Rise of the Plantation Elite

In his discussion of the Chesapeake colonies, Taylor discusses the rise of the ruling plantation elites who would go on to form the basis of the Antebellum South’s title-less aristocracy. The Chesapeake colonies saw a brief period of social mobility in the formative years of the colonies, during which time many of these elites made their place, a combination of freed servants and the initial planters who hired these servants formed the basis of this elite, but those who would come to the Chesapeake colonies after this brief period found the period of social mobility to be very short  lived, as usable land vanished, thus leaving a growing divide between the wealthy landowners possessed plenty of good land to grow tobacco, and those with little or no land who were struck with poverty. This growing divide was further widened by the Governor of Virginia, who gave out vast land grants to his favorites among the plantation elite, which resulted in growing tensions between the ruling class and the lower classes, as well as those landowners dissatisfied with their position, ultimately resulting in Bacon’s rebellion and the recall of the governor. After this rebellion the planter elite underwent a major change, as they moved to build solidarity with the lower classes by developing a genteel manner and emphasizing shared racial bonds and their differences, conflicts, and superiority towards the Indians and Africans.

Unlike Virginia, the Carolinas did not start off with a planter elite at odds with the poorer common planters and servants, rather from the beginning the Carolinas  the planters found a need for the commoners as they feared the possibility of slave and Indian alliances , and knew that they needed white commoners to help defend them against these dual threats. The fear of slave revolt drove these  planter elites to greater solidarity with the white commoners and also drove them to attempt to set black slaves and Indians at odds with each other  by offering indians rewards for black slaves being returned and declaring war on Indians who harbored black slaves. The plantation elite were able to fully establish their power, eventually overriding the Lords Proprietor and controlling the majority of political power within the Carolinas.