Abstract

This essay considers the role of slavery in American agricultural history by examining the impact of political decisions during the period when the boundary between free and slave states was not yet settled. This boundary was not dictated by geographic imperatives. In Kentucky, an early "beach-head" in the bluegrass district allowed slavery to become firmly entrenched, even in a state where the majority of farmers held no slaves. On the other hand, slavery was vigorously debated in all of the Northwest Territories--losing a close vote in Illinois as late as 1824. The essay argues that American agricultural history would have been very different had these votes tipped the other way. Evidence from three outlying slave regions--the Kentucky bluegrass, Missouri’s "Little Dixie," and the wheat belt of Virginia--shows that slavery could adapt readily to crops and regions commonly considered ideal for family farms, so long as land values were sufficiently high. Drawing on census samples collected by James Irwin, the essay argues that the peculiar affinity between slavery and wheat-growing in Virginia can best be explained by property rights. Specifically, control over a captive labor force allowed slaveowners to expand wheat acreage without fear of the harvest peak.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

Notes

1 William N. Parker, "The Magic of Property," Agricultural History54 (Fall1980):
478
.
2 Douglas Helms, "Soil and Southern History," Agricultural History74 (Fall2000), esp. Figure 1 on p.
734
.
3 Julius Rubin, "The Limits of Agricultural Progress in the Nineteenth-Century South," Agricultural History49 (Spring1975):
362
-73.
4 Douglass North ,
The Economic Growth ofthe United States, 1790-1860
(1961; reprint, New York: W. W. Norton,
1966
),
122
Carville Earle ,
Geographical Inquiry and American Historical Problems
(Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press,
1992
),
88
-152,226-57
5 Stefano Fenoaltea, "Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective: A Model," Journal of Economic History44 (Sept. 1984):
635
-68
Claudia Goldin and Kenneth Sokoloff, "The Relative Productivity Hypothesis of Industrialization," Quarterly Journal of Economics (Aug. 1984):
473
Robert Fogel ,
Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery
(New York: W. W. Norton,
1989
),
26
, 34, 78, 162
Christopher Hanes, "Turnover Cost and the Distribution of Slave Labor in Anglo-America," Journal of Economic History56 (June1996):
307
-29
6 Adam Smith ,
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes ofthe Wealth of Nations
(1776; reprint, Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1976
),
411
-12
Eric Williams ,
Capitalism and Slavery
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1944
),
6
Kenneth Stampp ,
The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South
(New York: Vintage Books,
1956
),
34
,54
7 Philip D. Morgan , "
Task and Gang Systems: The Organization of Labor on New World Plantations
," in
Work and Labor in Early America
, ed. Stephen Innes (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1988
)
Peter Coclanis , "
How the Low Country Was Taken to Task: Slave-Labor Organization in Coastal South Carolina and Georgia
," in
Slavery, Secession, and Southern History
, ed. Robert Louis Paquette and Louis A. Ferleger (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
2000
)
Ira Berlin ,
Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
(Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Har¬ vard University Press,
1998
),
117
,119
Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan, eds.,
The Slaves’ Economy: Independent Production by Slaves in the Americas
(London: Frank Cass,
1991
)
Betty Wood ,
Women’s Work, Men’s Work: The Informal Slave Economies of Lowcountry Georgia
(Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press,
1995
)
8 David Galenson , "
The Settlement and Growth of the Colonies
," in
The Cambridge Economic History of the United States: Volume I, The Colonial Era
, ed. Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1996
)
Jacob M. Price , "
Credit in the Slave Trade and Plantation Economies
," in
Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System
, ed. Barbara Solow (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1991
)
10 James F. Hopkins ,
A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky
(Lexington: University of Kentucky Press,
1950
),
14
11 R. Douglas Hurt ,
Agriculture and Slavery in Missouri’s Little Dixie
(Columbia: Uni¬ versity of Missouri Press,
1992
),
5
, 51, 68-69
T. J. Stiles ,
Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
2002
),
38
12 Kenneth E. Koons and Warren E. Hofstra, eds.,
After the Backcountry: Rural Life in the Great Valley of Virginia, 1800–1900
(Knoxville: Uni¬ versity of Tennessee Press,
2000
)
James Irwin , "Exploring the Affinity of Wheat and Slavery in the Virginia Piedmont," Explorations in Economic History25 (Fall1988):
295
-322
13 Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 179,181
