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Becoming Southern: The Evolution of a Way of Life Warren County and Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1770—1890 By Christopher Morris Oxford University Press, 1995 Xix, 258 pp. Cloth $35.00 Reviewed by Ronald L. F. Davis, department of history, California State University, Northridge. He is the author of two books, Good andFaithful 1\abor: The Transitionfrom Slavery to Sharecropping in the Old Natche^ District and The Black Experience in Natche^ Mississippi, IJ20—lS80. To take a frontier place and show how it became something that it was not originally , something "southern," is what Christopher Morris's Becoming Southern purports to do. The place is Warren County, Mississippi, one ofthe most "southern" places in the nation on the eve of the Civil War. It was home toJefferson Davis, slave masters, yeoman farmers, riverboat gamblers, thousands of slaves, and the fortress Vicksburg—the formidable Gibraltar of the old Southwest that with its fall made General Ulysses S. Grant's reputation and doomed the Confederacy. To explain how Warren County emerged from a wilderness to become a society that embraced a soudiern mentality, a southern culture, and a southern style of behavior is no easy accomplishment. Morris goes about this task first by creating a sophisticated data base composed of 6000 machine-readable biographies —nearly every person who appeared in the public records from the 1770s to 1835. The subsequent organization ofthis material demonstrates a general hypothesis about community formation and local culture: the endeavor to create an acceptable life as setders in a specific and unique wilderness generated a social dynamic that altered the way people existed and perceived the world. In this view, culture, ideas, and thinking reflect the material conditions of life rather than the other way around. As a dedicated materialist, Morris argues that Warren County became a southern place because its people created a world of slavery and patriarchy in copingwith the material circumstances they confronted in the pursuit of a comfortable life. Slavery and southern thought grew out of the material soil of the frontier environment as a pragmatic response by its settlers to the real life conditions of the Mississippi Valley frontier. Morris argues that most Warren County settlers were market-oriented pioneers who bought and sold for local convenience until they managed to link up with regional markets in a process that changed their behavior and presumably Reviews 95 their thinking. Pioneer women traded within a domestic sphere of household exchange for use and convenience; males, on the other hand, more often traded for profit and advantage. As time passed, and as cotton gins were introduced and roads surveyed, those Warren County setders who took up cotton planting and plantation slavery in the place ofcattle herding and self-sufficient farming did so because they could afford to, because diey could see die profits and advantages associated with such endeavors, and because diey were psychologically attuned to wanting more wealth, more leisure, and more power. Those who did not preferred what diey had and saw litde reason to exchange a good life for a better one defined only in terms of more things, more work (at least at first), and more responsibility . Once these decisions to respond differentiy to the changing material conditions occurred, corresponding changes in social relations followed— changes that produced a more complex southern place defined by slavery, plantation agriculture, and the patriarchal ideals ofhierarchy and mastery. In presenting his story of community formation, Morris introduces a number of thought-provoking ideas that often challenge conventional wisdom about slavery and the role ofkin and family in southern life. For example, he asserts that Warren County slavery evolved from a condition in which few slaves were integrated into family households to one in which masters incorporated simple and extended slave families into a single plantation household as a unit ofproduction and reproduction. Botii masters and slaves shared a mutual interest in family formation and a stable environmental order. In another example ofhis dynamic take on southern communities, Morris doubts diat kinship and family relations functioned as the ever-defining social characteristics of antebellum southern life. Instead , setders lived, engaged politics, and associated witiiin a kinship network to be sure, but what mattered most was a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 95-98
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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