In 1837, Edwin M. Holt—a thirty-year-old, fourth-generation North Carolinian—established a small spinning mill on his family’s land along the Haw River in rural Orange County. By his death in 1884, Holt’s small spinning mill had come to dominate the textile industry in Alamance County—which divided from Orange County in 1849—and gave the area an industrial legacy that would last for generations.
Covering the Holt dynasty from the founding of the Alamance Factory in 1837 to the strike of 1900 that eventually shut down most of the family’s mills, Alamance provides an excellent social history of southern industrial development. Bess Beatty intersperses chapters on the rise of the Holts with profiles on their workers to provide a thorough explanation of how industrialization affected sectional, familial, racial, and gender relations across class lines. Focusing on class formation and conflict, she rejects the long-held view that southern owners were paternalistic and that workers were docile and deferential, instead arguing that owners and workers had a contentious class-driven relationship, with both sides striving to maximize their economic success. Moreover, while Beatty shows that slavery, secession, war, defeat, and postbellum race relations influenced the development of southern industry, she maintains that industrialization in the South was not fundamentally different from that in other regions of the country.
Alamance’s story of southern industrial power makes an outstanding contribution to the history of southern communities and will fascinate those interested in the region, as well as students of social, business, and labor history.
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