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Resources: Abstracts of American Studies Dissertations

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Arnold-Lowrie, Christine M. "A Punishment for my Pride: The Hamiltons of Port Tobacco, Maryland, 1860-1900," American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, August 2003.

This dissertation explores life in rural, agricultural Charles County, Maryland, in the period 1860-1900, through the lives of three generations of the Hamilton family, spanning the era from the Civil War through Reconstruction and into the next century. John Hamilton (1798-1883) had been, in 1860, the second-wealthiest man in Charles County. His son, Francis Patrick (1839-1896), lived and farmed throughout the unsettled period that followed the Civil War. Frank’s son, James Neale (1867-1946), witnessed the struggles of his father and their neighbors to farm profitably through two economic depressions and three decades of low commodity prices. The lives and history of the Hamilton family and of Charles County in the period 1860-1900 encompassed two of the most significant changes in American society: the transition from slave labor to free, and the impact of the growth of an industrial economy upon agricultural society. How did three generations of the Hamilton family act and react in the context of the forces for change and stability that shaped Charles County and the nation? How did the forces that reshaped life in the United States in the late-nineteenth century affect the relatively isolated world of southern Maryland? The lives of the Hamiltons and their neighbors, black and white, illuminate the nature of the changes the county experienced, and reveal the patterns of kin and community, labor, religion, and social relations which may have served as counterweights to the agents of change. This dissertation explores the ways in which the county’s white and black residents renegotiated their social, economic, and political relationships. Although by 1900 the county boasted a rail line and a federal installation, for most residents little had changed. Emancipation had freed the county’s black population, but in 1900 whites continued to control most of the county’s farms, dominated local politics, and derived most benefit from the slight increase in commerce the county experienced. Despite debt, economic insecurity, and an unstable workforce, the Hamiltons of Port Tobacco in 1900, though not as wealthy as they had been in 1860, retained their social position as leading citizens of Charles County.