The uses of enslaved labor outside the context of staple crop production become evident through an examination of colonial Somerset County, the southernmost Maryland county on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore. By the early eighteenth century, conditions in Somerset amounted to something of a paradox. The county’s planters were thoroughly embedded in the larger Chesapeake plantation society and replicated, insofar as they were able, the features of that society, including the use of slave labor and cultivation of tobacco. Yet poor soil conditions pushed residents to the edges of the tobacco economy. Unable to grow tobacco profitably, Somerset’s men and women identified alternative export commodities that were more suited to the resources at hand, including lumber, meat, and ships. In addition, many Somerset residents were active in an expanding coastwide trade that linked economic activity in the county to markets elsewhere in the colonies. Russo examines the allocation of enslaved labor in Somerset’s diversified economy using information drawn from judicial, tax, probate, and land records. Consideration of the evidence for Somerset County indicates that scholars need to devote more attention to the characteristics of slavery in anomalous areas that exist within broad staple-producing regions.

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