American City, Southern Place
A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond

Gregg D. Kimball

An important work of social history that sheds new light on cultural identity and opens a new window on nineteenth century Richmond


"A brilliant and beautifully crafted study of the complex relationship among the concept of place, the construction of cultural identity, and, ultimately, the political choices people make."
American Historical Review

"A rich study of Richmond's antebellum society and culture that explores the manners, styles, and outlooks of its inhabitants. . . . A valuable addition to the growing historiography of urban places in the South."
Journal of American History

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As a city of the upper South intimately connected to the northeastern cities, the southern slave trade, and the Virginia countryside, Richmond embodied many of the contradictions of mid-nineteenth-century America. Gregg D. Kimball expands the usual scope of urban studies by depicting the Richmond community as a series of dynamic, overlapping networks to show how various groups of Richmonders understood themselves and their society. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and private letters, Kimball elicits new perspectives regarding people’s sense of identity.

Kimball first situates the city and its residents within the larger American culture and Virginia countryside, especially noting the influence of plantation society and culture on Richmond’s upper classes. Kimball then explores four significant groups of Richmonders: merchant families, the city’s largest black church congregation, ironworkers, and militia volunteers. He describes the cultural world in which each group moved and shows how their perceptions were shaped by connections to and travels within larger economic, cultural, and ethnic spheres. Ironically, the merchant class’s firsthand knowledge of the North confirmed and intensified their “southernness,” while the experience of urban African Americans and workers promoted a more expansive sense of community.

This insightful work ultimately reveals how Richmonders’ self-perceptions influenced the decisions they made during the sectional crisis, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, showing that people made rational choices about their allegiances based on established beliefs. American City, Southern Place is an important work of social history that sheds new light on cultural identity and opens a new window on nineteenth-century Richmond.

Page count: 392 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $30.95

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Gregg D. Kimball is director of the Publications and Educational Services Division of the Library of Virginia.