Monday, May 14, 2012

"Antebellum Jefferson, Texas: Everyday Life in an East Texas Town"

Founded in 1845, Jefferson, Texas was a boom town positioned to exploit river trade along the Texas-Louisiana border.  It served as a frontier gateway for goods heading west after traveling up the Red River (Shreveport was 40 miles to the east). According to Jacques Bagur in his monumental local history Antebellum Jefferson, Texas: Everyday Life in an East Texas Town (University of North Texas Press, 2012), at its 1870 zenith, the town may have been the busiest steamboat port in the state.

As its large size (over 600 pages) suggests, Antebellum Jefferson is remarkably comprehensive.  It is not a traditional narrative history, but rather a bit of a hybrid between that and a data driven reference work.  Each chapter tackles a different theme and together they create a wide ranging social, political, economic, and cultural portrait of the town.  The material presented is both descriptive and quantitative in nature. Not surprisingly, economic activity (e.g. navigation, markets, manufacturing, warehousing, meat packing, railroads etc.)  is a major focus but the lives and experiences of citizens and slaves are also dealt with in similar depth.  Political life, social organizations, religion, education, entertainment, and public health are all covered, as well as darker subjects like vice and crime.

The absence of footnoting makes the book less helpful than it could have been for scholars, but the lengthy source discussion at the rear of the book, loosely organized by section, compensates to some degree for a lack of traditional notes and bibliography.  While the largest audience for Antebellum Jefferson will probably be local, students of western boom town development and Texas history in general should find the volume of significant use in their research.

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