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In this absorbing narrative Charles Royster traces the rise and fall of the eighteenth-century transatlantic culture that was built on the insatiable demand in Europe for Virginia tobacco and the equally insatiable American demand for European manufactured goods.
Moving from the plantations of Virginia and Antigua to the warehouses of London and Glasgow, from the Gold Coast of Africa to the valleys of the Allegheny Mountains, from the iron furnaces of southern Wales to the subscribers' room of Lloyd's of London, Professor Royster gives us the story of the Dismal Swamp Company, a fantastically delusional enterprise that proposed draining and developing a vast morass along the Virginia-North Carolina border. Examining the interconnected lives of the company's partners, Royster reveals a colonial order built on a system of cronyism, conspicuous consumption, and debt that seems hauntingly familiar. He writes about the many schemers and dreamers (including George Washington, Robert King Carter, two William Byrds, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Morris) who failed to amass their desired fortunes, and a few realists (Samuel Gist, Dr. Thomas Walker, and Anthony Bacon) who succeeded, but at the dire expense of others. And we see the breakdown of this culture and the transition to a more democratic, though similar, system after the Revolution.
Throughout Royster's narrative we seepossessors possessed by their possessions, slaveholders possessed by slavery, and heirs possessed by litigation. Connecting all their stories are their unceasing efforts to make something substantial out of the insubstantial--chief among them the almost unbelievable delusion that fortunes could be made from the Dismal Swamp.