Abstract

Although the importance of country stores to the economy of the post–Civil War South has long been widely acknowledged, by far the most careful and influential analysis of rural merchants is Ransom and Sutch's One Kind of Freedom (1977), which used mostly region-wide data for its estimates of the numbers, capital, and spatial density of stores in the Cotton South. While paralleling the categories, methods, and evidentiary sources of One Kind of Freedom, this article instead takes a micro-level approach, comparing store development in two Reconstruction-era Louisiana parishes—one devoted to cotton production, the other to sugar. Data from these parishes and elsewhere in Louisiana suggests several problems with Ransom and Sutch's conclusions, especially their famous “territorial monopoly” thesis. Moreover, the superior performance of sugar parish stores underscores the significance of differences between the credit-dependent sharecropping system prevalent in cotton regions and the cash wages paid to sugar workers—distinctions that have often been intentionally blurred in recent historiography.

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NOTES

1. While taking full responsibility for the arguments and data presented in this article, the author is grateful to Peter A. Coclanis, John C. Rodrigue, Walter F. Williams, and the readers for Agricultural History for their insightful comments on earlier drafts. C. Vann Woodward,
Origins of the New South, 1877–1913
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1951
), Chpt. 7; Harold D. Woodman,
King Cotton and His Retainers: Financing and Marketing the Cotton Crop of the South, 1800–1925
(
Lexington
:
University of Kentucky Press
,
1968
). An important study that highlights furnishing merchants is Jonathan M. Wiener,
Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1860–1885
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1978
). In his study of American business development, Alfred D. Chandler Jr. linked the consolidation of mass production to changes in marketing structures, but few historians have pursued this insight; Chandler,
The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business
(
Cambridge, Mass.
:
Belknap Press
,
1977
), Chpt. 7. For studies of American distribution, see, for example, Glenn Porter and Harold C. Livesay,
Merchants and Manufacturers: Studies in the Changing Structure of Nineteenth-Century Marketing
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins Press
,
1971
); Lance E. Davis and Douglass C. North,
Institutional Change and American Economic Growth
(
New York
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1971
), Chpt. 9; Harold Barger,
Distribution's Place in the American Economy since 1869
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
1955
). The best overview of the US small-business sector is Mansel G. Blackford,
A History of Small Business in America
, 2nd ed. (
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2003
).
2. Roger L. Ransom and Richard Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation
, 2nd ed. (
New York
:
Cambridge University Press
,
2001
),
2
, Chpts. 6–8.
3. For criticisms of One Kind of Freedom, see, for example,
Explorations in Economic History
38
(
Jan.
2001
); Gavin Wright,
Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy since the Civil War
(
New York
:
Basic Books
,
1986
),
110
15
; Gary M. Walton and James F. Shepherd, eds.,
Market Institutions and Economic Progress in the New South, 1865–1900
(
New York
:
Academic Press
,
1981
). On the “central-place” theory of markets, see, Stuart Plattner, ed.,
Economic Anthropology
(
Stanford
:
Stanford University Press
,
1989
),
182
90
. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
137
.
4. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
142
. The Reconstruction period in Louisiana extended from mid-1863 (after which most of the state was effectively under federal control) to about 1879 (two years after the final withdrawal of federal troops and when the most complete records of the Dun agency end).
5. James H. Madison,
“The Credit Reports of R. G. Dun & Co. as Historical Sources,”
Historical Methods Newsletter
8
(
Sept.
1975
):
128
31
. On the history of the Mercantile Agency, see, Roy A. Foulke,
The Sinews of American Commerce
(
New York
:
Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.
,
1941
); James D. Norris,
R. G. Dun & Co., 1841–1900: The Development of Credit-Reporting in the Nineteenth Century
(
Westport, Conn.
:
Greenwood Press
,
1978
). Extant copies of the published Mercantile Agency Reference Books are scarce, with the most complete run housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
6. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
138
,
141
,
275
,
291
92
,
308
.
7. Ibid.,
310
.
