When I first stumbled across the events at the heart of this book, I never imagined I would still be thinking about them nearly ten years later, and although I have tried to be diligent in keeping account of the very many people to whom I owe my gratitude for assistance on this project, I also beg forgiveness from those I neglect to mention. Archivists, librarians, and other staff at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, the Lower Louisiana and Mississippi Valley Collection at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven all proved tremendously helpful and accommodating. Special thanks go to particular individuals at smaller archives without whose help I would never have found some crucial resources: Debra McIntosh at the J. B. Cain Archives of Mississippi Methodism at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi; Gordon Cotton and George “Bubba” Bolm at the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi; Hewey Purvis at the Warren County Courthouse, also in Vicksburg; and Louise Lynch at the Williamson County Historical Society Archives in Franklin, Tennessee.
I was very fortunate to receive fellowship support and other financial assistance for work on this project from a number of sources, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to thank them at long last for their confidence in my abilities. The Deep South Regional Humanities Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Academic Libraries, and the University of Alabama Research Grants Committee provided funding enabling a series of research trips. The Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition awarded a short-term fellowship letting me spend two months in New Haven that ended up being one of the more productive bursts of my scholarly career. My thanks go particularly to David Blight, Dana Schaffer, Tom Thurston, and Melissa McGrath. A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society allowed me to spend six months in Worcester, Massachusetts, that both advanced my research significantly and were far more fun than a New England winter ought to be. I owe much to the AAS staff and to all the other fellows with whom I was in residence, but particularly to Ken Banks, Steven Bullock, Joanne Chaison, Pat Crain, Sara Crosby, Joe Cullen, Ellen Dunlap, Richard Fox, Vince Golden, John Hench, John Keenum, Lucia Knoles, Tom Knoles, Marie Lamoureux, Catherine Manegold, and Caroline Sloat.
Twelve years ago the University of Alabama provided me with the only academic job I have ever had. I feel lucky to have received the university’s institutional support as well as to be part of a history department with phenomenal colleagues. My thanks to the university for providing me with a one-semester sabbatical, and especially to Kari Frederickson, who both as director of the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South and as history department chair has always been willing to provide material assistance for research whenever possible.
Portions of this work were presented at Brown University’s Nineteenth-Century U.S. History Workshop and at the University of Georgia’s Early American History Workshop. I offer my appreciation to those who participated and offered their feedback, and to Seth Rockman and Claudio Saunt for inviting me to their respective host institutions. The chapters of this book dealing with the city of Vicksburg and its gamblers appeared in somewhat different and significantly condensed form in the Journal of American History. My thanks to Ed Linenthal and the editorial and production staff at the journal, and to the readers whose comments sharpened my thinking and prose in important ways.
Over the years, many people have graciously read portions of this manuscript, perused book proposals, advised me on fellowship applications, written letters of recommendation, located and copied primary materials, sent unsolicited tips on sources, commented on conference papers, and provided the general encouragement needed to move a book from conceptualization to completion. Simply to list their names here does not do justice to their support and assistance, but it will have to suffice. My deepest appreciation to Edward Ayers, Elizabeth Blackmar, Jane Dailey, Steven Deyle, Daniel Goldmark, Robert Gudmestad, Kate Haulman, Peter Charles Hoffer, Paul Horwitz, Walter Johnson, Michael Kwas, Andy Lewis, Susan O’Donovan, George Rable, Calvin Schermerhorn, and Brad Wood. Thanks also to Seth Rockman and Sven Beckert, who kindly thought of my work when they were putting together what ended up being an exhilarating and stimulating conference on slavery and capitalism in the spring of 2011. My paper for that event enabled me to think through many of the ideas that appear in the prologue and epilogue of this book.
I would be especially remiss not to recognize Ed Baptist, John Mayfield, and Scott Nelson for their singular contributions. All three read the manuscript in its entirety and offered very sound counsel for revision. That the changes I made only approximate their suggestions owes itself primarily to my own shortcomings and stubbornness.
Craig Remington and the staff at the University of Alabama’s Cartographic Research Laboratory did outstanding work creating the maps for this book, and the staff at the University of Georgia Press has been wonderful and responsive at every stage of the publication process. I am especially beholden to my editor, Derek Krissoff. When I met Derek at a conference years ago almost by happenstance and told him what I was then only about halfway through working on, he not only saw its potential immediately but then also let a contract offer for the book sit on the table for an absurdly long time while I dithered. I am sincerely thankful for his patience and guidance, and I hope the final product is worth the wait.
In a book that turns so much on the assumption of debt and its consequences, it is only appropriate that I save for last an acknowledgment of debts so deep that I can never repay them. I am fortunate indeed that the members of my family are extraordinarily generous creditors. My children, Ben and Abigail, were born as the research and writing of this book unfolded. Both are too young to have any real understanding of what it is I do or what this book is about, and I would have it no other way. They seem genuinely thrilled to see me every time I walk through the door, and that goes above and beyond anything I could ever think to ask of them. They are beautiful and I love them dearly. Finally, I dedicate this book to Rebecca, my kindred spirit and most beloved friend. I have been thoroughly smitten with her since our first date. I have a wondrous life because of her. And I am so, so grateful.