The Ginseng Trade in 1840
I’m kind of a map nerd, so sorry if this isn’t your cup of tea. To show off my newly acquired–and very limited–skills using ArcGIS, here is one of the maps I have made for my dissertation, “Root Diggers and Herb Gatherers: The Rise and Fall of the Botanical Drug Trade in Southern Appalachia.” As far as I know, it is the only map ever made showing the extent of the ginseng trade in the United States. In 1840, census enumerators questioned merchants in every county, inquiring into their volume of business in various commodities. There is one problem with this data, however. The census category is called “Ginseng and all other forest products,” so some of the color on this map might be from another forest product, but we can be reasonably sure that the shading in areas where ginseng does not grow, for example in eastern North Carolina, is not referring to ginseng. Despite its flaws, this is the closest we can come to mapping the geography of ginseng digging in the nineteenth century. Notice the cluster of sales in the central Appalachian region of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Here is another one comparing ginseng to skins and furs. It is interesting how the patterns for ginseng and skins and furs are similar east of the Mississippi River. The mountains and along the Canadian border provide the bulk of these commons commodities.
And here’s another one for comparison, showing the total value of crop production.