Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James Axtell


Historians have, of course, long been aware of the importance of Virginia's seventeenth-century conversion from white to black labor. But while scholars have devoted considerable effort to explaining why this pivotal transition occurred, a detailed analysis of how it happened does not exist, nor by extension have scholars ever fully considered the repercussions of what one might call the "process of conversion.";Although Virginia's black population remained small throughout much of the seventeenth century, it was heavily concentrated on the estates of a relatively small circle of wealthy planters. By the middle decades of the century some members of the gentry had acquired sizable quantities of slaves. as early as the 1660s, when the typical Chesapeake planter still only employed servants, on many elite plantations blacks made up nearly half of the workforce, and in some cases were numerous enough to comprise a considerable majority.;The gentry's early turn to slavery had a profound effect on the development of the plantation "machine." From a socio-economic perspective, it was instrumental in facilitating the rise of Virginia's great families. The founding members of these dynasties arrived in the colony with wealth and social status. But it was their remarkable success in building up their holdings in land and slaves that distanced them from their peers and that proved decisive in securing the lasting predominance of their descendants.;Yet because of their limited access to the transatlantic slave trade, even the wealthiest Virginians initially found it difficult to procure slaves and for decades elite-owned labor forces remained racially mixed. Early African immigrants consequently faced enormous pressure to conform to the behavioral norms of the dominant Anglo-American society, giving the cultural compromises that they ultimately reached with each other an assimilationist bent. as the founding generations relinquished community leadership to their native-born children and grandchildren, African-American society in the colony acquired an anglicized veneer that continued to persist and shape life in slave quarters even after the advent of large direct deliveries in the early eighteenth century.



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