On the Rim of the Caribbean
Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World
Publication Year: 2013
In On the Rim of the Caribbean, Paul M. Pressly interprets Georgia's place in the Atlantic world in light of recent work in transnational and economic history. He considers how a tiny elite of newly arrived merchants, adapting to local culture but loyal to a larger vision of the British empire, led the colony into overseas trade. From this perspective, Pressly examines the ways in which Georgia came to share many of the characteristics of the sugar islands, how Savannah developed as a "Caribbean" town, the dynamics of an emerging slave market, and the role of merchant-planters as leaders in forging a highly adaptive economic culture open to innovation. The colony's rapid growth holds a larger story: how a frontier where Carolinians played so large a role earned its own distinctive character.
Georgia's slowness in responding to the revolutionary movement, Pressly maintains, had a larger context. During the colonial era, the lowcountry remained oriented to the West Indies and Atlantic and failed to develop close ties to the North American mainland as had South Carolina. He suggests that the American Revolution initiated the process of bringing the lowcountry into the orbit of the mainland, a process that would extend well beyond the Revolution.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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In the early summer of 2006, I led a group of residents from the community of Pin Point, outside Savannah, to Ossabaw Island to look at the remains of the North End Plantation, including three tabby cabins that the Georgia state archaeologist has described as the best preserved in the state. As head of an education alliance, I knew that some of the community members were descended from enslaved people who had labored on the plantations of this island, now a heritage preserve with twenty- six thousand acres of marsh and maritime forest accessible only by boat. We were not prepared for their reactions. Several of the older members became excited when they stood before those tabbies constructed of oyster shells, lime, sand, and water. They...
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How did colonial Georgia, an economic backwater for much of its existence, fi nd its way into the burgeoning Caribbean and Atlantic economies where trade spilled over national boundaries, merchants reacted to rapidly shifting conditions in multiple markets, and the transport of enslaved Africans bound together four continents and three races? Scholarly interest in comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to studying the past has produced a deep and rich understanding of the role of the Carolina lowcountry within the British Atlantic economy. Considerably less attention has been paid to placing Georgia within that same context, in part because its coastal area seemed a simple extension of the Carolina lowcountry. As a recently created...
1. The Three Georgias
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In 1749, a former miller and part- time bricklayer, Isaac Young, was one of the few farmers still actively planting on the Savannah River, and he continued year after year in adverse conditions on marshy soil. Most settlers nearby had ceased operations years before when the death or fl ight to South Carolina of their indentured servants created a desperate shortage of labor and the cost of cultivation proved exorbitant. Arriving in 1736 with a wife, seven children, and one indentured servant, Young was technically an “adventurer,” someone who paid his own way over, but his resources were modest. Granted acreage on a small tract by the London- based trustees...
2. Merging Planting Elites
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In March 1750, the Georgia Trust reluctantly bowed to reality and converted all land grants made during the trusteeship from tail- male, or inheritance by the eldest son, to “absolute Inheritance,” clearing the way for the emergence of a free market in land. In April, the trust approved a request to the Privy Council to repeal the ban on slavery and permit the “Importation and Use of Negroes” in Georgia.1 With scarcely a murmur, the central pillars of the plan that once divided the colony into warring factions vanished. In excited tones, word ricocheted around the Atlantic world, from Charles Town and the Caribbean to Britain and beyond. Planters and merchants took note of a likely new frontier modeled on the rice plantations...
3. The West Indies, Cornerstone of Trade
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With a wealth that far surpassed that of any other region in the Western Hemisphere, the West Indies off ered Georgia a way out of its economic woes. Devoted to the production of sugar, molasses, and rum, the sugar islands were exporting to Britain over £3 million sterling of staples in an average year by the early 1770s. The island colonies outshone the mainland in ways that defined the emerging British empire. They were at the heart of the ever- increasing transatlantic trade in human beings; they supported a large merchant marine carrying enslaved people and sugar; they provided a ready market for British manufactured goods; and they were generating...
4. Savannah as a “Caribbean” Town
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On February 11, 1765, the Prudence from Montserrat appeared off Tybee Island, made its way over the relatively deep bar, and anchored to secure a pilot for the tedious journey seventeen miles up the Savannah River. Its owner, Robert King, was making a risky bet in the search for new markets. In addition to rum, coffee, and cocoa, seventy “New Negroes” from West Africa were crowded into the sloop, the largest shipment of slaves in the history of the port up to that time. Around the fi nal bend, Savannah rose up out of a vast expanse of marsh as the landscape began to acquire a modicum of elevation. Ahead were high banks climbing forty feet from the river, crowned with a fl at top that Georgians were proud to call a bluff . Captain...
