Elbra David

David PicI am a historian of the legal culture and political economy in the Lower Mississippi Valley prior to and after American Independence. I hold degrees from the University of California, Irvine and California State University, Northridge (Ph.D. and M.A., History, 2018).  I have held fellowships from Tulane University, the Joint Center for History and Economics at Harvard University, and the Natchez Court Records Project.  My interest in the early American republic (c. 1780-1830) includes a focus on the Atlantic economy’s shift from mercantilism to post-mercantilist markets, and its impact on plural legal structures.  My first article examined the financial decisions that divided mid-range planters from their elite colleagues in the Natchez, Mississippi enclave and was published in the Southern Society and Its Transformations Series for the University of Missouri Press (2011).  I am currently revising for publication a project on the role of ‘preferences’—routines that enabled the assignment of assets to certain creditors—in the Delta as an extension of a Federalist agenda, one that sought economic integration among European commercial nations.

My underlying interests are epistemological; the ways legal and economic actors in frontier outposts perceived and “filled-in” new territorial spaces via commercial norms. Early nineteenth-century society in the Delta adhered to Spanish and French laws. However, I argue that in the conflicts surrounding the provision of credit and the collection of debts that included slave seizures, the Delta’s courts upheld the routines of out-of-state investors and purposely maintained an ambiguous legal landscape.  In doing so, they reserved for merchant-capitalists opportunities to rid the region of Spanish imperial influence while augmenting the principles behind American ‘commercial’ republicanism.  Through the logic that was merchant law and custom (lex mercatoria), slavery helped replicate conflicts that seemed to arise only in established metropolitan centers and coastal states.