Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Barbara J. Heath

Committee Members

Elizabeth Kellar-DeCorse, Walter E. Klippel


East Tennessee, falling within the Appalachian sub-culture, was romanticized by 19th-century writers as an unchanging, rural society. The stigma of a non-consumer, frontier culture persisted, questioning the ability of East Tennessee residents to access consumer goods during the frontier period. By using multiple lines of evidence, historical archaeology is well-positioned to study unknown settlers living within a misunderstood region.

Three frontier-era East Tennessee homesteads were chosen to conduct ceramic analyses as a beginning point of understanding consumer access. Ramsey House, Bell Site, and Exchange Place were each occupied beginning in the late 18th century and continued into the first quarter of the 19th century. Period newspaper advertisements were examined for type of available merchandise, consumer goods’ originating city, presence of ceramics, and items accepted for exchange. One Knoxville store’s day books were also examined to comprehend the purchases made by East Tennessee residents during three-month periods over three separate years.

The results of examining household ceramics, newspaper advertisements, and day book transactions suggest frontier-era East Tennessee residents were unfairly portrayed as disconnected, non-consumers. The ceramic assemblages revealed a high percentage of imported, refined earthenwares, along with porcelain and local coarse wares. The diversity of vessel forms and decorations attest to availability and consumer choice. General merchandise stores were open to Knoxville-area residents in the 1790s and continued to flourish in the 19th century; selling an assortment of groceries, tablewares, fabrics, and hardware. Merchants advertised their goods from East Coast and European cities. The Park store carried and sold ceramics to a broad customer base, accepting cash and “country produce” as exchange items.

Frontier East Tennessee cannot be placed into a fictitious history. Settlers in this region were able to partake in a commercial society within a globalized world. They were affected by European wars and decisions made in Washington D.C. Consumerism and globalization may be expressed differently in the 21st century, but past frontier families cannot be discounted or romanticized. They were progressive capitalists who promoted a world economic system through their purchases.

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