Cotton Plantations

Cotton Plantations

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A large number of early settlers in America grew cotton. Therefore large numbers of slaves were purchased to do this work.

The industry was given a boost invention of Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin in 1793. With the aid of a horse to turn the gin, a man could clean fifty times as much cotton as before. This increased the demand for slaves. For example, in 1803 alone, over 20,000 slaves were being brought into Georgia and South Carolina to work in the cotton fields.

Much of this cotton was exported to Britain where the invention of the Spinning Jenny, the Water Frame and the Power Loom had rapidly increased the demand for raw cotton. By 1850 America was producing 3,000,000 bales of cotton and the industry had become a vital element of the South's economy.

Mr. Gooch, the cotton planter, he purchased me at a town called Liberty Hill, about three miles from his home. As soon as he got home, he immediately put me on his cotton plantation to work, and put me under overseers, gave me allowance of meat and bread with the other slaves, which was not half enough for me to live upon, and very laborious work. Here my heart was almost broke with grief at leaving my fellow slaves. Mr. Gooch did not mind my grief, for he flogged me nearly every day, and very severely. Gooch bought me for his son-in-law, Mr. Hammans, about five miles from his residence. This man had but two slaves besides myself; he treated me very kindly for a week or two, but in summer, when cotton was ready to hoe, he gave me task work connected with this department, which I could not get done, not having worked on cotton farms before. When I failed in my task, he commenced flogging me, and set me to work without any shirt in the cotton field, in a very hot sun, in the month of July. In August, Mr. Condell, his overseer, gave me a task at pulling fodder.

Having finished my task before night, I left the field; the rain came on, which soaked the fodder. On discovering this, he threatened to flog me for not getting in the fodder before the rain came. This was the first time I attempted to run away, knowing that I should get a flogging. I was then between thirteen and fourteen years of age. I ran away to the woods half naked; I was caught by a slave-holder, who put me in Lancaster jail. When they put slaves in jail, they advertise for their masters to own them; but if the master does not claim his slave in six months from the time of imprisonment, the slave is sold for jail fees.

When the slave runs away, the master always adopts a more rigorous system of flogging; this was the case in the present instance. After this, having determined from my youth to gain my freedom, I made several attempts, was caught and got a severe flogging of one hundred lashes each time. Hammans was a very severe and cruel master, and his wife still worse; she used to tie me up and flog me while naked.

Located in Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation was first a sugar cane plantation started by Valcour Aime, who purchased the property in 1830. He established an enslaved community who worked the plantation. Then in 1836, Jacques Roman acquired the Oak Alley property and began to build his own home on the plantation. Accomplished entirely by slave labor, his home was built in Greek Revival style using bricks made on site and marble shipped in by steamboat to construct the dining-room floor.

The self-guided exhibit at Oak Alley focuses on the lives and living conditions of those who were owned and kept on the plantation. Visitors learn about life after emancipation and can stop by the Blacksmith Shop, which acts as a tribute to Louisiana craftsmen and the history of forging metalwork.

Oak Alley Plantation has been the filming site of popular media works, including the 1993 film, Interview With a Vampire, and Beyoncé’s 2006 music video for the song Deja Vu.

What Is the Connection between Cotton and Slavery?

Cotton production requires land and labor, and slavery was a cheap form of labor. Many landowners in the United States from the 1600s onward purchased people to be used as slaves from areas of the world like Africa to work in the cotton fields, as a way to keep operating expenses to a minimum. The extra money saved by keeping slaves instead of paid labor meant that the landowners could invest even more money into the business, and potentially make more cotton and more profits for other ventures.

Slavery was outlawed in the United States after the Civil War. This is relatively late in the century compared to British colonies, for example, such as those in the Caribbean or Canada. Cotton and slavery persisted in the confederate states in the south of the United States for longer than the northern parts of the continent, and this was one of the major differences between the two sides in the Civil War.

Plantations, which were commercial estates in the southern states, typically used African slave labor. The people in slavery were either Africans who had been kidnapped from their homes and brought over to the Americas by ship, or people who were descended from the first-generation Africans. The primary focus on people with African blood was a change from the initial forms of labor that were available to early settlers in the country.

Originally, Europeans and their descendants in America tried to make the native Americans into cheap labor, but these people were commonly familiar with the area and so were able to get away from forced labor more easily than others. Poor Europeans were the next choice, who came to live in America as indentured servants, which meant that they worked for a fixed period of years for room and board but no money. Plantation owners had to buy new indentured servants every few years, however, so when African slaves became a cheaper choice in the late 1600s due to an increased expectation of living standards for European laborers, cotton and slavery became inextricably interlinked.

Slaves were a choice of labor that made economic sense for plantation owners at that time, if not ethical sense. In comparison to the failed experiment with native American labor, newly arrived African slaves did not know the country and could not speak the language. The difference in skin color also made it tougher for a slave to escape from a plantation that combined cotton and slavery, compared to white indentured servants.

Another potentially profitable component to cotton and slavery was that the children of a woman in slavery were typically born into legal slavery. This gave the cotton plantation owners a regular supply of virtually free labor. Although cotton was a major part of the economy of the southern states, slave labor also made cash crops like tobacco and sugar more profitable than they would have been with other forms of labor.

8 Slavery and King Cotton

In the years before the Civil War, American planters in the South continued to grow Chesapeake tobacco and Carolina rice as they had in the colonial era. Cotton, however, emerged as the antebellum South’s major commercial crop, eclipsing tobacco, rice, and sugar in economic importance. By 1860, the region produced two-thirds of the world’s cotton. In 1793, Eli Whitney had revolutionized production with the cotton gin which dramatically reduced the time it took to process raw cotton, As a commodity, cotton also had the advantage of being easily stored and transported. Demand in the industrial textile mills of Great Britain and New England seemed inexahustible. Southern cotton, picked and processed by American slaves, upheld the wealth and power of the planter elite while it fueled the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution in both the United States and Great Britain.

Almost no cotton was grown in the United States in 1790 when the first U.S. Census was conducted. Following the War of 1812, cotton became the key cash crop of the southern economy and the most important American commodity. By 1850, 1.8 million of the 3.2 million slaves in the country’s fifteen slave states produced cotton and by 1860, slave labor produced over two billion pounds of cotton annually. American cotton made up two-thirds of the global supply, and production continued to increase. By the time of the Civil War, South Carolina politician James Hammond confidently proclaimed that the North could never threaten the South because “cotton is king.”

