SOIL EXHAUSTION IN THE EARLY TOBACCO SOUTH
I. Tobacco Cultivation and Soil Exhaustion in Virginia and Maryland
A. Soil Ecology of Chesapeake Bay region
1. Coastal Plain: pure sand to sandy loam with silt and clay. Marl beds of calcium carbonate. Swamp lands with rich muck.
2. Piedmont Plateau: clay and sandy loams of good to average fertility. Rocks high in potash bearing minerals and iron oxides.
3. Appalachians: clay-loams and sandy loams resembling Piedmont with clay loams and limestone (calcium) in Great Valley. High fertility.
Rainfall 40-70 inches with heavy run-off, especially in summer.
B. Exogenous factors disrupting soil ecology of Chesapeake Bay region
1. Population: Tobacco profits induce migration and settlement in tidewater Virginia and Maryland. Percentage of blacks in total population increases as tobacco exports rise: in Virginia, tobacco exports rise from 500,000 pounds per year in 1627 to 22,000,000 pounds per year in 1697. Blacks comprise 1.9 percent of population in 1630, rising to 22 percent in 1700.
2. Rise of Market: Increasing demand for tobacco in England and on continent creates rapid growth 1614-1640s. Prices fall in 1640s creating need for cheaper labor. Navigation Act of 1660 restricts market in tobacco to England; tariffs create revenue for crown. Flooding of market depresses prices after 1680. Pressure increases to bring new lands into cultivation and to abandon old, as soils are exhausted. Mercantile economic system based on triangular trade between Europe (management), Africa (supply of blacks as human resources) and West Indies and American colonies (source of natural resources). Other southern crops include rice, indigo, sea island cotton, and wheat.
3. Social Relations: Falling tobacco prices stimulate need for cheap labor. Slaves begin replacing more expensive indentured servants in the 1640s. Blacks enter Virginia in 1619; 1640 court case sentences a black runaway servant to serve master for life. Act of 1682 decrees that all blacks who are not Christian when purchased will be slaves. A highly stratified social structure emerges with tobacco merchants, planters, at top, overseers, smaller farmers, artisans in middle, and indentured servants and black slaves at bottom. Social system is dependent on exploitation of both human and natural resources.
4. Technology: Light wooden plows scratch surface soils. Tobacco monoculture predominates; no rotation or fertilizers is used. Exhausted soils are abandoned; gullied, eroded lands become widespread in coastal area by late 18th century. Agricultural improvement begins in early nineteenth century using deep plowing, filling of eroded gullies, fertilizers (guano, marl, gypsum, ashes, manure), crop rotations, and grasses (clover, lucerne, sainfoin, chicory, succory, buckwheat).
a. Toward human resources: Blacks' worth as human beings declines after change of status to slavery. Comparison of color, physical, and mental differences with whites contributes to ideology justifying slavery. Enlightened whites in North and South (for example, Jefferson) are conflicted over slave system. Profitability of slave system declines with exhaustion of soil system.
b. Toward nature: Nature is idealized as benevolent, bountiful, garden of Eden. Virginia planter Robert Beverley expresses utopian ideal (History and Present State of Virginia, 1706) at height of thriving plantation culture. Independent farmer becomes backbone of agrarian democracy in Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), based on pastoral ideal of bountiful nature and abundance of land and natural resources.
1. What do John White's drawings and descriptions of the "Roanoke" Indians of present day North Carolina tell us about Indian methods of producing subsistence? How do they compare with the New England Indians of Chapter 3? What do White's depictions reveal about English perceptions of Indians?
2. According to Raphe Hamor, John Rolfe, and William Fitzhugh, why did the Virginia colonists turn to tobacco production soon after arrival in the Chesapeake Bay region? How would you characterize the mode of production used and why and how was it maintained throughout the colonial and post-revolutionary periods?
3. Compare the wilderness and pastoral images of nature in the documents by William Bradford and Thomas Morton in Chapter 3 with the images used in this chapter by Robert Beverley. What gender images do Morton and Beverley assign to nature, and how do you account for the similiarities and differences between the two regions and periods in which they lived? What might have been the social function of these images of nature in each case?
4. Elaborate the environmental history of the early tobacco South from the perspective of a particle of soil on the coastal plain of Virginia. In your answer, discuss soil and climatic conditions, tobacco cultivation methods, soil exhaustion, and soil improvement.
5. Compare white perceptions of blacks and black perceptions of whites in the Tobacco South. What assumptions about the connections between "nature" and "human nature" underlie these perceptions?
6. What connections do you see between the degradation of soils and the degradation of black people in the tobacco colonies? Why did slavery play a smaller role in New England than in the tobacco South? Why were blacks enslaved to a greater extent than Indians?