Unreconstructed: slavery and emancipation on Louisiana's Red River, 1820-1880

Peller-Semmens, Carin (2016) Unreconstructed: slavery and emancipation on Louisiana's Red River, 1820-1880. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (31MB)


Louisiana’s Red River region was shaped by and founded on the logic of racial power, the economics of slavery, and white supremacy. The alluvial soil provided wealth for the mobile, market-driven slaveholders but created a cold, brutal world for the commoditized slaves that cleared the land and cultivated cotton. Racial bondage defined the region, and slaveholders’ commitment to mastery and Confederate doctrine continued after the Civil War. This work argues that when freedom arrived, this unbroken fidelity to mastery and to the inheritances and ideology of slavery gave rise to a visceral regime of violence. Continuity, not change, characterized the region. The Red River played a significant role in regional settlement and protecting this distorted racial dynamic. Racial bondage grounded the region’s economy and formed the heart of white identity and black exploitation. Here, the long arcs of mastery, racial conditioning, and ideological continuities were deeply entrenched even as the nation underwent profound changes from 1820 to 1880. In this thesis, the election of 1860, the Civil War, and emancipation are not viewed as fundamental breaks or compartmentalized epochs in southern history. By contrast, on plantations along the Red River, both racial mastery and power endured after emancipation. Based on extensive archival research, this thesis considers how politics, racial ideologies, and environmental and financial drivers impacted the nature of slavery, Confederate commitment, and the parameters of freedom in this region, and by extension, the nation. Widespread Reconstruction violence climaxed with the Colfax Massacre and firmly cemented white power, vigilantism, and racial dominance within the regional culture. Freedpeople were relegated to the margins as whites reasserted their control over Reconstruction. The violent and contested nature of freedom highlighted the adherence to the power structure and ideological inheritances of slavery. From bondage to freedom, the Red River region remained unreconstructed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > American Studies
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General) > E0300 Revolution to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
E History America > E151 United States (General) > E0456 Civil War period, 1861-1865
E History America > E151 United States (General) > E0660 Late nineteenth century, 1865-1900
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races > HT0601 Classes > HT0851 Slavery
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 May 2016 15:48
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/61110

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update