Alexander, An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the Colonies of South Carolina and Georgia, 2 vols. (London: 1779)
Kingsbury, S., ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington: 1906–35).
Klein, Rachel N., Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808 (Chapel Hill, 1990).
Lindert, Peter H. and Williamson, Jeffery G., “Three Centuries of American Inequality,” in Research in Economic History I (1976).
Malthus, Thomas Robert, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of MankindLondon: 1798).
McDowell, William L. Jr., ed., Colonial Records of South Carolina: Documents Relating to Indian Affairs, May 21, 1750– August 7, 1754 (Columbia, SC, 1958).
Menard, Russell R., “Slavery, Economic Growth, and Revolutionary Ideology in the South Carolina Lowcountry,” in Hoffman, Ronald, McCusker, John J., Menard, Russell R., and Albert, Peter J., eds., The Economy of Early America: The Revolutionary Period, 1763–1790 (Charlottesville, VA: 1988).
Merrens, H. Roy, ed., The Colonial South Carolina Scene: Contemporary Views, 1697–1774 (Columbia, SC: 1977).
Ramsey, David, The History of South Carolina, from Its First Settlement in 1670, to the Year 1808, 2 vols. (Charleston, SC, 1809).
Ramsey, David, The History of the American Revolution, 2 vols. (Trenton, NJ: 1811).
Syssli, Samuel, Dec. 3, 1737 South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 23 (1922).
Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Frontier in American History (New York: 1947).
Weir, Robert M., Colonial South Carolina: A History (Millwood, NY: 1983).