Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Andrew Witmer


Studies of southern planters and cotton litter the scholarship about antebellum America. These works often debate the capitalist, pre-capitalist, or anti-capitalist nature of the southern economy and slave-based plantation agriculture. This study examines how antebellum sea island cotton planters in South Carolina identified themselves and practiced as capitalists in the Atlantic World. Their identity was shaped by ongoing discussions in The Southern Agriculturalist which was published in Charleston between 1828 and 1846, and the periodical was dedicated to agricultural improvement. The ideal planter capitalist identity was defined by a dedication to agricultural innovation, an understanding of domestic and foreign markets, the successful management of enslaved labor, and advocacy for increased formal agricultural education at South Carolina College. One primary example of the planter capitalist class was William Elliott III from Beaufort, South Carolina. Through careful analysis of Elliott’s personal and published writings, this project shows the ways Elliott dealt with various challenges in putting his identity into practice. Domestically, he was met increasing challenges from a rising professional class, state and federal governments, and his enslaved labor force. However, when he left the United States and traveled to Paris in the summer of 1855, Elliott gained a strong reputation as an agriculturalist and demonstrated a clear and calculated understanding of the potential threats of a French-controlled Algerian sea island cotton market. The international stage provided a unique opportunity for Elliott to demonstrate his role as a planter capitalist.



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