Plantation Life

Life in the Antebellum South

19th Century South Carolina

During colonial times, agriculture was the basis of society in SC. The headright system and slavery contributed to the creation of large plantations. In the 19th Century, SC had the highest percentage of slave owners in the U.S. Even with the high percentage of slavery, most of the population was living on subsistence farms. This meant nos had no slaves. Most of the slave owners had few slaves. Even fewer slave owners owned large plantations. The economics of SC was based on slavery.


In 1798, Eli Whitney's creation of the cotton gin brought South Carolina a new cash crop, cotton. Cotton production caused a greater dependence on slave labor. Cotton was planted in the Up Country, which finally brought slavery to the region.

Slave Treatment, Quarters, Religion, and Life

House slaves cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and raised their masters' children. Because of financial investment, some slave owners treated their slaves well. Other slave owners were cruel in their treatment. Despite either for of treatment, slaves were denied their freedom and were required to work long hours. Slaves had little time to be with their own families. Slaves were provided with minimal food, clothing, and shelter by their masters. Slave marriages were not recognized, which led to some families being broken apart. Slaves were not allowed to learn how to read or write.

Slave Treatment, Quarters, Religion, and Life Continued

Slaves lived in small cabins with dirt floors near the plantation property. They were kept under the watchful eye of their masters so they would not run away. Slaves who left the plantations legally had to carry a pass. Patrols were constantly on the look out for runaway slaves. Runaways were punished harshly when captured. Slave revolts were few. Slaves did protest privately during down time on their master's property. Many slaves faked illness to get out of work. Despite being separated from their family, they did create extended family. Slaves also found peace in religion. Many slaves converted to Christianity. Slaves attended white controlled churches which told them they should be content with their place in life. Some slaves formed secret pray meetings where freedom was emphasized.

Plantation Politics

The Plantation System dominated SC society and politics. The strict class system within the state was based on slavery. The planter elite enjoyed great wealth, social standing and political influence.