Region, identity, and the Tredegar Iron Works

Thomas, Evan Shawn, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

The Tredegar operated within this world of flexible regional identities up until the very moment that the necessities of war finally forced a perfect coincidence between economic region and political region, firming boundaries that had been fluid. The strong identification between the Tredegar Works and the southern nation may not have been as a Richmond newspaperman believed, "the result of a special direction, which the enthusiastic patriot may well be excluded from regarding as providential." The Tredegar's own operations during the antebellum period indicates that identification with the Southern nation, or "the idea of the Southern nation," served as just another tool available to the ironmaster, to be embraced when circumstances seemed to require and neglected when they did not. At certain points the two frames of reference existed simultaneously.

The Tredegar offers a useful case study to get a handle on the concept of region in practice, a clearer picture without the high gloss of ideology. The firm empirically demonstrates the flexibility of economic actors to pick and choose the range of their operations, without regard to political climate or political regions. More importantly, these economic actors' flexibility preserves a sense of flexibility in the concept of region itself. If such a significant enterprise could buy and sell across the boundaries of political regions, using slave labor to produced federal cannon, even as others are drawing battle lines, then there might be some value in re-examining how we conceptualize region in the antebellum United States and being wary of drawing rigid boundaries and firm dichotomies.

MA (Master of Arts)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:26.

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