Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in History


Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Anne S. Twitty

Second Advisor

Deirdre Cooper Owens

Third Advisor

Charles Reagan Wilson

Relational Format



This thesis examines the population and economy of farmers in Lawrence County, a county in northern Alabama, in the decade between 1850 and 1860. It uses the manuscript schedules of the United States census and statistical analysis aided by a computer database to determine landownership and bring a focus to the class of landowning yeoman farmers on the border between two physiographic regions: the Tennessee Valley, where land and resources were largely dominated by large planters, and the hill country in the south of the county, where yeomen enjoyed access to open land and opportunity for economic advancement. It shows that landownership, as the defining characteristic of yeomen, made a substantial difference in the fortunes of yeoman farmers vis-à-vis tenants who had access to land but did not own it. It reconsiders the arguments of Frank Owsley, the pioneering southern historian who first brought attention to yeoman farmers in the 1940s, in the context of subsequent historiography. Contrary to Owsley's thesis, it argues yeomen were neither prosperous nor upwardly mobile, but were stagnating economically. They were losing ground in the share of resources they held in the economy to the expansion of planters, as property in both land and slaves became increasingly concentrated among the wealthy elites. Yeomen in particular were becoming decreasingly involved in the institution of slavery as the nation neared the Civil War.

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