Title Reviewed:
Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 1783–1860

Author Reviewed:
Cornelius Oliver Cathey

Donald F. Carmony


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 125-126

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 1783–1860. By Cornelius Oliver Cathey. Volume 38, James Sprunt Studies in History and Political Science. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956. Pp. 229. Bibliography and index. Paperbound, $2.50.)

Agricultural developments in North Carolina during the initial half of the nineteenth century were in many respects similar to those in Indiana for the same period. In both states farming was highly diversified and land holdings were widely diffused. Moreover, a new peak of agricultural prosperity was reached in these commonwealths during the decade of the 1850's when the overwhelming proportion of their people was still engaged in farming. The similarity of agriculture in the Hoosier and the Tar Heel states can easily be exaggerated; nevertheless it was considerable, especially in the first quarter of the century when many North Carolinians joined with numerous others from the southern Piedmont in becoming the principal element among the early pioneers of Indiana.

Professor Cathey has emphasized evidences and manifestations of agricultural progress, but he has also presented the broad outlines of an agricultural history. Following the Revolution, according to Professor Cathey, the farmers of North Carolina had been even more backward than farmers in other states. At first agricultural progress was slow and spotty, but it gained momentum during the thirties, forties, and fifties as it did for the nation as a whole. North Carolina's ante-bellum progress doubtless would have come earlier and would have been more pronounced had it not been for geographical factors which retarded the development of a transportation system, the lack of which in turn retarded agricultural advancement.

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century a small number of farmers and planters led in fostering agricultural improvement. Progress was encouraged through experimentations, agricultural periodicals, farm almanacs, agricultural societies, and agricultural fairs. In addition, inventions and technological developments furthered agrarian improvement as did the gradual increase in knowledge regarding the composition and uses of soils, breeding practices and seed selection, improved methods of cultivation, and the like. Moreover, agricultural progress gained momentum in the generation preceding the Civil War partly because of advances in public education and transportation facilities in this period.

Though slavery became more widely diffused in North Carolina between the Revolution and the Civil War, the average size of agricultural holdings decreased. Furthermore, at the end of the period the greater portion of Tar Heel farmers owned no slaves, while among those who did about half of them owned fewer than five apiece. Only 133 persons owned more than one hundred slaves. The farm, not the plantation, dominated ante-bellum life in North Carolina (pp. 48–49, 52–53). The reviewer, however, searched in vain for evidence of the impact the institution of slavery might have had on the rate of agricultural improvement.

This readable study has substantial documentation and an adequate index. Similar studies are needed for numerous other states, including Indiana. The University of North Carolina, especially its press and its department of history and political science, is to be commended for its support of this volume.

Donald F. Carmony Indiana University

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.