Communities of kinship: Antebellum families on the cotton frontier
Billingsley, Carolyn Earle
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
The evidentiary base for this study is the compilation of almost 7,000 individuals connected by kinship to George Keesee, who immigrated to Virginia about 1700. The major focus is Thomas Keesee Sr. (the great grandson of George Keesee) and his descendants, who were mostly of the planter class. This family migrated across the southern cotton frontier, from Virginia, to Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Studies of various family members and groups demonstrate kinship's significance as an analytical tool in studying migration, settlement patterns, religion, communication, and political and economic power. Kinship was the most potent factor in the organization of everyday life for antebellum southerners. Historians have long recognized the importance of family but have failed to articulate an interpretive framework for the systematic study of kinship in southern society. Moreover, they have allowed disdain for genealogy to obscure the effectiveness of genealogical methodology in such studies. First this work mines anthropological kinship theory to construct a workable theory of kinship for historians of the South. Although families and kinship are often discussed, the disciple of history has yet to define and articulate the definition and meaning of kinship or to explicitly recognize kinship ties as broader and more intense than is generally the case in the United States today. Secondly, I argue for the incorporation of genealogical methodology into standard methods of historical inquiry. This involves using sources generally deemed genealogical in nature to focus on links of kinship within groups of antebellum southerners, in contrast to the method often used by historians-using surname matching to ascertain kinship links, a method that not only leaves the majority of kinship links hidden, but is also gender-biased. And third, I argue for the establishment of the study of kinship as a category of analysis on a par with race, class, and gender in the antebellum South. We can lay yet another patina of understanding over topics including migration, settlement patterns, religion, class, politics, and economics by analyzing them vis-a-vis their relationship to kinship. Kinship relationships were a causative factor in virtually all elements of antebellum southern society.
Cultural anthropology; American history