Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's Your Motivation?

Honor? Pleasure? Profit?

Those were the inducements used to get the British to consider moving to Tidewater Maryland and Virginia in the 17th century, according to Dr. Lorena Walsh.

At today's lecture at the Virginia Historical Society, she spoke on "Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607–1763."

Suckers for honor were told they'd be contributing to the power and prestige of England by going, not to mention the chance to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.

Under the listing of pleasures available in the New World were your own land, plenty of food, the ability to enjoy a good wood fire in your house and (wait for it!) meat on Sundays! Can't you just see how that would inspire people to take a perilous months-long journey by sea?

And profit? Let's just say tobacco growing was a mid-Atlantic enterprise and made a lot of money for its sellers, securing much-coveted European goods in exchange. Even back then the elite planters had marketing strategies to brand quality tobacco.

Once planters discovered how lucrative it was to use slaves as labor, a new element was added to the equation. The problem for planters was that British slave sellers only took cash or bills of exchange. Local slave traders extended up to a year of credit, but you never knew when they'd have "inventory" for sale.

One thing I found fascinating was the profile of the late 18th century planters. They were no dummies, that's for sure.

Amazingly, they were expected to be well read in classic literature, know the rudiments of science, be something of an architect (most planters designed their own "power" houses), be well skilled in mechanics, have enough medical skills to treat slaves, and promote improved agricultural standards.

And here I've just been looking for a good conversationalist! Is there a man alive today who is capable of all that? And that used to be the standard? My, how times have changed.

Walsh's lecture provided a perspective on plantation life that I, for one, didn't have and welcomed hearing. When all was said and done, she tallied up the motivations and the payoffs for the planters and then announced, "Okay, I am done." Easily one of the best endings of a Banner Lecture ever.

Pleasures accrued? Definitely, even if they had to be obtained on credit. Profit? In spades, but at what cost?

And honor? Not so much. A lifestyle built on the enforced enslavement of others hardly qualifies for honorable. Likewise, the atrocious treatment of Native Americans in the region left much to be desired.

From where I sat, it sounded like we are a culture founded on the attainment of pleasure and profit. Hmm, that would explain a lot.

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