8. Ibid.,
416
. The ledger condition rationale for the choice of counties is a curious one. This author has never encountered any missing or seriously damaged pages in the Dun ledgers archived at the Baker Library. But such questions notwithstanding, Ransom and Sutch's methodological care still seems exemplary compared with the highly suspect data on country stores presented by Edward L. Ayers in his acclaimed
The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1992
),
81
103
. Ayers claimed to have counted 150,653 “stores” in the South in 1900, a number almost certainly overinflated by his apparent failure to differentiate between the many types of businesses listed in the Reference Books, see, p.
81
,
442
,
475n2
. He compounded the error by using this questionable total to extrapolate an “average” of 144 “stores” per southern county (without any attempt made to account for the higher concentration of retail businesses in cities like New Orleans), and then by employing this misleading average to construct a map of
“stores per thousand people”
(
82
)—a map that was not accompanied by any explanatory or source notes.
9. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
132
,
388
. Traveling to New Orleans, separated from most rural parishes by extensive surrounding woods, swamps, and lakes, would not have been a routine journey for most farmers. Moreover, there were several conditions after the Civil War that radically affected New Orleans's former stranglehold on regional commerce, even as these contributed to the increasing significance of rural and small-town merchants, see, Scott P. Marler,
“‘A Monument to Commercial Isolation’: The Economic Decline of Postbellum New Orleans,”
Journal of Urban History
36
(
July
2010
):
507
27
. Needless to say, counting the thousands of stores located in the metropolitan confines of Orleans Parish would alter any regional or statewide statistical data on country stores.
10. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
291
92
,
310
.
11. Data derived from James L. Watkins,
King Cotton: A Historical and Statistical Review, 1790 to 1908
(
New York
:
J. L. Watkins & Sons
,
1908
).
12. On the history of Reconstruction-era Louisiana, see, Joe Gray Taylor,
Louisiana Reconstructed, 1863–1877
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1974
). The economic history of the state, particularly in the postbellum era, has been neglected. Still valuable is Roger W. Shugg,
Origins of Class Struggle in Louisiana: A Social History of White Farmers and Laborers during Slavery and After, 1840–1875
(
1939
; repr.,
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1968
). Notably lacking have been studies of cotton production in the state, although the Natchez district was the subject of Michael D. Wayne's
The Reshaping of Plantation Society: The Natchez District, 1860–1880
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1983
). The sugar-growing regions of the state have received more attention; see, for example, J. Carlyle Sitterson,
Sugar Country: The Cane Sugar Industry in the South, 1753–1950
(
Lexington
:
University of Kentucky Press
,
1953
); John A. Heitmann,
The Modernization of the Louisiana Sugar Industry, 1830–1910
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1987
); John C. Rodrigue,
Reconstruction in the Cane Fields: From Slavery to Free Labor in Louisiana's Sugar Parishes, 1862–1880
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
2001
); Rebecca J. Scott,
Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery
(
Cambridge, Mass.
:
Belknap Press
,
2005
).
13. General stores are categorized as those referred to specifically as such by the local reporters for the Dun agency, whose practices were not standardized. Like Ransom and Sutch, my study also includes grocers and dry-goods merchants, but does not include specialized retail stores—for example, drugstores—even though some of these may have been akin to general stores, Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
416n45
.
14.
Eighth Census of the United States
,
1860
, Vol.
I
: Population (
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1864
),
303
,
344
. On small farms in Ascension Parish, see, Samuel H. Lockett,
Louisiana As It Is: A Geographical and Topographical Description of the State
, ed. Lauren C. Post (orig. ms.
1869–1872;
repr.,
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1969
); Shugg,
Origins of Class Struggle
,
266
. The concentrated landholdings of West Feliciana Parish are discussed in Samuel C. Hyde Jr.,
Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana's Florida Parishes, 1810–1899
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1996
),
26
28
; Floyd M. Clay,
“Economic Survival of the Plantation System within the Feliciana Parishes, 1865–1880”
(
master's thesis
,
Louisiana State University
,
1962
). For mercantile development in non-plantation, yeoman-dominated regions, see, Scott P. Marler,
“Merchants in the Transition to a New South: Central Louisiana, 1840–1880,”
Louisiana History
42
(Spring
2001
):
165
92
; Steven Hahn,
The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1983
), Chpt. 5.
15. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
117
. On the microeconomics of retailing, see, Harold Barger,
“Income Originating in Trade, 1869–1929,”
in
Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century
(
New York
:
Arno Press
,
1960
),
329
. Lewis E. Atherton pointed out that adaptations to business practices improved the strength of southern stores during the 1850s, see, Atherton,
The Southern Country Store, 1800–1860
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1949
),
175
76
. For an analysis of changed investment, credit, and marketing structures after the war emphasizing the gradual decline of the factorage system, see, Richard H. Kilbourne Jr.,
Debt, Investment, Slaves: Credit Relations in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, 1825–1885
(
Tuscaloosa
:
University of Alabama Press
,
1995
); Woodman,
King Cotton
, Chpts. 23 and 24.
16. Donald McCloskey uses the example of southern country stores to typify the importance of “entry and exit” conditions to economic analysis, McCloskey,
“The Economics of Choice,”
in
Economics and the Historian
, ed. Thomas G. Rawski et al. (
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
,
1996
),
131
33
.
17. Data compiled from Louisiana, Vol. II, 1–77 (Ascension) and Vol. XXII, 240–92 (West Feliciana Parish), both in
R. G. Dun & Co. Collection
, Baker Library Historical Collections,
Harvard Business School
,
Boston, Mass.
(hereafter Dun Collection);
R. G. Dun & Co.
,
The Mercantile Agency Reference Book
,
1867–1878
(
July
),
Library of Congress
,
Washington, DC
; Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
143
.
18. These numbers are subject to the provision that the end date for my store sample is 1878 rather than 1880, which is mitigated by the fact that much of the Tenth Census was gathered in 1879. Ransom and Sutch wrote that field reports in the Dun ledgers (from which the Reference Books were compiled) were transcribed until “around 1880” (
309
). This author found no transcribed reports for Louisiana parishes after the summer of 1879, with February 1879 the last date of transcriptions for the overwhelming majority. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
137
.
19. Ibid.,
136
,
132
.
20. Ibid.,
136
,
389n19
. The formula used for spatial density estimates is to divide the given area's square mileage by the number of stores, with the result being (A). The square root of the product of 1.1547 multiplied by (A) then gives the hypothetical minimum average distance between evenly spaced stores.
21. The exercise reflected in Table 2-B tries to account for geographic reality to some degree by counting stores only on the river side of the parish seat, since the river was a significant barrier to store accessibility. However, Bayou Sara/St. Francisville's riverside location on the southern boundary of West Feliciana Parish would have immediately eliminated about one-third of this hypothetical expanded territory. If this seems to be unfairly tweaking the geographic sample, it should be noted that Woodville, Mississippi, is not included in this revised market area. Twenty-five miles from St. Francisville and connected to it by rail since the 1830s, Woodville was an integrated part of market life in West Feliciana Parish, especially its northern portions.
22. Louis M. Kyriakoudes,
“Lower-Order Urbanization and Territorial Monopoly in the Southern Furnishing Trade: Alabama, 1871–1890,”
Social Science History
26
(Spring
2002
):
179
98
; Peter W. FitzRandolph,
“The Rural Furnishing Merchant in the Postbellum United States: A Study in Spatial Economics”
(
PhD diss.
,
Tufts University
,
1979
); Harold Hotelling,
“Stability in Competition”
(
1929
), in
The Collected Economics Articles of Harold Hotelling
, ed. Adrian C. Darnell (
New York
:
Springer-Verlag
,
1990
),
50
63
. The hexagonal modeling used by Ransom and Sutch as the basis of their hypothetical store-dispersal estimates features prominently in central-place theory, One Kind of Freedom, Fig. 7.1, p. 136, see, for example, Plattner,
“Markets and Marketplaces,”
esp.
