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The World-System in the 21st Century: 25th Annual Political Economy of the World-System Conference

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 Wilma A. Dunaway 


 In Space and Transport in the World-System,  edited by Stephen Bunker and Paul Cicantell (Greenwood Press, 1998)

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Theoretical Background

Inland from the Atlantic coast of North America rise the Appalachian mountains. This region has been stereotyped as a "subsistent region of refuge" (Chase-Dunn 1989) that remained resistant to capitalist development until the early twentieth century. Rugged terrain and the lack of roads supposedly deterred external trade, prevented the growth of an export economy, and slowed the development of capitalist enterprises (Eller 1982). My own revisionist research has now attacked that historiography (Dunaway 1996a). In reality, Southern Appalachia was absorbed into the capitalist world-system as part of the extended Caribbean (Wallerstein 1989), that vast New World region stretching from Brazil to present-day Maryland. During the global expansion cycle of 1672-1700, Southern Appalachia was incorporated as a peripheral fringe of the European colonies located along the southeastern coasts of North America. Southern Appalachia was, in fact, one of the major frontier arenas in which England, France, and Spain played out their hegemonic imperialism for core status. Blocking easy expansion into the Ohio and Mississippi valleys was that vast mountain range stretching from present-day western Maryland and West Virginia to northern Alabama. The first stage of capitalist incorporation occurred in the eighteenth century with the integration of Southern Appalachia's indigenous Cherokees into the international fur trade (Dunaway 1994).

After the American Revolution, settler capitalists continued the transformation of Southern Appalachia into the first frontier-periphery located within the newly-formed United States. This research focuses on that second historical era of deepening incorporation by investigating these five questions:

  • 1. What was the role of Southern Appalachia in the capitalist world-economy?
  • 2. Through what transport systems was this mountainous terrain articulated with global commodity chains?
  • 3. Who were the Appalachian agents who organized the flow of commodities from and into this mountainous periphery?
  • 4. How did class conflict over transport infrastructure deepen capitalist inequalities in the region?
  • 5. How did transport lag deepen the peripheralization of this region?

Capitalist Incorporation of the First American Frontier

During the nineteenth century, the world's geographical regions were hierarchically-integrated into a framework of production processes structured around three interdependent specializations: zones to produce export staples; support zones to provision the export areas and their urbanizing centers; and support zones which warehoused, distributed and transported commodities between markets. Those areas cultivating staple exports could acquire cheap raw materials and laborers from contiguous regions. Thus, the emergence of cash-crop zones stimulated the expansion of market-oriented food production in adjacent zones (Wallerstein 1989). In Latin and South America and the Caribbean, there developed a "continuous interplay of plantations and small-scale yeoman agriculture" (Frank 1979, 123). In order to maximize access to international markets, the Europeans concentrated their export zones along the coasts. To supply food to the coastal plantations, a second type of "production regime" was adapted to the inland, more mountainous terrain. In those zones, smaller-scale farms and manufacturing enterprises generated grains, livestock, and extractive commodities to provender the coastal export centers (Frank 1979). Areas lacking easy market access were transformed into the "livestock frontiers" of the nineteenth-century world-economy (Duncan-Baretta and Markoff 1978). In addition, extractive industry emerged in the inland mountains of the New World colonies, replicating the pattern which western Europe had followed in its own transition to capitalism (Kriedte, Medick and Schlumbohm 1981).

World-wide, mountain ecosystems have been exploited as peripheral fringes of adjacent capitalist zones (Dunaway 1996b). On a world scale, therefore, Southern Appalachia's role was not that different from many other such peripheral fringes at the time, including inland mountain sections of several Caribbean islands, Brazil, and central Europe (Wallerstein 1989). Incorporation into the capitalist world-economy triggered within Southern Appalachia agricultural, livestock, and extractive ventures that were adapted to the region's terrain and ecological peculiarities. Yet those new production regimes paralleled activities that were occurring in other colonized sectors of the New World. Fundamentally, Southern Appalachia was a "support zone" that supplied raw materials to other agricultural or industrial export regions of the world-economy.