The crop grown in the South was a hybrid known as Petit Gulf cotton that grew extremely well in the Mississippi River Valley as well as in other states like Texas. Whenever new slave states entered the Union, white slaveholders sent armies of slaves to clear land to grow the lucrative crop. The phrase “to be sold down the river,” used by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, refers to this forced migration from the upper southern states to the Deep South, lower on the Mississippi, to grow cotton. The slaves forced to build James Hammond’s cotton kingdom with their labor started by clearing the land. Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian vision of white yeoman farmers settling the West by single-handedly carving out small independent farms ironically proved quite different in the South. Old-growth forests and cypress swamps were cleared by slaves and readied for plowing and planting. To ambitious white planters, the new land available for cotton production seemed almost limitless and many planters leapfrogged from one area to the next, abandoning their fields every ten to fifteen years when the soil became exhausted. Slaves composed the vanguard of this American expansion to the West.

1895 image of sharecroppers picking cotton.

Cotton planting took place in March and April, when slaves planted seeds in rows around three to five feet apart. Over the next several months, from April to August, they carefully tended the plants and weeded the cotton rows. Beginning in August, all the plantation’s slaves worked together to pick the crop. Cotton picking occurred as many as seven times a season as the plant continued to flower and produce bolls through the fall and early winter. During the picking season, slaves worked from sunrise to sunset with a ten-minute break at lunch. Once they had brought the cotton to the gin house to be weighed, slaves then had to care for the animals and perform other chores. Indeed, slaves often maintained their own gardens and livestock, which they tended after working the cotton fields, in order to supplement their supply of food.

As the cotton industry boomed in the South, Mississippi River steamboats became a defining component of the cotton kingdom. The video clip above, from a 1937 documentary by Pare Lorentz, shows cotton bales being loaded on a riverboat as they had been for generations. Riverboats were already an important part of the transportation revolution due to their enormous freight-carrying capacity and ability to navigate shallow waterways. By 1837, there were over seven hundred steamships operating on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Major new ports developed at St. Louis, Memphis, Chattanooga, Shreveport, and other locations. By 1860, some thirty-five hundred riverboats were steaming in and out of New Orleans carrying an annual cargo of cotton worth $220 million (over $7 billion in 2019 dollars). Riverboats also came to symbolize the class and social distinctions of the antebellum age. While the decks carried the precious cargo, ornate rooms staterooms graced the interior where whites socialized in the ship’s saloons and dining halls while black slaves served them.

New Orleans had been part of the French Louisiana Territory the United States purchased in 1803. President Jefferson had been interested in acquiring the important port even before Napoleon offered the entire territory. In the first half of the nineteenth century, New Orleans rose to even greater prominence with the cotton boom. Steamboats delivered cotton grown on plantations throughout the South to the port at New Orleans. Initially, the bulk of American cotton went to Liverpool, England, where it was sold to British textile manufacturers. As New England textiles overtook the British industry, the South and New Orleans became rich. By 1840, New Orleans held 12 percent of the nation’s total banking capital, and visitors often commented on the great cultural diversity of the city. A visitor from New England wrote, “Truly does New-Orleans represent every other city and nation upon earth. I know of none where is congregated so great a variety of the human species.” Slaves, cotton, and the steamship transformed the city from a relatively isolated corner of North America in the eighteenth century to a thriving metropolis that rivaled New York in importance.

The South’s dependence on cotton was matched by its dependence on slaves to plant, tend, and harvest the cotton. Despite the rhetoric of the American Revolution that “all men are created equal,” slavery not only endured in the United States but was the very foundation of the country’s economic success. Cotton and slavery occupied a central place in the nineteenth-century economy. Importing slaves into the United States was outlawed by Congress in 1808, but owning slaves remained legal. At the same time, falling tobacco prices caused a shift to wheat farming in the upper South. Raising wheat was much less labor-intensive than tobacco – in fact, the yeoman farmers Jefferson had imagined spreading westward grew plenty of wheat with no slaves at all. Rather than competing with farmers in the North and Midwest, slaveowners in states like Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky went into the business of raising and selling slaves to the cotton plantations of the Deep South. As many as a million slaves were “sold down the river” in the domestic slave trade during the first half of the nineteenth century, generating immense fortunes for already-wealthy slaveowners in the upper South.

Title page of first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852, which began shifting undecided northerners to support abolition.


Solomon Northup was a free black man living in Saratoga, New York, when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He later escaped and wrote a book about his experiences, Twelve Years a Slave. Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853, which was made into the 2013 Academy Award–winning film. This excerpt derives from Northup’s description of being sold in New Orleans, along with fellow slave Eliza and her children Randall and Emily.

One old gentleman, who said he wanted a coachman, appeared to take a fancy to me…The same man also purchased Randall. The little fellow was made to jump, and run across the floor, and perform many other feats, exhibiting his activity and condition. All the time the trade was going on, Eliza was crying aloud, and wringing her hands. She besought the man not to buy him, unless he also bought her self and Emily…Freeman turned round to her, savagely, with his whip in his uplifted hand, ordering her to stop her noise, or he would flog her. He would not have such work—such snivelling and unless she ceased that minute, he would take her to the yard and give her a hundred lashes…Eliza shrunk before him, and tried to wipe away her tears, but it was all in vain. She wanted to be with her children, she said, the little time she had to live. All the frowns and threats of Freeman, could not wholly silence the afflicted mother.

Solomon Northup’s illustration and signature in his 1855 book, Twelve Years a Slave.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, industrialization brought changes to both the production and the consumption of goods in the United States. Some southerners believed that their reliance on a single cash crop and its use of slaves to produce it gave the South economic independence and made them immune from the effects of these changes. Actually, producing cotton brought the South more firmly into larger American and Atlantic markets. Northern mills depended on the South for supplies of raw cotton. And between 1820 and 1860, approximately 80 percent of the global cotton supply was produced in the United States. Nearly all the exported cotton was shipped to Great Britain, making the powerful British Empire increasingly dependent on American cotton and southern slavery.

The power of cotton on the world market may have brought wealth to the South, but it also increased its economic dependence on other countries and other parts of the United States. Much of the corn and pork that slaves consumed came from farms in the West. Cheap clothing and shoes worn by slaves were manufactured in the North. The North also supplied furnishings for the homes of both wealthy planters and members of the middle class. Nearly all the accoutrements of comfortable living for southern whites, such as carpets, lamps, dinnerware, upholstered furniture, books, and musical instruments, were made in either the North or Europe. Southern planters also borrowed money from banks in northern cities, and in the southern summers, took advantage of the developments in transportation to travel to resorts at Saratoga, New York Litchfield, Connecticut and Newport, Rhode Island.

Plantation slaves planting sweet potatoes in South Carolina, 1862.

