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During the quarter of a century before the thirteen colonies became a nation, the northwest quadrant of North Carolina had just begun to attract permanent settlers. This seemingly primitive area may not appear to be a likely source for attractive pottery and ornate silverware and furniture, much less for an audience to appreciate these refinements. Yet such crafts were not confined to urban centers, and artisans, like other colonists, were striving to create better lives for themselves as well as to practice their trades. As Johanna Miller Lewis shows in this pivotal study of colonial history and material culture, the growing population of Rowan County required not only blacksmiths, saddlers, and tanners but also a great variety of skilled craftsmen to help raise the standard of living.
Rowan County's rapid expansion was in part the result of the planned settlements of the Moravian Church. Because the Moravians maintained careful records, historians have previously credited church artisans with greater skill and more economic awareness than non-church craftsmen. Through meticulous attention to court and private records, deeds, wills, and other sources, Lewis reveals the Moravian failure to keep up with the pace of development occurring elsewhere in the county.
Challenging the traditional belief that southern backcountry life was primitive, Lewis shows that many artisans held public office and wielded power in the public sphere. She also examines women weavers and spinsters as an integral part of the population. All artisans—Moravian and non-Moravian, male and female—helped the local market economy expand to include coastal and trans-Atlantic trade.
Lewis's book contributes meaningfully to the debate over self-sufficiency and capitalism in rural America.
Johanna Miller Lewis is assistant professor of history and assistant coordinator of the public history program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
"Miller's book provides fresh insight into the workings of consumer culture and the market economy in a region of colonial America we are beginning to understand better."—Arkansas Historical Quarterly
"A shrewd and insightful book that overturns previous misconceptions about the absence of artisans in the backcountry, settlers 'self-sufficiency,' and the growth of capitalism in agrarian America."—Jeffrey J. Crow
"Breaks new ground on several scores."—Journal of American History
"Lewis has broadened our perception of backcountry life by providing a great deal of useful information on a previously neglected topic."—Journal of Appalachian Studies
"Weds several themes in the historiography of colonial America by examining artisans on the colonial North Carolina frontier and by infusing these men and women into the emerging frontier market to investigate self-sufficiency and capitalism in rural America."—Labor History
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
North Carolina, Rowan County, Material culture, North Carolina history, Moravians
United States History
Lewis, Johanna Miller, "Artisans in the North Carolina Backcountry" (2014). United States History. 129.