My MA Thesis at the University of Arkansas, completed in the Spring of 2010. My advisers were Patrick Williams, Jeannie Whayne, and Daniel Sutherland. You can view the thesis online, “Working Families and the Reconstruction of Hempstead County, Arkansas“.
Abstract:Located in southwest Arkansas, Hempstead County offers a fresh setting in which to study the impact of civil war and emancipation on the nonelite of the South. Family and household production were important cushions to the hardships of both antebellum and postbellum life. For blacks, emancipation marked the moment they could formally take control of their families in order to provide for them and work cooperatively toward subsistence. However, a labor system was subsequently negotiated that resulted in the economic subjugation of freedpeople. Nonelite whites emerged from war mangled, spending the next decade reconstituting families and restarting withering farm operations. Due to Hempstead’s distance from destructive wartime action, however, many succeeded. Both whites and blacks, though, were increasingly unable to negate the downward pull of poverty through familial and communal efforts in the 1880s and 1890s, when cotton prices fell and debt became increasingly difficult to manage. By century’s end, yeomen and small farmers, forced to turn to cotton as a result of the credit shortages caused by emancipation and war, began losing their land and were forced into tenant farming. The credit systems in which both blacks and whites eventually became involved hindered their ability to climb the agricultural ladder, resulting in an impoverished underclass of laborers.