On the one hand, this inland region exported foodstuffs to other peripheries and semiperipheries which, in turn, exported staple crops to the core. It is not by accident that the region's surplus producers concentrated their land and labor resources into the generation of wheat and corn-- often in terrain where such production was ecologically unsound. The demand for flour, meal, and grain liquors was high in plantation economies (like the North American South and most of Latin America) where labor was allocated toward the production of exotic staples, not foods (Wallerstein 1989). Nor was it a chance occurrence that Southern Appalachians specialized in the production of livestock, as did inland mountainous sections of other zones of the New World. The demand for meat, work animals, meat derivatives, and leather was high in those peripheries and semiperipheries of the world-economy that did not allocate land to less-profitable livestock production (Frank 1979). In 1860, Southern Appalachian counties exported nearly 6.5 million bushels wheat; more than 26 million bushels corn; 30.5 million pounds tobacco; and 121,542 bales of cotton. In addition to their crops, Appalachian farmers exceeded Southern averages in their per-capita production of hogs, cattle, sheep, horses and mules and their export of massive amounts of animal byproducts (Dunaway 1996a).

On the other hand, Southern Appalachia was also a production regime that supplied raw materials to the emergent industrial cores of the American Northeast and western Europe-- zones that had a voracious appetite for Appalachian minerals, timber, cotton, and wool. Gold, salt, coal, copper, manganese, lead, timber, and several other mineral resources poured out of the Appalachian mountains to fuel expanding core industries. Nearly one-half of the region's antebellum extractive output was generated for export, and several Appalachian counties produced extractive commodities solely for consumption by distant manufacturing centers. Moreover, regional exports of manufactured tobacco, grain liquors, and foodstuffs stockpiled those sectors of the world-economy where industry and towns had displaced farms (Dunaway 1996a). Antebellum journalists believed the cotton South was dependent upon the Upper South for grain, cattle, hogs, horses and mules (DeBow's Review 19: 1855). However, Mississippi Valley residents consumed only two-thirds of the flour and beef, three-quarters of the corn, and 86% of the pork received at New Orleans between 1858 and 1861 (Lindstrom 1970).

Thus, much of the Appalachian surplus received in Southern ports was re-distributed to the urban-industrial centers of the American Northeast and to foreign plantation zones of the world-economy (Dunaway 1996a). By the 1840s, the Northeastern United States was specializing in manufacturing and international shipping; and that region's growing urbanizing centers were experiencing food deficits (Wallerstein 1989). Consequently, by 1860, three-fourths of the Upper South grain received at Southern seaports was being re-exported to the Northeast (Lindstrom 1970). In return for raw ores and agricultural products, Southern markets-- including the mountain counties-- consumed nearly one-quarter of the transportable manufacturing output of the North and received a sizeable segment of the redistributed international imports (e.g., coffee; tea) handled by Northeastern capitalists (Billington 1967).

Beginning in the 1820s, Great Britain lowered tariff rates and eliminated trade barriers to foreign grains. Subsequently, European and colonial markets were opened to North American commodities. Little wonder, then, that flour and processed meats comprised the country's major nineteenth-century exports, or that more than two-thirds of those exports went to England and France (Holtfrerich 1989). Outside the country, then, Appalachian commodities flowed to the manufacturing centers of Europe, to the West Indies, to the Caribbean and to South America. Through far-reaching commodity flows, Appalachian raw materials-- in the form of agricultural, livestock, or extractive resources-- were exchanged for core manufactures and tropical imports (Dunaway 1996a).

In the North American Southeast, nineteenth-century commerce "was in effect a triangle with one apex on the near-by coast, at Charleston or Savannah, a second in the Tennessee-Ohio region, say at Knoxville, Nashville, or Cincinnati, and a third in the district of metropolitan commerce, Baltimore or New York" (Phillips 1908, 393). At the local level, production for export stimulated the development of towns and villages which served as the intermediate hubs for forwarding commodities to the outside world. "The movement from farm to market generated employment opportunities and attendant urban systems that varied with the particular staple involved and the technique of marketing" (Earle and Hoffman 1976, 9).

