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Plantations in the American South

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A cotton plantation on the Mississippi, 1884 lithograph
A cotton plantation on the Mississippi, 1884 lithograph

Plantations are an important aspect of the history of the American South, particularly the antebellum (pre-American Civil War) era. The mild subtropical climate, plentiful rainfall, and fertile soils of the southeastern United States allowed the flourishing of large plantations, where large numbers of workers, usually Africans held captive for slave labor, were required for agricultural production.

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  • ✪ FULL DOCUMENTARY: Mississippi's War: Slavery and Secession | MPB
  • ✪ Plantation Life
  • ✪ 96-year-old Granddaughter of Plantation Owner Oral History
  • ✪ 1210) The Museum of Slavery in Virginia
  • ✪ Rare 3D Stereoscopic Photographs of Slavery in South Carolina (1860)


♪♪ (Thunder crackling) Mississippi, of course, was a real storm center of opposition to the abolition of slavery, to the election of Lincoln. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, Southern states began to leave or secede from the Union. (music swells, thunder booms) A new confederacy was being formed, a second American Revolution loomed on the horizon. With Lincoln's election, it meant that Lincoln had the power to appoint people to hold federal offices in places like Mississippi and this terrified Southerners, because they thought, "My God! Lincoln might appoint an Abolitionist." White Southerners feared losing their money, losing their way of life. There is a sense that everything that you stand for could be lost. "We do not intend to carry on war against the government while we live under it; but we do claim a right to sever all connection with you." Mississippi Congressman, Otho R. Singleton, 1859. This rush to leave the Union was not unanimous, by any means. But whether they supported succession or not they thought Mississippi had the right to do it. If you read what Mississippians said when they passed the ordinance of secession, it's clear that the only thing that created secession was the issue of slavery, the protection of the slave system. (music swells as thunder continues) Mississippi's War, Slavery & Secession is made possible in part by the generous support of viewers like you. Thank you! (Music) Narrator: On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States of America. But in Mississippi, as throughout most of the South, cotton was king. King Cotton ruled Mississippi and during its reign, Mississippi prospered. It's important is to recognize the sheer wealth that the South's economy had. By 1860, the South-- not the United States, but the South-- had the fourth largest economy in the world and that was largely due to its production of cotton. Cotton in 1860 was the nation's most valuable export item. More valuable than steel. More valuable than manufactured goods. Cotton was the one thing Americans made that the rest of the world wanted. And Mississippi was the nation's leading cotton producer. So it was a wealthy, wealthy state. Owens: It literally was a gold mine. Cotton seemed to flourish in the climate. And so it transformed the lives of many, particularly white men and their families, and so it became a very plantation-rich environment. Reading: "A plantation well stocked with hands is the ne plus ultra of every man's ambition who resides in the South. Young men who come to this country 'to make money, soon catch the mania, and nothing less than a broad plantation, waving with snow white cotton bolls, can fill their mental vision." Mississippi Author, Joseph Holt Ingraham. People were addicted to cotton. Cotton was the crop that would bring you great wealth. Particularly in the state of Mississippi. You have a state that enters the Union in the 19th century, in 1817, and by the start of the Civil War, it's the richest one in the country. in the entire Union. There are more millionaires per region than any other place in the United States. So Mississippi is a place where people know you can get land for cheap, but you can also participate in a market that allows your wealth to grow. Narrator: The majority of the wealth in Mississippi was controlled by a small group of people, the wealthy plantation owners, often called the planter elite. Gaimbrone: The fortunes of this planter aristocracy were largely amassed by slave labor. Slaves who worked the fields and grew the cotton. These rich plantation owners were dependent on slaves for their wealth and their power. Narrator: Throughout history the powerful have dominated the meek. One-hundred years before the birth of the United States, wealthy British colonists purchased slaves to work on vast colonial plantations. But during the Revolutionary War, many American settlers, in their fight for freedom, grew less tolerant of the practice. A few American Colonies took steps to outlaw slavery, and shortly after the American Revolution, the newly formed United States banned the importation of slaves. By the late 18th century, slavery was on the decline, but with the invention of the cotton gin it changes everything. Cotton became king. And what happened was a transformation of this Western frontier. People are moving here in droves. Slaves are being moved from the upper south, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina and they are being moved downward. And literally the complexion of Mississippi changes and becomes the blackest state of the union. Narrator: By 1860, Mississippi's enslaved outnumbered its citizens who were free. Grivno: It varied geographically. In some parts of the state, Piney Woods in Southeast Mississippi, the hill county of Northeast Mississippi, there were very few slaves and slave holders. In other counties, the counties of Southwest Mississippi, in the Natchez District, the vast majority of people were slaveholders. Owens: You have a state that has a huge population of enslaved people. And that's one of the enduring legacies, in fact to this day, that Mississippi is the only state that has a black population of almost 40%. This comes directly because of the popularity of cotton and also the success of this cotton crop. Grivno: Most of the slaves in Mississippi would have been