Edmund Ruffin and the Crisis of Slavery in the Old South
The Failure of Agricultural Reform

William M. Mathew


“A brilliant analysis of the relationship between soil conservation and the system of agricultural slavery . . . Indispensable for understanding the agricultural history of the southeastern states during the antebellum period.”
—John Hebron Moore, Agricultural History

“You may have thought that nothing more could possibly be said about the agricultural performance of the antebellum slave South, but Mathew has proved the contrary. . . . The study amounts to an extended critique of the geographical-determinist interpretation of southern agricultural backwardness.”
—Gavin Wright, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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In 1818, Edmund Ruffin, then a young Virginia planter, began conducting chemical and rotational experiments on his Coggin’s Point plantation on the James River. His findings became the basis for the most progressive and sophisticated reform proposals to be formulated in the slaveholding South. Tracing Ruffin’s passionate advocacy of both agricultural reform and slavery, William M. Mathew pinpoints in this book many of the contradictions that underlay the economic and social structures of the antebellum South.

Page count: 302 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $29.95

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William M. Mathew is a senior fellow in history at the University of East Anglia. He is the editor of a subsequent book on Ruffin, Agriculture, Geology, and Society in Antebellum South Carolina: The Private Diary of Edmund Ruffin, 1843 (Georgia). His other books include The House of Gibbs and the Peruvian Guano Monopoly.