The Spatial Organization of Commodity Transport

On the one hand, sectors of the world-economy were interdependent around product specializations; trade revolved around exchange of the resulting variety of export commodities. On the other hand, the world-economy must be organized to mobilize those goods between geographically-distant areas. Thus, zones were differentiated not only by their production regimes but also by their roles in the distribution process. Spatially, the villages, towns and cities of the capitalist world-economy were hierarchically structured into interlocking networks of "production zones," "distribution zones," and "consumption zones." Interconnected by networks of oceans, rivers, canals, turnpikes, roads, and later railroads, these three layers of distribution points made international trade possible. How, then, was Southern Appalachia integrated into this global system?

Antebellum Appalachian towns and villages were hubs of commercial interaction with other regional communities and with distant territories. Capitalistic trading triggered a network of commodity chains in which "urbanizing" centers subsumed nearby smaller towns, villages, and hamlets. Consequently, the region's larger towns gradually became "foreign bodies" in their local economies, "looking beyond [their] narrow surroundings and out towards the greater movement of the outside world, receiving from it rare, precious goods unknown locally, which [they] sent in turn to smaller markets and shops" (Braudel 1981, 2: 117).

In this way, the region's fragile town economies were integrated into the spatial organization of the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein 1989). It was through these towns and villages that the region's trade goods moved; for public inspection stations, banking, merchants and manufacturers were centralized there. Small towns were intermediate distribution points for large volumes of trade goods moving out of and into the Appalachian hinterlands. From smaller towns, trade goods moved to larger regional trading hubs that provided "export linkages" for the distant transport of bulky or perishable produce and offered "import linkages" for the wholesale distribution of foreign goods (see Figure 1). Situated at major transportation crossroads, the region's larger towns functioned as "bulking centers" (Wallerstein 1989) for adjacent smaller villages, agricultural hinterlands and extractive enclaves. Cumberland and Hagerstown, Maryland; Staunton and Winchester, Virginia; Wheeling, Morgantown, and Charleston, West Virginia; Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee; and Rome, Georgia were regional distribution centers for the export of Appalachian commodities and for the import of foreign goods back into the countryside. In a sense, then, these centralized towns served as first-level "distribution zones" for large adjacent agricultural, manufacturing, and extractive "production zones."

From these Appalachian bulking centers, exports were shipped to several external, inland distribution centers that lay between Appalachia and the North American coasts. Appalachian livestock and extractive commodities were exported through major trans-shipment centers in the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Midwest: including Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Louisville, and Richmond. From these inland intermediate points, Appalachian exports finally arrived at one of several Southern or Northeastern seacoast entrepots (see Figure 1), from which these goods were redistributed inland to nearby consumers or were shipped by ocean to distant domestic or foreign markets. By the 1840s, specialized commodity exchanges operated in Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans, and Baltimore where Appalachian cotton, lumber, tobacco, wheat, textiles, and livestock were warehoused and shipped forward.

Southern Appalachia's Intermodal Transport Systems

To permit commodities to flow between zones of production, zones of distribution, and zones of consumption, transport mechanisms move goods through structured commodity chains. As part of the integrated national and international system, Southern Appalachia developed intermodal transportation networks to effect articulation with external transport networks. Throughout most of the antebellum period, rivers comprised the dominant medium for accomplishing inter-regional trade throughout the United States (Haites and Mak 1970). Even though it was inland, Southern Appalachia was not "land-locked" in mountainous isolation. Two-thirds of the region's counties were intersected by fourteen navigable river systems and three canals which linked them into the broader system of national waterways that fed ultimately to the Atlantic or Gulf seacoasts. (1)

Along these waterways, more than five hundred small communities became landings for commercial activity and boat construction. Licensed by county courts as public monopolies, hundreds of local ferries played a crucial part in the flow of commodities from inland areas to the river systems (Dunaway 1996a). As the "staging areas" for down-river flatboat movements, ferries were often collection points for agricultural or extractive exports and for the redistribution of imported goods (Haites and Mak 1970). Since they were intermodal points between wagon and water transport, ferry sites stimulated the emergence of adjacent inns, warehouses, stores, and manufactories (Dunaway 1996a).

