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Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution

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The great Tidewater planters of mid-eighteenth-century Virginia were fathers of the American Revolution. Perhaps first and foremost, they were also anxious tobacco farmers, harried by a demanding planting cycle, trans-Atlantic shipping risks, and their uneasy relations with English agents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and their contemporaries lived in a world that was dominated by questions of debt from across an ocean but also one that stressed personal autonomy.

T. H....

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Overview

The great Tidewater planters of mid-eighteenth-century Virginia were fathers of the American Revolution. Perhaps first and foremost, they were also anxious tobacco farmers, harried by a demanding planting cycle, trans-Atlantic shipping risks, and their uneasy relations with English agents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and their contemporaries lived in a world that was dominated by questions of debt from across an ocean but also one that stressed personal autonomy.

T. H. Breen's study of this tobacco culture focuses on how elite planters gave meaning to existence. He examines the value-laden relationships -- found in both the fields and marketplaces -- that led from tobacco to politics, from agrarian experience to political protest, and finally to a break with the political and economic system that they believed threatened both personal independence and honor.

A rich history into the lives of the great tobacco planters of colonial Virginia.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Why did Virginia's great Tidewater planters figure so prominently in the movement for independence? A good part of the reason, according to Breen, is found in the values of personal honor and autonomy that the tobacco planters' culture promoted. Growing indebtedness to English merchants, which threatened such values, made many especially susceptible to ``Radical Country thought.'' Rejecting the purely economic interpretation of the Progressive historians, and going beyond the ``idealist'' explanation of Bernard Baylin, Breen skillfully details the ``complex interplay between ideology and experience.'' A rich, balanced, and judicious work that breaks new ground in the study of the American Revolution. For informed laypersons and scholars. Roy H. Tryon, Delaware State Archives, Dover
New York Times
Breen writes clearly and argues well. . . . Tobacco Culture is enjoyable.
— Allen Boyer
William and Mary Quarterly
T. H. Breen's important new book attempts to explain why the great Virginia Planters embraced the Revolutionary cause with so much enthusiasm. He argues that growing indebtedness to British merchants after 1750 jeopardized the planters' traditional dominance, finally precipitating 'a major cultural crisis' in the years immediately preceding Independence. Breen's major contribution is to delineate the 'mentality' of the great planters of the period when private and public distress converged. . . . It is a superb contribution to the literature of the American Revolution.
— Peter S. Onuf
New York Times - Allen Boyer
Breen writes clearly and argues well. . . . Tobacco Culture is enjoyable.
William and Mary Quarterly - Peter S. Onuf
T. H. Breen's important new book attempts to explain why the great Virginia Planters embraced the Revolutionary cause with so much enthusiasm. He argues that growing indebtedness to British merchants after 1750 jeopardized the planters' traditional dominance, finally precipitating 'a major cultural crisis' in the years immediately preceding Independence. Breen's major contribution is to delineate the 'mentality' of the great planters of the period when private and public distress converged. . . . It is a superb contribution to the literature of the American Revolution.
From the Publisher
"Breen writes clearly and argues well. . . . Tobacco Culture is enjoyable."—Allen Boyer, New York Times

"T. H. Breen's important new book attempts to explain why the great Virginia Planters embraced the Revolutionary cause with so much enthusiasm. He argues that growing indebtedness to British merchants after 1750 jeopardized the planters' traditional dominance, finally precipitating 'a major cultural crisis' in the years immediately preceding Independence. Breen's major contribution is to delineate the 'mentality' of the great planters of the period when private and public distress converged. . . . It is a superb contribution to the literature of the American Revolution."—Peter S. Onuf, William and Mary Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691005966
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1987
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.47 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface to the Second Paperback Edition
Preface
Acknowledgments
I An Agrarian Context for Radical Ideas 3
II Tobacco Mentality 40
III Planters and Merchants: A Kind of Friendship 84
IV Loss of Independence 124
V Politicizing the Discourse: Tobacco, Debt and the Coming of Revolution 160
Epilogue: A New Beginning 204
Index 211
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