182
90
. Examples of centralplace theory applied to historical change in American distribution networks are Brian J. L. Berry,
The Geography of Market Centers and Retail Distribution
(
Englewood Cliffs, NJ
:
Prentice-Hall
,
1967
); James E. Vance Jr.,
The Merchant's World: The Geography of Wholesaling
(
Englewood Cliffs
:
Prentice-Hall
,
1970
); and William Cronon,
Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
(
New York
:
Norton
,
1991
).
23. Store locations were collected and tabulated from
R. G. Dun & Co.
,
Mercantile Agency Reference Book
(
July
1872
).
24. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
137
40
. The numbers of stores and capitalization figures were calculated from a cross-comparison of the 1878 ledger reports in Louisiana, Vol. II, 1–77 (Ascension); Vol. XXII, 240–92 (West Feliciana Parish), Dun Collection;
R. G. Dun & Co.
,
Mercantile Agency Reference Book
(
July
1878
).
25. Blackford,
History of Small Business
,
10
;
R. G. Dun & Co.
,
Mercantile Agency Reference Book
(
July
1872
).
26. Scott P. Marler,
“Merchants and the Political Economy of Nineteenth-Century Louisiana: New Orleans and Its Hinterlands”
(
PhD diss.
,
Rice University
,
2007
), Figs. 9.5-A, 9.5-B, Appendix B.
27. On the slow recovery of the sugar industry, see, Sitterson,
Sugar Country
, Chpt. 14; Mark D. Schmitz,
“Postbellum Developments in the Louisiana Cane Sugar Industry,”
Business and Economic History
,
2nd ser.
,
5
(
1976
):
88
101
.
28. Ransom and Sutch carefully detail the development of sharecropping and its associated crop lien system in One Kind of Freedom, Chpts. 4–8; see, also, Gerald David Jaynes,
Branches without Roots: Genesis of the Black Working Class in the American South, 1862–1882
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1986
).
29. Woodward,
Origins of the New South
,
184
85
. This article has focused on the experiences of merchants in the aggregate, but for individual merchant stories that serve to “thicken” the data, see, Marler,
“Merchants and the Political Economy of Nineteenth-Century Louisiana,”
Chpt. 9.
30. Ransom and Sutch,
One Kind of Freedom
,
216
; Rodrigue,
Reconstruction in the Cane Fields
,
150
. Attempts to begin making wage payments in company scrip redeemable only at plantation stores became a flashpoint of labor rebellion during the 1880s; see, ibid.,
183
91
.
31. For a long-term comparison of regional agriculture in the United States, see, Douglas F. Dowd,
“A Comparative Analysis of Economic Development in the American West and South,”
Journal of Economic History
16
(
Dec.
1956
):
558
74
. Peter A. Coclanis,
“In Retrospect: Ransom and Sutch's One Kind of Freedom,”
Reviews in American History
28
(
Sept.
2000
):
480
84
; Harold D. Woodman,
New South—New Law: The Legal Foundations of Credit and Labor Relations in the Postbellum Agricultural South
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
1995
). The historiographical trend toward viewing croppers as wage laborers is examined in Scott P. Marler,
“Fables of the Reconstruction: Reconstruction of the Fables,”
Journal of the Historical Society
4
(Winter
2004
):
113
37
.
32. Although they eschewed class-conflict frameworks in One Kind of Freedom, Ransom and Sutch's conclusions about “the trap of debt peonage” (Chpt. 8) and sharecropping as a form of tenancy (Chpt. 5) are more congruent with those of the new social historians than with the recent scholarship that describes sharecroppers as a mobile, wageearning, free-labor force in a postbellum South permeated by capitalist institutions. Several years later, in a footnote buried in a rejoinder to their critics, Ransom and Sutch provided insight into their rationale. Commenting on Jonathan Wiener's work, they wrote,
“We interpret the conflict which Wiener focuses on as being political and social rather than economic in nature”
; Ransom and Sutch,
“Credit Merchandising in the Post-Emancipation South: Structure, Conduct, and Performance,”
Explorations in Economic History
16
(
Jan.
1979
):
62n10
.