Southern whites frequently relied upon the idea of paternalism, that white slaveholders acted in the best interests of slaves, to justify the existence of slavery. Slaveholders claimed to feel great responsibility for their slaves’ care, feeding, discipline, and even their Christian morality. Some even suggested that their slaves were better off in the South than they had been as “savage” and “heathen” free people in Africa. These rationalizations grossly misrepresented the reality of slavery, which was a dehumanizing, traumatizing, and horrifying human disaster and crime against humanity. And slaves were not always passive victims of their conditions they often found ways to resist their shackles and develop their own communities and cultures.

Slaves often used notions of paternalism to their advantage, finding opportunities to resist and winning a degree of freedom and autonomy. For example, some slaves took advantage of slaveholders’ racism by hiding their intelligence and feigning childishness and stupidity. Slaves could slow down the workday and sabotage the system in small ways by “accidentally” breaking tools. A slaveholder who believed his slaves were unsophisticated and childlike might conclude these incidents were accidents rather than rebellions. Some slaves engaged in more dramatic forms of resistance, such as poisoning their masters slowly. But subversion and sabotage were dangerous. Slaves hoping to gain preferential treatment sometimes informed slaveholders about planned slave rebellions, hoping to earn the slaveholder’s gratitude and more lenient treatment. Slaveholders used both psychological coercion and physical violence to prevent slaves from disobeying their wishes. The lash, while the most common form of punishment, was effective but sometimes left slaves incapacitated or even dead. Slaveholders also used punishment gear like neck braces, balls and chains, leg irons, and spurs. But often, the most effective way to intimidate slaves was to threaten to sell them. Slaves lived in constant terror of both physical violence and separation from family and friends.

1863 photo of the scarred back of a slave named Gordon was distributed widely by abolitionists.

Under southern law, slaves could not marry. But many slaveholders allowed unions to promote the birth of children and to foster harmony on plantations. Some even forced slaves to form unions, anticipating the birth of more children and greater profits from them. Slaveholders sometimes allowed slaves to choose their own partners, but they could also veto a match. Slave couples always faced the prospect of being sold away from each other, and, once they had children, the horrifying reality that their children could be sold and sent away at any time.

Slave parents tried to show their children the best ways to survive under slavery, teaching them to be discreet, submissive, and guarded around whites. Parents also taught children more subversive lessons through the stories they told. Popular stories among slaves included tales of tricksters, sly slaves, or animals like Brer Rabbit who outwitted powerful but stupid antagonists. Such stories provided comfort in humor and conveyed the slaves’ sense of the wrongs of slavery. Slaves’ work songs commented on the harshness of their life and often hid double meanings:a literal meaning that whites would not find offensive and a deeper meaning for slaves.

African beliefs, including ideas about the spiritual world and the importance of African healers, survived in the South as well. Whites who became aware of non-Christian rituals among slaves often labeled such practices as witchcraft or voodoo. Among Africans, however, rituals and use of various plants by respected slave healers created connections between the African past and the American South and gave slaves a sense of community and identity. Other African customs, including traditional naming patterns, making baskets, and cultivating native African plants that had been brought to the New World, also endured. Many slaves embraced Christianity. Whites emphasized scriptural messages of obedience and patience, promising a better day awaiting slaves in heaven but slaves focused on the uplifting message of being freed from bondage. Spiritual songs that referenced the Exodus, such as “Roll, Jordan, Roll,” allowed slaves to freely express messages of hope, struggle, and overcoming adversity.

Complicating the picture of antebellum Southern society was the existence of a large free black population. More free blacks lived in the South than in the North: roughly 261,000 lived in slave states, while 226,000 lived in northern states without slavery. Most free blacks did not live in the Deep South, but in the upper southern states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and later Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. One reason for the large number of free blacks living in slave states were the many instances of manumission that occurred after the Revolution, when many slaveholders acted on the ideal that “all men are created equal” and freed their slaves. And the transition to the staple crop of wheat, which did not require large numbers of slaves to produce, also spurred some manumissions. Another large group of free blacks in the South had been free residents of Louisiana before the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, while still other free blacks came from Cuba and Haiti.

Most free blacks in the South lived in cities, and a majority of free blacks were lighter-skinned due to interracial unions between white men and black women. Everywhere in the United States blackness had come to be associated with slavery. Both whites and those with African ancestry were acutely aware of the importance of skin color in social hierarchy. In the slaveholding South, different names described a person’s distance from full blackness. Mulattos had one black and one white parent, quadroons had one black grandparent, and octoroons had one black great-grandparent. Throughout most of American history a “one drop” rule prevailed, where a person with even a single African in her background was classified as black regardless of appearance (for example, Thomas Jefferson’s mistress Sally Hemings probably looked very much like her half-sister, Jefferson’s late wife. But Hemings was one quarter African, which made her Jefferson’s slave). Even though their legal status was the same, lighter-skinned blacks often looked down on their darker counterparts, an indication of the ways in which both whites and blacks internalized the racism of the age.

1862 image depicting Nat Turner and his confederates planning rebellion.

Slaves resisted in small ways every day, and this resistance often led to mass uprisings. Although southern society tried to hide slave resistance under the fiction of paternalism, historians have documented over 250 revolts or plots involving ten or more slaves. Enslaved people understood that the chances of ending slavery through rebellion were slim and that violent resistance would result in massive retaliation. Many feared the risk that rebelling would pose to their families, but conditions were often so unbearable that rebellions went ahead anyway. White slaveholders, outnumbered by slaves in most of the South, constantly feared uprisings and took drastic steps, including torture and mutilation, whenever they believed that rebellions might be simmering. Gripped by the fear of insurrection, whites often imagined revolts to be in the works even when no uprising actually happened.

Important slave rebellions in the British North American colonies and the United States included the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, the Samba Rebellion (1731), the Stono Rebellion (1739), the New York Slave Insurrection (1741), the Mina Conspiracy (1791), the Pointe Coupée conspiracy (1794), Gabriel’s conspiracy (1800), the Igbo Landing mass suicide (1803), the Chatham Manor Rebellion (1805), the German Coast Uprising (1811), George Boxley’s Rebellion (1815), Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy (1822), Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831), the Black Seminole Rebellion (1835-38), the Amistad ship seizure (1839), the Creole ship rebellion (1841), the Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation (1842), and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) which included an attempt to organize a slave rebellion. One of the most traumatic for white Southerners was the revolt led by a slave named Nat Turner in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner had suffered not only from personal enslavement, but also from the additional trauma of having his wife sold away from him. Bolstered by Christianity, Turner became convinced that like Christ, he should lay down his life to end slavery. Mustering his relatives and friends, he began the rebellion August 22, killing scores of whites in the county. Whites mobilized quickly and within forty-eight hours had brought the rebellion to an end. Shocked by Nat Turner’s Rebellion and aware that the use of slaves in Virginia was decreasing with the decline of tobacco, Virginia’s state legislature considered ending slavery in the state in order to provide greater security. In the end, legislators decided slavery would remain and that their state would continue to play a key role in the domestic slave trade.

