Land of the Brave

Plantation Farming

Colonial America - Land of the Brave

Plantation Farming
Plantation Farming was a system of agriculture in which large farms in the American colonies used the enforced labor of slaves to plant and harvest cotton, rice, sugar, tobacco and other farm produce for trade and export.

In plantation farming crops were planted on a large scale with usually just one major plant species growing. The system of Plantation farming was based on 'cash crops' in which plants were sold for profits in distant markets and not used for personal use (subsistence farming)on the plantations.

Facts about Plantation Farming
The following facts provide an overview of the advantages and the disadvantages of plantation farming.

Crops were planted on a large scale with usually just one major plant species growing
The economy of plantation farming was based on agricultural mass production requiring a large labor force

The Southern colonies who practised the system of plantation farming were the Maryland Colony, Virginia Colony, North Carolina Colony, South Carolina Colony and the Georgia Colony

Plantation Farming specialized in the growth of just one major plant species

The crops ideally suited to plantation farming in the Southern colonies were cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar cane and indigo (a purple dye)

The mass production of crops required a suitable transport system to transport the goods to market. The waterways of the South provided a natural transport system

The reason that the system of plantation farming sprang up in the South was due to the climate of the regions. Mild winters and hot, humid summers made it possible to grow crops throughout the year which was ideally suited for plantation farming

The difference between plantations and backcountry farms was economies of scale. Small backcountry farms had a small labor force and concentrated on 'subsistence farming', that is most crops were produced for personal use, any surplus was used to trade for goods not produced on the farm. The economy of the plantations was based on a massive labor force and the ability to produce large quantities of cash crops

Plantation farming requires a tropical or subtropical region

Plantation crops were determined by soil. The fertile soil of the Southern colonies was highly suited to the growth of plants used in plantation farming

The sheer size of the land covered made the plantations to large degree, self-sufficient and similar to a small village with the main house, slave quarters, a dairy, blacksmith's shop, laundry, smokehouse and barns

Crops were traded for items that could not be produced on the plantations including shoes, lace, thread, farm tools and dishes

The longer a crop's harvest period, the more efficient was plantation farming

Vast areas of land had to be cleared for planting and crops had to be sewn and harvested by hand - this was only made possible with a large labor force

Cheap labor was essential for the plantations to become profitable. The use of slaves in the Southern colonies was extensive. After the initial cost of purchasing a slave little expenditure was required to support the slaves. The successive generations of slaves born on the slave plantations ensured that their masters gained new employees at no cost

The growing number of slaves over time allowed plantation farming to expand to farm different plantation crops.

Plantation farming in the Southern colonies evolved over 200 years - it did not happen at once. Tobacco was the first crop used in plantation farming in the 1600's. Rice and Indigo Plantations were established in the 1700's. Cotton and Sugar Plantations were not established until the 1800's

The number of slaves in the Colonial Era increased from 10,000 in the 1600's to 400,000 in the 1700's

Plantation farming required minimum input from the owners - overseers were hired to manage the slaves and crop production. The owners of the small farms had to participate in the hard work associated with farming

Typical Plantations ranged from 500 to 1,000 acres. Each acre produced about 5,000 plants

Tobacco: Tobacco was the first crop raised by the system of plantation farming and became the biggest export to England in the 1700's, followed by the exports of rice

Indigo: The cultivation of indigo produced one-third of the total value of the exports from the Southern slave plantations before the Revolutionary War in the 1800's. Indigo was not grown on colonial plantations until Eliza Lucas Pinckney (17221793) developed the indigo plants as an additional cash crop in the late 1700's

The use of slaves kept the costs down on the Slave Plantations - they were not well fed, well housed or well treated. Slaves were sometimes expected to work 18 hours a day. Paid workers would have significantly reduced the profits made from plantation farming

There was limited machinery available to help with the arduous work related to plantation farming - the work was all done by the slaves

Plantation farming involves the deliberate introduction and cultivation of economically desirable species of tropical plants and the widespread replacement of the original native and natural flora.

The labour-intensive system of plantation farming declined abruptly in the United States with the abolition of slavery

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Updated 2018-01-01

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