Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland.

Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland. – book reviews

George W. Franz

Lois Green Carr, Russell R. Menard, and Lorena S. Walsh are long-time collaborators on various works on Maryland and the Chesapeake region during the early colonial period. With Robert Cole’s World, they have outdone themselves. The work is both a primary source and an interpretive work of great importance.

Robert Cole and his wife Rebecca migrated to St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in 1652. The authors contend that they were a typical mid seventeenth-century yeoman planter family in tidewater Maryland. They came to a Maryland that was in the throes of change as class and race increasingly divided a less differentiated society and produced the “golden age” of patriarchal, gentry-dominated, slave-based structure of the region.

The driving force of this change was agriculture, particularly the development of the tobacco plantation, which brought fortune to some, early death to many (including Robert Cole) and a bare existence to most. Cole’s early death allowed this book to be written. Planning a trip back to England in 1662, Cole made elaborate preparations, including instructions for the raising of his children and the management of his plantation, a will, and a detailed inventory of his possessions. From these precious few documents, the authors were able to write an unbelievably detailed analysis of everyday life in late seventeenth-century Maryland.

The book contains 166 pages of analysis and interpretation. There are 4 appendices of 98 pages that give Cole’s will and plantation account and an analysis of the people living at the plantation between 1662 and 1673, an appendix on livestock survival and meat consumption, and an appendix giving biographies of all the people mentioned in the book. There are also 68 pages of notes. This is only a small picture of the details and kernels of information that can be found in the work. It also illustrates the problem with the study – it is so detailed and crammed with facts and figures that it is difficult to read.

Robert Cole’s World will be cited over and over again, not only for its interpretation, but also for the facts and figures that the authors have been able to tease out of very disparate and sparse documents. It is a monument of historical sleuthing, but at the same time one that will appeal primarily to the specialist.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group