The Rise of Plantation Economies
The industrialized world formed on the backs of slaves
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.
The Rise of Plantations
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Estimates. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/assessment/estimates.faces
- Many Thousand Gone, Berlin (The Plantation Generations)
- A Guide to Primary Resources for US History: (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/solguide/VUS03/essay03.html
- Slavery and Social Death, Patterson
- Pictures used: The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/search.html