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Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom

312 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 9 halftones, 3 maps

ebook available

Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807138397 / October 2011

The arrival of the first steamboat, The New Orleans, in early 1812 touched off an economic revolution in the South. In states west of the Appalachian Mountains, the operation of steamboats quickly grew into a booming business that would lead to new cultural practices and a stronger sectional identity.

In Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom, Robert Gudmestad examines the wide-ranging influence of steamboats on the southern economy. From carrying cash crops to market to contributing to slave productivity, increasing the flexibility of labor, and connecting southerners to overlapping orbits of regional, national, and international markets, steamboats not only benefited slaveholders and northern industries but also affected cotton production.
This technology literally put people into motion, and travelers developed an array of unique cultural practices, from gambling to boat races. Gudmestad also asserts that the intersection of these riverboats and the environment reveals much about sectional identity in antebellum America. As federal funds backed railroad construction instead of efforts to clear waterways for steamboats, southerners looked to coordinate their own economic development, free of national interests.
Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom offers new insights into the remarkable and significant history of transportation and commerce in the prewar South.
ROBERT GUDMESTAD is an assistant professor of history at Colorado State University and author of A Troublesome Commerce: The Transformation of the Interstate Slave Trade.

Praise for Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom

“Robert Gudmestad has written a useful, important, and perhaps definitive study of steamboats in tbe antebellum South and their influence on the development of the cotton economy....Gudmestad delivers provocative, fresh insights throughout.”—William G. Thomas, Journal of Southern History

“Concise and engaging....Robert Gudmestad [writes] with incisive analysis and often harrowing detail....Painstakingly researched, elegantly organized, and attractively written.”—Calvin Schermerhorn, Journal of the Early Republic

“A fascinating, engaging, and well-written inquiry into an aspect of antebellum southern life that is often taken for granted....Robert Gudmestad has again written a book that deserves a wide readership.”—Ian Binnington, Civil War History

“Overall, then, how to sum up this book? It is the best book on southern steamboats for two generations. It is engagingly written and based upon first-class scholarship....It is an intriguing story which greatly enhances our understanding of the Cotton Kingdom. I recommend it thoroughly.”—John Armstrong, International Journal of Maritime History

“As an evocation of the life of the crews and passengers on board the boats, it is hard to see how Gudmestad's finely researched, carefully judged, and beautifully written work could be improved on....It projects Gudmestad, at a blow, into the first rank of historians of the Old South.”—Clive Dewey, International Journal of Maritime History

“The author's exhaustive research...provides new insight and perspective in an area largely ignored by scholars seeking to understand the convergence of transportation technologies and its impact on the evolution of the interior South. Crisply written with vivid first-person accounts of life on the 'western waters,' Steamboats makes a significant contribution to our understanding of one of the major factors that shaped the evolution of the Cotton Kingdom.”—Marshall Schott, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Gudmestad bases his positions firmly on primary evidence, but his conclusions challenge recent literature....He has produced a well-written, thought-provoking work that will advance the historiography of Southern development, middle-class formation, and technological change.”—Angela Lakwete, Missouri Historical Review

“Robert Gudmestad's Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom does a magnificent job at conveying the lifespan of the southwestern steamboat....His choice of illustration only added to the brilliance of this work....Gudmestad pulls off the rose colored glasses to show that the reality of life on the river was far less glamorous.”—Derek B. Pryor, Southern Historian

“Excellent and wide-ranging.”—Brian Schoen, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

“A compelling work of social and economic history.”—Louisiana History

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