1831 image depicting Nat Turner’s rebellion, focusing on the killing of whites.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion, which broke out in August 1831 in Southampton County Virginia, was one of the largest slave uprisings in American history. Nat Turner was a literate slave who was inspired by the evangelical Protestant fervor of the Second Great Awakening sweeping the republic. He preached to fellow slaves and gained a reputation among them as a prophet. Turner organized them for rebellion until an eclipse in August signaled that the appointed time had come. Turner and as many as seventy other slaves attacked their slaveholders and the slaveholders’ families, killing about sixty-five people. Turner eluded capture until late October, when he was caught, hanged, beheaded, and quartered. Virginia executed fifty-six other slaves whom they suspected were part in the rebellion. White vigilantes murdered two hundred more as panic swept through Virginia and the rest of the South.


Thomas R. Gray was a lawyer in Southampton, Virginia, where he visited Nat Turner in jail. He published The Confessions of Nat Turner, the leader of the late insurrection in Southampton, Va., as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray in November 1831, after Turner had been executed.

For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew…it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand…And on the 12th of May, 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent,…Ques. Do you not find yourself mistaken now? Ans. Was not Christ crucified. And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work—and on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February) I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion provoked a heated discussion in Virginia over slavery. The Virginia legislature was already in the process of revising the state constitution, and some delegates advocated for an easier manumission process. The rebellion, however, rendered that reform impossible. Virginia and other slave states recommitted themselves to the institution of slavery, and defenders of slavery in the South increasingly blamed northerners for provoking their slaves to rebel.

The selling of slaves was a major business enterprise throughout the history of the South, representing a key part of the economy. Beginning in the colonial period, when Thomas Jefferson wrote about the profits that could be made on the “natural increase” produced by enslaved women, white men invested substantial sums in slaves and carefully calculated the annual returns they could expect from selling a slave’s children. The domestic slave trade was highly profitable and between 1820 and 1860, white American traders sold a million or more slaves in the domestic slave market. Groups of slaves were transported by ship from places like Virginia, a state that specialized in raising slaves for sale, to New Orleans, where they were sold to planters in the Mississippi Valley. Other slaves made the overland trek in chains from older states like North Carolina to new and booming Deep South states like Alabama.

New Orleans had the largest slave market in the United States. A healthy young male slave in the 1850s could be sold for $1,000 (approximately $33,000 in 2019 dollars), and by the 1850s demand for slaves reached an all-time high, and prices therefore doubled. The high price of slaves in the 1850s and the inability of natural increase to satisfy demands led some southerners to demand the reopening of the international slave trade, a movement that caused a rift between the Upper South and the Lower South. Whites in the Upper South who sold slaves to their counterparts in the Lower South worried that reopening the trade would lower prices and hurt their profits.

The South prospered, but its wealth was very unequally distributed. Upward social mobility did not exist for the millions of slaves who produced a good portion of the nation’s wealth, while poor southern whites hoped for a day when they might rise enough in the world to own slaves of their own. Because of the cotton boom, there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi River Valley by 1860 than anywhere else in the United States. However, in that same year, only 3 percent of whites owned more than fifty slaves, and two-thirds of white households in the South did not own any slaves at all. Distribution of wealth in the South became less democratic over time with fewer whites owning slaves in 1860 than in 1840.

Map showing density of slav populations in the south. In the darkest counties, over 80% of population was enslaved.

At the top of southern white society was a planter elite comprised of two groups. In the Upper South, an aristocratic gentry, generation upon generation of whom had grown up with slavery, held a privileged place. In the Deep South, a newly-rich elite group of slaveholders had gained their wealth from cotton. Some members of this group hailed from established families in the eastern states (Virginia and the Carolinas), while others came from humbler backgrounds. South Carolinian Nathaniel Heyward, a wealthy rice planter and member of the aristocratic gentry, came from an established family and sat atop the pyramid of southern slaveholders. He amassed an enormous estate in 1850, he owned more than eighteen hundred slaves. When he died in 1851, he left an estate worth more than $2 million (approximately $65 million in current dollars).

As cotton production increased, wealth flowed to the cotton planters whether they had inherited fortunes or were newly rich. These planters became the staunchest defenders of slavery, and as their wealth grew, they gained considerable political power. Another member of the planter elite was Edward Lloyd V, who came from an established family of Talbot County, Maryland. Lloyd inherited his position rather than rising to it through his own labors. His hundreds of slaves formed a crucial part of his wealth. Like many of the planter elite, Lloyd’s plantation was a masterpiece of elegant architecture and gardens. One of the slaves on Lloyd’s plantation was Frederick Douglass, who escaped in 1838 and became an abolitionist leader, writer, statesman, and orator in the North. In his autobiography, Douglass described the plantation’s elaborate gardens and racehorses, but also its underfed and brutalized slave population. Lloyd provided employment opportunities to other whites in Talbot County, many of whom served as slave traders and the “slave breakers” entrusted with beating and overworking unruly slaves into submission. Like other members of the planter elite, Lloyd himself served in a variety of local and national political offices. He was governor of Maryland from 1809 to 1811, a member of the House of Representatives from 1807 to 1809, and a senator from 1819 to 1826. As a representative and a senator, Lloyd defended slavery as the foundation of the American economy.

Wye House, the plantation of Maryland Governor Edward Lloyd V that Frederick Douglass escaped from and then wrote about.

As the nation expanded in the 1830s and 1840s, the writings of abolitionists, a small but vocal group of northerners committed to ending slavery, reached a larger national audience. White southerners responded, defending slavery, their way of life, and their honor. Calhoun became a leading political theorist defending slavery and the rights of southerners he saw as an increasingly embattled minority. He argued that a majority of a separate region, although a minority of the nation, had the power to veto or disallow legislation put forward by a national hostile majority. Calhoun’s theory was reflected in his 1850 essay “Disquisition on Government” in which he defined government as a necessary means to “preserve and protect our race.” If government grew hostile to a minority society, then the minority had to take action, including forming a new government. “Disquisition on Government” advanced a profoundly anti-democratic argument, illustrating southern leaders’ intense suspicion of democratic majorities and their ability to pass laws that would challenge southern interests.

John C. Calhoun in 1849.

White southerners defended slavery by criticizing wage labor in the North. They argued that the Industrial Revolution had brought about a new type of “wage slavery” that they claimed was far worse than the slave labor used on southern plantations. Defenders of slaveholding also lashed out directly at abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison for daring to call into question their way of life. Indeed, Virginians accused Garrison of instigating Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion. A Virginian named George Fitzhugh contributed to the defense of slavery with his 1854 book Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society. Fitzhugh argued that laissez-faire capitalism benefited only the quick-witted and intelligent, leaving the ignorant at a huge disadvantage. Slaveholders, he argued, took care of the ignorant slaves of the South. Southerners provided slaves with care from birth to death, Fitzhugh asserted, in stark contrast to the wage slavery of the North where workers were at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control. Fitzhugh’s ideas exemplified southern notions of paternalism.

Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1831, and the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in 1833. By 1838, the AASS had 250,000 members. They rejected colonization as a racist scheme and opposed the use of violence to end slavery. Influenced by evangelical Protestantism, Garrison and other abolitionists believed in moral suasion, a technique of appealing to the conscience of the public, especially slaveholders. Moral suasion relied on dramatic narratives, often from former slaves, about the horrors of slavery, arguing that slavery destroyed families, as children were sold and taken away from their mothers and fathers . Moral suasion resonated with many women, who condemned the sexual violence against slave women and the victimization of southern white women by adulterous husbands.

Opponents made clear their resistance to Garrison and others of his ilk Garrison nearly lost his life in 1835, when a Boston anti-abolitionist mob dragged him through the city streets. Anti-abolitionists tried to pass federal laws that made the distribution of abolitionist literature a criminal offense, fearing that such literature, with its engravings and simple language, could spark rebellious blacks to action. Their sympathizers in Congress passed a “gag rule” that forbade the consideration of the many hundreds of petitions sent to Washington by abolitionists. A mob in Illinois killed an abolitionist named Elijah Lovejoy in 1837, and the following year, ten thousand protestors destroyed the abolitionists’ newly built Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, burning it to the ground.

Frederick Douglass in 1856.

Many escaped slaves joined the abolitionist movement, including Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born in Maryland in 1818, escaping to New York in 1838. He later moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, with his wife. Douglass’s commanding presence and powerful speaking skills electrified his listeners when he began to provide public lectures on slavery. He came to the attention of Garrison and others, who encouraged him to publish his story. In 1845, Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself, in which he told about his life of slavery in Maryland . He identified by name the whites who had brutalized him, and for that reason, along with the mere act of publishing his story, Douglass had to flee the United States to avoid being murdered. British abolitionist friends bought his freedom from his Maryland owner, and Douglass returned to the United States. He began to publish his own abolitionist newspaper, North Star, in Rochester, New York. During the 1840s and 1850s, Douglass labored to bring about the end of slavery by telling the story of his life and highlighting how slavery destroyed families, both black and white.


Most white slaveholders frequently raped female slaves. In this excerpt, Douglass explains the consequences for the children fathered by white masters and slave women.

Slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers…this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable…the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father…Such slaves [born of white masters] invariably suffer greater hardships…They are…a constant offence to their mistress…she is never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash,…The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers,…for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker…and ply the gory lash to his naked back.
—Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself(1845)

Cotton Plantations - History

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Historical cotton & plantation culture is the story told at Frogmore Plantation, and there is cotton in the fields to pick from mid-July through April then planting begins anew. An 1800-acre working cotton plantation, Frogmore has 19 restored antebellum structures that date from the early 1800's. Along with the history of the early Natchez planters and their slaves, the tour includes a rare Smithsonian quality steam cotton gin and then contrasts the historical methods with modern day planting, harvesting, and computerized ginning of cotton.

The tour begins upon arrival and is fully guided through eight historical buildings. Complimentary golf carts are provided for those with special needs. The guides tell of the evolution of change beginning in the 1790's through the war that created the lifestyle called sharecropping.

Guides explain the chores, the crops, the duties of slaves, and the role of their mistress of the plantation in contrast to her role when in her townhome. They also relate the botanical aspects of cotton kept in the field nearly twelve months a year. Historical sacks are ready for picking.

A highlight is the tour of the Smithsonian quality steam gin listed on the National Register. This pre-civil war building houses rare 1884 Munger equipment. Robert S. Munger was the first person to invent suction in the gins and also the continuous ginning system with the double-box press, all patented in 1884.

Guides relate early French history with its unique legal system and slave code, plus French contributions of cotton and sugar cane to Louisiana. A sugarcane exhibit, historic mule-driven sugarcane mill, and nearby barn are part of the easy walking tour. (Golf carts furnished if needed.)

The historic commissary is a converted children&rsquos center with displays explaining the life of the children, both slave and free, along with historic games that our younger visitors today may learn and enjoy.

An 1810 hand-pegged dogtrot, furnished authentically as the overseer&rsquos cottage, resonates with secret songs of the slaves. Benches or tables on the porch beckon visitors to picnic overlooking the cotton fields.

At the cooking cabin the guide relates the blending of African and European cuisine and how it merged into southern fare today. Historical slave narrations on display describe daily meals, seasonal foods, and special dishes on Sunday and holidays.

The living quarters next door has the original shingle roof and ceiling rafters with the bark still on much of the wood. The 1840 cabin is both an authentic slave cabin and a post-war sharecropper cabin. Furnished rooms illustrate the timeline.

The washhouse/sewing cabin houses a spinning wheel, loom, quilting rack, ironing supplies, and rare 1800's washing machine.

To conclude the tour, visitors take a short stroll back to the plantation store passing by the smokehouse, three-hole privy, 1790&rsquos log cabin, and pigeonnier. After browsing the authentically furnished 1800&rsquos sharecropper store, the last stop is the modern facility with its 900 bales-per-day cotton gin. The gin actually operates in the fall, but other times appears to be running via video technology.

Of the eleven other buildings on the property, visitors may independently tour privies, a mid-1800&rsquos plantation church with original furnishings, and a seedcotton house featuring a cotton buyer&rsquos office, along with displays of architectural tools and antiques used to prepare, plant, and harvest the cotton.

With their historic architecture and stunning gardens, historical Southern plantation homes are full of old-world charm and beauty. More importantly, they have rich stories to tell because they played significant roles in our nation’s history. If experiencing the storied history and architectural beauty of a southern plantation home is in your future, then these charming historical Southern plantations should not be missed:

Pebble Hill Plantation

Located in Thomasville, Georgia, this antebellum plantation and museum was first established when Thomas Jefferson Johnson purchased the land in 1825. Johnson first raised cotton and then introduced rice, a profitable crop in Georgia during the 19th century.

Flickr by: Kenneth Anderson

After Johnson’s death, the plantation was inherited by his daughter, Julia Ann. In 1850, a lovely plantation home was built upon the property by English architect John Wind.

Julia and her husband struggled with the property during Reconstruction in the South, and the property was purchased by Thomas Melville Hanna in 1896. After his death, Pebble Hill passed to his daughter, Kate, who turned it into a hunting estate, which were popular during the mid-1880s.

