Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P Whittenburg


This dissertation charts the contested political and cultural meaning of urbanization in the emerging plantation societies of Virginia and Maryland. Scholars have long asserted that Chesapeake planters' desire for lucre led them to patent huge tracts of land, disperse across the landscape, and completely dismiss urban development. However, through 17 pieces of legislation, colonists, governors, and London administrators actually encouraged towns in the Chesapeake through the seventeenth century. Despite the environmental and agricultural constraints of tidewater tobacco, both colonies wrestled with a perceived need for towns, which consistently appeared to represent the best means to engineer the region's political economy and local social order. Shifting demographics, a changing labour system, religious conflict, and increasing imperial pressure for control created an atmosphere in which the promise of urbanization could be a powerful tool for various Atlantic actors seeking to shape the emerging plantation system to their purposes. They shared a desire to urbanize the region, but quarrelled because they had contradictory definitions of precisely what a town was, how it should function, and how it should be governed. These divergent visions sprang from and contributed to a contemporaneous European contest between ancient boroughs and modern cities, civic humanism and the emerging nation-state. Towns in the Chesapeake only became widespread in the mid-eighteenth century, once the broader questions of political order in England's boroughs and its plantation empire had been resolved.;Piecing together a range of sources, this dissertation emphasizes the political, economic, and cultural context of the region's many urban plans---and especially the subtle differences in context between Virginia and Maryland---in order to demonstrate how and why town building remained a vital weapon in broader constitutional and commercial disputes. its transatlantic source base connects the Chesapeake's planners and proposals with the contests in English boroughs and Whitehall; spatial, ceremonial, sensory, and cultural analyses uncover the overlooked significance of urban foundations that remained only paper plats or collections of warehouses. The project highlights how proto-urban spaces fit within, or challenged, the emergence of a plantation landscape on the physical, cultural, and political levels.;Part 1 explores urban plans in seventeenth-century Virginia, their connections to English commercial and political rivalries during the Civil War, their role in provoking Bacon's Rebellion, and finally their part in a 1680s transatlantic contest over corporate government. Part 2 offers a parallel story of town-founding efforts in Maryland, exploring how Lord Baltimore's proprietary authority distinguished the complexion of urban development there. Part 3 addresses the entire Chesapeake region after 1689 (once both colonies had fallen under royal control), tracing Governor Francis Nicholson's efforts to reshape the definition of urbanity in the empire by founding Annapolis and Williamsburg and demonstrating how they pushed the concept of the imperial city to the centre of Atlantic political discourse. The fault lines of this debate had become so entrenched by the 1710s that it was abandoned entirely, and during the eighteenth century both colonies developed new kinds of plantation cities, freed from the bitter Atlantic disputes of the previous century.



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