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  • Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael S. Frawley
  • Mary A. DeCredico (bio)
Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation. By Michael S. Frawley. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. Pp. 256. Cloth, $45.00.)

Michael Frawley’s Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation fits well into recent scholarship that addresses the extent of manufacturing and commercial development in the Deep South on the eve of the Civil War. Weaving historiography with census materials, city and county directories, newspapers, and memoirs, Frawley vigorously questions the “moonlight and magnolia” image of the [End Page 271] Old South. Using the Gulf states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, he effectively demonstrates that far from opposing industrial development, the Gulf South planter class embraced it—and went so far as to invest in it.

Alabama emerges as the most diversified and developed state of the three. Possessing exhaustive natural resources, it had an ambitious entrepreneurial class led by northern-born Daniel Pratt. Encouraged by the Lowell experiment in Massachusetts, Pratt established his factory on the fall-line river town that would bear his name and hired 943 workers to tend to his concern. Pratt and his fellow industrialists “put a great deal of effort into persuading planters to transfer slaves from agricultural to manufacturing endeavors” (92). Pratt also utilized slave labor, as did many of his factory-owner peers. Pratt used slave labor “to fight against the growth of organized labor in Prattville and to be able to make sure his workforce stayed after he trained them” (93).

Addressing those historians who have argued that slavery retarded industrialization, Frawley turns to Mississippi. Using the Manufacturing Census Schedules for Mississippi, Frawley finds that a large number of manufacturers—155 out of 296—owned slaves. The graphs that accompany Frawley’s analysis confirm that “investors, it seems, were not just plowing their capital back into land and slaves; they saw manufacturing as a good investment for their money” (96). He also presents evidence suggesting that even in a state such as Texas, which was sparsely settled and was located on the South’s frontier, entrepreneurs were active in boosting industrial development.

Frawley’s epilogue addresses the state of manufacturing in the South as a whole on the eve of secession and war. He admits the South was at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the North, but he correctly notes that comparisons between the North and the South are misleading. Instead, the analysis should be between the South and the Northeast, as the rest of the free states were, like the Deep South, dominated by agriculture. He also avers that “the war came and industry in the [South] was put to the test” (122). But firms in the Gulf South did adapt to war-related manufacturing and, in the case of Alabama, became suppliers for the Confederate Ordnance Department. Indeed, Selma, Alabama, “became a major Confederate industrial center,” and other Confederate industries could be found in Florence, Montgomery, and Mobile (124). Many firms, especially those in Alabama, were destroyed by Union forces. But enough industrial concerns survived to help with economic development during Reconstruction.

Frawley’s book is a welcome contribution to the economic history of the antebellum South. He effectively shows how the 1860 census does not paint an accurate picture of Gulf South manufacturing, because too many [End Page 272] concerns were not reported by census marshals. In an endnote, he discusses why he chose the three Gulf states that he did. Florida contained only 186 firms and was too sparsely settled; records for Louisiana were lost. Fortunately, he had a wealth of information for Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. It might have behooved him to include in chapter 1 how and why he chose the Gulf South states that he did.

The real value of Frawley’s book is his use of the R. G. Dun credit reports. These documents, organized by county, contain a treasure trove of information about firms. Not only do the Dun records describe the manufacturing entities the 1860 census missed, but they also provide commentary on the net worth of a firm and...