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Plantations in the American South

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Title: Plantations in the American South  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Elizabeth Key Grinstead, List of plantations in Louisiana, Butler Greenwood Plantation, Albert Estopinal, James K. Polk
Collection: History of the Southern United States, Plantations in the United States
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Plantations in the American South

Plantations were an important aspect of the history of the American South, particularly the antebellum (pre-American Civil War) South. The mild subtropical climate, plentiful rainfall, and fertile soils of the American south allowed large plantations to flourish, and large numbers of workers, typically slaves, were required for farm operations.


  • Planter (plantation owner) 1
  • Plantation crops 2
  • Plantation architecture and landscape 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
    • Primary sources 6.1

Planter (plantation owner)

An individual owning a plantation was known as a planter. Historians of the antebellum South have generally defined it in the strictest definition as a person owning property and 20 or more slaves.[1] The wealthiest planters, such as the Virginia elite with plantations near the James River, owned more land and slaves than other farmers. Tobacco was the major cash crop in the Upper South, the original Chesapeake Bay Colonies of Virginia and Maryland; and in parts of the Carolinas.

The later development of cotton and sugar cultivation in the Deep South in the early 18th century also led to the establishment of large plantations which had hundreds of slaves. The great majority of Southern farmers owned no slaves or owned fewer than five slaves. Slaves were much more expensive than land.

In the "Black Belt" counties of Alabama and Mississippi, the terms "planter" and "farmer" were often synonymous.;[2] a "planter" was generally a farmer who owned many slaves. While most Southerners were not slave-owners, and while the majority of slaveholders held ten or fewer slaves, planters were those who held a significant number of slaves, mostly as agricultural labor. Planters are often spoken of as belonging to the planter elite or planter aristocracy in the antebellum South.

The historians

  • Phillips, Ulrich B., ed. Plantation and Frontier Documents, 1649–1863; Illustrative of Industrial History in the Colonial and Antebellum South: Collected from MSS. and Other Rare Sources. 2 Volumes. (1909). online edition

Primary sources

  • Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (1979)
  • * Evans, Chris, "The Plantation Hoe: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Commodity, 1650–1850," William and Mary Quarterly, (2012) 69#1 pp 71–100.
  • Phillips, Ulrich B. American Negro Slavery; a Survey of the Supply, Employment, and Control of Negro Labor, as Determined by the Plantation Regime. (1918; reprint 1966)online at Project Gutenberg; google edition
  • Phillips, Ulrich B. Life and Labor in the Old South. (1929). excerpts and text search
  • Phillips, Ulrich B.
  • Thompson, Edgar Tristram. The Plantation edited by Sidney Mintz and George Baca (University of South Carolina Press; 2011) 176 pages; 1933 dissertation
  • Weiner, Marli Frances. Mistresses and Slaves: Plantation Women in South Carolina, 1830-80 (1997)
  • White, Deborah G. Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (2nd ed. 1999) excerpt and text search

Further reading

  1. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery 1619–1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1993, xiii
  2. ^ Oakes, Ruling Race, 52.
  3. ^
  4. ^ David Williams, "A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom," New York: The New Press, 2005.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^


See also

Common plants and trees incorporated in the landscape of Southern plantation manors included Southern live oak and Southern magnolia. Both of these large trees are native to the Southern United States and were classic symbols of the old south. Southern live oaks, classically draped in Spanish moss, were planted along long paths or walkways leading to the plantation to create a grand, imposing, and majestic theme. Plantation landscapes were very well maintained and trimmed, usually, the landscape work was managed by the planter, with assistance from slaves or workers. Planters themselves also usually maintained a small flower or vegetable garden. Cash crops were not grown in these small garden plots, but rather garden plants and vegetables for enjoyment.

Some of earliest plantation architecture occurred in southern Louisiana by the French. Using styles and building concepts they had learned in the Caribbean, the French created many of the grand plantation homes around New Orleans. French Creole architecture began around 1699, and lasted well into the 1800s. In the Shirley Plantation. In the 19th century, Greek Revival architecture also became popular some of the plantation homes of the deep south.

Antebellum architecture can be seen in many extant "plantation houses," the large residences of planters and their families. Over time in each region of the plantation south a regional architecture emerged inspired by those who settled the area. Most early plantation architecture was constructed to mitigate the hot subtropical climate and provide natural cooling.

Plantation architecture and landscape

In the low country of South Carolina, even before the American Revolution, planters in South Carolina typically owned hundreds of slaves. (In towns and cities, families held slaves to work as household servants). The 19th-century development of the Deep South for cotton cultivation depended on large tracts of land with much more acreage than was typical of the Chesapeake Bay area; and for labor, planters held dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of slaves.

Crops cultivated on antebellum plantations included cotton, tobacco, sugar, indigo, rice, and to a lesser extent okra, yam, sweet potato, peanuts, and watermelon. By the late 18th century, most planters in the Upper South had switched from exclusive tobacco cultivation to mixed-crop production.

Plantation crops

[8] In Chicot and Phillips Counties, Arkansas, Carl H. Moneyhon defines large planters as owners of twenty or more slaves, and six hundred or more acres.[7] In his study of Harrison County, Texas, Randolph B. Campbell classifies large planters as owners of 20 slaves, and small planters as owners of between ten and 19 slaves.[6]

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