Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This study analyzes the entrepreneurial estate-building activities of three generations of the Tayloe family of Virginia from the 1710s to the 1820s. The three John Tayloes were model planter-businessmen---that is, they combined mixed commercial agriculture with a variety of business enterprises in an effort to secure long-term financial security and social status for themselves and their heirs. This diversified approach to plantation management characterized early Virginia's "culture of progress"---an early American business culture interpreted in many different ways throughout the colonies (and later the states) that had the pursuit of a better life as its organizing premise.;The Tayloes were not alone in their ironmaking, shipbuilding, land speculation, investing, and craft-service activities. Instead, the three generations of Tayloe planter-businessmen represent the activities, approaches, and values of the elite planter class of early Virginia.;For each of the Tayloes, slave labor served as the fundamental resource for successful enterprise. The presence of large populations of enslaved African Americans enabled the Tayloes and other planters to branch out from staple agriculture and ultimately necessitated that they continue to do so. Slaves demonstrated their abilities, became central to the daily operations of the South's business culture, and made the enterprises planters founded profitable.;Planter-businessmen as individuals founded businesses that were usually complementary in some way to their holdings in land and slaves. Recognizing the potentially dangerous fluctuations of the tobacco market, planters were apt to attempt new endeavors in good times and bad and rarely abandoned new businesses simply because the tobacco market rebounded. They kept their finger on the pulse of the market, braved risk, and attempted to keep up with the latest technology. Planters' non-tobacco activities provided an important buffer between the uncontrollable weather, shipping, and prices associated with tobacco agriculture and their family's future security. The institution of slavery certainly placed some structural limits on planters' entrepreneurial imaginations. However, whether compared against northern farmer-businessmen prior to the antebellum period or set against the definitions of Virginia's own slave society, early southern planter-businessmen exhibited rational and progressive economic behavior.



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