Book Reviews

Christopher Morris. Becoming Southern: the Evolution of a Way of Life

Christopher Morris. Becoming Southern: the Evolution of a Way of Life, Warren County and Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1770-1860. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). (Paperback edition, 1999)

In nineteenth-century American history, the town of Vicksburg in Warren County, Mississippi, is most closely identified with the Southern cause during the Civil War, when the town’s fall to Union forces in 1863 severely crippled the Confederacy’s prospects for survival. On the eve of the war, the county exemplified the Old South: its cotton production was the second-highest in the state, and a majority of its people were slaves. Among ist plantation owners was Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

As Christopher Morris argues in his impressive work Becoming Southern, Warren county had not always been Southern; in fact, “when it became American, it was really more Western than Southern.” (p.vii) Located on the Mississippi River sixty miles north of Natchez, the area that was to become Warren County was settled in the 1770s by Europeans, mostly pioneers from Britain’s Atlantic colonies.

Morris traces the changes in the area’s economy from subsistence farming in its earliest days to cattle and then to cotton. Successful cattle herders became the first major slaveholders and shifted to cotton production on a large scale after the cotton gin made the crop profitable. The emphasis on cotton increased the need for slaves, widened the economic gap between the large and small landowners, and “provided context for the evolution of Southern society.” (p.41) Morris also analyzes relations within households and between slaves and masters, the growing influence of Vicksburg, and the development of political alliances. He concludes with a brief summary of the Civil War’s impact.

Morris bases his detailed account on a wide range of sources, supplementing land, tax, court, and census records with diaries, letters, cemetery lists, and newspapers. His extensive research enriches his general conclusions with references to specific cases and situations. Numerous maps and tables accompany the text.

Morris states that “the little community is a worthwhile place to start” in the study of a culture. Becoming Southern successfully illuminates the history not only of Warren Country, but also of the larger Southern community.

Anne Sharp Wells
Journal of Military History
Lexington, Virginia