Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit

Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit
    Book Description:

    Lorena Walsh offers an enlightening history of plantation management in the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland, ranging from the founding of Jamestown to the close of the Seven Years' War and the end of the "Golden Age" of colonial Chesapeake agriculture.Walsh focuses on the operation of more than thirty individual plantations and on the decisions that large planters made about how they would run their farms. She argues that, in the mid-seventeenth century, Chesapeake planter elites deliberately chose to embrace slavery. Prior to 1763 the primary reason for large planters' debt was their purchase of capital assets--especially slaves--early in their careers. In the later stages of their careers, chronic indebtedness was rare.Walsh's narrative incorporates stories about the planters themselves, including family dynamics and relationships with enslaved workers. Accounts of personal and family fortunes among the privileged minority and the less well documented accounts of the suffering, resistance, and occasional minor victories of the enslaved workers add a personal dimension to more concrete measures of planter success or failure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0040-6
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Cary Carson

    The passage of time can turn the most ardent love match into a marriage of convenience. In 1943 a union eagerly entered into by the College of William and Mary and a newcomer to town, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, brought forth the Institute of Early American History and Culture. So ably has that progeny served the historical community since then that the scholars and teachers who read Institute publications, subscribe to theWilliam and Mary Quarterly, and attend its conferences seldom think to ask what benefit the sponsors—the College and the Foundation—might still derive from their creation sixty-some...

    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xix-xix)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xx-xxi)
  6. List of Tables
    (pp. xxii-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
    (pp. 1-24)

    The founders of the first permanent English settlement on the North American mainland hoped to establish a commercial outpost—aplantation—that would produce handsome profits from the mining of precious metals and iron, from trade with the local population, from the gathering or raising of exotic tropical crops, and from the production of naval stores, wine, silk, dyestuffs, and other staple commodities that Englishmen heretofore had to buy from other nations. Spurred by the example of the early European colonizers of the New World, the Portuguese and the Spanish, investors in the London Company of Virginia hoped to reap...

  9. CHAPTER 1 The Plantation Economy Begins 1607–1639
    (pp. 25-121)

    In the 1590s and early 1600s, northern Europeans—English, French, and Dutch—sought to establish colonies in the Americas, as had the Spanish and Portuguese a century earlier. Their motivations were many, including religion and national pride, but especially the lure of supposedly easily obtained riches in the form of plunder, precious metals, furs, and a host of semitropical and tropical commodities that could not be produced in northern climates. Tropical products had become familiar to the northern Europeans through voyages of discovery along the coasts of Africa and the Americas, from booty that privateers captured from Iberian vessels, and...

  10. CHAPTER 2 The Age of the Small Planter 1640–1679
    (pp. 122-193)

    As England descended into civil war in 1642, new groups of Puritan gentry and merchants rose to power who had quite different conceptions of how trade should be regulated and of the role of overseas colonies. The Commonwealth government wanted to mold the disparate colonies it had seized upon the execution of Charles I into a centrally governed, commercially integrated empire. Merchants in Parliament and on the Council of State intended to funnel all colonial trade through English merchants’ hands. Opposing the monopolistic approach to trade of the early Stuart kings, the Commonwealth granted equal opportunity to all English traders,...

  11. CHAPTER 3 An Era of Hard Times VIRGINIA, 1680–1729
    (pp. 194-292)

    Historians conventionally subdivide the time periods they study by events such as the span of a monarch’s reign or the beginning or ending of wars or revolutions. Economic historians are as likely to subdivide time periods by trends in prices of critical commodities or by structural changes in market organization. For 1680–1729, Chesapeake historians have taken their cue from economic historians, defining these years as a distinct era characterized by a prolonged stagnation in the prices planters obtained for their tobacco, by a failure to increase the total amount of tobacco they produced, and by declining per capita incomes...

