The Rise of Plantation Economies

The industrialized world formed on the backs of slaves

Captured African Slaves working under the power of a wealthy landowner on a plantation.
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Western European nations sought out to conqueror as much land as possible in order to gain power and increase economic prosperity. Many Western European countries developed agricultural systems in order to support their people, and as more countries began to develop and progress, trade became international. Plantations were formed as a way for countries to mass-produce certain agricultural goods in order to keep up with the international demands. As the Spanish sought out to conquer the Americas, many other European countries saw the benefits in these new lands as well. Plantation economies were formed on the backs of slaves and were successful by the means of free labor, with industrialization and the development of our world today being formulated by these successful plantations. It would be hundreds of years before slaves were set free and the plantation economies would crumble.
Atlantic Borders of the Slave Trade.
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African slave trade routes; the larger the arrow, the higher the percentage of African slaves shipped to area.
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The beginning of a New World

The New World, discovered and documented by European countries in the 1500s, was a place full of opportunity and prosperity. Known today as North America and South America, it was a large landmass that was going to provide several countries with the prospect of economically increasing their wealth and expanding their authority. Spain and Portugal were among the two most successful nations in expanding their territories primarily due to their successful trade of African slaves throughout the New World. As more native people were pushed out of their territories, and new settlers were moving in, and there was a heightened need for labor in these newly found lands.

Common layout a plantation's living quarters, with unsanitary living area provided to the slaves while the white plantation owners prospered in a large, comfortable home.
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The Rise of Plantations

Western European nations depended upon agriculture to support their economies. This demand of land and importing harvested goods for a profit was what made the world economies fruitful. Many countries would specialize in certain goods and sell/trade those products to others in order to make a profit. To western Europeans, the New World was exactly that. Two continents, with a wide range of environments and fertile land were the primary target for agricultural use. Plantations were formed in order to make use of these new territories by several European nations such as the Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, and Dutch. Plantations consisted of large crops that were able to mass-produce high commodity products such as: sugar, cotton, rubber, dye (colors), tobacco, and rice. These products were in high demand among other nations that could not yield such products or keep up with the demands; therefore many countries were thriving off of the trade of these goods.
The strong bodied men working the plantation with the white man overseeing their work.
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Plantations are large crops that require a large work force to keep up the lands and ready these goods for exportation. Due to the increasing demands of labor, many people were imported into the New World for the primary reason to do so. Originally, natives among the New World were used as slaves, however to many governments, African slaves proved to be the most useful. Patterson defines slavery as, “the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons” (pg13). These slaves were forced to work for free, commonly under very harsh conditions in exchange for shelter and often times very little food.

Common tools used to secure a slave.
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Why were the plantations so successful?

Prior to North America’s13 colonies claiming independence from Great Britain, the British middlemen were supplying American planters, also know as masters, with slaves and equipment, while in return these plantations were supplying the vital merchandises needed to support the international trade system. These American products supported the British’s capitalistic economy and industrialization. The products were vital because most of them could not be produced in Britain, therefore as the need increased, more slaves were being shipped to America to work on the plantations. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, between the years 1500 and 1866, 12.5 million Africans were exported to the New World. Approximately 10.5 million of these Africans survived to Middle Passage crossing the Atlantic Ocean, however only 3% of these African slaves ended up in the United States, while the rest ended up in South America and the Caribbean.

Slaves crammed onto a slave ship in the Middle Passage (Atlantic Slave Trade).
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Plantations differed from region to region, however they were mostly prominent in warmer areas where agriculture yielded the most successful crops. Regions closer to the equator had more successful plantations, which is why the majority of plantation locations were in South America and the southern United States. Plantation systems were very similar because they were adapted from the principles of Western European agriculture. The farmer or master usually had a great deal of wealth and owned the plantation and the slaves that worked it. Slaves would work the fields in exchange for living quarters and food. Strong and healthy young men and “stout men boys” were often the most expensive slave to purchase because they were able to work long, exhausting hours in the fields with few breaks (The Plantation Generations, Berlin). Family life was often encouraged on plantations because it was increasing the master’s wealth with every new slave born on his land. In fact, many plantation masters were related to their slaves because they would often use the women for sex.

Cotton cultivation in the Southern United States. Slave off to the right using contraption to scare away crows (scarecrow).
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African slaves captured by African middlemen to be sold to various European buyers.
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However in the beginning of the 1800s, the slave trade was coming to an end. Some countries sought out to abolish the slave trade due to overpopulation, increasing threat of disease, and loss of equity because many Africans were dying from these foreign diseases and slaves were becoming more expensive. In 1807 the international slave trade was prohibited, however this did not free the slaves or completely halt the slave trade. Many countries, including the U.S., Brazil, and Cuba continued the illegal slave trade with over 2 million slaves still being shipped out until 1866. Many plantation masters would “breed” their slaves to keep their plantations running and slave women and children became the most valuable product than ever before.

Plantations would continue to support the capitalistic economies for several decades. Much of North America and South America today is lacking the natural vegetation it once had due to the large use of plantations to meet the agricultural needs of the world. Plantation economies were successful because of the intense and exhausting work the imported slaves endured and these plantations are what supported the large growth of industrialization throughout the developed world.

Slaves being moved from the interior of Africa to the coastline to be sold. All were forced to walk in a single file fashion with large contraptions attached to their necks to limit their ability in escaping.
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