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Cultural persistence as behavior towards risk: evidence from the North Carolina Cherokees, 1850-1880

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  • D81 - Criteria For Decision-Making Under Risk And Uncertainty
  • N11 - U.S.
  • Canada: Pre-1913
  • J54 - Producer Cooperatives
  • Labor Managed Firms
  • Employee Ownership
  • Agricultural Science
  • Economics
  • History


Can economic theory help explain the persistence of a cultural enclave among the Cherokee Indians living in North Carolina during the nineteenth century? To date, Fogelson and Kutsche (1961) and Finger (1984) identify the continuation of a communal, labor-sharing agricultural institution called the gadugi as simply an example of Cherokee agency during a period of substantial upheaval. I contribute to the historiography on ancestral labor traditions by adopting Kimball's (1988) framework on the function of farming cooperatives to test whether this arrangement sprung up as a form of insurance against the idiosyncratic risk inherent in southern agriculture. Data collected from the 1850-1880 manuscript census returns on North Carolina Cherokee farms are used to compute the variance of household self-sufficiency, which appears substantial enough to warrant a non-market mechanism to pool risk.

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