We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


An Environmental Biography of a Southern Plantation, 1780-1880

Lynn A. Nelson

Publication Year: 2007

Pharsalia, a plantation located in piedmont Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the best-documented sites of its kind. Drawing on the exceptionally rich trove of papers left behind by the Massie family, Pharsalia's owners, this case study demonstrates how white southern planters paradoxically relied on capitalistic methods even as they pursued an ideal of agrarian independence. Lynn A. Nelson also shows how the contradictions between these ends and means would later manifest themselves in the southern conservation movement.

Nelson follows the fortunes of Pharsalia's owners, telling how Virginia's traditional extensive agriculture contributed to the soil's erosion and exhaustion. Subsequent attempts to balance independence and sustainability through a complex system of crop rotation and resource recycling ultimately gave way to an intensive, slave-based form of agricultural capitalism.

Pharsalia could not support the Massies' aristocratic ambitions, and it was eventually parceled up and sold off by family members. The farm's story embodies several fundamentals of modern U.S. environmental thought. Southerners' nineteenth-century quest for financial and ecological independence provided the background for conservationists' attempts to save family farming. At the same time, farmers' failure to achieve independence while maximizing profits and crop yields drove them to seek government aid and regulation. These became some of the hallmarks of conservation efforts in the New Deal and beyond.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Environmental History and the American South


pdf iconDownload PDF

p. ix

List of Maps

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. xiii-xv

With Pharsalia: An Environmental Biography of a Southern Plantatio, 1780-1880, we are pleased to inaugurate a new book series, "Environmental History and the American South." It is a superb volume with...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. xvii-xviii

In a slight departure from tradition, I want first to thank my family for making this work possible. My parents were both professors of history, and they raised me with a deep love of the discipline, the excitement of research...

read more

INTRODUCTION. The Soils of Old Virginia

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 1-28

Hugh Hammond Bennett, founder of the Soil Conservation Service and one of America's leading twentieth-century conservationists, liked to tell a story about his first experience with the agricultural and environmental...

read more

One: Property Lines and Power before Pharsalia, 1738-1796

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 29-62

Pharsalia plantation had two sets of "parents." The first were southerners: Maj. Thomas Massie, the wealthy Virginia planter who purchased the land from which Pharsalia was made and moved his family and his slaves...

read more

Two: Independence and the Birth of Pharsalia, 1796-1830

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 63-108

In creating Pharsalia, the Massies intensified the agricultural ecology of the triangle much more than the man they had bought out, John Rose. Their farming sprang, however, from the same gentry culture that had...

read more

Three: Pharsalia's Ecological Crisis, 1828-1848

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 109-148

During the 1830s and 1840s, the problems practical planters encountered when building the double-cycle in the south Atlantic nearly overwhelmed Pharsalia plantation. William Massie had hoped that the agricultural system pushed...

read more

Four: Capitalism and Conservation at Pharsalia, 1848-1862

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 149-189

As the double-cycle fell apart during the mid-1840s, William Massie took bold measures to raise the productivity of Pharsalia's agricultural ecosystem. He abandoned his pursuit of ecological independence and brought...

read more

Five: The Gentry Family and the Fall of Pharsalia, 1861-1889

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 190-222

Pharsalia was in its prime in the years leading up to the Civil War. Capitalist intensification had helped the plantation escape its ecological crisis and achieve a measure of profit and stability. Yet as William Massie's life...

read more

EPILOGUE. Mourning Pharsalia

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 223-232

In the mid-1930s, the Virginia Writers' Project, an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration, undertook the Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI). The VHI sent fieldworkers across the Old Dominion to write up...


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 233-257


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 259-285


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 287-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336022
E-ISBN-10: 0820336025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820326276
Print-ISBN-10: 0820326275

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 12 b&w photos, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Environmental History and the American South
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 593297195
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pharsalia

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Agriculture -- Virginia -- Pharsalia Plantation -- History.
  • Agricultural ecology -- Virginia -- Pharsalia Plantation -- History.
  • Slavery -- Virginia -- Pharsalia Plantation -- History.
  • Massey family.
  • Pharsalia Plantation (Va.) -- History.
  • Agricultural conservation -- Virginia -- Pharsalia Plantation -- History.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access