ABOUT THIS BOOK
This impressive scholarly debut deftly reinterprets one of America's oldest symbols--the southern slave plantation. S. Max Edelson examines the relationships between planters, slaves, and the natural world they colonized to create the Carolina Lowcountry.
European settlers came to South Carolina in 1670 determined to possess an abundant wilderness. Over the course of a century, they settled highly adaptive rice and indigo plantations across a vast coastal plain. Forcing slaves to turn swampy wastelands into productive fields and to channel surging waters into elaborate irrigation systems, planters initiated a stunning economic transformation.
The result, Edelson reveals, was two interdependent plantation worlds. A rough rice frontier became a place of unremitting field labor. With the profits, planters made Charleston and its hinterland into a refined, diversified place to live. From urban townhouses and rural retreats, they ran multiple-plantation enterprises, looking to England for affirmation as agriculturists, gentlemen, and stakeholders in Britain's American empire. Offering a new vision of the Old South that was far from static, Edelson reveals the plantations of early South Carolina to have been dynamic instruments behind an expansive process of colonization.
With a bold interdisciplinary approach, Plantation Enterprise reconstructs the environmental, economic, and cultural changes that made the Carolina Lowcountry one of the most prosperous and repressive regions in the Atlantic world.
With a heady combination of deep research, keen insight, and a revisionist's eye for cant, S. Max Edelson brilliantly rethinks the development of South Carolina's central institution. In place of the Big House and static relations of mastership, Edelson offers an enterprise of enormous dynamism, whose ever-changing needs and demands made and remade South Carolina society and its peoples.
-- Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity
In this broadly gauged and highly nuanced work, Edelson deftly and boldly combines agricultural history, environmental history, and cultural history. In so doing, he provides the most compelling account of the origins of the South Carolina rice industry I have ever read. A first-rate book in every way.
-- Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
This is a superb piece of scholarship. It demonstrates a mastery of the literature, a creative use of evidence and an imaginative interpretation which often forced me to look at familiar issues in new ways. The impact of this book will extend well beyond colonial South Carolina.
-- Russell R. Menard, University of Minnesota
By far the most detailed and authoritative account of plantation agriculture's dynamic development in colonial South Carolina, this study is an excellent blend of economic and environmental history.
-- Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University
A fresh and imaginative combination of environmental history and agricultural history, embedding the distinctive culture and landscape of Carolina plantations in the intellectual and economic circulations of the British Atlantic. Edelson's careful and readable analysis should be of interest to historians on both sides of the ocean.
-- Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This is a splendid book. While Edelson succinctly summarizes his argument in one of the finest introductions in the literature, readers should not deny themselves the pleasure of his nuanced longer analysis. Historians have written much about South Carolina's colonial past, but in Plantation Enterprise, Edelson provides a compelling and well-written new perspective on frequently debated topics by asking commonsense questions about heretofore accepted interpretations.
-- Philip N. Racine North Carolina Historical Review
S. Max Edelson recovers the dynamism of a world obsessed with transformation of the environment, improvement of agricultural technology, and amplification of power in the transatlantic marketplace. Scrupulously documented and cogently argued, it charts as no other volume has the transformation of a semi-tropical swamp into the most profitable colony in mainland British America.
-- Dr. David S. Shields, University of South Carolina
Making extensive use of primary sources, Edelson provides a rich, nuanced account of the origins and maturation of the plantation economy in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Countering earlier depictions of the Colonial plantation economy as stunted and planters as isolated from the larger Atlantic economy, the author instead views "the plantation itself as a dynamic instrument of colonization and development" and planters as "early modern capitalists"...This is a solid piece of scholarship that not only adds to the understanding of Colonial South Carolina, but in its comprehensive character has something to offer all students of Colonial America and the Atlantic World.
-- J. J. Rogers Choice
Above all, this readable volume is about agency. As a work of environmental history, the book treats physical environment as an actor shaping human ideas and behaviors. Alternatively, it shows humans employing technology to shape what nature makes possible. As economic history it demonstrates how ideas of value shape, and are shaped by, human interaction with the land. As social history it combines these approaches and plays with the central role of greed in determining how one human treats another in order to turn a profit...[Edelson’s] valuable book stands as a reminder that one history is never enough to tell the whole story.
-- Brian Casady International Journal of African Historical Studies
S. Max Edelson deftly traces how some early colonists overcame their prejudice toward marshes and swamps to develop a profitable plantation system. They adapted the Carolina landscape to the Atlantic economy by learning from local Indian communities and imported Africans, and through active experimentation, refining the art of rice production, which they supplemented with indigo and other crops...This well-researched and well-written account creatively cultivates an array of sources, contains numerous valuable graphs and appendices to support its arguments, and provides a convincing story of Carolina plantation development.
-- Alan Gallay Journal of American History
Edelson’s narrative provides a number of new and exciting perspectives on plantation agriculture in the eighteenth century British Atlantic world...Edelson is more successful than any of his predecessors at integrating the urban form into his study of a plantation society...[He] thoroughly dispenses with the image of the plantation patriarch at ease on his remote country seat and, most important, offers an alternative...If history is written by the winners, they have certainly succeeded in commanding the pages of this dynamic and readable saga of English colonization.
-- Emma Hart Business History Review
Overall Edelson’s book is elegantly written, based on a foundation of prodigious research. To cite just one example. in a brief section that examines the volatile environment in which rice and indigo were cultivated. Edelson draws on three hundred contemporary accounts of fifty-three seasons between 1717 and 1795 that commented on how the weather affected crop yields. This hook serves as an example of the historian’s craft, as it successfully conveys change over time and space and also explicates the contingent nature of these changes. The reader encounters change coming lessfrom historical processes and more from human agents confronting and attempting to control their environment. Though the book’s title suggests its utility to a small group of scholars, Edelson has produced a work of interest to all students of southern history.
-- Gregory D. Massey Journal of Southern History