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Builders of a New South

Merchants, Capital, and the Remaking of Natchez, 1865–1914

Aaron D. Anderson

Publication Year: 2013

Builders of a New South describes how, between 1865 and 1914, ten Natchez mercantile families emerged as leading purveyors in the wholesale plantation supply and cotton handling business, and soon became a dominant force in the social and economic Reconstruction of the Natchez District. They were able to take advantage of postwar conditions in Natchez to gain mercantile prominence by supplying planters and black sharecroppers in the plantation supply and cotton buying business. They parlayed this initial success into cotton plantation ownership and became important local businessmen in Natchez, participating in many civic improvements and politics that shaped the district into the twentieth century.

This book digs deep in countless records (including census, tax, property, and probate, as well as thousands of chattel mortgage contracts) to explore how these traders functioned as entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the Civil War, examining closely their role as furnishing merchants and land speculators, as well as their relations with the area's planters and freed black population. Their use of favorable laws protecting them as creditors, along with a solid community base that was civic-minded and culturally intact, greatly assisted them in their success. These families prospered partly because of their good business practices, and partly because local whites and blacks embraced them as useful agents in the emerging new marketplace. The situation created by the aftermath of the war and emancipation provided an ideal circumstance for the merchant families, and in the end, they played a key role in the district's economic survival and were the prime modernizers of Natchez.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

A book is journey in its own right, and it is a great pleasure to thank the many people who have helped me in mine over the past eight years. This project was begun at California State University, Northridge, working with Ronald L. F. Davis. I am deeply indebted to Ron for introducing...

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INTRODUCTION: A New Merchant System

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pp. 3-10

The day broke softly in Natchez on January 11, 1898, a pleasant, hazy day in the midst of a mild southern winter. The Natchez Democrat predicted the weather would be “Warm, Damp, and Cloudy,” and advised that “a good rain will probably be followed by a freeze,” indicative of...

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CHAPTER 1. Old Ways and New Realities

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pp. 11-39

Rebel gunfire from the Natchez River landing and the bluffs above bracketed the sloped sides of the ironclad gunboat USS Essex, while its engines strained and threw spray against the strong Mississippi River current as Commodore “Dirty” Bill Porter positioned his ship into firing position...

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CHAPTER 2. Merchant Communities

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pp. 40-70

Nineteen-year-old Joseph N. Carpenter had been at war for over two years, serving in the Breckinridge Guards cavalry unit, comprised of Natchez volunteers and attached to Confederate general John C. Breckinridge. He had fought in some of the most hotly contested battles and campaigns...

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CHAPTER 3. Crop Liens, Freedmen, and Planters

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pp. 71-111

In the summer of 1863, as General Grant’s troops occupied Natchez and Northern traders of all stripes began to swarm the district, a human movement of a different sort was under way that would soon transform the local marketplace like no other force. Some twenty miles to the east of Natchez...

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CHAPTER 4. A New Kind of Planter

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pp. 112-141

It was a spring day in Jefferson County on April 17, 1876, the time of year that filled planters and croppers alike with the anticipation of a successful coming crop year. It was also a stressful time of year, as overly wet weather could flood the fields and make it impossible to tend the young...

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CHAPTER 5. Merchant Life and Social Capital

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pp. 142-179

On Thursday, January 20, 1881, the offices of the deputy clerk of the Ninth District Court in Vidalia, Louisiana, were packed with the Natchez elite. Appearing before prominent attorney and district clerk Phillip Hough that day were a cross section of the leading members of the Natchez District...

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CHAPTER 6. A Dangerous Business

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pp. 180-213

In the spring of 1876 Henry M. Gastrell seemingly had it all. Since bursting onto the Natchez mercantile scene as a fresh twenty-two-year-old trader in October 1865 with the advertisement, “New Store. H. M. Gastrell & Co., Dealers in all kinds of Hardware and Cutlery, Stoves, Tin Ware, Lamps...

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Summary and Conclusion

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pp. 214-220

The trajectory of the business careers and social interactions of these ten mercantile families reveals much about the social and economic conditions that existed in the postwar Natchez District of Mississippi and Louisiana, and the changing economic demographics of the New South. The...


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pp. 221-256

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 257-270

Index and Image Plates

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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781621030591
E-ISBN-10: 1617036676
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036675

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 30 b&w photographs, 1 map, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2013