“The Panic of 1819 in Williamsburg and the Tidewater” Introductory Post

With my research this summer I wish to answer the following question: How did the Panic of 1819 and the subsequent depression affect the City of Williamsburg?  The panic of 1819 was America’s first major economic recession- in other words, the country’s first encounter with the “bust” part of the capitalist boom/bust cycle. During this period, Americans faced a level of economic hardship that they hadn’t faced since independence.   At the same time, Williamsburg was becoming increasingly irrelevant in the wake of the capital’s relocation to Richmond.   My own research will focus on creating a narrative of the events that occurred within Williamsburg during the period between 1818 and 1823 (that is, the generally accepted duration of the financial crisis).  With this research I hope to create articlewhich would lay out the economic effects that the crisis had on Williamsburg- in particular, the article would focus on the merchant families of the city, and how the panic affected their property and business interests.

In order to produce this article I will have to dive into the account books and personal correspondence of the City’s merchant class. The Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library, as wells as sources that have been made available online, will hopefully be the first place I look.   Examples would include the Blow Family Papers and the works of Edmund Ruffin, as well as the lectures of Thomas Roderick Dew, who was one of the first Southerners to call for an end to the tariffs after the Crisis. Other primary sources would include local newspapers as well as the correspondence of non-Williamsburg natives who had business interests in the town.

I plan on using this blog to update my progress as I read through page after page of 19th century documents; hopefully I will be able to put up anything particularly interesting that I find while digging through the archives. The Panic was America’s first financial crisis- hopefully my research will help explain how the people of Williasmburg used to think about economics and how they effected their lives. Who did they blame for their problems: the government, the market, or themselves- perhaps all three? Perhaps how they felt about the recession is not so different than how Americans feel about it now- or perhaps not at all. At the very least, I’m going to try and find out.