Slaves: A Evolution of Plantations

The Benefits of Slavery and Plantation Economics

Slave Houses, Hermitage Plantation, Georgia, 1928 Source: Ulrich Phillips, Life and Labour in the Old South (Boston,1929), p. 64,%20Slave%20Settlements%20and%20Houses&theRecord=61&rec

Many of us have images of plantations as a large acreage of flat land surrounded by several out buildings, but what do these buildings tell us? Teresa S. Moyer paints a picture for us in her documentation of the history of Mount Claire, a historical site in southwestern Baltimore (Moyer, pg. 1). The history of Mount Claire has developed a better understanding to how the true interaction of the enslaved blacks and the whites worked on a plantation site. The documents hold answers of Mount Claire where the answers to the true stories that lie within the domain of these walls. "The preservation, management, and interpretation of historic plantations as been a historically white project that uses interpretation to support structural racism by ignoring the contribution of people of African descent whose work sustained the plantations." (Moyer, pg. 5). It is in the walls and the exterior of historical places such as Mount Claire that help us to understand and absorb the true values of slavery and the development of economic strength within the plantations.
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Sugar Plantation and Slave Settlement, St. John, Virgin Islands, 1833 Source: Original painting in Kronborg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark (slide, courtesy of Karen Fog Olwig;)

Plantation life became a way for individuals to develop, grow and have financial gain in their own backyard. It is the availability of the vast amount of land that owners where able to establish plantations of rice, cotton, coffee, tobacco, sugar, and other major food staples. The land was boundless, the staples were there and it has been established that without the power of enslaved individuals, the ability to cultivate and harvest these crops would not have lead to the economic stability that allowed these land owners to flourish in their wealth of plantation living.
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Caribbean, 18th Cen. "New Perspectives on the Transatlantic Slave Trade," Special Issue, William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 58 (2001), between pp. 16 and 17; see caption for original source.,%20New%20World,%20Slave%20Trade&theRecord=22&recordCou

The understanding and the truth of how enslaved Africans played such a large part in the economics of plantations starts with the availability to transport and trade the Negros across a open space of water. In the trading of the slaves, "it was the larger Atlantic Slave System, including North America's trade with the West Indies and the export of Southern rice, tobacco, indigo and finally cotton, that prepared the way for everything America was to become. (Davis, pg. 102). It didn't take long for the plantation owners to realize that with the importing of slaves across the sea, allowed for the cultivation and harvesting of products to grow on the plantations. Davis states, that it was largely due to the growths and production of products such as sugar, molasses, syrup and rum, that allowed for the area south of what is now the United States, to import "some 95 percent of the African slaves brought to the New World." (Davis, pg. 103).
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The Slave Deck on the Bark 'Wildfire,' 1860 Source: Engraved from daguerreotype, published in Harper's Weekly (June 2, 1860), vol. 4, p. 344 ( Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-41678

With the discovery of the middle passage, the transportation of purchased or traded slaves off of the African coast, allowed for a journey across the Atlantic (Klein, pg. 132). Klein and Vinson established that, "Given the considerable cost of the slave purchases in Africa, there was no economic rationale whatsoever to engage in what later historians would call "tight packing" that is, slavers deliberately packing in as many slaves as the could onto their ships, accepting with equanimity any losses suffered, since even the few who survived made for profit." (Pg.122). Unfortunately, "tight packing" (Pg. 122) was not the only killer on these ships carrying merchandise across the Atlantic, dysentery, due to poor quality of food and water, became the "biggest killer" (Klein and Vinson, Pg. 122), Nationality became a desire for many of the planters, but many took what they could get from the ports (Klein and Vinson, Pg. 124). It is the designated ports that the slaves came from, not their ethnicity that the term "Africans" came from (Klein and Vinson, Pg. 124).
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Rice Planting, South Carolina, early 1890s Source: Julian Ralph, Dixie; or, Southern Scenes and Sketches (New York, 1896), p. 275 (Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)

Pictures such as this one of planting rice shows enslaved women planting seeds while monitored by an overseer.
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Cotton Production

Cotton, a commodity that many of us take for granted in our everyday use. We see it in out clothing we wear, the sheets we sleep on, the carpets we walk on, the towels we dry with, but have we giving much thought into how the production of cotton was established? As far back as 1820, Davis noted that the South was established as the “Cotton Kingdom” (Pg. 181) and it was due to three important “economic advantages” (Pg. 181) that this became true. The first, economic advantage was “the elimate and soil of large parts of the South were ideally suited for growing short staple cotton, the indispensable raw material for the early Industrial Revolution” (Davis, Pg. 181). Secondly, the “widespread use of steamboats” (Davis, Pg. 181) up the Mississippi lowered the costs of transporting the cotton. (Davis, Pg. 181). The third advantage, and most important to the economic growth of cotton, the strength and labor of black slaves maintain cotton fields at a high speed (Davis, Pg. 181). It is through several arguments over the years questioning the economics of American slavery that scholars have established that in the South, it was the slaves that “provided a highly mobile and flexible supply of labor” (Davis, 182). It is the increased number of “American Slaves” (Davis, Pg. 182) that “enabled white Southerners to clear and settle the vast Cotton Kingdom” (Davis, Pg., 182).