  12. CHAPTER 4 Strategies of Adaptation and Change: MARYLAND, THE PERIPHERY, AND REGIONAL DIVERGENCE, 1680–1729
    (pp. 293-393)

    When trends in Chesapeake tobacco prices, production, and revenues are broken down into three agricultural subregions characterized by the kind of tobacco produced—sweet-scented, oronoco, and peripheral—the fortunes of full-time growers of either of the two major strains were less dismal during the 1680s, 1690s, and early 1700s than commonly portrayed. Export earnings per taxable on Maryland’s Western and Upper Eastern shores and on Virginia’s Northern Neck averaged £4.66 per year between 1680 and 1702, fell precipitously to only a little more than £3 during the next decade, but at the end of Queen Anne’s War rose again to...

  13. CHAPTER 5 The Tidewater Economy Comes of Age: SOUTHERN VIRGINIA, 1730–1763
    (pp. 394-471)

    Throughout the British Empire, the 1730s through the late 1750s were generally a time of peace and prosperity, an era that would later be looked back to nostalgically as something of a Golden Age. The British economy experienced vigorous growth, as did the intercontinental trades that linked disparate elements of an emerging global empire. Industrialization and urbanization of the workforce had proceeded further than elsewhere in Europe, and a high proportion of the English population produced goods and tradable services for domestic and Continental markets but also increasingly for consumers in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. This expansion of trade...

  14. CHAPTER 6 Managing for Posterity: RAPPAHANNOCK AND POTOMAC VIRGINIA, 1730–1763
    (pp. 472-538)

    Farther up Chesapeake Bay on Virginia’s middle Peninsula and in the counties of the Northern Neck adjoining the Rappahannock River, other great planters, like those living on the lower Peninsula, benefited from a near monopoly of prime river bottomlands and large enslaved workforces. This combination of fertile land and numerous laborers enabled them to take maximum advantage of rising tobacco prices after Virginia adopted a system of tobacco inspection. Middling planters in the area prospered as well, although to a lesser extent than their big neighbors, while many poorer planters were either forced to move out or were relegated to...

  15. CHAPTER 7 Maryland, the Periphery, and Agricultural Change 1730–1763
    (pp. 539-623)

    In the early 1730s, it was not immediately apparent that Maryland planters were about to enter a period of unparalleled prosperity. As more African slaves were imported into the colony during the 1720s, the increased amounts of tobacco they were put to raising had led to a drop in price. Planters strove to compensate for lower prices by buying more laborers and clearing ever more land to grow even more tobacco, depleting forest reserves. As satirical poet Ebenezer Cook put it inThe Planter’s Looking-Glass, published in 1730, all tobacco growers

    At Ax and Hoe, like Negroe Asses tug,


  16. CHAPTER 8 Reassessing the Golden Age
    (pp. 624-632)

    Rising prices for the region’s staple beginning in the 1730s, a result of expanding European markets and quality improvements effected by Virginia’s tobacco inspection act, marked the opening of an era of unprecedented prosperity for Chesapeake planters. Throughout the region, plantation revenues rose, and tobacco revenues were often by then augmented with returns from grains. Unlike tobacco, there were decided economies of scale in grain production that benefited large operators. Most tidewater planters, however, were unable to take maximum advantage, since few were able to overcome constraints imposed by an inadequate supply of forage for draft animals. Nonetheless, through careful...

    (pp. 633-638)

    Through the mid-1760s, Chesapeake residents were exceedingly optimistic about their future economic prospects. Tobacco prices had surged upward at the onset of the Seven Years’ War, and, although the market sagged between 1762 and 1764, by 1766 prices were again on the rise, a trend planters hoped would continue. So they borrowed heavily from both British merchants and local lenders to buy more land and, among those few still needing to expand their workforces, more slaves. Factors working for competing British tobacco firms drove up prices offered in the country, extended credit lavishly, and made more direct cash purchases, all...

  18. APPENDIX 1. Tobacco Crop Shares per Laborer
    (pp. 639-657)
  19. APPENDIX 2. Corn Crop Shares per Laborer
    (pp. 658-666)
  20. APPENDIX 3. Wheat Crop Shares per Laborer
    (pp. 667-674)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 675-704)