Broken Chains and Subverted Plans
Ethnicity, Race, and Commodities

Christopher C. Fennell

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 “Makes a compelling case for systematic racism being a motivating factor in roadways and railroads being diverted away from African American settlements.”—Historical Archaeology
"Fennell acknowledges that broad systems of economic domination and xenophobia shaped Americans’ lives since the eighteenth century, but he persistently frames agency as an expression of local social and ethnic identity rather than a reflection of systemic domination. . . . The central threads of Broken Chains and Subverted Plans defend ethnic and social collectivity, persistently championing the everyday agency of local collectives of people sharing some heritage."—Journal of Anthropological Research
“A fascinating look into methods by which 19th-century ethnic groups were able to direct their economic power into their communities, and, in the face of often great racial hostility, also manage to take advantage of the broader capitalistic opportunities surrounding them.”—Anthropology Book Forum
"Creatively drawing on archaeological, architectural, and documentary evidence, this book explores the dynamic strategies employed by German Americans and African Americans in the nineteenth-century American frontier to navigate the exclusionary, exploitative, and insidious forces of the emerging world capitalist system."--Frederick H. Smith, author of The Archaeology of Alcohol and Drinking

"Two in-depth and insightful case studies investigating how historical archaeologists can contribute to the current dialogues about self-determination and the subversion of elite designs. Timely and important, this book furthers the cause of socially conscious archaeology."--Charles E. Orser Jr., author of The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America

Using case studies from frontier regions in nineteenth-century Virginia and Illinois, this book reveals how marginalized ethnic and racial communities thwarted the attempts of officials and investors to control them through capitalist economic systems, global commodity chains, and development plans.
In backcountry Virginia, German immigrants opted to purchase ceramic wares produced by their own local communities instead of buying manufactured goods supplied by urban centers. Examining archaeology sites and account books and ledgers maintained by local stores, Christopher Fennell reveals how these consumer preferences were influenced by ethnic affiliations and traditions of stylistic expression, emphasizing the community’s cohesiveness.
Free African Americans in the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois, worked to obtain land, produce agricultural commodities, and provide services as blacksmiths and carpenters. In doing so, they defied the structural and aversive racism meant to channel resources and economic value away from them. Fennell surveys these racial dynamics--as well as those of Miller Grove, Brooklyn, and the Equal Rights settlement outside of Galena--to show how social networks, racism, and markets shaped individual, family, and societal experiences.
The small choices made by these two populations had ripple effects through developments in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States. Looking at the economic systems of these regions in relation to transatlantic and global factors, Fennell offers rare insight into the dynamics of America’s consumer economy.

Christopher C. Fennell, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is the author of the award-winning Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World.
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A case study of two 19th-century populations in frontier Virginia and Illinois that, though quite different, shared common ground by existing on the periphery of their respective local cultures. . . . Recommended.

Makes a compelling case for systematic racism being a motivating factor in roadways and railroads being diverted away from African American settlements.
--Historical Archaeology

Fennell’s study dignifies the heritage and agency of everyday people who have been otherwise rendered in shallow or distorted terms or simply ignored.
--Journal of Anthropological Research

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