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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  117 ratings  ·  14 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 12th 2001 by Princeton University Press (first published 1985)
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David Nichols
Until recently, historians have viewed Revolutionary-era Virginia as an odd place: a fervently rebellious province whose white population nonetheless demonstrated impressive internal solidarity. Massachusetts was the only other major American colony to display these traits, and its people had Puritanism (or what was left of it) to hold them together. What did Virginians use in place of Puritanism? Edmund Morgan said it was white supremacy. His student T.H. Breen takes a different tack in this ...more
Sherry Chandler
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A readable, sometimes fascinating, look at colonial Virginia, the growth of the plantation system and the unique ways tobacco culture influenced economics and society.

Some quotations from the book:

. . . [raising] tobacco often served as the measure of the man.

The great planters of Tidewater Virginia enjoy a special place in American history. They included some of the nation's ablest leaders, and without the likes of Washington and Jefferson, it is hard to see how Americans could have made good
Sep 30, 2009 added it
fabulous book
Katie Wilson
Oct 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fall-2013
Insights into the beliefs and values of tobacco planters on the eve of Revolution.
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
I had to read this book for my A.P. History I class. Everybody hated it, but I didn't think it was too horrible.
Curtis Keltner
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
T.H. Breen contemplates an oft-overlooked topic in prerevolutionary Virginia, the collective mentality of Tidewater tobacco planters. In Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of the Revolution, Breen argues that planters brought a fierce commitment to personal autonomy, a set of expectations about honest negotiations with British merchants, and a deep sense of pride to the fractious debate with parliament over American sovereignty (xv). In this well-written ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The centrality of tobacco in the lives of these men spawned a curious system of social ranking, one strikingly different from that normally associated with modern industrial societies. The planter's self-esteem depended -- in part, at least -- upon the quality of his tobacco." (65)

"One effect of relying upon British merchants for credit was that it freed the great planter from the prying eyes of their neighbors. No one except the gentleman himself knew exactly how his balance stood. Of course,
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A nice little book examining the mindset of large Virginia planters in the mid to late 1700s, and how their cultural and economic experiences may have prepared them for Revolution. It does not make any sweeping claim to find a single cause of the Revolution, it simply presents some facts and propositions.
Tarah Luke
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great monograph about agriculture and its significance to planters at the cusp of the revolutionary period.
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
a clear and concise perspective into how tobacco shaped the tidewater region and helped through external means to spur feelings of revolution in one of America's oldest colonies.
David Bates
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it
In the preface to the second edition Breen muses that Tobacco Culture has been well received because it speaks to multiple fields and subfields. Cultural, environmental, social, economic and political strands are united by Breens statement that, [p]eople do not usually seal off one aspect of their lives from the rest, treating politics, or religion, or work, or family life as if it bore no relation to other forms of social experience. Breen conceives of tidewater society as rooted above all in ...more
Kevin Moynihan
Great book. Brings you back to the era and the business of tobacco. Impact of debt is interesting.
Mar 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Tobacco Culture is another view of one of possible underlying causes of the American Revolution and the development of the American mentality. There were several causes of the American Revolution, some political, some economic, some social. This work combines the several genres within one segment of American culture. The great tobacco plantations of the South had been developed on a perceived understanding regarding debt. Planters would lend each other funds in gentlemanly agreements between ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: virginia-history
Breen's work focuses heavily upon the role that Virginia planters' debt played in galvanizing them as a unit to stand against British mercantilism, and thus their mother country's dominance.
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T.H. Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University. He is also the founding director of the Kaplan Humanities Center and the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies at Northwestern. Breen is a specialist on the American Revolution; he studies the history of early America with a special interest in political thought, material culture, and ...more

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