Using case studies from frontier regions in nineteenth-century Virginia and Illinois, this book reveals how marginalized ethnic and racial communities thwarted the attempts of officials and investors to control them through capitalist economic systems, global commodity chains, and development plans.

In backcountry Virginia, German immigrants opted to purchase ceramic wares produced by their own local communities instead of buying manufactured goods supplied by urban centers. Examining archaeology sites and account books and ledgers maintained by local stores, Christopher Fennell reveals how these consumer preferences were influenced by ethnic affiliations and traditions of stylistic expression, emphasizing the community’s cohesiveness.

Free African Americans in the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois, worked to obtain land, produce agricultural commodities, and provide services as blacksmiths and carpenters. In doing so, they defied the structural and aversive racism meant to channel resources and economic value away from them. Fennell surveys these racial dynamics—as well as those of Miller Grove, Brooklyn, and the Equal Rights settlement outside of Galena—to show how social networks, racism, and markets shaped individual, family, and societal experiences.

The small choices made by these two populations had ripple effects through developments in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States. Looking at the economic systems of these regions in relation to transatlantic and global factors, Fennell offers rare insight into the dynamics of America’s consumer economy.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationGainesville, FL
PublisherUniversity Press of Florida
Number of pages316
ISBN (Print)9780813062457
StatePublished - Jan 2017


  • German Americans
  • United States
  • Illinois
  • Archaeology and history
  • African Americans
  • Elite (Social sciences)
  • Social networks
  • Racism
  • Economic development
  • Ethnic relations
  • Virginia
  • Race relations


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