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  • Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763
  • Christopher Clark
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, 2010) 736 pp. $70.00

"Honor," "pleasure," and "profit" would accrue to settlers in the new colony of Maryland, claimed Robert Wintour in his "Short Treatise," written during the 1630s. In numerous earlier works, Walsh has helped to make the colonial Chesapeake among the best-understood early modern societies anywhere. Now she provides an impressive, sweeping account of the conditions faced by Chesapeake planters from the beginnings of settlement to 1763. Drawing on family account books, diaries, and letters as available, and otherwise from court and probate records, archaeological findings, and other sources, Walsh traces planters' strategies and decisions across one-and-a-half centuries. Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit offers an indispensable guide to the economies of early Virginia and Maryland.

The story of early tobacco culture has rarely been told in such breadth and detail. Wintour cited independent landownership among the "pleasures" of settler life;Walsh shows how tobacco made it a reality in the mid-seventeenth century for those lucky enough to survive. The successful were those who abandoned English husbandry and adapted to their new surroundings. Given the favorable prices that lasted until 1670, circumstances benefited small and middling planters as much as large ones. But as prices slumped for the next sixty years, the advantage went to those who could control enough labor to raise subsistence crops and sell tobacco in quantity at slim margins. Productivity in tobacco cultivation fell, and continued to do so even after 1730, when prices rose again and greater prosperity returned to the Chesapeake. The "golden age" that lasted into the 1760s cemented the preeminence of large planters, though smaller producers also shared in a new measure of comfort. Slaves, however, bore the burden of increasing output without sharing in their owners' higher incomes. Though not primarily concerned with the "management" of slaves, Walsh duly notes the "exploitation and violence that underlay [planters'] economic achievements" (630).

Walsh finds larger planters using permanently enslaved workers early in the history of tobacco culture; she discounts the 1670s as a turning point in the consolidation of slavery. Planters' circumstances influenced the shift from servant to slave labor, which occurred at varying speeds. As in her previous work, Walsh emphasizes regional differences. Sweet-scented and Oronoco tobacco had different histories. She explains both the timing and effects of the tobacco inspection laws that were introduced in Virginia and Maryland, respectively, in 1730 and 1747. Whereas Virginia's Tidewater planters converged upon similar strategies between 1730 and 1763, Maryland gentry varied crop and livestock patterns according to local conditions. Walsh demonstrates how location, plantation size, soil quality, and slave labor-force size shaped [End Page 303] planters' approaches to soil exhaustion and crop diversification—two perennial issues in Chesapeake history.

Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit combines the sharp focus of individual family studies with the broad range of general accounts. It takes its place alongside the other works, from Edmund S. Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom (New York, 1975) onward, that have illuminated the colonial Chesapeake world. Walsh's clear-sighted and subtle account of planters' material circumstances and calculations is a distinguished addition to the literature, which all scholars of early America will need to absorb.

Christopher Clark
University of Connecticut
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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 303-304
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-06
Open Access
No
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