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

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226286105

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226286242.001.0001

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The Wealth of the Plantations

The Wealth of the Plantations

(p.98) Three The Wealth of the Plantations
Planters, Merchants, and Slaves

Trevor Burnard

University of Chicago Press

The plantation system was at its height after the first quarter of the eighteenth century. It made British America wealthy and valuable within the British Empire. Slavery and colonization were closely related but were problematic to imperial theorists like Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith. A detailed examination of the wealth of the plantations, however, shows that the plantation system was expansive, modern, and innovative. Contrary to earlier historiography, British American plantations did not decline over time but flourished in places like the American South and British Guiana into the nineteenth century. What needs to be explained is why a system that promoted social and economic inequality was supported by ordinary white men. The reason was that while rich men benefited most from living in slave societies, ordinary white men also received economic benefits, especially if they themselves became slave owners. The wealth of the plantations made imperial officials want to foster this type of colonization even if white population levels remained low. It encouraged, however, a short term attitude among planters and merchants to gaining money and increased tendencies to work slaves excessively hard. Slaves became disposable people as long as the slave trade allowed for fresh inputs of labor.

Keywords:   plantations, wealth, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, British Guiana, antebellum America, colonization, slaves, slave owners

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