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Tobacco Road: New Views of the Early Chesapeake


Coclanis, Peter A. (2011). Tobacco Road: New Views of the Early Chesapeake. William and Mary Quarterly, 68(3), 398-404.


Two of the major transformations that took place in Virginia during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were the adoption of slave labor to produce a staple commodity (tobacco) and the emergence of a gentry class that built its wealth, power, and social influence on both slavery and export of this crop. The reasons and timing of the transition to slavery and the nature of the planters’ consolidation of power within the British Empire have long been subjects of keen interest and debate. In this Forum these two major transformations are given close scrutiny by John C. Coombs and Douglas Bradburn. Coombs challenges the generally accepted notion that the use of enslaved labor spread only gradually during the first sixty years of the colony’s history before increasing rapidly in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Bradburn examines the critical role played by the English state in intervening in the tobacco trade, part of a new system that transformed Atlantic commerce, allowed a small group of Virginia elites to consolidate their power, and sowed the seeds of future misunderstanding between Britain and the colonies.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

William and Mary Quarterly


Coclanis, Peter A.