Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





James Gigantino

Committee Member

Calvin White

Second Committee Member

Caree Banton


Appalachia, Capitalism, Early Republic, Labor, Slavery


Slavery and unfree labor have been a subject of growing interest for historians, particularly when dealing with frontier areas and the rise of capitalism. Recent studies have shown that slavery and unfree labor existed well into the antebellum period in the North despite the lack of legal support for the institution. Few historians have identified the importance of slavery in the development of western areas, however, particularly in the Appalachian regions of western Pennsylvania and Maryland. As a result, concerted study of slavery in rural, western areas is lacking, particularly in the borderland region between slavery and freedom along the Mason-Dixon Line in the western areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland. “Frontier Capitalism and Unfree Labor in Appalachia: The Development of Western Pennsylvania and Maryland, 1780-1840” remedies this gap by examining this border region, analyzing how various labor systems (slave, free, term slave) affected the development of capitalism and how wider debates over slavery and freedom affected that development.

The period covered is one in which this region underwent dramatic social and economic change, beginning with concerted settlement efforts after the Revolution and the rapid development of a developed economy, stratified society, and hardening racial thought. Beginning in 1780 with the passage of the gradual emancipation act in Pennsylvania, this region was divided by an artificial, political border between slavery and freedom. In theory Pennsylvania developed into a free state but in practice, unfree labor forms existed well into the antebellum period. The Maryland side of this region developed along the same path, quick economic development, social stratification, and hardening racial thought. What is most evident, however, is the quick growth of slavery in this region of the state, despite contrary trends elsewhere in Maryland and the proximity to the border with Pennsylvania. Indeed, sales of unfree laborers (primarily African Americans), fugitive slaves, and the tensions of being close to the border effected social, political, and racial development on both sides.