Planter (southern states)

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Hampton Plantation, the residence of rice planter Daniel Horry ( McClellanville , South Carolina) built in the 1740s

The planters and plantation owners (ger .: Planters ) formed from the 17th century until the end of the Civil War, the economically and politically powerful social group in the southern states of the United States . The basis of their influence was the wealth they generated on their plantations with products such as tobacco , indigo , sugar cane , rice and cotton , which are in high demand on the international market and which they could produce cheaply through the labor of slaves .


In the 17th century, plantations in the colonies of mainland North America were small-scale farms. Only a few planters had more than one or two workers or slaves during this time, they still worked their fields together with them. The women and children of the planters also worked. It was only when the Atlantic slave trade brought large numbers of African slaves to the North American mainland in the late 17th century that the planters could no longer work in the fields themselves, but instead employ overseers - sometimes administrators - to do the work of the Monitored slaves.

The economic and thus social success of a planter depended fundamentally on whether he succeeded in assembling and controlling a workforce (made up of slaves, overseers and possibly administrators) that was up to the demands of production.


Most important agricultural products in the southern states 1860

In the Deep South , from the late 18th century onwards, the planters displaced the settlers who had cleared forests and prairies there, and expanded their possessions and influence ever further. Even there, however, almost a third of the cotton was initially not produced on large plantations but on medium-sized farms. Although they controlled about 40% of the region's slaves, the owners of such medium-sized businesses rarely rose to the social class of planters.

Even the richest planters did not create large plantations on which thousands of slaves lived, but rather controlled extensive networks of medium-sized individual holdings - plantations, factories, and the like - that occasionally spanned several states.

Strategies of staying in power

In order to maintain their position at the top of society, the planters employed a variety of strategies, such as: B. strict distancing from all persons who did not belong to this group, as well as strategic marriages, business partnerships and political alliances through which a small number of families confirmed each other as the social elite.

Compared to the competition from medium-sized cotton growers, with whom they had to share the market in the deep south, for example, the planters prevailed by always securing the most fertile cultivation areas for themselves from the start.

The planters not only expanded their plantations, but also their social influence. In the deep south in particular, they secured political power by electing governors exclusively from among their own class. Slaveholders populated the legislative bodies of the southern states and territories, the courts and the sheriff's offices.

Lifestyle and ideology

Many wealthy planters also affirmed their claim to top social positions by demonstratively leading a lifestyle that was reserved for the nobility in Europe and that amazed and astonished those around them. Their plantations often became the focus of small empires, which included not only farmland and numerous satellite plantations, but also mills, foundries, weaving mills and other factories in which their own products were processed. The planters acted like British gentlemen and developed a culture of socializing as well as taking responsibility.

To the same extent that they fortified their power and more and more people depended on them, the planters no longer regarded themselves as masters of their slaves and servants. They began to develop the ideology of a paternalistic society in which all social relationships were defined by difference and authority and in which they themselves were the movers of all things. This ideology was formulated in a concept of the family : The planters claimed to be patres familias , benevolent patriarchs who demanded absolute obedience and recognition as masters for the benefit of their extended “family”, which also included the slaves . In return, they asserted that they had a fatherly interest in their slaves and granted them Christmas presents and monthly "rations" allocations. They often complained about the weight of their heavy responsibility. This ideology continued to develop over the course of 200 years, but reached its heyday in the mid-19th century, when the institution of slavery began to become fragile from within and was increasingly called into question from outside by abolitionism .

With increasing wealth, many planters fled life on the plantation and spent most of the year, especially the summer malaria season, in a city residence. In cities such as Charleston and later in Beaufort , Georgetown , Savannah , Darien and Wilmington , predominantly white cities , their villas were built in large numbers. During the absence of the planter monitored managers ( stewards ) and supervisors ( overseers ) the life and production on the plantation. But even the "Big House" - the representative plantation house of the rich planters, which was often modeled after an English country residence - was not in the immediate vicinity of the slaves' accommodation. Apart from a few "favorites" and possibly troublemakers, the majority of their slaves formed an anonymous mass for them.

In the borderlands of the deep south and the west, the lifestyle of the planters in the first decades of the 19th century was still much more modest than in the northeast. These planters, whose plantations were still under construction, needed all available labor - women and men - in the fields; they often only employed children in their households. There was also a lack of women of European descent who could have married these planters, and some of them lived with an African-American partner semi-officially and with the tolerance of regional society. The most prominent example of such a partnership is Richard M. Johnson , who moved with his black partner Julia Chinn from Kentucky to Washington, DC in 1837 to take up the office of Vice President . As the slave-holding society established itself, however, white planters in the Deep South also saw themselves forced to conceal their coexistence with an African-American partner.

After the plantation economy had stabilized there, however, an oligarchy of planters also emerged in the Deep South, whose land holdings grew steadily and who increasingly displaced their competition. The most influential planters owned plantations in several states or ruled over family empires in which sons and sons-in-law ran a network of plantations. These "grandees", who in individual cases controlled hundreds or even thousands of slaves, appeared like members of the European nobility and mostly did not live on their plantations at all, but on urban residences, which enabled them to enjoy a sociable and urban lifestyle. At the same time, they also took on political leadership through functions such as governors, senators, members of parliament or judges. Four of the first six US presidents, including George Washington, came from the Virginia planter aristocracy.

By the 19th century at the latest, the majority of planters were firmly convinced that the institution of slavery served not only their personal gain, but also that of the slaves. The lack of freedom of blacks is more or less their natural and natural state. As a result, they perceived the existence of free African-Americans as a question and a threat, which they tried to counteract by exercising their influence on legislation and the like. a. used to make the release of slaves more and more difficult.

Well-known and important examples

See also


  • Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eugene D. Genovese: The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 978-0-5216-1562-4 .
  • James L. Huston: British Gentry, the Southern Planter, and the Northern Family Farmer. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 2015, ISBN 978-0-8071-5919-4 .
  • Daniel Kilbride: An American Aristocracy: Southern Planters in Antebellum Philadelphia , University of South Carolina Press, 2006, ISBN 157003656X .
  • Rachel N. Klein: Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808 , The University of North Carolina Press, 1992, ISBN 0807843695 .
  • Charlene M. Boyer Lewis: Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860 , University of Virginia Press, 2001, ISBN 0813920809 .
  • James Oakes: The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders , WW Norton & Company, 1998, ISBN 0393317056 .
  • William Kauffman Scarborouth: Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century South , Louisiana State University Press, 2003, ISBN 0807128821 .
  • Richard Waterhouse: A New World Gentry: The Making of a Merchant and Planter Class in South Carolina, 1670-1770 , The History Press, 2005, ISBN 1596290404 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ira Berlin: Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves , Cambridge, London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-674-01061-2 , pp. 63f
  2. Berlin, p. 147
  3. Berlin, p. 165
  4. Berlin, p. 215
  5. Berlin, p. 62
  6. Berlin, p. 165
  7. Berlin, pp. 62, 165
  8. Berlin, pp. 62f, 147
  9. Berlin, pp. 62f, 147, 204f
  10. Berlin, pp. 75-77
  11. Berlin, pp. 178-182
  12. Berlin, p. 199; Forbidden love
  13. Berlin, p. 196f
  14. Berlin, p. 200
  15. Crops at Monticello ( Memento of the original from October 11, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  16. ^ Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: American Negro Slavery , p. 249