A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Part I-Chapter 2 : Planter  Aristocrats  > Index and Introduction  :   Previous  1 - 2  Next

Colonial politics were often unstable and in times erratic, causing estates to change hands and creating both, risks and opportunities. William Randolph, an English immigrant who arrived in Virginia 1673, seized such an opportunity when he convinced governor Sir William Berkeley to grant him a large plantation from the confiscated estate of Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy landowner who had betrayed his class and staged a revolt against Berkeley and the colonial government. Randolph was the progenitor of one of the largest, wealthiest and most powerful families in 18th century Virginia. His marriage to the daughter of Henry Isham, another large plantation owner ascertained his position in the colony.

Even more than in the North, the Southern plantation owners had large families, with many children from often multiple marriages. John Carter, who emigrated to Virginia from Middlesex in 1649, married five times and had many children. John Carter was already prominent among the early settlers of Virginia; his son Robert Carter, became one of  the richest plantation owners in the colony, whence he was dubbed "King Carter". His estate was divided among his numerous children from two marriages, and the plantations they inherited, Corotoman, Nomini, Cleve and Sabin Hall, were so valuable as to make each of the heirs fabulously rich. Primogeniture was not as important to the perpetuation of family wealth in this environment, where a large plantation allowed a generous lifestyle to his owners. Of course, the practice to divide properties among many sons would soon dilute even the largest estates and leave individual third or fourth generation heirs of Southern aristocrats with relatively modest estates.

Southern aristocrats played an important part during the American Revolution and the subsequent organization of the new nations institutions. Peyton Randolph and Richard Henry Lee, both of Virginia, presided the meetings of the Continental Congress, as did Henry Laurens, a wealthy merchant of Charleston, South Carolina and in-law of the politically active Pinckneys. George Washington was the supreme commander of the armies and would become the first president of the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson, who co-drafted the Declaration of Independence, was the first Secretary of State (he was replaced by Edmund Randolph during Washington's second mandate) and later became the country's third president. His successors James Madison and James Monroe were both Virginia plantation owners, although the latter was forced to sell his estate late in his life. Many others could be quoted here.

The apotheosis of Southern wealth incidentally came in the first half of the 19th century, after the invention of the cotton gin by Connecticut Yankee Eli Whitney made cotton plantations (and slave labor) immensely profitable. The influx of cotton money revived many of the old family fortunes and created new ones, such as the Hairstons of Virginia, the Aikens of South Carolina or Joseph Davis, a brother of Jefferson Davis, who had large plantations in the state of Mississippi. Jefferson Davis was the president of the short lived Confederation of Southern states which seceded from the Union and were brought down in Civil War. The conflict was as much about the ethical question of slavery as the breaking of the old established political system in which the Southern states seemed to have too much power since the succession of Democratic-Republican presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.

With their defeat at Gettysburg and eventually Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomatox, the World of the Southern planter aristocracy collapsed and although some of the larger estates would reemerge, their power and influence would never be the same. The South of the United States economically lost against the industrial North, and the development of the West would draw most resources and create new wealth by the millions, far outpacing the slower and suddenly less appealing states South of the Potomac.

         (Read now) :  
Slavery - boon and bane of the Antebellum South
                                    (the evil recipe for success of America's Southern plantation aristocracy)        

Planter  Aristocrats  > Index and Introduction  :   Previous  1 - 2  Next

Patroons and Manor Lords

Planter  Aristocrats

Shipping Merchants

The Landlords of New YorkCity

Bankers I

Early American Industrialists


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