Historical Society to feature talk on Smithville co-founder, Southern Nationalism in 1800s north central Arkansas


The Independence County Historical Society meeting will be held at 2 p.m. on July 21, at the Old Independence Regional Museum at 9th and Vine streets in Batesville. It will be free and open to the public.

Dr. Blake Perkins (pictured) will be speaking on “Peter Halderman and Race, and the Perils of Southern Nationalism in north-central Arkansas, 1828-1859.”

A War of 1812 veteran and St. Louis merchant who came to north-central Arkansas in 1828, Peter Halderman established a thriving mercantile on the bank of the Strawberry River and eventually helped, found the Lawrence County-seat town of Smithville in 1837.

A slave owner when he first arrived in Arkansas, Halderman eventually emancipated his slaves and became a well-known friend of local African Americans by the 1840s.

Halderman had long been a successful merchant and respected citizen in the area, but as regional and national racial tensions escalated in the 1850s, along with a growing sense of white Southern nationalism, he became increasingly suspect among many of his white neighbors.

Halderman and several of the free blacks residing in his household fled the area for the free state of Illinois sometime after an explosive court case in 1858 involving a dispute between a local African American and a white man in Smithville, which was then followed by the state legislature’s Negro Expulsion Act of 1859.

Halderman, once a prosperous and respected member of his community, had become an outcast amid the nation’s sectional turmoil by the mid and late 1850s because of his non-typical views about slavery and relationships with local African Americans.

Dr. Perkins who will be giving the speech, is an assistant professor of history and the Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge. He grew up on a cattle farm in western Lawrence and eastern Sharp counties and graduated from Lynn High School (now Hillcrest) in 2004. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Lyon College in 2008 and a master’s in history from Missouri State University in 2010. He completed his Ph.D. in history at West Virginia University in 2014 and then returned home to north central Arkansas. He, his wife Jodie, and their two boys, Maddox and Rylan, live in Lynn.

He is the author of “Hillbilly Hellraiser: Federal Power and Populist Defiance in the Ozarks” which was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2017, and he has published numerous articles on Arkansas and southern history.

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Image of Dr. Blake Perkins via Williams Baptist College

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