River of Enterprise

River of Enterprise

The Commercial Origins of Regional Identity in the Ohio Valley, 1790-1850
Kim M. Gruenwald
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/10/2002
ISBN: 978-0-253-10937-8
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Gruenwald’s book will make the same contribution to historical knowledge of the Ohio Valley as Lewis Atherton’s Frontier Merchant did for our understanding of the mercantile Midwest in the mid-nineteenth century.... a finely crafted narrative that lets the reader understand that the Ohio River always served more as an artery, that is, a river of commerce, than a dividing line or boundary." —R. Douglas Hurt, author of The Ohio Frontier

River of Enterprise explores the role the Ohio played in the lives of three generations of settlers from the river’s headwaters at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the falls at Louisville, Kentucky. Part One examines the strategies of colonists who coveted lands "Across the Mountains" as space to be conquered. Part Two traces the emergence of a new region in a valley transformed by commerce as the Ohio River became the artery of movement in "the Western Country." Part Three reveals how relations between neighbors across the river cooled as residents of "the Buckeye State" came to regard the river as the boundary between North and South. From 1790 to 1830, the Ohio River nurtured a regional identity as Americans strove to create an empire based on the ties of commerce in frontier Ohio and Kentucky, and the backcountry of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The book studies the local, regional, and national connections created by merchants by tracing the business world of the Woodbridge family of Marietta, Ohio. Only as regional commercial concerns gave way to statewide industrial concerns, and as artificial transportation networks such as canals and railroads supplanted the river, did those living to the north define the Ohio as a boundary.

Author Bio

Kim M. Gruenwald is Assistant Professor of History at Kent State University.


“River of Enterprise explores the world of merchants in the Ohio River Valley and the way commerce underlay the development of a regional identity, before the politics of slavery split the region in two, north and south of the river.”

“ Regional histories of the Ohio River Valley often reflect traditional interpretations of the postrevolutionary era that emphasize westward expansion and the division of the nation over slavery (the Northwest Ordinance, 1787), with the beautiful Ohio serving to dissect a free labor North from a slaveholding South. Gruenwald (Kent State Univ.) takes issue with these interpretations, asserting that [t]his study seeks to explain the changing meaning and role of the Ohio River in the lives of three generations of valley settlers . . ., which over time helped to create a regional identity [having little to do with North or South] in the West on both banks as Americans strove to create an empire based upon the ties of commerce. As commerce and farming grew and trade increased, industries thrived, with a new form of transportation superseding water-linked travel. It was only then, well into the 19th century, that the Ohio [served] as the boundary between North and South. This meticulously written work is for all with interests in early national history. It might be read alongside Andro Linklater's Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy (2002). Summing Up: Highly recommended. All public and academic libraries.May 2003”
 — P. D. Travis, Texas Woman's University

“[F]ocusing on the Ohio River’s significance as a commercial artery and on the important role merchants played in linking the region with the wider market economy, Kim M. Gruenwald argues that commercial 'connections' and 'patterns of integration' with the larger nation took place long before a plethora of abolitionists and steamboats divided the region. . . an important book.dec. 2003”
 — Enterprise & Society

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:

Part I: Across the Mountains
1. Claiming Space
2. Planting a Place
Part II: The Western Country
3. Creating a Subregional Hub
4. Connecting East and West
5. The Dimensions of Riverine Economy
6. The Western Country
Part III: The Buckeye State
7. Ohio's Economy Transformed
8. A New Sense of Place