Mississippi represented the Old South and all that it stood for perhaps more than any other state. Tracing its long process of economic, social, and cultural evolution, Christopher Morris takes a close look at one of those "typically" Southern communities, Jefferson Davis's Warren County, the northern-most of the five old river counties located in the state's southwestern corner. Drawing on wills, deeds, court records, as well as manuscript materials, Morris shows a transformation of a loosely knit, typically Western community of pioneer homesteaders into a distinctly Southern society based on plantation agriculture, slavery, and a patriarchal social order.
Farmers and herders first settled this "western" region around present-day Vicksburg At the turn of the nineteenth century, the wealthiest cattle herders began to acquire slaves and to plant cotton, hastening the demise of the pioneer economy. Gradually, all farmers began to produce for the market, which in turn drew them out of their neighborhoods and away from each other, breaking down local patterns of cooperation. Individuals learned to rely on extended kin-networks as a means of acquiring land and slaves, giving tremendous power to older men with legal control over family property. Relations between masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and planters and yeoman farmers changed with the emergence of the traditional patriarchy of the Old South. This transformation was the "southern" society Warren County's white residents defended in the Civil War.
"In Becoming Southern Christopher Morris has produced an excellent example of the `new local history.'...he inevitably engages many historiographical issues that have dominated studies of the South for the past thirty years....[T]his book is full of creative insights and manages to synthesize a variety of parts into a convincing portrait of a society and its people in the midst of change."--Georgia Historical Quarterly
"This is a noteworthy book."--Journal of American History
"This thoughtful, well-written study doubtless will be widely read and deservedly influential."--American Historical Review
"Morris's research is prodigious, his presentation captivating."--New Orleans Review
"This is a fascinating and illuminating book."--Canadian Journal of History
"Makes good use of a wide range of local records...[G]racefully address the big questions of southern history."--The Journal of Southern History
"Morris uses an impressive array of primary and secondary sources to fashion a holistic, ethnohistorical, and anthropologically informed study that deals with the environmental setting, the economic adaptations, the social structures, the political struggles, and the emerging ideologies of a single community during nine decades of southern history."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"Becoming Southern provides a coherent and illuminating...analysis of the patterns of economic, political, and social evolution in one antebellum county."--Mississippi Quarterly
"In presenting his story of community formation, Morris introduces a number of thought-provoking ideas that often challenge conventional wisdom about slavery and the role of kin and family in southern life....There can be no question but that Morris's study is among the best on southern distinctiveness and community scholarship."--Southern Cultures
"This fine study...makes an important contribution....Morris's study sheds considerable light on issues of regional significance by careful examination of a specific locale."--History
"A worthy addition to the literature on the antebellum South. The book demonstrates how local social conditions influenced economic arrangements, political culture, and daily life, and Morris reminds scholars again that the Old South was neither monolithic nor static. For understanding Southern culture, Morris tells us in his introduction, 'the little community is a worthwhile place to start'. He has proved his point well."--Alabama Review
"Christopher Morris displays the enviable ability to combine analytical sophistication and detailed analysis of local sources with a strong narrative and appropriate generalisations...[A] valuable source for students of all aspects of antebellum southern life."--American Studies Today