employed on the cotton plantations. Cotton was the engine that drove Mississippi's economy and the most valuable employment for slaves were as field hands. Most slaves toiled in the fields of big plantations in Mississippi, but slaves really worked everywhere. There were domestics, there were slaves that worked in industry and in factories. They could be found building railroads. Working on riverboats. There were slave artisans, craftsmen of all kinds. You could find slaves working almost everywhere in almost every industry in Mississippi in 1860. They were mammies. They were carriage drivers. They were the laborers. They sustained the Southern economy. They made fortunes for people. You've heard the expression "The Southern way of life". Well it was only the way of life for some very wealthy people who owned a lot of slaves. There were about 31,000 slaveholders in Mississippi in 1860. That was about 9% of the state's white population. The majority of people, some 55% of the people in Mississippi, were slaves. Owens: Most of the wealth is concentrated by only a few in Mississippi. So most of the plantations are owned by a very small number of men, but there are still slaves in what I call out communities: smaller farms where you may have a family who owns one or two enslaved people. If you count households and not individual slave owners, almost one-third of all Southern families owned slaves. In Mississippi the percentage was about 49%. It is really interesting because that complicates the generalities that we know about slavery. If you only own three slaves, you might own a mother a husband and her child, right? So someone's performing domestic labor, the child might be a playmate to the white child or children in the household and so it really complicates things because all of a sudden you now you see those households as microcosms of what can happen in the institution of slavery within the 19th century US. The South was overwhelmingly Christian in nature. Their form of slavery was more of a softer nature type of slavery. The Plantation owner, by and large, had to take care of the slave because they knew that the profitability for them was how well they took care of the slave. And that's not to say that they were well taken care of. (whip cracking) Owens: For me as an historian of slavery, when I read some of the accounts of the brutality, it's enough to really take your breath away that these people could endure for as long as they did. Ballard: Slavery was a very emotional issue. It had become so because of the agitation by anti-slavery people, which only made Southerners more defensive about the institution. Owens: I think to question an owner about whether it was right or wrong would seem absolutely ludicrous to him. Everybody participated in someway, or benefited in someway, from the institution of slavery. And they always had. Grivno: Some slaveholders imagined that capturing and enslaving Africans was for their benefit, that they were exposing them to Christianity, that slavery was a school for civilization. Some actually looked at it as their chance to be missionaries, even though they bought and were using these people. Owens: Most folk who defended slavery were justifying it on the grounds of Christianity, and they pulled from the Protestant faith, and also from Catholic faith. Using the Bible verse, "Slave obey your Masters." If you are obedient to your masters in your mistresses, there is reward in heaven for the kind of work that you do. Grivno: From the 1830s onward, Southern politicians began to construct an argument that slavery truly was ordained by God and would give birth to the best of all possible societies. Owens: Southerners didn't understand why they needed to justify something that happened since time began. And the only, kind of Sisyphus opposition that they faced would be from Abolitionists. Throughout the early part of the 19th century, the divisive issue of slavery would finally tear the nation asunder. Narrator: Abolitionism was a campaign to end slavery and set slaves free. It was a movement that began back in the 1600's, when many religious groups condemned slavery as un-Christian. They were just a politically powerful small group of people. I think that we have this idea that they were a kind of huge number of men and women who were dedicated to the abolition of slavery, and that wasn't the case at all. They were a really small group. Giambrone: While there were a growing number of rationalist thinkers that criticized slavery for violating the rights of man in the political arena of 1860 Southern Democrats endorsed slavery. The cotton growing economy of their slave-owning constituents were dependent on it, especially in Mississippi. Owens: The slave doesn't need the master. The master needs the slave. And so slave owners believe the very opposite, that slaves needed them. A slave doesn't need a master. But the only way he can be a master is to depend on a slave. Narrator: At the time, the majority of the Republican Party leaned the way of the Abolitionist movement, and in the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the presidential candidate for the Republican Party. As a result, his name did not appear on the ballots of ten southern states, including Mississippi. Owens: What this points to is the political power that a politician in a slave-holding state has. Lincoln did not appear on the ballot of Mississippi, in fact, did not receive a single vote from any southern state and I think this points to the kind of political power that the plantation elite had. These were the men who were running southern states. You know, these were the senators, the governors, these were the mayors of large towns, these were the people who owned slaves markets and so not only did they have economic wealth but they also wielded a lot of political clout. Reading: "Lincoln's nomination took place about two weeks before adjournment. The intelligence came like a thunderbolt. Members from the South purchased long-range guns to take home with them. The unthinking among them rejoiced that the end was in sight, but those who considered more deeply were dismayed by the prospect." Mississippi U.S. Congressman Reuben Davis on the nomination of Abraham Lincoln. In many ways, they made Lincoln out to be more of an abolitionist than he actually