Hanes, "Turnover Cost," 307
14 United States Bureau of the Census , Negro Population in the United States, 17901915 (Washington, D.C.: GPO,
1918
),
56
(Table 5) and 57 (Table 6).
15 Ivan E. McDougle , Slavery in Kentucky, 17921865 (Lancaster, Pa.: New Era Printing Company,
1918
)
Lowell H. Harrison ,
Kentucky’s Road to Statehood
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,
1992
),
2
-11,103-19
Stephen Aron ,
How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1996
),
89
-95
Harold D. Tallant ,
Evil Necessity: Slavery and Political Culture in Antebellum Kentucky
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,
2003
),
7
-9,107
16 Emma Lou Thornbrough ,
The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: A Study of Minority
(1957; reprint, Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1985
),
6
-8,26-28
Morton M. Rosenberg and Dennis V. McClurg,
The Politics of Pro-Slavery Sentiment in Indiana, 1816–1861
(Muncie, Ind.: Ball State Monograph Number Twelve,
1968
)
Paul Finkelman, "Evading the Ordinance:The Persistence of Bondage in Indiana and Illinois," Journal of the Early Republic9 (Spring1989):
35
-^0
Robert J. Steinfeld ,
The Invention of Free Labor: The Employment Relation in English and American Law and Culture, 1350–1870
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1991
),
chapters 5 and 6
17 George Nicholas to James Madison, 2 May 1792
Harri¬ son, Kentucky’s Road to Statehood, 125
Suzanne Cooper Guasco , ’"The Deadly Influence of Negro Capitalists’: Southern Yeomen and Resistance to the Expansion of Sla¬ very in Illinois," Civil War History47 (
Mar.
2001
):
21
18 Guasco, "’The Deadly Influence,’" 16
James Simeone ,
Democracy and Slavery in Frontier Illinois: The Bottomland Republic
(DeKalb, 111.: Northern Illinois Uni¬ versity Press,
2000
),
42
^16
19 Simeone, Democracy and Slavery; Guasco, ’"The Deadly Influence’"
N. Dwight Harris ,
The History of Negro Servitude in Illinois and of the Slavery Agitation in that State, 1719–1864
(Chicago: A. C. McClurg,
1904
)
Kim M. Gruenwald ,
River of Enterprise: The Commercial Origins of Regional Identity in the Ohio Valley, 1790–1850
(Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press,
2002
),
83
-84
Joan E. Cashin , "Landscape and Memory in Antebellum Virginia," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography102 (
Oct.
1994
):
486
-87
20 Guasco,"’The Deadly Influence,’" 23
21 Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 135-36
Charles J. Farmer ,
In the Absence of Towns: Settlement and Country Trade in Southside Virginia, 1730–1800
(Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield,
1993
),
85
-87
Gruenwald, River of Enterprise,
49
Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery,
68
-69
22 Irwin, "Slave Agriculture and Staple Crops in the Virginia Piedmont" (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1986)
23 Paul S. Taylor ,
Labor on the Land
(New York: Arno Press,
1981
),
62
Gavin Wright, "American Agriculture and the Labor Market: What Happened to T>ro\etari^imz^itionT, Agricultural History62 (Summer1988):
199
-200
24 Kenneth W. Keller , "
The Wheat Trade on the Upper Potomac, 1800–1860
," in
After the Backcountry
, ed. Koons and Hofstra,
27
Walker drove his slaves with a long agenda of work." In
Old Virginia: Slavery, Farming, and Society in the Journal of John Walker
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
2002
),
34
, 36
Ralph V. Anderson and Robert E. Gallman, "Slaves as Fixed Capital: Slave Labor and Southern Economic Development," Journal of American History64 (June1977):
24
-46
25 Irwin, "Exploring the Affinity,"
302
, 304–15
Lewis Cecil Gray ,
History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860
(Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington,
1933
),
555
-56
26 Irwin, "Exploring the Affinity,"
314
–15.
28 Charles L. Perdue , Jr., Thomas E. Barden, and Robert K. Phillips, eds.,
Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves
(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
1976
),
26
William T. Hutchinson ,
Cyrus Hall McCormick: Seed-Time, 1809–1856
(New York: Century Co.,
1930
),
208
-09
Heywood Fleisig, "Slavery, the Supply of Agricultural Labor, and the Industrialization of the South," Journal of Economic History36 (Sept. 1976):
573
-74
29 Fleisig, "Slavery,"
201
Paul David ,
Technical Choice, Innovation and Economic Growth: Essays on American and British Experience in the Nineteenth Century
(1966; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1975
)
Paul W. Rhode, "Beyond the Threshold: An Analysis of the Characteristics and Behavior of Early Reaper Adopters," Journal of Economic History55 (Mar. 1995)
30 Gavin Wright ,
The Political Economy of the Cotton South: Households, Markets, and Wealth in the Nineteenth Century
(New York: W. W. Norton,
1978
),
54
31 Herbert Clarence Bradshaw ,
History of Prince Edward County, Virginia: From its Earliest Settlements Through its Establishment in 1754 to its Bicentennial Year
(Richmond, Va.: Dietz Press,
1955
),
342
.