In short, waterways were the avenue for rapid transport of bulky agricultural, extractive or manufactured commodities out of the region. Several types of river craft linked together the region's major waterways, canals, and ferries. For unidirectional transport down river, local companies constructed flatboats, tobacco canoes, broad horns, Kentucky boats, and bateaux. To permit round-trip travel, exporters relied on larger keelboats or packet boats, and-- after 1840-- more versatile steamboats. Flatboats and arks carried goods out of tributaries where larger boats could not float safely. Special barges and tows were used on canals while stationary, horse-rope propelled boats were operated at ferries. These smaller craft carried commodities to intermediate sites for transfer to larger packets or steamboats, forming an interdependent network of shipping methodologies that plied different parts of the rivers (Haites and Mak 1970). By 1840, all the major navigable Appalachian rivers and many of the secondary tributaries were regularly served by steam towboats, packet boats, and larger steamboats. As the primary vehicle for antebellum export trade, Appalachian steamboats averaged twelve round trips annually, many losing only ninety days per year due to unnavigable rivers. In 1835, the down-river steamboat trade on the Ohio River totalled nearly $15 million, at least half that amount deriving from the Appalachian counties of the Ohio Basin (Haites and Mak 1970). Export along the region's internal rivers and canals was equally intensive (Dunaway 1996a).

Export by river was intricately structured, however; for this mode of transportation required skilled specialists. River wharves, landings, and warehouses were owned and operated by companies that accepted goods on consignment for transport to distant markets. For example, James King and Company plied the Tennessee with keelboats and steamers, averaging one trip monthly. On all the Appalachian rivers, boatyards developed as points for accumulating commodities for export or for wholesale distribution (Dunaway 1996a). State legislatures created as public monopolies numerous navigation companies which were authorized to make river improvements, construct boats, operate landings for tolls, and accept payment to transport passengers and commodities by river. On the Ohio River and its tributary rivers, several cartels were formed among canal and steamboat companies to control freight rates and to maximize profits related to external transport (Haites and Mak 1970).

Connecting to these waterways, several networks of state turnpikes and county roads further linked Appalachian communities into national commodity chains. Fifty-nine Appalachian counties relied solely on major river access. However, more than one-half of the region's counties were transversed by major thoroughfares that carried livestock droves and trade goods to distant markets in other states. Two major national turnpikes crisscrossed Southern Appalachia (Dunaway 1996a). Running east to west, the National Turnpike linked Baltimore to the Ohio River at Wheeling, to proceed into the Midwest. From Philadelphia via Hagerstown, Maryland, the Great Wagon Road proceeded down the Valley of Virginia to link with routes into east Kentucky and east Tennessee (Rouse 1973). Interlinked with these national turnpikes were several major Appalachian livestock and wagon routes which connected the region to major coastal trade centers and to Deep South cities (Heath 1960). With more than three-quarters of its land area linked by major trade routes to interstate thoroughfares, pre-1850 Southern Appalachia was no more isolated from the national economy than were most rural areas of New England or much of the Midwest (Dunaway 1996a).

Throughout most of the antebellum period, Southern Appalachians relied on five techniques of direct intermodal transport: pack horses, stages, wagons, boats, and overland drives. During the frontier years, residents of the most rugged terrain exported iron bars, salt, ginseng, furs, whiskey, and a variety of produce by packhorses. Stage coaches also hauled commodities to and from farms, merchants and towns along their routes (Dunaway 1996a). People who lived along major roads sent their goods to market by passing wagoners or stages that brought imports on their return trips (Rouse 1973). As roads and turnpike connections improved, wagons became the most popular method of overland transport. The region's major thoroughfares were busy places, filled with "jostling processions of freight wagons" (Hagerstown Mail, 31 March 1837). Along Appalachian turnpikes and roads, "wagons were so numerous that the leaders of one team had their noses in the box at the end of the next wagon" (Harper's 59: 1879).

The Role of Transport Middlemen

The expansion of external trade in Southern Appalachia was characterized by economic restructuring. Producing the surplus commodities or constructing infrastructure are not enough to effect articulation with the world-economy. As part of the incorporation process, commodity transportation networks were organized to benefit distant trade centers; so a new layer of non-producing "commodity distributors" emerged to move goods between distant points. Their role was to activate linkages that mobilized capital between the urban core and rural hinterlands. Without these actors at the micro-level, the far-reaching commodity chains could not span the globe with exports and circle back again to deliver imports to the original exporting producers.

