Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763 (review)
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Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763. By Lorena S. Walsh. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Pp. 736. $70.00 cloth)

Lorena Walsh's Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit combines her own amassed primary research from Jamestown through the Seven Years' War with a thorough synthesis of both the historical and archaeological secondary literature. Motives of Honor simultaneously returns our attention to white planters in colonial Virginia and Maryland while also criticizing the mistreatment and exploitation of blacks in the development of the plantation economy of the region. Walsh's primary purpose is to "place the successes or failures of individual plantation managers in the broader context of the history of agriculture and society in the Chesapeake" (p. 6). She does this by exhaustively reconstructing estate accounts for several planters of all socioeconomic statuses, although naturally "elites" dominate her narrative.

By examining a wide variety of planters, with an eye towards their economic and social predilections, Walsh concludes that most planters "did follow economically rational plans." But, by pursuing profit for themselves and their descendants, large planters especially oversaw "an immense social failure," namely the exploitation of Africans [End Page 117] and African Americans (p. 24). In the style of many Chesapeake historians, however, Walsh focuses almost exclusively on the slavery aspect of this "social failure" with little attention paid to the plight or activities of Native Americans—her second acknowledged "social failure"—especially after 1644.

One of Walsh's most significant contributions to the historiography of the colonial Chesapeake is to include other important markers of success besides the overused and often misused tobacco-production-per-laborer statistic by, for example, placing values on the diversification and self-sufficiency of plantations. Planters rarely acknowledged "subsistence production" in the account books that Walsh relies heavily upon, even though the goods and services that were produced on farms "proved substantial" and helped protect them against short-term market fluctuations (p. 162). Also, Walsh redefines the traditional colonial eras, highlighting, for example, the decades around 1700 as a transition to diversification, not simply as the decline of tobacco production. Viewing planters, then, not as "overproducers" but as conscious and mostly "successful" adapters, Walsh is therefore able to offer "more concrete measures of their achievements over time and space" (pp. 363, 629-30).

Furthermore, Walsh weighs in on many of the most current debates in the field with an exhaustive and masterful command of Chesapeake historiography, to which she has contributed mightily throughout her distinguished career. For example, Walsh furthers the recent arguments of historians such as John Coombs and Anthony Parent who state that elite planters in the Chesapeake made a "thinking" decision to transition to slavery as early as the 1650s. Motives of Honor also embraces an Atlantic World direction, highlighting connections to Bermuda, the Caribbean, and England in particular. Walsh notes that localities within the Chesapeake, especially in the seventeenth century, were more connected to the greater Atlantic World than they were to neighboring counties. This peculiarity continued until the eighteenth century when Walsh describes an expanding local economy as settlement in the Chesapeake "matured" and moved inland (p. 398). [End Page 118]

Motives of Honor could possibly benefit from a more consistent differentiation of the various subregions within the Chesapeake. Walsh does a wonderful job of defining them in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, first around the strain of tobacco grown in each, then around styles of plantation management, but the beginning of these variations can be seen earlier. Also, a more existential question can be asked: does most of Maryland fit more into the Chesapeake or with Pennsylvania by the middle of the eighteenth century? These minor criticisms do little to take away from the grand achievements of Lorena Walsh's tome, and the field will certainly benefit further from her proposed sequel to this work.

Steven Harris Scott

Steven Harris Scott is a PhD student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He is currently working on his dissertation, "A Slow and Messy Transition: From Indentured Servitude to...