5. Merchants in a Creole Society
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In the mid- 1760s, Savannah would have struck a visitor from Charles Town as a hardworking, sweaty port, without grand buildings or the trappings of wealth but energetically trying to piece together the infrastructure that would allow it to compete. The sights and sounds were familiar, and the Caribbean fl avor seemed the natural consequence of exploiting the opportunities nearest at hand. The port was taking on an identity that seemed familiar and comfortable. Georgia was rapidly acquiring the features of older colonies whose populations were elaborating their own versions of British society, producing a blend of traditions, cultures, and practices that set them apart. If the settlers thought of themselves as British and never as creoles...
6. The Slave Trade in Creating a Black Georgia
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Georgia’s entry into the market for Africans came during the appalling height of the entire slave trade. In fi erce rivalry with the French, Portuguese, and Dutch, the English had long since pushed their way to the forefront of that death- fi lled commerce and, by the 1730s, become the supreme slaving nation in the Atlantic world. Between 1700 and 1775, its ships delivered more than 1.3 million slaves to the British West Indies and North America. The expansive markets of Jamaica, Barbados, and the Leeward Islands absorbed the vast majority of the newly enslaved people as planters expanded their holdings and the British Caribbean acquired additional islands after the French defeat in 1763. The insatiable demand of the British...
7. The Making of the Lowcountry Plantation
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In the third quarter of the eighteenth century, important new frontiers for the plantation complex opened up in the British Caribbean as the demand for sugar and Africans surged and the region consolidated its position as the most valuable territory in the empire. The islands that France surrendered at the end of the Seven Years’ War—Dominica, St. Vincent, Tobago, and Granada—attracted eager planters who displaced the French and increased sugar production several times over for an insatiable British market. The territories the English had implanted within the Spanish empire, the Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, took on new life while in Jamaica planters pushed into the interior, expanding the area of cultivation...
8. Georgia’s Rice and the Atlantic World
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During the 1750s, London slowly awoke to the fact that commercially viable rice was coming out of Georgia. Even the greatest of the Carolina merchants, James Crokatt, missed the first signals. He had stayed long enough in Charles Town to make a fortune in the deerskin trade, retained trading ties with the best merchants in the province, and knew the market intimately because he controlled a significant portion of the growing rice exports. Due to Georgia’s checkered history, he and his peers at the Carolina Coffee House had reason to be suspicious of that notoriously difficult colony: the fact that the trustees had forbidden slavery in peremptory fashion, the near bankruptcy of a badly run colonization scheme, and the notorious...
9. Retailing the “Baubles of Britain”
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When the Antonia de Padua anchored in Savannah in 1753, tavernkeepers and shopkeepers, many of them women, crowded its deck. They well knew the familiar face of privateer and slave trader Captain Caleb Davis, a rogue who had a knack for fi nding easy money in the ports of the West Indies. Davis earned the gratitude of his customers by providing goods at a lesser price than those trans- shipped from Charles Town. Mary Morel, the widow of the recently deceased Peter Morel, continued to operate the family’s tavern, a popular spot on the Bay. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, and a resident of the town since its founding, Mary Morel walked off the ship with two pipes of wine, a cask of Jamaican rum, and several yards...
10. The Trade in Deerskins and Rum
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The unexpectedly high level of consumption of British goods per capita in Georgia not only reflected the newfound prosperity generated by rice exports but demonstrated the critical importance of the deerskin trade to the colony’s economy at a time when South Carolina’s had matured well beyond such dependence. Savannah’s merchants discovered that, if they were to import consumer goods as well as enslaved people at the high levels they had achieved by the mid- 1760s, relying on this seemingly unrelated trade was a necessity. While rice accounted for £33,400 of export earnings to Great Britain in the period 1768–72, deerskins accounted for £19,300, a not insignificant 34 percent of the total value of exports to Britain as reflected in...
11. Nationalizing the Lowcountry
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The traumatic happenings of December 1773 in Boston caught the inhabitants of the Georgia lowcountry off guard. While their attention was drawn to news that a band of renegade Creeks had massacred two white families and their African American slaves along the Ogeechee River, inhabitants missed the significance of what had transpired in Massachusetts. Only the week before the killings in Georgia, about fifty men, “dressed in the Indian manner,” faces blackened and bodies wrapped in blankets, had boarded the Dartmouth, a ship carrying a load of tea anchored in the harbor, and dumped 342 cases of tea leaves, valued at £10,000 sterling, into the dark...
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Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 7 b&w photos, 17 tables, 9 maps
Publication Year: 2013