Tobacco Factory, Virginia. 1870s Source: Scribner's Monthly (Apr.1874), vol. VII, p. 652; also published in Edward King, The Great South . . . profusely illustrated from original sketches by J. Wells Champney (Hartford, Conn., 1875), p. 557. (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)

Slaves were a tremendous contribution to the clearing of forest and the land that laid inlaid for the production and harvesting of tobacco (Davis, Pg. 133). The production and harvesting of tobacco was indicated as a tedious effort requiring the "slaves to acquire certain skills" (Davis, Pg. 133), allowing for the care of the tobacco with including worming, topping the plants, cutting off of the stalk, and finally curing the leaves in the tobacco houses. (Davis, Pg. 133).
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Sugar and Sugarcane Production

It was with the rise and demand for sugar trade that prompted the transition from Indian to African slaves" (Klein and Vison, Pg. 46). Richard Follett explains in his book Sugar Master’s Planters and Slaves in Louisiana Cane World, 1820-1860, “The slaves conducted all the work of skilled labourers” (Pg. 3) and moved along the fields in military style. Follett’s details of the sugar plantation owners viewing slavery as an “organic institution” revealing the sugar masters as the hierarchy above all the plantation slaves (Follett, Pg. 4). Within the sugar fields sexual orientation of the slaves was of no concern to the sugar master. Both male and female worked equal labor jobs in the sugar fields with the use of “supervised “gangs” for routinized tasks” (Klein and Vinson, Pg. 63). The sugar plantations required both “skilled and semiskilled slave labor” (Davis, Pg. 108), working extreme hours and days upon days making for danger of accidents in the field and “Boyling Houses” (Davis, Pg. 109). The fact that sugar “became one of the first luxuries consumed by the masses in Western societies (along with slaved produced coffee, tobacco and eventually chocolate), it also became the principal incentive for transporting millions of Africans to the New World.” (Davis, Pg. 107). The demand for sugarcane and sugar production, in many ways, shaped the exploitation of slave ships and the Atlantic Slave System (Davis, Pg. 104).

Whipping Slaves, Cuba, 1868 Source: Harper's Weekly (Nov. 28, 1868) vol.12, p. 753 (front page). (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library),%20Rebellion,%20Running%20Away&theRecord=23&rec

The trading and selling of slaves was just the beginning of so many insults that those enslaved would encounter. Many of them were separated from their families, sold and never to be seen again. Out of those sold it was not uncommon for the sold slave to be “stripped and whipped, or raped, or sometimes even killed at the whim of an owner” (Davis, Pg.37). Many of slaves not only encounter the physical labor and abuse, but somewhere faced with the mental abuse and scares that haunted them. Davis talks of the “psychological curse” (Pg. 102) that African Americans have dealt with for over 200 hundred years; struggling with acceptance or internalizing the identity that they have been labeled with (Davis, Pg. 102). Yet, the planters, the masters, the overseers, the plantation owners, struggled with an even greater truth, without the owning of a slave, without being in control of an individual’s daily duties, without the intense manual labor of a slave, plantations would not have economically bloomed and the buying and trading of larger labor forces, the slaves, would not have been needed. The existence of plantation economics would have failed.

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Slave house or cabin, U.S. South, 1862-65 Source: Edwin Forbes, Life Studies of the Great Army. A historical work of art, in copper-plate etching . . .illustrating the life of the Union Armies during the years 1862-'3-'4'-5 (New York, E. Forbes, 1876), plate 23 (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library),%20Slave%20Settlements%20and%20Houses&theRecord=79&rec

The slaves houses were simple in design and layout. Many of the plantations equipped their slaves with housing close to the crops. It was outside these walls on the land that surrounded the laborers place to eat and sleep that we find the truth behind the rise and the fall of plantations. It was the demand for slave labor needed to cultivate and harvest the fields of cotton, tobacco, sugar, rice, coffee and other staples grown on large amounts of acreage, which allowed for planters to gain wealth from the production of their plantations. There were changes that came with the emancipation and freedom of slaves. The changes began in 1833 when “both Houses of Parliament passed a bill that emancipated nearly eight hundred thousand colonial slaves on August 1, 1834” (Davis, Pg. 238). It wasn’t long after the passing of the bill in Britain for others to follow with the emancipation of colonial slaves in “Holland (1863), the United States (1865), Spain (1886) and Brazil (1888)” (Davis, Pg. 238). Davis writes on page 242 that “slavery became more valuable to the Atlantic economy because economic growth created a soaring demand for such consumer goods….all of which could be produced much more cheaply by slaves”. It is stated that if the “free-market conditions had prevailed” (Davis, Pg. 244), and “if the flow of African slaves to the New World had increased, labor costs on New World plantations would have fallen, and consumers would have paid much less for sugar, coffee, and cotton goods” (Davis, Pg. 244). The growth of plantation economics grew larger demanding greater enslaved laborers; soon after the emancipation of slavery, plantations declined and economics began to fall. The strength of plantation economics depended on slavery to strive and then to collapse.
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Works Cited

Davis, D. B. (2006). Inhuman Bondage The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Follett, R. (2005, June). Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Lousiana's Cane World 1820-1860. Retrieved from

III, H. S. (2007). African Slavery in Laten America and the Caribbean Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. .

Klein, H. S. (n.d.). the Atlantic Slave Trade Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Moyer, T. S. (n.d.). Ancestors of Worth Life. Retrieved from

Handler,J.S., (2015, January), The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.