was. Lincoln and the Republicans campaigned on a platform that would have limited slavery's expansion into the western territories. But Lincoln and the vast majority of his party had no desire to interfere with slavery where it already existed. But to many Southern politicians, he really did seem like a "Boogie Man, I suppose. Giambrone: Wealthy plantation owners feared that if Lincoln was elected President, that it was just a matter of time before he abolished slavery and they didn't want that to happen. Narrator: Many fortunes were lost three years earlier, during the first worldwide economic crisis, the finical Panic of 1857. Wealthy Southerners were afraid that if Lincoln freed their enslaved, it would cause yet another financial disaster. It would have decimated the economy. It would have decimated it. Mississippi was built on the backs of a cotton economy. It was built on the backs of thousands-- tens of thousands of black people who picked this, what they called white gold in the 19th century. It would have decimated it. Ballard: It would be an economic burden on the South to have to give up their slaves, but Lincoln offered to reimburse slave owners, and free the slaves. We'll pay you for the labor you've lost. But nobody was interested in that. They're not necessarily interested in compromising with Lincoln at this point. It's a slap in the face to their way of life. They don't want to give up their slaves. The die was cast. The die for secession was cast in Mississippi in the election for President in November of 1860. Narrator: Abraham Lincoln was elected the President of the United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and new Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. Lincoln won all the anti-slavery states of the North, as well as the Western states of California and Oregon. No ballots were cast for him in 10 of the 15 Southern slave states, where his name did not appear. Lincoln was elected by Northern voters. He did not even appear on the ballot in many southern states. He didn't appear on the ballot in Mississippi. For many Southerners, this signaled a kind of sea change that in the future the North could elect a President without having the support of Southern voters. The South had essentially become a political minority in the country and was an increasingly weak minority. Giambrone: The rights of states to govern themselves, threats to secede and arguments justifying secession from the United States have been part of American politics almost from the beginning. Narrator: In 1860, Jefferson Davis was Mississippi's long-standing senator in Washington. He believed that the states were sovereign and should be allowed to leave the Union if they chose. But he was also aware that the South was ill-prepared militarily and so he argued against secession. He wrote.... Reading: "I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came." Grady: The South was beginning to lose its power in the Legislature and they could see the writing on the wall. So by the time we get down to 1861, Mississippi opts to follow South Carolina out of the Union and to secede. Reading: "Wisdom dictates that all the questions arising out of the institution of slavery should be settled now and settled forever." Mississippian Jacob Thompson, U.S. Secretary of War. Narrator: When Lincoln was elected, John Pettus, a wealthy Kemper County planter, was Mississippi's Governor. He was part of a group of pro-slavery extremists known as "Fire-eaters" because it was said that they would rather eat fire than sit down with a Yankee Abolitionist. Winschel: Gov. John Pettus was a man who was very much in favor of secession. And thanks to his leadership, and his charisma, his strength of character, he would help sway members of the Legislature and among the civilian population to vote for an ordinance of secession. Ballard: As a governor, Pettus was, in many ways, pretty pathetic. He was very opposed to staying in the Union for any reason. The fire-eaters had sprung up in South Carolina; there were a lot of them later in Georgia. Pettus was probably the leading one in Mississippi. Winter: Governor Pettus said from the beginning that if Lincoln were elected President of the United States, he would immediately call a secession convention and Mississippi would leave the Union. It was that clear-cut. He was probably the most drastic secessionist that we had in the state. He really wanted to begin the war before secession. He did not want to compromise in any way that would permit Mississippi to stay in the Union as long as the North would not compromise on the issue of slavery. Narrator: Even before Lincoln was inaugurated, Pettus called for a secession convention, and brought together delegates from every county in Mississippi where they argued for or against secession. Giambrone: Not all Mississippians were as "gung-ho" about session as Gov. Pettus and his "Fire-eaters." You must remember, only a few Mississippians owned plantations. Not everyone grew cotton or owned slaves. Reading: "Those who had been long desirous of a pretext for secession, now boldly advocated their sentiments, and joyfully hailed the election of Mr. Lincoln as affording that pretext. The conservative men were filled with gloom. Secession they regarded as fraught with all the evils of Pandora's Box, and that war, famine, pestilence, and moral and physical desolation would follow in its train." Mississippi Unionist Reverend John Hill Aughey. Ballard: So this rush to leave the Union was not unanimous by any means. And too, you have to figure in the patriotism of Mississippians and other Southerners. They, after all, were products of the Revolutionary War which had won them independence. The Union had grown out of that war. So they felt ties to the Union. Many of them had been educated in the North, especially the wealthier classes. So this was not an easy thing to convince people. There were strong Union pockets in the state of Mississippi. For instance, when the Secession Convention was called to Jackson, several counties sent two delegations to represent. One side of the county would represent the secessionist movement; the other part of the county represented the anti-secessionists. Narrator: Tishomingo County, which at the time was a very large county, sent four pro-Union delegates to Gov. Pettus' convention. Their