Planters, Merchants, and SlavesPlantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820

Planters, Merchants, and SlavesPlantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820

Trevor Burnard

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226286105

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book examines the rise and development of plantation societies in British America between 1650 and 1820. It explains the development of the large integrated plantation in Barbados in the mid seventeenth century and traces the spread of this institution to British North America and to the rest of the British Caribbean. This institution, based on the employment of African slaves in arduous gang labor, proved to be a highly successful means of creating wealth for planters, as well as for the imperial government in Britain. Yet it took a while for plantation societies to develop outside Barbados as it took special circumstances for ordinary white men to be prepared to use the violence that was necessary to control slaves. Jamaica is looked at in this work as a special case study of the development of plantations societies in the eighteenth century. The wealth of Jamaica was extraordinary, for both planters and merchants, allowing white men a degree of prosperity impossible in non-plantation societies. Its wealth explains, more than commitment to white supremacy, why white people embraced the plantation system. The major challenge to the plantation system in the eighteenth century was the American Revolution, a war that divided one half of plantation British America from the other half. The division of plantation America into the United States and the British West Indies strengthened the plantation system and slavery in the former but weakened it considerably in the latter. Colonialism, not republicanism, threatened plantations after the 1780s.