In Bagur's Antebellum Jefferson, Texas, the author focuses on the East Texas settlement from its founding in 1845 until the years just prior to the onset of the Civil War. A variety of topics are covered throughout the work's forty-six thematically organized chapters, including religion, women, and business. While the volume's main function is to tell the town's story, Bagur also successfully highlights the importance of the community within the region's mercantile industry. Although Jefferson served as a commerce center for a time, success would not last for the town and ended with the spread of railroads in the area in the early 1870s.
Through extensive research in available primary sources, Bagur exposes the reader to the planning stages of the town's founding, citing that its location played [End Page 421] a role in its commercial development. He even discusses how business played a role in the community's design, as the warehouse district and many of the stores were strategically placed next to the waters of Big Cypress Bayou. Drawings taken from original land survey maps comprise just a small number of the varied diagrams and illustrations that he features in the work. Much of Bagur's focus rests on business-related subject matter, a fact not too surprising for an individual who has studied public policy for more than three decades. His extensive knowledge of these areas lie just below the surface in these particular chapters, informing the reader greatly while not overwhelming her with specialist details. The author's choice of topics to cover in the book would satisfy almost any reader, touching upon a number of business and social subject areas.
For all of the volume's positive aspects, one would be remiss not to acknowledge the faults as well. Despite the author's clear and concise writing style, a choice of a narrative organization, rather than its present thematic composition, might improve upon the work's already high readability level. A narrative format would also better incorporate some of the primary document information that the author chose to include verbatim in the text. In addition, the limited section on Jefferson women might prove troublesome to historians who study the so-called "weaker sex." Bagur essentially labels all of the women as nothing more than housewives and gives little more thought to how these ladies affected their community. However, he makes up for this error by shedding light on education in the region, as well as discussing the local slave population. These two topics are often overlooked by historians, and Bagur should be applauded for covering them and covering them well.
Ultimately, Bagur conclusively demonstrates the former status that the town had in East Texas and brilliantly conveys the heart of the town as being focused on the improvement of the lives of its citizens. This volume helps to fill the void in academic histories about the region. Though this work will be of particular interest to those with a soft spot for Jefferson or East Texas history, it should also serve as a template for those who seek to write a successful and engaging town history. This reviewer urges Bagur to write a follow-up to this volume, focusing on the town's decline and the aftermath. Such a work would be just as successful as Antebellum Jefferson, Texas.