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The Imperial City and the Solidifying of the Plantation System

The Imperial City and the Solidifying of the Plantation System

(p.181) Chapter Six The Imperial City and the Solidifying of the Plantation System
Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth
Paul Musselwhite
University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes the decisions made between 1691 and 1710 to relocate both colonies’ capitals to the new cities of Annapolis and Williamsburg, revealing that these moves restructured relations between the planters and the empire. Both capitals were established because of a brief confluence of three strands of opinion. First, the imperial vision of Francis Nicholson, who, as governor for both colonies, spearheaded the projects as part of a Lockean vision to connect small-scale farmers with the imperial state. Second, the ideas of a faction within the planter class who remained committed to the 1680s improvement agenda as a bulwark against imperial influence; these men eventually became disillusioned and advocated a new urban corporate plan. Third, the objectives of the wealthiest elite planters, who saw the capital cities as spaces to secure their status within the empire through consumption and display. The eventual triumph of this third faction meant that the new capitals served to consolidate planter-merchant networks and hardened the region’s commitment to slave-driven plantations. In the process this elite group, for the first time, rejected the century-long effort to use urban spaces to facilitate civic-minded regulation of the market, cementing the planter elite’s faith in rural civic virtue.

Keywords:   Williamsburg, Annapolis, Francis Nicholson, urban corporations, refinement, urban renaissance, merchant networks, Lockean landownership, planter gentry

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