lives here were tied to railroad commerce, interstate commerce. There wasn't a lot to gain by separating from the Union. And they're sent down to that convention, specifically for the fact that they're not ready to leave the Union yet. They want to wait to see what's going to happen. They voted against secession. Those people lived in hilly country. They didn't have plantations. They didn't grow cotton, so they didn't have many slaves. There were very few in that area. Also, there was dissent in south Mississippi, central south Mississippi because there were not concentrations of slaves down there. There were not plantations. Jones County did not produce that much cotton. It had the smallest slave population of any county in Mississippi. When the Secession Convention came in 1860, Jones County elected a delegate who ran on a platform opposing secession. Not every Mississippian was interested in secession. In fact, the ironic thing about the Mississippi secession is that some of the larger slaveholders along the Mississippi River were opposed to secession because they were worried about the impact that the loss of slavery would have if a war came and the war did not go the way they would've liked it to go. There were many that believed that the best way to preserve slavery was to stay in the Union and maintain control that way. Ballard: Vicksburg, ironically, Natchez, two areas that depended heavily on river traffic were not anxious to secede because they knew what it was going to do to their businesses. The two largest cities in the state of Mississippi voted against secession. But as the bulk of the rest of the state voted in favor, the pro-Union sentiment expressed here in Warren County and in Adams County would be stifled. The real argument was not whether or not Mississippi would leave the Union. That much seems to have been certain. The question was should Mississippi leave immediately, regardless of what other states did. Because remember, at this point only South Carolina had seceded. So, did Mississippi want to go out on this very dangerous branch alone, or did they want to wait for other states to secede? Narrator: But those arguing for secession would not wait, and put a lot of pressure on those who were pro-Union. Parson: When it became apparent that the rest of the counties wanted to secede, they had a second vote and many of the delegates changed their vote to have a bold front Mississippi. Everybody is in agreement. Narrator: On January 9, 1861, Mississippi's Secession Convention voted 84 - 15 to leave the Union. The vote itself is a lot closer than most people believe today. There would be a lively debate in newspapers and town halls across the state of Mississippi. Not everyone was in favor of secession. Narrator: After the news broke that the Ordinance of Secession had passed The Natchez Courier reported: Reading: "The secession ordinance was received yesterday with almost unanimous disapproval and condemnation. 'Hasty, ill-judged, wrong' were the terms generally applied to it. Our citizens, generally, felt that the convention had sacrificed everything, and obtained nothing. Narrator: Days later, on January 21, 1861, Mississippi's senator, Jefferson Davis resigned from the United States Senate, a day that he called: Reading: "The saddest day of my life. It has been a conviction of pressing necessity; it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. Narrator: Pettus made Davis a Major General of the Army of Mississippi. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas soon followed the example set by South Carolina and Mississippi and they too seceded from the Union. These seven cotton-growing states came together and formed the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861. And on February 9, they made Jefferson Davis the Provisional President of the Confederate States of America. Giambrone: Their whole argument for secession was that they felt that they were loosing their freedom, their rights, the power to self-govern themselves. Many Mississippians, as well as other Southerners, felt that they had the right to secede and govern themselves anyway they saw fit. They're saying well, they're trying to pick on us. They're going to invade us. They're forcing us to do what they want us to do. People who lived in the South in those days, I don't know if it's completely gone away, you know you ask me about something and I'll work with you. Tell me what you're going to do something whether I like it or not, then you'll get some resistance. States' Rights was a political theory that Southern states used to defend the institution of slavery. It was used to justify secession. But secession itself was driven by the desire to defend the institution of slavery. When Mississippi seceded in 1861, the delegates to the secession convention stated that our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery, the greatest material interest in the world. So the battle from the start was all about slavery. This business of states' rights, of course, among some latter day historians has been injected, but it was really about slavery and the secession resolution in Mississippi in January of 1861 says so in so many words, that this is about slavery. Narrator: Mississippi's ordinance of secession: Reading: "Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England." In a way, it's ironic that the argument that they were making was that they were against enslavement, but not by an owner of a plantation, but enslavement by the laws and will of the United States of America. Narrator: Many Mississippians who desired the freedom to self- govern themselves denied that very freedom to over half the state's population. Liberty and freedom were foreign concepts for many enslaved. Born into a life of subjugation, they had never experienced freedom. The enslaved lived out their lives under constant constraints. You have to ask just to be mobile. You can't choose yourmate without your owner's permission. You're not free. If you are pulled away from the community that you know, and let's say you are sold two or three times, where are you going to run? You know what the consequences of running away are. You can't run away. The risks just weren't worth it. And so, you would just hope, many of them prayed for freedom. Narrator: The new 