Cultivating Race: Slavery and Expansion in Georgia, 1750-1860

Jennison III, Watson Woodson, Department of History, University of Virginia
Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the creation and evolution of the racial system in Georgia as its frontier expanded beyond its initial base along the coastline, into the pinelands, and eventually to the mountains of Appalachia. I analyze the influence of settlement patterns and the mode of production on the structure of Georgia's politics and culture. Employing diaries, correspondence, and plantation records from manuscript collections as well as legislative journals and newspapers, I trace the rigidification of the racial system in Georgia as the lowcountry planter elite lost control of the machinery of government and the ability to regulate social relations and determine the status of people of African descent. The slave society that emerged in Georgia from 1750 to the American Revolution was not characterized by a rigid understanding of race. The lines between black and white, slave and free, were permeable and indistinct. Demographic patterns, the dynamics of rice cultivation, and the task system combined to produce a slave society in which neither blacks nor whites formed perfectly consistent group identities. The growth of the white population in the upcountry in the decades after the Revolution repositioned the demographic, economic, and political center of the state. The settlement of the interior and the emergence of the cotton kingdom fundamentally reordered relations between and among blacks, whites, and Indians. The fluidity that typified early race relations gradually disintegrated. The forced relocation of the Indians and subsequent settling of Georgia's black belt shifted the demographic balance of the state, as whites and blacks, both slave and free, pushed onto the lands formerly held by the Creeks and the Cherokees. This shift gave whites in the upcountry an increasingly influential voice in the state's political affairs. This new elite used their power to protect their economic interests and fashion society to fit their racial ideal. What emerged by the antebellum era was a racially bifurcated society that stood in marked contrast to the complex social system that characterized life in early Georgia.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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