Catherine Cocks: Why focus on the ways Missouri’s early American settlers made their livings, rather than, say, politics, religion, or other aspects of people’s lives?
Jeff Bremer: The political history of the nineteenth century has been pretty well documented, but the social history of settlers has not. When historians can find a topic that is unexplored, such as the economic pursuits of people in antebellum Missouri, we pursue it. This book details the daily lives of Missourians, looking to explain what they thought about the expanding market economy of the United States. In answering the question “what did people in Missouri think about capitalism,” I discuss a lot about everyday life, which readers will find interesting.
CC: I suspect most of us think of the pioneers as hardy farm families living in isolated log cabins deep in the woods. Is that an accurate portrait of the Americans in Missouri between 1800 and 1860?
JB: It is a myth of American history that farm families lived isolated from each other. Most families depended on each for help with harvests and construction—tasks that were too big for a small number of people to manage. And not everyone had enough tools or labor, or pasture land or wagons, to complete all their tasks. Historians have shown over the past thirty years or so that American farms were very dependent on each other.
CC: Where did the settlers come from—eastern cities or Europe or somewhere else? How diverse was the population?
JB: Missouri settlers mostly came from the upper South, including states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. But about ten percent of the state’s population was foreign-born, mostly German, by 1860. Also, about ten percent of Missouri’s population was enslaved African Americans in that year. There was significant population from Northern states as well.
"Jeff Bremer's study of antebellum Missouri's rural white farm families captures the daily rhythms of frontier life. This book is a comprehensive synthesis of rural life and economic development on the Missouri frontier."—William Foley, author, Wilderness Journey: The Life of William Clark
"Bremer's history of antebellum Missouri mobilizes a cast of thousands to illustrate the evolution of the market economy and the resulting empowerment of white settlers. A Store Almost in Sight reminds us that regardless of the decisions emanating from federal and state capitols, the actions of thousands of average Americans steered the course of history."—Craig Thompson Friend, author, Kentucke's Frontiers