Builders of a New South

Builders of a New South: Merchants, Capital, and the Remaking of Natchez, 1865–1914

Aaron D. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Builders of a New South
    Book Description:

    Builders of a New Southdescribes how, between 1865 and 1914, ten Natchez mercantile families emerged as leading purveyors in the wholesale plantation supply and cotton handling business, and soon became a dominant force in the social and economic Reconstruction of the Natchez District. They were able to take advantage of postwar conditions in Natchez to gain mercantile prominence by supplying planters and black sharecroppers in the plantation supply and cotton buying business. They parlayed this initial success into cotton plantation ownership and became important local businessmen in Natchez, participating in many civic improvements and politics that shaped the district into the twentieth century.

    This book digs deep in countless records (including census, tax, property, and probate, as well as thousands of chattel mortgage contracts) to explore how these traders functioned as entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the Civil War, examining closely their role as furnishing merchants and land speculators, as well as their relations with the area's planters and freed black population. Their use of favorable laws protecting them as creditors, along with a solid community base that was civic-minded and culturally intact, greatly assisted them in their success. These families prospered partly because of their good business practices, and partly because local whites and blacks embraced them as useful agents in the emerging new marketplace. The situation created by the aftermath of the war and emancipation provided an ideal circumstance for the merchant families, and in the end, they played a key role in the district's economic survival and were the prime modernizers of Natchez.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-059-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION A New Merchant System
    (pp. 3-10)

    The day broke softly in natchez on january 11, 1898, a pleasant, hazy day in the midst of a mild southern winter. TheNatchez Democratpredicted the weather would be “Warm, Damp, and Cloudy,” and advised that “a good rain will probably be followed by a freeze,” indicative of the sudden and unpredictable changes that could descend upon that epicenter of the Cotton Kingdom. Natchez was fairly quiet in January, the off-season for cotton planting, and most of the previous year’s cotton crop had already been shipped to market in New Orleans and elsewhere. Business was only “so so on...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Old Ways and New Realities
    (pp. 11-39)

    Rebel gunfire from the natchez river landing and the bluffs above bracketed the sloped sides of the ironclad gunboat USSEssex, while its engines strained and threw spray against the strong Mississippi River current as Commodore “Dirty” Bill Porter positioned his ship into firing position midcurrent. Natchez had technically been surrendered to Union forces since mid-May 1862 and had been left unoccupied and largely unmolested. But General Ulysses Grant’s push on Vicksburg and the presence of strong Union fleets ascending the Mississippi from New Orleans and descending from Memphis had left Natchez “hemmed in” and its populace in a panic.¹...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Merchant Communities
    (pp. 40-70)

    Nineteen-year-old joseph n. carpenter had been at war for over two years, serving in the Breckinridge Guards cavalry unit, comprised of Natchez volunteers and attached to Confederate general John C. Breckinridge. He had fought in some of the most hotly contested battles and campaigns of the war: at Missionary Ridge, Nashville, and the Atlanta Campaign, where he had his horse shot out from under him but emerged intact. His last action was the desperate rebel attempt to stop General Sherman’s advancing Union army at Bentonville, North Carolina, in March 1865, the final major Confederate military action of the war. But...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Crop Liens, Freedmen, and Planters
    (pp. 71-111)

    In the summer of 1863, as general grant’s troops occupied Natchez and Northern traders of all stripes began to swarm the district, a human movement of a different sort was under way that would soon transform the local marketplace like no other force. Some twenty miles to the east of Natchez in Adams County lay the cotton plantation of William and Jonathan Rucker, the 975-acre Rucker home place. Part of an expansive planter family that held hundreds of slaves on plantations in Adams, Chickasaw, Pontotoc, and Yazoo Counties of Mississippi, the Ruckers had at least ninety-four enslaved blacks on Rucker...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A New Kind of Planter
    (pp. 112-141)

    It was a spring day in jefferson county on april 17, 1876, the time of year that filled planters and croppers alike with the anticipation of a successful coming crop year. It was also a stressful time of year, as overly wet weather could flood the fields and make it impossible to tend the young cotton, or a hard late frost or excessive dry weather could stunt its development or kill it altogether. Yet at the many cotton plantations in the countryside surrounding the county seat of Fayette, work was in full motion finishing the season’s cotton planting. On the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Merchant Life and Social Capital
    (pp. 142-179)

    On thursday, january 20, 1881, the offices of the deputy clerk of the Ninth District Court in Vidalia, Louisiana, were packed with the Natchez elite. Appearing before prominent attorney and district clerk Phillip Hough that day were a cross section of the leading members of the Natchez District legal, business, and planter classes, assembled as directors to incorporate the new Natchez, Red River, & Texas Railroad Co. (N.R.R. & T.R.R.). They included Concordia District Attorney Hiram Steele; judge, developer, and entrepreneur Thomas Reber; former Confederate general and president of the Natchez, Jackson, & Columbus Railroad William T. Martin; prominent area merchants Isaac Friedler,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Dangerous Business
    (pp. 180-213)

    In the spring of 1876 henry m. gastrell seemingly had it all. Since bursting onto the Natchez mercantile scene as a fresh twenty-two-year-old trader in October 1865 with the advertisement, “New Store. H. M. Gastrell & Co.,Dealers in all kinds ofHardware and Cutlery, Stoves, Tin Ware, Lamps, Lanterns, and Plantation Implements,” the lively Englishman from Bristol had built a bustling concern, which by the mid-1870s was equal to any in the district. Arguably the youngest upper-tier merchant in Natchez, Gastrell had come as a former Union officer with few or no local ties, yet proved he had what it...

  11. Summary and Conclusion
    (pp. 214-220)

    The trajectory of the business careers and social interactions of these ten mercantile families reveals much about the social and economic conditions that existed in the postwar Natchez District of Mississippi and Louisiana, and the changing economic demographics of the New South. The emergence of the postbellum merchant class as the new socioeconomic elite of the Natchez District was a complex process over time that actually had its roots in the antebellum period. The postwar explosion of mercantile influence was predicated on a host of factors converging at just the right time, in the right way, to elevate a formerly...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-256)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 257-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-280)
  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 281-296)