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

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

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

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


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.


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 the William 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 years later. For William and Mary the answer is plain enough: the Institute’s worldwide renown enhances the College’s own academic reputation by association. in addition, as a practical matter, Institute fellows and members of the staff fill out the ranks of classroom teachers at the College.

The dividend paid to Colonial Williamsburg in return for its annual subsidy is not so easily reckoned. the Institute’s star power, while real enough, shines less brightly in the universe of American museums. That hasn’t mattered when times were flush; nor has it ever weighed so heavily in hard times that the Foundation withheld its generous support. But Institute director Ron Hoffman for his part and I for mine could never quite shake off the impression that budget-balancers at Colonial Williamsburg regarded their employer’s alliance with the College and the Institute as a marriage of convenience, sometimes bordering on inconvenience, albeit a partnership too venerable and too much honored to call into question.

Benefit of doubt does not do justice to the country’s oldest and most enduring collaboration between an organization famous for its scholarship and a history museum equally famous for teaching American history to audiences that number in the millions every year. Both employ professional historians. Understanding how their work is mutually supportive is the secret to answering the seldom asked question about the Institute’s value to Colonial Williamsburg, or, to a larger point, the value of academic scholarship generally to history museums, historical societies, historic sites, and other such informal educational institutions as cater to a general public eager to learn about America’s past.

This book by Lorena Walsh and Lorena’s long career as a museum historian, when set side by side, illustrate the advantage that Colonial Williamsburg enjoys from its association with the Institute—that, coupled with the . . .

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