What enlivened the transition to capitalism was the creation of layers of markets that broke the direct connection between producers and buyers. It was exactly the problem of distribution between zones that led to the historical emergence of commission merchants. "Long chains of merchants took position between production and consumption" (Braudel 1977, 53). Globally and nationally, several layers of retailers, brokers, speculators, dealers, wholesalers, and forwarding agents emerged, by the 1830s, to offer ancillary services connected with marketing. To facilitate external trade, there emerged several types of commission merchants, wholesalers, retailers, intermediate processors, and shippers. At one level, these middlemen effected the exchanges between raw material suppliers or intermediate processors and the distant manufacturers who finished the products. At another level, commission merchants, wholesalers, and retailers constructed the extensive trade chains between food suppliers or manufacturers and distant consumers. For their "nonproductive" services in constructing commodity chains, these middlemen expropriated high profits (Bruchey 1972).

Consequently, antebellum trading from peripheral fringes was much more routine and accessible than most scholars have perceived. Appalachian producers could reach distant markets through linkages with several different types of "middleman" traders who warehoused commodities for export. For the region's largest surplus producers, the most significant link in the flow of external trade was the distant commission merchant who accepted Appalachian goods on consignment, made advances to the shipper on credit, obtained imports for the seller, and handled running accounts. Commission merchants based at distant urban trade centers advertised regularly in Appalachian newspapers. Rather than being isolated in a rural hinterland without interest in the outside world, Appalachian elites kept a running correspondence with commission houses at several northeastern and southeastern ports in order to keep abreast of the supply, demand and price fluctuations in the world- economy. When demand was high, distant commission merchants contacted their clients in the Appalachian countryside, soliciting shipments of flour, wheat, pork, or cotton. By 1850, most of Southern Appalachia's manufactured tobacco was being consigned to New York factors, by way of Richmond or Norfolk houses. Distant commission merchants also marketed Appalachian salt, iron, copper, and coal (Dunaway 1996a).

In addition to consigning their commodities to commission merchants, Appalachian producers engaged in intermediate marketing strategies. Agricultural produce or livestock was exported to adjacent Appalachian counties, from which the commodities would be re-sold further away. For example, manufacturers marketed salt and iron in this fashion. From Wheeling, Frederick, Winchester, Staunton, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, livestock brokers re-exported to distant cities the herds that had been driven from east Kentucky, West Virginia, western Maryland and upper east Tennessee. For instance, east Kentucky mules were marketed to Knoxville dealers who fattened them for re-export to the Deep South (Dunaway 1996a).

External Trade and Regional Peripheralization

As capitalist incorporation deepened, regional productive processes and infrastructure were spatially reorganized to effect the articulation of rural Appalachian producers with distant consumer markets. Country merchants, hinterland villages, trading hubs, transportation networks, and distant metropoles were integrated into an interlocking web of exchange flows that absorbed most Appalachians within the pervasive reach of global commodity chains. The existence of so many nonproductive distributors and transporters is powerful evidence of the extent to which external trade had been systematized to the advantage of the core. The further the production zone was from the consumption zone, the greater was the proliferation of layers of distribution agents involved in the commodity forwarding process, and each of those layers extracted surplus from the original producers. These marketing and distribution strategies maximized surplus extraction from peripheral fringes, like Southern Appalachia, in order to centralize control over trade flows in those urban centers most tightly linked with European financial institutions. In this way, Appalachian capital (and that from similar peripheral fringes) accumulated at the core.

However, peripheral fringes are disadvantaged in another way. The economic dominance of the export sector encouraged the development of Appalachian commerce and towns at a pace that far outstripped the emergence of local manufacturing (Dunaway 1996a). In fact, the external trade in several types of raw materials actually deterred the "vertical diversification" of local Appalachian economies. When commodities were exported in the raw forms to a distant destination, the receiving zone captured the trade's operating institutions and allied industries at the expense of the production zone and drained away the value added to the commodities through processing (Maizels 1992). For example, Southern Appalachia never developed any extensive regional facilities for processing meat or copper prior to export. Instead annual drives of livestock "on the hoof" and massive transfers of raw ore fuelled meatpacking in adjacent zones (like Louisville or Cincinnati) and stimulated the proliferation of allied copper industries in the Northeast and Europe.

