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University of Virginia Press
Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia's Gentry, 1700-1860

Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia's Gentry, 1700-1860

by Laura Croghan Kamoie


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Irons in the Fire chronicles the agricultural, industrial, and commercial activities of four generations of the Tayloe family of Northern Virginia, revealing a greater complexity in the southern business culture of early America than scholars have generally recognized. Through the story of one representative family, Laura Croghan Kamoie illustrates how entrepreneurship and a broadly skilled slave-labor force combined to create economic diversification well before the American Revolution. Contrary to general historical perceptions, southern elite planters were, at least until the 1790s, very like their northern counterparts.

The Tayloes were planters and businessmen who, crucially, saw no distinction or conflict between these two roles. In this they were not unique: diversification, combined with an entrepreneurial inclination among the elite of the planter class, formed the basis of the Chesapeake’s regional economy and contributed to its development.

This diversity was reflected in the slave community. Demonstrating a versatility exceeding later generations of slaves, and occupying a central position in the daily operations of the South’s business culture, the Chesapeake slaves made the planters’ relatively sophisticated enterprises not only profitable but possible.

Spanning more than a century of early American history, the story begins in 1700, when John Tayloe I managed the family’s concerns, and concludes with his six great-grandsons, who lived into the Civil War era. Through the generations, the Tayloes demonstrated the same essential qualities—enterprise, risk-taking, business savvy, innovation, ambition, and pursuit of profit—as their northern counterparts. As the eighteenth century ended, however, cotton plantation agriculture—and, in Virginia, the internal slave trade in support of it—increasingly began to take over, working against economic diversification.

Irons in the Fire provides an exceptional view of early American business, each generation of Tayloes approaching the family’s welfare within the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts of their day. This business-family saga also contributes a pivotal perspective to contemporary debates about the economic modernity of the South.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813926377
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
Publication date: 07/17/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Laura Croghan Kamoie is Assistant Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction: The Tayloes, the Virginia Gentry, and the Early American Economy     1
"To the Great Benefit of This Poor Country": John Tayloe and the Roots of Entrepreneurship     13
Building the Tayloe Estate: Land, Slaves, and the Foundation of Virginia's Regional Economy     33
Neabsco and Occoquan: Iron, Slaves, and the Success of John Tayloe II     62
Adjustments at Mount Airy: John Tayloe III and Post-Revolutionary Virginia     93
John Tayloe III, Engaged in the Business of the New Nation     125
Epilogue: The Tayloes and Change in Antebellum Virginia     151
Tayloe Family Genealogy     164
The Chesapeake Iron Industry     166
The One Hundred     172
Notes     175
Index     213

What People are Saying About This

Peter Coclanis

One of the most well-researched economic studies ever undertaken on the early modern South. Kamoie has demonstrated beyond a doubt that the Tayloes were diversified businessmen, who dealt mainly in agriculture, but who were also open to an array of commercial and industrial activities, an array which changed over time. Irons in the Fire makes a very significant contribution to the economic history of early America.(Peter Coclanis, University of North Carolina, coeditor of The South, the Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development)

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