Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Thad W Tate


The farmers of piedmont Virginia's Tye River Valley adapted agriculture to a commercial frontier during the eighteenth century. This 'frontier agroecosystem' optimized labor returns by exploiting the stored fertility of mature ecosystems at the expense of conservation, but proved vulnerable to population growth and soil exhaustion. Out-migration increased after the Revolution, and economic growth was stymied by limited capital and consumer formation. The frontier agroecosystem could not provide the reliable commercial returns needed to promote development or stable neighborhoods.;During the early 1800s, prominent planters demanded that Virginia farming be intensified---that land productivity be maximized, rather than labor productivity. This strategy, many claimed, would anchor farm families while promoting economic independence. Those among the Tye Valley's ordinary farmers who practiced traditional intensification---increased land productivity through increased labor investment---found it led to declining labor productivity and lower profits, declining consumer opportunities, and diminished political influence. Practical planters turned to entrepreneurial intensification---enhancing per-acre productivity by importing improved seed, livestock, fertilizers, and machinery. This would also increase labor productivity. to attract the capital to purchase these imports, the Valley's leaders had to abandon colonial for capitalist politics, and practice the natural resource conservation necessary to use farmland to insure investments. The self-sufficiency idealized by republican 'high farmers' was compromised.;Many Tye Valley farmers, however, resisted the dependence of capitalist agriculture through a republicanism that accepted lower living standards and curtailed opportunity in return for agrarian independence. Middle and lower class farmers pursued traditional intensification on their land while trying to maintain common access to 'free' resources left over from the frontier property system. They also resisted attempts by the district's entrepreneurial planter-politicians to modernize Virginia's political economy and force the state into a capitalist economy.;High crop prices during the 1850s, however, helped the Valley's capitalist farmers reinvest profits in modernized cultivation. By 1860, they had gone far toward incorporating the landscape of the Tye River Valley into a capitalist agroecosystem. Popular resistance, however, slowed the development of capital needed for a full transformation. Valley farmers found entrepreneurial farming, elite republicanism, and traditional intensification in jeopardy in 1860.



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