Such "horizontal integration" further peripheralized Appalachian manufacturing and internal markets because it stimulated external trade in the reverse direction (Maizels 1992). Finished goods were bought from distant markets, even when such commodities might have been manufactured locally from available raw materials (e.g., shoes, fabrics). More significantly, technology for manufacturing and industry (e.g., mills) were imported from distant trade centers, as were many of the livestock breeds, foreign plants, and fertilizers that Appalachian farmers employed to increase their agricultural output (Dunaway 1996a).

After 1840, the terms of trade became more and more disadvantageous for Appalachian exports. Even though world prices for regional export commodities declined after 1840, the volume of imports steadily increased. By 1860, the region's economy had virtually stagnated. In addition to a declining trade position in the global economy, Southern Appalachia experienced a one-sided pattern of development in which capital was primarily invested in land, slaves, and areas of export activity. Expansion of home markets was deterred by the focus on external trade in raw agricultural produce and extractive commodities, an economic orientation that also prevented the emergence of new industrial technology and diversified manufacturing. As a result, local Appalachian economies were "disarticulated" such that agrarian and commercial capitalism remained dominant, without stimulating the level of industrialization that was occurring in other sections of the country and in the European core. All these factors deepened the region's peripheral position within the world-economy and exacerbated its polarization from other sections of the United States (Dunaway 1996a).

Regional Resistance to Surplus Extraction

Because of their domination of the region's external trade, commission middlemen drained off ten to fifteen percent of the surpluses that might have accrued to the original producers. (2) An even larger drain of regional capital was effected by speculators who originated from external metropoles. These middlemen bought up regional raw materials far below market prices, resold them for sizeable profits, and drained away much of the external trade wealth that might have accumulated within Southern Appalachia. Thus, global commodity chains operated as efficient and rationalized mechanisms for centralizing capital at the core-- exactly because transport was so highly profitable.

From the perspective of peripheral Appalachian producers, however, the global distribution system was inefficient because of the capture of profits by middlemen. Consequently, Appalachian producers resisted core surplus extraction by marketing and transporting their own commodities. Farmers or merchants regularly advertised in newspapers to hire wagoners and boat hands (Knoxville Standard, 31 March 1846). Local companies operated "line teams" that specialized in long-distance hauling and freight (Rouse 1973). It was not unusual for larger farmers or merchants to operate their own line of wagons and to hire drivers on annual contracts. Larger planters and merchants often managed their own keelboats, canal boats, or packet boats-- taking their neighbors goods to market for a commission. For their monthly or bi-monthly trading trips, larger merchants kept wagoners and flatboat pilots in their regular employ (Dunaway 1996a).

About twice a year, Appalachian merchants made regular trading trips to distant towns, exporting commodities and hauling back imported items for local retailing (Hilliard 1972). Appalachian manufacturers often disposed of their products by sending their own trade wagons to peddle their commodities in distant communities (Rouse 1973). An antebellum journalist observed that east Tennessee merchants "realize[d] a profit of 70% from almost every article" they wagoned to or from Baltimore and Philadelphia (Smith 1842, 54). Long-distance livestock drives formed one of the most significant mechanisms for the direct transport of Appalachian commodities to Southern and eastern markets (Hilliard 1972). In 1860, Southern Appalachia exported more than one million swine, nearly half a million cattle; more than 90,000 horses and mules; and thousands of chickens and turkeys (Dunaway 1996a).

Class Struggle over Transport Infrastructure

Despite this resistance, however, regional wealth was continually extracted. By 1860, Southern Appalachian households were nearly twice as likely to be poor as families in the country as a whole. Between 1810-1860, there was growing internal polarization between Appalachian elites and the rest of the region's residents. (3) Less than one-half of the region's households owned land or any other means of production, and one-quarter of these landless households formed the pool from which regional exporters drew their transport labor force. In the nineteenth century, transport systems were labor intensive; and commodity export was lucrative business (Phillips 1908). However, transport laborers earned the lowest wages of the period and experienced the most precarious living conditions (Soltow 1975).