Kate’s daughter, Elisabeth, inherited the plantation after her mother’s death in 1936 and decided to turn the plantation into a museum for all to enjoy. Today, the grounds are well-maintained and feature beautiful gardens that are worth exploring.

Evergreen Plantation

If Evergreen Plantation seems familiar, you might have seen it featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film, “Django Unchained”. The stunning Greek Revival style building and plantation grounds were used as a backdrop to shoot some of the film’s scenes.

Flickr by: Michael McCarthy

Located in Edgar, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans, the plantation is considered the most intact plantation in the South and still produces sugar cane to this day. As you explore the grounds, be sure to check out the 22 intact slave cabins, which are arranged in a double row along its oak alley.

Whitney Plantation

Whitney Plantation was also featured in “Django Unchained” — but this isn’t your typical historical Southern plantation. In 2014, the 2,000-acre property was converted into the first slavery museum in America.

Flickr by: dominique joannet

Unlike other plantations, Whitney Plantation doesn’t sugarcoat the lives of enslaved Africans who worked the former indigo and sugar farm. Jim Cummings, the owner of Whitney Plantation, has spent millions on the museum’s artifacts and restoration to give visitors a true sense of life in the antebellum South.

Shirley Plantation

Dating back to 1614, Shirley Plantation is the oldest plantation in America. Located in Charles City County, Virginia, the plantation once produced tobacco that was sent around the colonies and shipped to England.

Flickr by: John Guest

Although the land was originally settled in 1613, a portion of the land was granted to Edward Hill in 1638. Anne Hill Carter, who was born on the plantation, was the mother of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In fact, Hill’s direct descendants continue to own and operate the plantation to this day, making it the oldest family-owned business in North America.

Nottoway Plantation

Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana, is home to the South’s largest antebellum mansion. The ornate, Greek and Italianate style mansion is bursting with opulence and demonstrates the vast wealth of prestigious sugarcane planter John Hampden Randolph.

Wikimedia Commons: By Bogdan Oporowski

Built in 1859, the jaw-dropping mansion has three floors and a total of 64 rooms, 165 doors, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces and 200 windows. The spectacular home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a resort destination.

Belle Meade Plantation

Located in Belle Meade, Tennessee, the Belle Meade Plantation is a beautiful Greek Revival mansion that now operates as a museum. The land was originally purchased by John Harding in 1806 and used to produce cotton.

Flickr by: rschnaible

Harding quickly became one of the largest slave holders in the Nashville area. With his new fortune, he built a brick house on a small hill, which he called “Belle Meadow.”

What started as a 250-acre property would become a 5,300-acre farm that raised thoroughbred horses. The farm survived the Civil War and was passed down through generations of the Harding family until they ran into serious debt in 1893. The plantation was sold in 1906 and was converted into an educational non-profit organization in 1953.

Magnolia Plantation

Founded in 1676 by Thomas Drayton, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is renowned for its beautiful gardens and rich history. Located along the banks of the Ashley River near Historic Charleston, S.C., the 464-acre property has survived natural disasters, as well as both the American Revolution and Civil War.

Flickr by: Robin Dhillon

There is much to see and do at Magnolia, so be sure to carve out a couple hours to walk through all the gardens, take a tour of the magnificent plantation home and let the kids enjoy the petting zoo.

Boone Hall

If you’re visiting the wonderful city of Charleston, you can’t miss Boone Hall. Located across the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Boone Hall is America’s oldest working plantation and the most photographed in the country.

Flickr by: lns1122

People from across the world come to Boone Hall to see its famous Avenue of Oaks, explore the working plantation and Georgian-style home and experience the only live presentation of Gullah culture at The Gullah Theater. Educational and awe-inspiring, it’s easy to see why this historical Southern plantation draws thousands of visitors each year.

Destrehan Plantation

Established in 1787, Destrehan Plantation was originally a thriving indigo plantation and sugarcane farm. Situated 25 miles from New Orleans, this antebellum mansion is noted for its French Colonial style architecture, which was later modified with Greek Revival style elements.

Flickr by: Prayitno

Destrehan Plantation has a fascinating history that starts with the plantation’s second owner, Jean-Noel Destrehan, who was deeply involved in the state’s politics, serving on the Orleans Territorial Council and as a U.S. senator until he resigned after a month.

Destrehan paved the way for the Creole system of slave labor, in which head slaves were appointed to oversee tasks on sugarcane plantations. Although the history is dark, the plantation’s costumed historical interpreters do an excellent job of telling the rich stories of the Destrehan family and the slaves who worked there.

Belle Grove Plantation

A trip to Belle Grove Plantation gives visitors the opportunity to venture into the past and see what life was like for early settlers in Shenandoah Valley. Located near Middletown, Virginia, the 1797 antebellum plantation is still farmed today and features a large limestone manor house in Federal style architecture.

Flickr by: Chris Feser

The impressive manor was built by Major Isaac Hite and his wife, Nelly Madison Hite, the sister of President James Madison. The home was originally named after Nelly’s grandmother’s home in Port Conway, Virginia, which is the site where James Madison was born.

Now a historic house museum, visitors can tour the large manor, an 1815 icehouse and smokehouse, a slave cemetery and a heritage apple orchard — all set against a stunning mountain backdrop.

Full of History and Charm

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, there were more than 500,000 plantations and farms in the South. Although many did not survive reconstruction, those Southern plantation homes that have remained well-preserved now offer an invaluable glimpse into our country’s storied past.

About The Author: Traci Magnus was raised on the Charleston Coast and attended the College of Charleston before moving to New York City in the mid 1990s. Her first job in the Big Apple was with the renowned NYC real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman. For the next decade, she honed her marketing skills at some of Madison Avenue’s top advertising agencies. In 2006, she returned to Charleston along with her husband Glenn and their son Max. She joined the Dunes Properties team in early 2008 as Director of Marketing.

Why Was Cotton ‘King’?

The most commonly used phrase describing the growth of the American economy in the 1830s and 1840s was “Cotton Is King.” We think of this slogan today as describing the plantation economy of the slavery states in the Deep South, which led to the creation of “the second Middle Passage.” But it is important to understand that this was not simply a Southern phenomenon. Cotton was one of the world’s first luxury commodities, after sugar and tobacco, and was also the commodity whose production most dramatically turned millions of black human beings in the United States themselves into commodities. Cotton became the first mass consumer commodity.

Understanding both how extraordinarily profitable cotton was and how interconnected and overlapping were the economies of the cotton plantation, the Northern banking industry, New England textile factories and a huge proportion of the economy of Great Britain helps us to understand why it was something of a miracle that slavery was finally abolished in this country at all.