'provisional' Confederate President Jefferson Davis, issued a call for 100,000 men from the various states' militias to defend the newly formed Confederacy. Giambrone: He began to remove U.S. Government presence from within Confederate boundaries. This called for Confederate troops to start taking possession of U.S. courts, custom houses, post offices, U.S. mints, basically all Federal buildings, most notably, arsenals and forts. Narrator: After Confederate troops attacked and took control of Fort Sumter, Lincoln called up 75,000 Union troops to re-occupy U.S. properties throughout the South. Thus began the Civil War. Reading: "It is now near midnight, and the excitement is beginning to abate. The Battle House, and telegraph office have been thronged for hours, and speeches were made by many prominent Southerners. And in the distance I hear revelry and shouts of applause for the gallant Beauregard and the Southern Confederacy." Unidentified member of the Vicksburg Artillery on hearing of the firing on Fort Sumter. Ballard: We have to remember that most of these soldiers were like teenagers going off to war. They thought this was a way to gain glory and honor and come back home and marry that pretty girl they always wanted to marry and they'd be a hero. They never really stopped and thought about the blood and guts and being blown apart by cannon balls. That never crossed their mind until it was too late and then they realized what they had gotten into, then it was a matter of pride. You don't go running home because everybody in town would know that you deserted and nobody will ever have anything to do with you anymore. They were kind of caught up in the early part of the secession movement. And once it caught fire, it just sort of spread. (Patriotic music swells) Reading: "Our country calls and he that would not respond deserves not the name of man and though we fall, we fall battling for our rights and are determined to have them or die in the attempt." Private Robert A. Moore, 17th Mississippi Infantry. Here in Mississippi, the Magnolia State would send her bravest and most noble sons to the conflict. Men of prominence such as Earl Van Dorn, William Barksdale, and Jefferson Davis, would be quick to respond to the call of the state. Tens of thousands of these Mississippians would die on the fields of battle reaching all the way from Pennsylvania, to the Mississippi River and beyond. Narrator: Mississippi's brave sons marched into battle in faraway places: at Bull Run, at Port Royal, and off the coast of Norfolk. But as the war dragged on, the battlefields grew closer and closer home. Shiloh, fought on April 6th and 7th of 1862, would be the bloodiest battle ever fought on the North American continent up to that date. The battlefield at Shiloh, just a few miles north of the state line with Mississippi, would be a blood bath in which thousands upon thousands of soldiers, North and South, fell on the field of battle, including many Mississippians. Narrator: The brutal two-day battle produced over 23,000 casualties a tragic irony considering the name for Shiloh means "place of peace." Union victory at Shiloh in April of 1862 would open up North Mississippi to Union invasion. And very shortly after the action at Shiloh, Union forces would move into the Magnolia State. Mississippians feared the possibility, the threat of invasion from Northern forces, that this might encourage slaves to rebel. With slave owners gone, with their sons gone, with overseers gone, it left women, young men, old men in charge of the plantations. And they were afraid that these people would be unable to control the South's large slave population. Owens: For black people who are living on plantations and slave communities, masters and their sons are now away and so there is a change in terms of the hierarchy on plantations. You now have to listen to plantation mistresses. Many enslaved people don't. They become insubordinate. And many white Mississippians sensed, in some way, that they were sitting on a powder keg. Again, over half the population was enslaved. How stable was that society? How would the slaves react to their masters leaving? How would they react to the arrival of Northern forces? And right from the beginning of the war there were rumors of slave insurrections throughout the state, and those rumors became more frequent as the war progressed and as Northern forces actually began moving into Mississippi. Narrator: The invasion of Mississippi began in May of 1862 with the Union Army seizing control of the rail junction at Corinth. Winschel: In Corinth you have the intersection of North-South and East-West rail lines. It was referred to, at that point in time, as perhaps the most strategic city in the Confederacy due to those rail connections. But with the fall of Corinth, the focus of military operations in the West will truly center on the fortress city of Vicksburg. And for the remainder of 1862 and into 1863, Union land and naval forces will operate against what was know as the Gibraltar of the Confederacy: the city of Vicksburg. The big thing about Mississippi and the Civil War was that an awful lot of key events happened here that had an impact on the way the war was going to go and the way the war resulted. Mississippi and Mississippians would experience war firsthand and see the horrors of war in their own homes. All the way from Ship Island on the Gulf Coast, to Corinth in North Mississippi, Iuka, and Meridian in the East, and Vicksburg in the West. The entire state of Mississippi became a battleground and scores of major engagements and minor actions were fought on the soil of Mississippi. By war's end, the state was pretty much left a desolate ruin. Giambrone: Nobody in their right mind craves war. The wealthy Southern cotton growers didn't want war. They had hoped that the great desire for mighty King Cotton would prevent war. That didn't happen. People are just afraid. There are just a number of things that are happening that is really decimating the communities that Southerners, both black and white, are living through. In Mississippi there is great death and sickness. People are hungry. Despite the abundance of rich agricultural land in Mississippi the state could not feed itself. It relied on imported food from the Midwest. So when the war began, Mississippi had to transition from