While the bottom mass of Appalachians were relatively impoverished, the top decile of families were monopolizing nearly three-quarters of the total regional wealth. Appalachian elites accrued part of their wealth by exploiting their neighbors through the commodity export process. For a large segment of the Appalachian farming community, participation in external trade came indirectly because antebellum marketing was effected through "triangular trading" between producers, local merchants, and distant markets. Local merchants supplied the first layer of export/import linkages between the Appalachian countryside and the capitalist world-economy. Typically, Appalachian merchants engaged in multiple enterprises, often operating mills, distilleries, or livestock stands, enterprises that warehoused local commodities for export (Dunaway 1996a). Country stores purchased their dry goods from distant eastern or southern cities, sending in return, raw agricultural commodities. Quite often, Appalachian merchants vigorously encouraged farmers to cultivate local crops which were in demand at distant commission houses (Hilliard 1972).

By the 1820s, several major drover trails crisscrossed Southern Appalachia, linking the border states to national markets. Following these routes, about 1,355,000 hogs; 100,600 cattle; and 86,870 horses and mules were herded annually to distant markets through Southern Appalachian counties. These itinerant drives consumed about 5,672,186 bushels of Appalachian corn every year; and each Appalachian farm owner could dispose of 32 bushels of surplus corn in this manner. Consequently, more than one-fifth of the region's corn exports left the region "on the hoof;" but the high profits accrued to elites who operated the "livestock stands" where Appalachian producers marketed their surpluses (Dunaway 1996a).

Appalachian producers could also dispose of their surpluses by selling them to local speculators who purchased on credit from their neighbors extractive commodities, agricultural produce or livestock. After contracting to accept certain amounts at specified below-market prices, these traders then exported to distant towns, accruing considerable profits. In addition to sales to the various types of middlemen, Appalachian farmers also marketed their raw agricultural produce to local manufacturers who exported more profitable flour, meal, liquors, tobacco plugs or twists, meat provisions, leather products, and textiles. Because nearly 60%% of the region's manufacturing and extractive industries were fully or partially owned by absentees, surplus was extracted to benefit core capitalists and the local elites who represented them (Dunaway 1996a, 317).

Class struggle over transport infrastructure emerged as an outgrowth of this regional inequality between elites and the majority of Appalachians. Funding of waterway, turnpike, and railroad improvements reflected the export interests of Appalachian elites, not the needs of local residents for functional linkages to adjacent communities (Dunaway 1996a). Access to distant trade centers and the expansion of external trade were the primary motivations for public funding of antebellum internal improvements in Southern Appalachia. River channeling, canals, bridges, ferries, and the construction of major state turnpikes or toll roads were justified by public officials as investments essential to commerce (Folmsbee 1939). State governments neglected streams or roads that were used predominantly by local travellers in favor of infrastructure that would make extractive sites more accessible to trade routes or that would link Appalachian farmers and merchants to outside markets. As privately-owned public monopolies, transport infrastructure opened those geographical locations where extractive industries, travel capitalism, and large export enterprises were being developed, leaving isolated those small farmers and poorer Appalachians who were less articulated with external trade. In short, transport systems came into being to speed the flow of commodities between distant markets and to facilitate the influx of tourists into the region's 134 mineral spas (Dunaway 1996a).

Thus, the local interests of Appalachian counties were subordinated to the drives of the capitalist world-economy. In the intense political rivalries with the richer non-mountainous sections of their home states, Appalachian elites aligned themselves with external planter-merchant aristocracies. The region's economic dependence on richer zones was cemented, as local elites acted like a comprador bourgeoisie to syndicate absentee investment capital for local enterprises. Consequently, the region's natural resources and industrial enterprises were heavily controlled by absentees; and its commerce was virtually in the hands of foreigners located in distant trade centers (Dunaway 1996a). The planter zones of the Appalachian states became dominant within the state legislatures (Ambler 1964), and they were relatively secure and resistant to challenges from the contradictory needs of those aspects of community life that were not oriented toward export to the world-market. Throughout the latter two decades of the antebellum period, Appalachian counties were polarized within their state governments (Ashe 1925, Folmsbee 1939, Ambler 1964).