Let me try to break this down quickly, since it is so fascinating:

Let’s start with the value of the slave population. Steven Deyle shows that in 1860, the value of the slaves was “roughly three times greater than the total amount invested in banks,” and it was “equal to about seven times the total value of all currency in circulation in the country, three times the value of the entire livestock population, twelve times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop and forty-eight times the total expenditure of the federal government that year.” As mentioned here in a previous column, the invention of the cotton gin greatly increased the productivity of cotton harvesting by slaves. This resulted in dramatically higher profits for planters, which in turn led to a seemingly insatiable increase in the demand for more slaves, in a savage, brutal and vicious cycle.

Now, the value of cotton: Slave-produced cotton “brought commercial ascendancy to New York City, was the driving force for territorial expansion in the Old Southwest and fostered trade between Europe and the United States,” according to Gene Dattel. In fact, cotton productivity, no doubt due to the sharecropping system that replaced slavery, remained central to the American economy for a very long time: “Cotton was the leading American export from 1803 to 1937.”

What did cotton production and slavery have to do with Great Britain? The figures are astonishing. As Dattel explains: “Britain, the most powerful nation in the world, relied on slave-produced American cotton for over 80 per cent of its essential industrial raw material. English textile mills accounted for 40 percent of Britain’s exports. One-fifth of Britain’s twenty-two million people were directly or indirectly involved with cotton textiles.”

“First cotton gin” from Harpers Weekly. 1869 illustration depicting event of some 70 years earlier by William L. Sheppard. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs division)

And, finally, New England? As Ronald Bailey shows, cotton fed the textile revolution in the United States. “In 1860, for example, New England had 52 percent of the manufacturing establishments and 75 percent of the 5.14 million spindles in operation,” he explains. The same goes for looms. In fact, Massachusetts “alone had 30 percent of all spindles, and Rhode Island another 18 percent.” Most impressively of all, “New England mills consumed 283.7 million pounds of cotton, or 67 percent of the 422.6 million pounds of cotton used by U.S. mills in 1860.” In other words, on the eve of the Civil War, New England’s economy, so fundamentally dependent upon the textile industry, was inextricably intertwined, as Bailey puts it, “to the labor of black people working as slaves in the U.S. South.”

If there was one ultimate cause of the Civil War, it was King Cotton — black-slave-grown cotton — “the most important determinant of American history in the nineteenth century,” Dattel concludes. “Cotton prolonged America’s most serious social tragedy, slavery, and slave-produced cotton caused the American Civil War.” And that is why it was something of a miracle that even the New England states joined the war to end slavery.

Once we understand the paramount economic importance of cotton to the economies of the United States and Great Britain, we can begin to appreciate the enormity of the achievements of the black and white abolitionists who managed to marshal moral support for the abolition of slavery, as well as those half a million slaves who “marched with their feet” and fled to Union lines as soon as they could following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fifty of the 100 Amazing Facts will be published on The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross website. Read all 100 Facts on The Root.

A brief history of cotton in America

The history of cotton in America began back in 1556 when it was cultivated by American settlers in Florida. Because cotton needed a warm climate, the southern states of America is the ideal place to plant and harvest it. Most of the cotton grown in the very early days of America was kept at home for use around the home for making those homespun cotton clothes.

In the 1730&rsquos England began to spin cotton and developed a textile industry. This industry grew rapidly but was dependant on manual labor for picking cotton and removing the seeds. This all changed when Eli Whitney invented the cotton Gin in 1793. This machine increases the speed of which cotton was separated from the seed by a factor of 10. It made it possible for the cotton industry in America to grow from an annual revenue of $150,000 to $8 million in the early 1800&rsquos.

As the availability of ready to spin cotton grew, so did the textile industry in England which America was happy to supply. By the 1800&rsquos cotton farms across the southern states grew and dominated the cotton industry in the world. As the importance of cotton and the industry that it developed grew, so did the need for workers in the fields.

The southern states after the Civil War were still a one crop industry. The difference is the people in the fields were being paid now. The production of US cotton was reduced. India was then deemed a natural place to grow this crop and today is the second largest exporter of cotton to the world.

The cotton industry was severely affected by the end of the Civil War. In 1892 it then had to deal with the devastating effects of the boll weevils that came up from Mexico. To this day there is still a boll weevil problem but it has been significantly reduced. The eradication of the boll weevil did not begin until the 1950&rsquos. By that time it had already costs the US cotton industry over $22 billion.

With the New Deal introduced by the US Government to help deal with this devastating pest, the south began to diversify its crops. This did help to bring economic growth to the southern states of America, but America would no longer be the largest producer of cotton in the world.

The statistics for the global cotton industry places China as the largest producer of cotton in the world with 33 million bales annually. India is second with 27 million bales. America is now the third largest producer of cotton with a total production in 2013 of 18 million bales. Pakistan places fourth on the list with a production of 10.3 million bales a year.

US cotton is still a major industry in America with over $100 billion dollars in revenue, but we are no longer the largest in the world. Despite that, the US cotton clothing industry is still strong and can supply the domestic and foreign markets with high quality cotton for years to come.


Plantations distinguished themselves from smaller farms not only by the sheer size of their landholdings and workforce but in other ways as well.

In the seventeenth century the term &ldquoplantation,&rdquo which formerly referred to any colonial outpost, evolved to refer specifically to large agricultural estates whose land was farmed by a sizable number of workers, usually slaves, for export crops. Englishmen initially created plantation societies in the West Indies, and in the 1670s South Carolina became a northern extension of this empire.

Plantations distinguished themselves from smaller farms not only by the sheer size of their landholdings and workforce but in other ways as well. There was a distinct separation between owners, overseers (managers), and the labor force. Evidence of this separation could be found in plantation housing patterns. Laborers were housed in often shoddy, crowded cabins clustered in a village or &ldquostreet&rdquo at some remove from the owner&rsquos residence. While plantation &ldquobig houses&rdquo were mostly modest affairs, they sometimes reached uncharacteristic levels of opulence. These more elaborate residences became fixtures in an enduring plantation mythology. The Georgian and Greek-revival mansions popularized in romantic fiction were more the exception than the rule.

An additional defining element of plantations was their focus on one commercial crop. Although South Carolina planters grew a little tobacco in the early years, rice became the colony&rsquos most important staple, and in the years prior to the Revolutionary War, a full-scale plantation culture worked by African slaves emerged along the rivers of the Carolina lowcountry. The success of rice culture was due in large part to the agricultural skills of the slaves, many of whom hailed from rice-growing regions of Africa. An innovative development in rice culture was tidal irrigation. Water was drawn on and off the crop through an elaborate system of dams, canals, and gates. The landscape was dramatically altered, profits soared, and rice planters became some of the wealthiest people in North America. Planters typically divided their time between their country seats and residences in &ldquotown,&rdquo moving to Charleston, Georgetown, or Beaufort for a winter social season and relief from the threat of malaria in summer.

