ABSTRACT

Drawing on regional price data, prison calendars, poorhouse records, and insolvent debtor petitions, this article considers the lives and material conditions of Jacksonian-era Cumberland County workingmen. While much attention has been paid to the state's destitute urban populations, much less scholarship has been devoted to offering a comparable analysis of the economic lives of nonagricultural rural laborers. By examining the causes and consequences of insolvency and by constructing a detailed picture of insolvent laborers' material conditions, this article offers greater insight into the lives of impoverished rural laboring men and, in so doing, demonstrates a clear uniformity in the economic experiences of rural and urban workers living in Jacksonian Era Pennsylvania. Indeed, if economic historians have demonstrated a convergence of urban and rural prices and wages in the antebellum era, the petitions and petitioners speak to a similar alignment in the material lives of urban and rural workers.

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