a state that produced cotton, to state that could essentially sustain itself and that was very difficult because in 1862, Mississippi was hit by a drought. So there were crop failures throughout the state. Reading: "I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve." General William Tecumseh Sherman, United States Army. There were real problems with food shortages. Now, those problems were made even worse by the military campaigns fought in Mississippi. The Gulf Coast fell very early in the war, which made salt difficult to obtain. Without salt, you couldn't preserve your beef, or your pork. Grant's campaigns against Vicksburg, when his army marched through the Delta, it tore up many of the levees in the Delta, which made flooding more common and made that much of that land unsuitable for agriculture in the short-term. So the military campaigns were tearing up the state's infrastructure, which added to things like drought and the absence of so many men from the home front, it was very very difficult for the people of Mississippi to feed themselves. Narrator: A few farms managed to grow enough crops to get by, but other places, like the besieged city of Vicksburg, faced rampant starvation and under those conditions, disease can spread rapidly. Disease, or the amoeba, which was the great decimator of the armies. That's where the great Grim Reaper of Death really decimated the armies. These boys, they gathered together. They went off confident. They were just going to meet a foe on the battlefield and blast away at each other, defeat the enemy and be the heroes. Little did they realize, when all these boys congregated from all of these different locales, that disease would decimate and kill. Roughly, 80% of the boys in the war died of disease. You have all kinds of illnesses that manifest themselves physically, but also emotionally, psychologically. You also have strikes that are happening. The Confederate currency doesn't mean much because of the rates of inflation. Mississippi was suffering from rampant inflation. Money was quickly losing its value. There was a breakdown in local government. The state government had to flee Jackson. Ballard: When that began to happen, faith in government officials began to fade away. It became apparent that the government of Mississippi would be pretty impotent in trying to carry on the business of the state, especially after the invasion of Mississippi began. Grivno: Chaos reigned in some parts of Mississippi during the war. There was a breakdown in law and order. Counties were overrun with deserters, paroled prisoners, men who simply wanted to avoid conscription. Ballard: Mississippians went to war, a lot of them reluctantly. There would be pockets of resistance throughout, not just in Mississippi, but all across the South. Narrator: Not long after the battle of Shiloh, on April 16, 1862, Jefferson Davis enacted the very first American Military draft. The draft was incredibly unpopular. To many Southerners, especially people who excepted the States' Rights ideology or the States' Rights Doctrine, it seemed that they had replaced one tyrannical national government with another. Giambrone: Under the Conscription Act, all healthy free men, between the ages of 18 and 35, had to sign up for a three-year tour of duty. Unless you owned 20 or more slaves and could afford to hire a substitute to take your place. If you were wealthy enough, you could choose not to go. For poor people, people who didn't own 20 slaves, it seemed as if they are fighting to protect someone else's property; that they were being asked to bear a disproportionate burden. People understood what had caused the war, and now the people who had most to gain from the war were exempting themselves from military service. They believed this made the war into a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. Ballard: But once the war came along and people started dying, it really didn't matter who was shot down on the battlefield, whether it was a rich guy who owned slaves, or guy who came from a poor white family, who owned no slaves. It was still Southern blood being spilled and that was kind of a unifying factor, the war itself. But still, if you get back to cause, nobody can convince me that if slavery has not existed that there would have been a war anyway. No, nobody can convince me of that. Giambrone: Mississippi suffered devastating human losses during the Civil War. Approximately 78,000 Mississippians served in the military; of that number about 27,000 were killed or died. One quarter of the white male population over the age of 15 in 1860 was dead; an entire generation was laid waste. Winschel: More than 620,000 American soldiers, North and South, died on the field of battle or from disease. It was the costliest war, in terms of human life in American history. Narrator: On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg, the great Gibraltar of the Confederacy, fell after a 47-day siege. Union forces took control of the Mississippi River, effectively splitting the Confederacy in half. Vicksburg was really the turning point, not just in Mississippi but in the western theater of the Civil War. And I would argue even of the Civil War all together. After Vicksburg surrendered, there were a lot of people in Mississippi who gave it up. They didn't want the war to go on. The loss of Vicksburg pretty much put the Union army in control of Mississippi. Narrator: Confederate General-in-Chief, Robert E. Lee, surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 6th, 1865. Six days later, Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Today Lincoln is considered one of the most beloved of all American Presidents, but that wasn't the case during the Civil War. Lincoln was so hatted during his Presidency that he received well over 10,000 death threats. Ballard: As a Governor, Pettus is very prominent in newspapers and wherever early in the war. But as time passes, he really becomes less revenant. He was just pro-Confederate. Pro-Confederate. Get the Yankees. Kill the Yankees. But as the war began to come to Mississippi, there was not much he could do to stop it. Pettus took the Loyalty Oath twice after the war. But he was convinced he'd been singled out for special punishment, maybe for execution. Was afraid he was going to be captured, so he fled to