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A Store Almost in Sight

The Economic Transformation of Missouri from the Lousiana Purchase to the Civil War

Jeff Bremer

Publication Year: 2013

A Store Almost in Sight tells the story of commercial development in central Missouri from the early days of American settlement following the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War. Focusing on those counties near or on the Missouri River, historian Jeff Bremer confirms that the history of the frontier is also the history of the spread of capitalist values. The letters, journals, diaries, and travel accounts of Missouri settlers and visitors reveal how small decisions made by Missouri’s rural white settlers—ranging from how much of a certain crop to plant to how many eggs to take to the local store—contributed to the establishment of a market economy in the state.

Most Missourians welcomed the opportunity to take part in commercial markets. Farmwomen sold eggs or butter to peddlers and in nearby towns, while men took surplus corn or pork to stores for credit. Immigrants searched for the most fertile land closest to waterways, to ensure they would have large harvests and an easy way to ship them to market. Families floated farm goods downriver until steamboats transformed rural life by drastically reducing the cost of transportation and boosting farm production and consumption. Traders also trekked west across the plains to trade at the inland entrepôt of Santa Fe. The waves of migrants headed for Oregon and California in the 1840s and 1850s further encouraged commercial development. However, most white settlers lacked the necessary financial means to be capitalists in a technical sense, seeking instead a “competency,” or comfortable independence.

This fresh reinterpretation of the American frontier will interest anyone who wants to understand the economic and social significance of westward migration in U.S. history. It gives the reader a gritty, grassroots sense of how ordinary people made their livings and built communities in the lands newly opened to American settlement.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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1. An Enterprising and Industrious Population

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pp. 1-14

At the start of the nineteenth century, the United States was a rural, agricultural nation, where the seasons and weather regulated life and work. The vast majority of its 5,300,000 people lived on farms and plantations in the original thirteen states or along rivers such as the Ohio or Mississippi. Less than 10...

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2. A New and Better Life

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pp. 15-32

Antebellum Americans were driven and ambitious people who were out to make the best possible lives for themselves and their families. “Americans enjoyed more opportunity to pursue their ambitions, by foul means or fair, than any other people in history,” noted historian Walter McDougall. After...

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3. I Can Live Here Better

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pp. 33-54

Families came to Missouri in search of a competency, or comfortable independence. They sought productive and affordable farmland that allowed them to buy property for future generations. They also wanted rich soil, which better rewarded their effort. This enabled them to produce more farm goods for market...

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4. Vexatious and Hard Labors

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pp. 55-80

Those who came to antebellum Missouri found a farmer’s paradise, its riches limited by the hard work and many challenges required by family farming. The land was extraordinarily fertile, the alluvial floodplain soil nearly black. The banks of the Missouri River usually sloped gently away from the waterway...

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5. The Common Dependence of Man

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pp. 81-98

In April 1824, Clarinda Tate notified her mother in Kentucky of the death of her infant son. The boy, born February 13, had lived but an hour. She wrote that the child had “breathed its last without a groan[.] I felt much resigned to the will of God.” Clarinda had suffered from ill health during her pregnancy...

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6. Cook, Nursemaid, and Housewife

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pp. 99-114

White farmwomen in the antebellum United States operated as economic producers in their households. They often took part in the growing formal market economy and earned income for their work, as well as completing a wide range of traditional household duties. Women provided crucial domestic...

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7. A Great Business Is Done

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pp. 115-140

Once American and European migrants surged over the Appalachian Mountains in the late eighteenth century, they pursued commercial opportunities. But “markets cannot affect the behavior of people if people lack access to them,” noted historian David Danbom. Rivers provided this access. Peddlers...

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8. A Store Almost in Sight

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pp. 141-158

Gottfried Duden lived in central Missouri in the 1820s and encouraged the immigration of his fellow German citizens in his book Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America and A Stay of Several Years Along the Missouri. After three years of living on a farm located on the Missouri River...

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pp. 159-164

The Louisiana Purchase did not simply add land to the United States—it thrust aside European rivals and opened the center of the continent to a flood of ambitious, avaricious, and land-hungry migrants. Americans surged into Upper Louisiana in the early nineteenth century, building on the mix of...

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pp. 165-166

A long project such as this incurs many debts, both professional and personal. This book began as a dissertation at the University of Kansas (KU) and has since evolved into a much more readable book. Jonathan Earle was an exceptional adviser (translation: humane and fair) and remains an academic role model...


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pp. 167-206


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pp. 207-232


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pp. 233-240

Series Page

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pp. 241

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382476
E-ISBN-10: 1609382471
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382261
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382269

Page Count: 251
Illustrations: 1 map, 12 engravings
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: paper