Reflection on “Pearls on the Coast and Lights in the Forest: The Colonial South” by David R. Goldfield

Goldfield works from the belief “ climate, geography, and geology facilitated life in the colonial South” (Boehm 87) while it hindered the life and development of the North. Essentially, location was the main advantage of the southern city in its development. What it struggled for most was capital. This meant large amounts of agricultural development needed to occur to support the new southern urbanity and measures must be taken to make this happen. According to Goldfield, the new English settlers were so used to being land starved the abundance of fertile land made it fully unattractive to huddle into small towns. They were far more likely to start out with their own land plots and utilize the river system to transport the goods. He makes mention of the Reverend Hugh Jones who wrote about Virginians in 1724 saying they simply had no interest or desire to live together (Boehm 89). The South had every landscape benefit on their side but simply couldn’t find any significant draw to urban life that would change the populace. What would change this would be the development of major business interest from Europe. As companies sought to increase profit, they began to establish centers of development and inspection to stabilize the price and frequency of product exchange in the American colonies. As Goldfield states, “London and Liverpool merchants were not content to entrust their profit margins to itinerant captains or refractory planters (Boehm 89).” And so the cycle of profit over individual interest begins. In order to make the monetary exchange more consistent, individual growers and sellers would have to deal with the policing and demand of larger companies in order to maintain a living and were subsequently captive to the decisions of money brokers. This model gave way to the development of mass wheat production as the European demand for food increased. Wheat became the new staple crop and led to a population boom around urban economic centers. The need for wheat and the commerce that came with drew people into the areas and drove the market for labor in the form of slave trade. This atrocious business brought capital to the cities that controlled the trade and with it a habitation boom. This made the new cities places of cultural exchange and information flow making them the center of Southern attention. This growth continued the trend of entrepreneurial pursuit first started by the tobacco agents. With the demand for greater efficiency came the need to manage the outposts that moved product and capital to the outer areas. The businessmen of the South grew their reach by nurturing the development of smaller depots for exchange and the ball started to roll. While this caused the line between urban and rural to blend together it also caused the frequent development of towns that disappeared as fast as they sprung up. So, the frontier never set up a network of urbanity like the North. The struggle for capital and the issue of banking and credit became the “dominant issue during the first half century of national existence (Boehm 95).” Again, the story of the American expansion is one of new freedom not just in personal pursuits of happiness, but also profit.

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