Arkansas. Crossed the Mississippi River and went into the swamps in the Arkansas Delta and lived as a fugitive there. He died and was buried in a cornfield there. And the result is that John Pettus lies today somewhere in an unmarked grave. His grave as lost as the cause for which he so gallantly fought. Narrator: As the body of President Lincoln was being laid to rest in the Oak Ridge Cemetery of Springfield, Illinois, Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor surrendered all remaining rebel forces in Mississippi to Major General Edward Canby. It was May 4th, 1865. The Civil War was at an end, but in many ways Mississippi's true struggle was just beginning. Reconstruction was an attempt to make sure that the former slaves, now free, would become part of Southern society, would become part of American Society. But as you know, there was all sorts of violence in Mississippi and other places in the South where individuals tried to keep blacks, not enslaved, because you couldn't enslave any longer, but keep them down, keep them suppressed. Owens: White Southerners are angry about the loss of the Civil War. For those who lost property, their communities were decimated. They lost the lives of family members and loved ones within the community. Of course there's animus. The richest state in the Union has now crumbled, parts of it have been burned. And so I think quite naturally there is a lot of anger. And black people and Northerners, they're seen as the one who are the creators of the downfall of their civilization. Ballard: Did slavery cause the Civil War? Yes. Slavery did cause the war. Why people fought is an altogether different issue. Some of them did not own slaves. Many of them did not own slaves. Some did fight for slavery, to preserve slavery. Some didn't care one way or the other, but they did care about the Union Army coming down into their states. Union soldiers wanted to preserve the Union. They didn't care about slavery either. In fact, a lot of them were extremely angry. When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1, 1863, a lot of Union soldiers were furious. Narrator: The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, was not a statute enacted by Congress. It was a Presidential proclamation. Lincoln told his Cabinet that he had used his powers as Commander-in-Chief to free the slaves in the Confederate States, because it was a covenant that he had made with God. Owens: The Emancipation Proclamation brings the institution of slavery to the forefront. There is no way that you can now state that the war doesn't deal with slavery, because the Emancipation Proclamation in fact, makes slavery an issue. And it really changes the focus of the war. Once slaves realized what this war was about, they rushed to Union arms. Parson: Wherever there is a Union presence in the South during the Civil War runaway slaves gravitate to that area. Not only for protection from Union forces, but the hope of freedom. Narrator: Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, due to the fact that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the return runaway of slaves to their owners. But Union Generals refused to do so and declared the runaways contraband of war. Parson: You start seeing a large influx of runaway slaves after the siege of Corinth. When the Union begins to occupy this area, runaway slaves begin to first drift in here singly and in pairs and then in large numbers. Narrator: In order to house the numerous runaways at Corinth, the Union troops set up a refugee or "contraband" camp. In just a short period of time, the Corinth contraband camp becomes a model camp throughout the country. This is the way that all contraband camps should be. Which is interesting, right? The state that becomes the richest state in the Union because of slavery, also houses the largest contraband camp in Corinth, Mississippi. And so for the year, year and a half, that it is in existence, it has upwards of about 6,000 people. It really becomes a model community. And I think that at the core of it for black people to prove their humanity, to show that they can be more than slaves. People tend to think of those who were enslaved as living a one-dimensional life. Yes, it was oppressive, it was brutal. But I think what is really important, particularly in a state like Mississippi that had the largest population of people of African descent, you can see the cultural legacies that the state is left with, all the way from the culinary cuisine that enslaved people helped to create, to the music, but also the ways in which people worship. Woman singing: ♪ Through many dangers, toils and snares ♪ ♪ I have already come. ♪ Owens: They built community in the worst and oppressive kinds of environments. And I think it's a real testament to their strength. ♪ T'was grace that brought me safe thus far. ♪ ♪ And grace will lead me on. ♪ Grady: After the war between the states is over, Southerners by in large lost a lot of their lands to taxes. Parson: During this time of Union occupation, you see a large influx, of Northerners coming down. Later, they will be called Carpetbaggers, but these are folks looking to make a few bucks. Marzelak: People were coming into Mississippi from other parts of the South, from places in the North, but they were coming to try to take advantage of the cotton trade. And realizing the potential bought up a lot of these plantations, and then created a new slavery for white and black by low-paying. You're free to go. You can come and go and you're free to go. You've got to take care of your medicine. You've got to take care of your own food. You can live on the place. I provide a company store on the plantation. Now, the company store had all kinds of beautiful little items and trinkets, and jams and jellies and pies, and all kinds of stuff in there, which you could buy on credit. So the freed man, white and black, who worked on those fields got so in debt to the company store that he could not leave the plantation. So that was a new form of slavery that was more vile than the older form of slavery which existed. And of course, slavery in any form is no good. Woman singing: ♪ I once was lost, but now I'm found. ♪ ♪ Was blind, but now I see. ♪ ♪ Oh... ♪ Narrator: For more details about Mississippi and the Civil War, please visit our website:



