Smoke obscuring the landscape

Industry in the Antebellum South is woefully misunderstood.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, industry disappeared from the story of the South as a way to explain how the region lost the conflict.  It was not until the cliometric revolution of the 1970s took place that historians looked at the manufacturing in the region, but even then, historians confirmed their own biases about the backwardness of the region and found little to no industrial concerns in the area.

My research shows that industry has been woefully under-represented by historians in the Gulf South.  The census, which is used by most historians when discussing industry on the eve of the Civil War, is at least 20% off in its data on this subject.  While not enough to allow the South to win the war, this under-reporting, which was discovered through exhaustive research in a wide variety of contemporary sources, forces us to alter what we think we know about the South, and may force us to look at the post-war South in a different light.  I explore the various factors related to industrial production, such as the availability of natural resources, transportation, markets, labor, and capital.  Moreover, I extensively use GIS to present my data through maps, to make my information more accessible to the average reader.

In the end, slavery did not hold back industry in the region, as many have postulated, thus, the region’s post-war backwardness must stem from another source.  The Gulf South, was a region more industrialized and modern than suggested by the census.  More to the point, the thinly industrialized South of Frederick Law Olmsted, and even that of Bateman and Weiss, almost certainly could not have sustained a four-year, increasingly grinding struggle for independence.  The “deplorable scarcity” has largely rested on what really was a deplorable misunderstanding, one that this work attempts to correct.


Dr. Frawley presenting his work at the American Historical Association’s Annual Conference in Washington D.C., January 2018.