Entrepreneurs in the Southern Upcountry
Commercial Culture in Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1845–1880

Bruce W. Eelman

A forward-looking town’s early embrace of modernization


"With expert analysis of the economy and culture of the South Carolina Upcountry, Eelman's study demonstrates the continued importance of local history while encouraging readers to reconsider broader questions. His study illuminates the significant changes that urban southern communities underwent in the middle of the nineteenth century, as well as the middle-class professional and commercial interests these communities harbored. Scholars interested in the economic and social development of the South will need to read this volume."
—Jonathan Wells, author of The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800-1861

"Entrepreneurs in the Southern Upcountry, well written and impressively researched, advances an important argument about continuity in the mid-nineteenth-century South's outlook on capitalism and social progress. It will find a ready audience among historians interested in the South, the nineteenth century, and the U.S. economy. Eelman's work will provoke discussion, which is what good history should do."
—Frank Towers, author of The Urban South and the Coming of the Civil War

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In Entrepreneurs in the Southern Upcountry, Bruce W. Eelman follows the evolution of an entrepreneurial culture in a nineteenth-century southern community outside the plantation belt. Counter to the view that the Civil War and Reconstruction alone brought social and economic revolution to the South, Eelman finds that antebellum Spartanburg businessmen advocated a comprehensive vision for modernizing their region. Although their plans were forward looking, they still supported slavery and racial segregation.

By the 1840s, Spartanburg merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, and other professionals were looking to capitalize on the area’s natural resources by promoting iron and textile mills and a network of rail lines. Recognizing that cultural change had to accompany material change, these businessmen also worked to reshape legal and educational institutions. Their prewar success was limited, largely due to lowcountry planters’ political power. However, their modernizing spirit would serve as an important foundation for postwar development.

Although the Civil War brought unprecedented trauma to the Spartanburg community, the modernizing merchants, industrialists, and lawyers strengthened their political and social clout in the aftermath. As a result, much of the modernizing blueprint of the 1850s was realized in the 1870s. Eelman finds that Spartanburg’s modernizers slowed legal and educational reform only when its implementation seemed likely to empower African Americans.

Page count: 336 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $46.95

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Bruce W. Eelman is an associate professor of history at Siena College.