The plantation system, in a modified form, spread inland, with cotton fueling the expansion. In the early 1800s cotton culture was lucrative, and many planters plowed their profits into acquiring more land and slaves. Thus, medium-sized farms could grow into plantations within a few years. By 1820 South Carolina was producing more than half the nation&rsquos total output of cotton. Although &ldquoKing Cotton&rdquo continued to rule the state&rsquos economy in the antebellum decades, the center of cotton culture in America gradually moved west into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.

The North&rsquos opposition to the continued expansion of slavery was the primary factor compelling South Carolina&rsquos secession from the Union, which set in motion the Civil War. Southern defeat resulted in the emancipation of the slaves and profound changes in southern agriculture. A common misconception is that when slavery ended, the plantation system collapsed. In reality, plantations were defined more by the size of their workforce than the status of the workers. Many South Carolina plantations survived the postwar years in a modified form dubbed &ldquofragmented plantations&rdquo by geographers. These surviving plantations differed from antebellum properties in important ways. Sharecropping and tenantry replaced slavery as a labor system, and laborers were disbursed across the property rather than concentrated in a central location. Despite this reconfiguration brought about by the end of slavery, many freed people noticed little difference between their former and current living standards. Indeed, they frequently continued to live and work on the property of their former masters.

From the 1870s through the 1890s, southern agriculture entered a long decline and in most cases never regained antebellum levels of prosperity. South Carolina plantations met a variety of fates. As taxes and maintenance costs outpaced profits, many properties were sold off piecemeal by descendants unable to maintain them. But from the fertile soil of others, emblems of the New South sprang forth. Wealthy northerners purchased many former rice plantations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, transforming them into hunting preserves. Since the 1970s other former rice plantations have become upscale housing developments and golf communities. Further inland, abandoned plantation lands have frequently been harvested for their timber rather than cotton. Due to preservation and restoration efforts, however, in the early twenty-first century some 150 antebellum plantation houses remained in the lowcountry alone, and these estates, still an evocative symbol of the Old South, continued to be a powerful draw for the state&rsquos tourist industry.

Aiken, Charles S. The Cotton Plantation South since the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Chaplin, Joyce E. &ldquoCreating a Cotton South in Georgia and South Carolina, 1760&ndash1815.&rdquo Journal of Southern History 57 (May 1991): 171&ndash200.

&ndash&ndash&ndash. &ldquoTidal Rice Cultivation and the Problem of Slavery in South Carolina and Georgia, 1760&ndash1815.&rdquo William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 49 (January 1992): 29&ndash61.

Iseley, N. Jane, and William P. Baldwin. Lowcountry Plantations Today. Greensboro, N.C.: Legacy Publications, 2002.

Iseley, N. Jane, William P. Baldwin, and Agnes L. Baldwin. Plantations of the Low Country: South Carolina 1697&ndash1865. Greensboro, N.C.: Legacy Publications, 1997.

Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

Prunty, Merle, Jr. &ldquoThe Renaissance of the Southern Plantation.&rdquo Geographical Review 45 (October 1955): 459&ndash91.

Plantation Agriculture

Dogtrot Cabin at Belle Mont Plantation Plantation agriculture was a form of large-scale farming that was most prevalent during the colonial and antebellum periods of American history. Plantations typically ranged from approximately 500 to 1,000 or more acres of land and produced one or two crops—and sometimes livestock—for sale. In antebellum Alabama, the primary crop on such plantations was the short-staple variety of cotton. Plantations required a large, stable work force that initially consisted of indentured servants but eventually shifted almost entirely to slave labor. Cotton plantations existed in many parts of Alabama, but the vast majority were located in the Black Belt region. Those plantations that raised cattle were located largely in the southern piney woods area, a region in the lower third of the state known for the great numbers of native long-leaf pine trees. This type of farming had its origins in the latifundia of the ancient Roman world, which were large farms, owned by the wealthy, that used slave or paid labor to grow crops and livestock for sale. During the colonial period, plantation agriculture existed in several regions of the United States—for example, the Hudson River valley of New York—but this type of agriculture eventually became synonymous with the South. During the early seventeenth century, English colonists in the southern part of North America began looking for ways to produce goods or raise crops that could Bride's Hill, Lawrence County then be sold for a profit in England or Europe. Colonists experimented with manufacturing glass, raising mulberry trees to support silk worms for making silk, growing grapes for wine production, and harvesting trees for timber. The indigenous American tobacco plant, however, quickly emerged as the crop that offered the greatest potential for profitability. Tobacco presented problems, in that its cultivation required hundreds of acres of land, and the plant quickly drained the soil of nutrients. As tobacco fields became unusable, new acreage had to be cleared. Eventually, after nearly two centuries during the colonial period, much of the land in the Chesapeake region of Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland became unproductive. As a result, established planters and new immigrants increasingly looked to the South and West for new opportunities. The earliest plantations in Alabama were nearly always established along rivers to make it easier to transport large bales of raw cotton, each of which could weigh several hundred pounds or more. Transporting huge cotton bales on rivers was the most practical method as it was faster and less expensive to move heavy freight on boats than in wagons on rough roads. Various types of Steamboat in Mobile, ca. 1890 large boats carrying cotton were a common sight along Alabama's navigable rivers during the antebellum period as a result, small towns that served as receiving depots for cotton also developed along the rivers. The Alabama River was heavily used, especially after steamboats began navigating it in 1820, because it flowed into the port of Mobile. From there, cotton made its way to textile factories in New England or to ports in Europe. As prime cotton lands adjoining rivers became dotted with plantations, however, settlers moved further inland from the rivers onto cotton-producing land in the state's interior. Kitchen Garden at Robinson-Dilworth Plantation Plantations, which were often many miles away from the nearest town or city, often had to produce for themselves much of what was needed for day-to-day operations. Owners provided housing for slaves, ran a large kitchen for feeding the plantation's dependents, maintained gardens for raising fruits and vegetables, and kept livestock such as chickens and dairy cattle. The larger plantations often had a blacksmith to repair machinery and infirmaries to care for the sick. The typical slave cabin measured 12 by 14 feet and housed several people but the typical planters' house was often a much larger structure consisting of at least four large rooms separated by a central hallway. Sharecropper's Home in Dallas County Although slavery ended in 1865, another form of labor replaced it which in some ways proved similar to it. Many freed African Americans returned to plantations to work as tenant farmers who rented land from white owners and many worked as sharecroppers who received part of the crop instead of wages. Both tenant farmers and sharecroppers raised cotton, livestock, and other agricultural products. Even so, it took many decades for Alabama cotton production to reach pre-war levels. Not until the 1890s would the state produce as much cotton as it did in 1860.

Watch the video: Plantation life for slaves in the South