Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in History

Department

Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Jarod Roll

Second Advisor

Adam Gussow

Third Advisor

April Holm

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the antebellum lower Mississippi Valley, a place in which white Americans identified the commercial progress of the slave-based cotton kingdom with the manifestation of God’s will. It reconciles the two different “Souths” described by recent historians of slavery and capitalism and scholars of antebellum southern evangelicalism. The dissertation begins with the early years of white settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley, when the connection between commercial prosperity and God’s providence was not clear. By the 1830s and 1840s, however, these twin ideals merged as one. In those decades, churches and ministers provided stable centers of faith and confidence in the years of high prices for land, cotton, and slaves. Despite their faith in God, however, white southerners’ doubts about the market and roving peddlers often morphed into doubts about the intentions of itinerant preachers. Still, evangelical denominations played a crucial role in providing reliable credit networks when few methods of examining the character of distant planters and merchants existed. With confidence in their economic system restored in the 1840s, evangelical slaveholders began to connect plantation efficiency with God’s will. They believed that maximizing productivity, whether through violence or prizes for enslaved people, increased prosperity and aided in the spread of the Gospel. In this way, white southerners in the lower Mississippi Valley believed race-based slavery was a holy institution, not just for its supposedly Biblical endorsement, but for its economic advantages over free labor. Spreading God’s kingdom necessitated driving slaves harder. By the 1850s evangelicals in the lower Mississippi Valley were increasingly confident that their economic and social system would ultimately prove to be the perfect will of God. With belief in God’s providence sanctifying their social system and their use of denominational institutions to facilitate financial transactions, this dissertation shows how the lower Mississippi Valley’s evangelicals helped create the cotton kingdom and slavery’s capitalism.

Available for download on Thursday, July 23, 2020

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