The Plantation Hoe: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic commodity, 1650-1850

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    The plantation hoe was ubiquitous in the early Atlantic world. Yet it has no history. Indeed, it appears not to need one. It was a crude, archaic tool requiring no explanation. This article argues otherwise. The records of manufacturers and planters in the Anglophone Atlantic reveal the hoe as a dynamic article; it was adapted to different plantation environments and underwent successive redesigns across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In fact, the making of hoes relied upon product innovation, flexible manufacturing networks, and niche marketing targeted at (and responsive to) transatlantic customers—features more commonly associated with high-end consumer goods. The hoe was indispensable in pushing forward the plantation frontier. Yet it never enjoyed prestige, and from 1750 the hoe began to be stigmatized as premodern and shameful. The reasons for this mounting ideological animosity, which affected the Chesapeake, the low country, and the Caribbean in turn, are recounted. An article of utility was recast as something abject. So successfully was this done that the hoe has never since been seen as worthy of historians’ attention, but the story of the hoe can challenge some of the assumptions that underlie current thinking about consumption in the Anglophone Atlantic.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)581 - 610
    Number of pages29
    JournalWilliam and Mary Quarterly
    Issue number1
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jan 2012


    • history
    • atlantic
    • plantation


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