Friday, February 19, 2016

A Southerner's Westward Migration

I'm not sure exactly why, but I have become intrigued with migration to the Old Southwest in the first half of the nineteenth century. Virginia, along with North Carolina and South Carolina, experienced enormous out migration to lands opened up by Native American removal. States such as Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana boomed as the Cotton Kingdom edged ever westward. The opportunities for cheap land and potential profits were too much of a temptation for many easterners looking for upward social and economic mobility.

Evidence for such movement appears in several forms. Often advertisements in period newspapers offer farms for sale noting that former owners were pulling up stakes for the West. Numerous notices seeking to purchase slaves for "the Southern market" are another hint. Another form is shown above: an obituary.

This death notice ran in the July 19, 1839 edition of the Richmond Enquirer. The obituary shared the news of former Caroline County resident John F. Green. Green had moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama six years earlier. Green's age at death was listed as twenty-eight, so he must have been about twenty-two years of age when he left the Old Dominion seeking his El Dorado in Alabama. Potential riches seemed within relatively easy reach for those who possessed a combination of intelligence, acumen, and a strong work ethic. The line of thinking often went something like this: If I can make a few wise investments in land and slaves, and pair it with some fortunate weather and if the cotton market remains strong, well, within a couple of years I can expand, reinvest, and make a fortune. It worked for some, for others, not so much.

The obituary gives some hints as to why Green might have sought "greener pastures" in Alabama. Being the youngest of eleven children likely left little for John to inherit. But, being a young man in the prime of life, during an era of massive speculation (which burst in 1837), Green also probably wanted to make his own way where opportunities seemed boundless and where others has succeeded. Green, as we learn, did not get to experience monetary riches. He passed from consumption. However, it seems that he did enjoy the companionship of new friends he made and who comforted him while he was far from family and his former home. Green's noted "sterling integrity and honor" were about the best compliments a Southern man could receive.

I looked up what type of household John Green came from. I found his father, George Green listed in 1840 Caroline County census. John's father had three other family members living with him at the time. He also owned thirty-eight slaves. It's a guess on my part, but I suspect that John was probably looking to follow in his father's footsteps by establishing his own farm/plantation in Alabama. However, consumption caught him first.  

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