As a result, Appalachians steadily fell behind other Americans in wealth accumulation and in the development of transportation infrastructure. The sectional split over state funding of internal improvements was highly rancorous. Consistently, the state legislatures funded transportation projects in those counties dominated by the planters (Ambler 1964); and the Appalachian counties paid a higher proportion of taxes than their share of internal improvements (Folmsbee 1939). For instance, Tidewater politicians defeated western North Carolina bids for improved roads from the 1830s onward. "Nature has supplied us with the means of reaching a good market," they objected to the western representatives, "and we will not be taxed for your benefit" (Ashe 1925, 324). Similarly, east Tennesseans saw themselves as "mere supplicants at the gate of the Nashville temple" where the legislature was under the control of the "Middle Tennessee aristocracy" (Jonesborough Whig, 8 December 1841). By the late 1830s, the state had subscribed $277,000 for turnpike construction, all in the planter-dominated counties of middle and west Tennessee (Folmsbee 1939).

In every Appalachian state, the sectional rivalry over internal improvements resulted in the funding of roads, canals, river channeling, and railroads that benefitted non-Appalachian counties. By 1860, there were ten miles of railroad for every 10,000 residents in the United States; but railroads were only developing half that fast in Southern Appalachia. While railroad construction in the non-Appalachian counties of their home states surpassed national averages, Appalachian counties received less than one-half mile of track for every mile laid in the planter-dominated areas (Dunaway 1996a).

Except for connections into a few Appalachian counties of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, most of Southern Appalachia lacked railroad service during the antebellum period. By 1855, railroads had developed in fifty-three of the region's counties, linking the region even more firmly to distant coastal entrepots (Phillips 1908). However, this new phase of internal improvements did not open up the most isolated sectors of Southern Appalachia. Following established trade patterns, railroads were constructed in counties which already had major river and turnpike connections, leaving thirty-nine of the Appalachian counties with no outside linkages except ill-kept county roads (Dunaway 1996a).

Deepening Peripheralization and Transport Lag

Between 1815 and 1850, there was a global contraction in world trade (Agnew 1987). By the latter part of this downward cycle, the American Northeast had risen to core status in the world-system, pulling the plantation South into the semiperipheral level (Wallerstein 1989). There are two mechanisms by which a capitalist economy can grow and expand: reduce costs or eliminate competitors. However, Southern Appalachia held no monopolistic control over production of any of the commodities it exported. Consequently, three factors had, by 1860, eroded the competitive position of Southern Appalachia in the world-economy. National and global prices declined for the major agricultural and extractive commodities exported from the region. Second, grain and livestock exports became "redundant" in the Southern trade centers where they were sold, resulting in lowered prices (Lindstrom 1970). Excluding Appalachian production, the South and Southwest generated enough food crops to meet their own internal needs; thus, Appalachian exports were heavily dependent upon the demand for re-exports to the industrial Northeast, to distant international plantation economies, and to the European core.

As the world-system and the United States incorporated new arenas, there were periodic global oversupplies of most of the commodities marketed by Appalachians. Finally, lack of access to railroads weakened the region's trade position after 1845. Because other regions of the United States improved their transportation infrastructure faster than Appalachian counties, external demand for the region's commodities declined. As the railroads advanced more rapidly into the Midwest, Southern Appalachia fell further and further behind in infrastructure to support external trade. Moreover, the flow of western livestock and agricultural produce into eastern and southern markets generated competition for Appalachian commodities. As the European core and the American Northeast shifted to supply zones with more efficient transport mechanisms, Southern Appalachia entered a long economic down-swing (Dunaway 1996a).


1. For a map of these rivers and canals, see Dunaway (1996a, 210).

2. "Transportation surcharges" and "commission fees" for such middlemen appear frequently in the account books and journals of Appalachian stores, manufacturers, and farmers. See also Phillips (1908); Haites and Mak (1970).

3. In the half-century between 1810 and 1860, inequality in the ownership of wealth remained relatively constant throughout the rest of the United States (Soltow 1975).


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