Plantation owner

Three planters, after 1845, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Three planters, after 1845, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin before the War by Confederate chaplain and planter James Battle Avirett
The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin before the War by Confederate chaplain and planter James Battle Avirett

An individual who owned a plantation was known as a planter. Historians of the antebellum South have generally defined "planter" most precisely as a person owning property (real estate) 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 (in 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 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 to the planter aristocracy in the antebellum South.

The historians Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman define large planters as those owning over 50 slaves, and medium planters as those owning between 16 and 50 slaves.[3] Historian David Williams, in A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom, suggests that the minimum requirement for planter status was twenty negroes, especially since a southern planter could exempt Confederate duty for one white male per twenty slaves owned.[4] In his study of Black Belt counties in Alabama, Jonathan Weiner defines planters by ownership of real property, rather than of slaves. A planter, for Weiner, owned at least $10,000 worth of real estate in 1850 and $32,000 worth in 1860, equivalent to about the top 8 percent of landowners.[5] In his study of southwest Georgia, Lee Formwalt defines planters in terms of size of land holdings rather than in terms of numbers of slaves. Formwalt's planters are in the top 4.5 percent of landowners, translating into real estate worth six thousand dollars or more in 1850, 24,000 dollars or more in 1860, and eleven thousand dollars or more in 1870.[6] 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 10 and 19 slaves.[7] In Chicot and Phillips Counties, Arkansas, Carl H. Moneyhon defines large planters as owners of twenty or more slaves, and of six hundred or more acres.[8]

Many nostalgic memoirs about plantation life were published in the post-bellum South.[9] For example, James Battle Avirett, who grew up on the Avirett-Stephens Plantation in Onslow County, North Carolina and served as an Episcopal chaplain in the Confederate States Army, published The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin before the War in 1901.[9] Such memoirs often included descriptions of Christmas as the epitome of anti-modern order exemplified by the "great house" and extended family.[10]


On larger plantations an overseer represented the planter in matters of daily management. Usually portrayed as uncouth, ill-educated and low-class, he had the difficult and often despised task of middleman and the often contradictory goals of fostering both productivity and the enslaved work-force.[11]


Plantation crops

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.

In the Lowcountry 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.

Plantation architecture and landscape

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.

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 Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, the Dogtrot style house was built with a large center breezeway running through the house to mitigate the subtropical heat. The wealthiest planters in colonial Virginia constructed their manor houses in the Georgian style, e.g. the mansion of Shirley Plantation. In the 19th century, Greek Revival architecture also became popular on some of the plantation homes of the deep south.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery 1619–1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1993, xiii
  2. ^ Oakes, Ruling Race, 52.
  3. ^ Fogel, Robert William; Engerman, Stanley L. (1974). Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 311437227.
  4. ^ David Williams, "A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom", New York: The New Press, 2005.
  5. ^ Wiener, Jonathan M. (Autumn 1976). "Planter Persistence and Social Change: Alabama, 1850–1870". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 7 (2): 235–60. JSTOR 202735.
  6. ^ Formwalt, Lee W. (October 1981). "Antebellum Planter Persistence: Southwest Georgia—A Case Study". Plantation Society in the Americas. 1 (3): 410–29. ISSN 0192-5059. OCLC 571605035.
  7. ^ Campbell, Randolph B (May 1982). "Population Persistence and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Texas: Harrison County, 1850–1880". Journal of Southern History. 48 (2): 185–204. JSTOR 2207106.
  8. ^ Moneyhon, Carl H. (1992). "The Impact of the Civil War in Arkansas: The Mississippi River Plantation Counties". Arkansas Historical Quarterly. 51 (2): 105–18. JSTOR 40025847.
  9. ^ a b Anderson, David (February 2005). "Down Memory Lane: Nostalgia for the Old South in Post-Civil War Plantation Reminiscences". The Journal of Southern History. 71 (1): 105–136. JSTOR 27648653. (Registration required (help)).
  10. ^ Anderson, David J. (Fall 2014). "Nostalgia for Christmas in Postbellum Plantation Reminiscences". Southern Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal of the South. 21 (2): 39–73.
  11. ^ Richter:, William L. (2009-08-20). "Overseers". The A to Z of the Old South. The A to Z Guide Series. 51. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press (published 2009). p. 258. ISBN 9780810870000. Retrieved 2016-11-29. On larger plantations, the planter's direct representative in day-to-day management of the crops, care of the land, livestock, farm implements, and slaves was the white overseer. It was his job to work the labor force to produce a profitable crop. He was an indispensable cog in the plantation machinery. [...] The overseer has usually been portrayed as an uncouth, uneducated character of low class whose main purpose was to harass the slaves and get in the way of the planter's progressive goals of production. More than that, the overseer had a position between master and slave in which it was hard to win. Directing slave labor was looked down upon by a large number of people, North and South. He was faced with planter demands that were at times unreasonable. He was forbidden to fraternize with the slaves. He had no chance of advancement unless he left the profession. He was bombarded with incessant complaints from masters, who did not appreciate the task he faced, and slaves, who sought to play off master and overseer against each other to avoid work and gain privileges. [...] The very nature of the job was difficult. The overseer had to care for the slaves and gain the largest crop possible. These were often contradictory goals.

Further reading

Primary sources

  • 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
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