Life in the Cotton Kingdom

The Rise of Cotton in the South, The Domestic Slave
Trade, and The Life of Slaves in the South
The Expansion of Slavery
The invention of the cotton gin, by Eli Whitney, in 1793 paved the way for the expansion
of cotton kingdoms in the South.
Slavery also expanded rapidly and necessary to clear
the forests and drain the swamps in the South to cultivate
new lands for cotton crops.
Native Americans were effected by this expansion, and
the Indian Removal Act of 1830 led to the Cherokee,
Seminole, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw (as well as
other tribes) being moved to “Indian Territory,” in OK.
The Cherokee also utilized slaves in OK, and the
economy they created there resulted in 7,000 slaves by
1860 (14% of the population).
How Stuff Works: The Cotton Gin
Slave Population Growth
The slave population exploded during the years
between 1790 and 1860, from 700,000 to 4
Some areas in the South did not have such large
populations of slaves such as western NC, eastern
TN, western VA, and MO.
The cotton producing states of AL and MS had
large areas of population growth.
VA had the largest slave population during this
By 1860, MS became a state (like SC) that had
more slave inhabitants then free.
Ownership of Slaves in the Old South
Slaveholders in the south were also distributed unevenly, and were actually declining in
number. In 1830, 36% of white southerners owned slaves and this percent dropped to
5% in 1860.
50% of slaveholders owned fewer than 5 slaves.
12% owned more than 20 slaves.
1% owned more than 50 slaves.
More than 50% of slaves belonged to masters with 20
or more slaves, therefore the typical slave in the south
was from a large plantation.
Freed blacks in the south purchased slaves for two
1) To protect their families from sale and disruption
since manumission was becoming rare.
2) Financial gain, since some free blacks had
successful businesses and inherited plantations.
Slave Labor in Agriculture: Tobacco
Tobacco was an important crop in VA, MA, KY, and parts of MO & NC during the
Tobacco was a difficult crop to produce since it
took longer growing seasons and was susceptible
to worm infestation.
Slaves would be punished if they did not
effectively de-worm the crop and punishment
included beatings, eating the worms, and forced
inhalation of massive amounts of tobacco smoke.
Slave Labor in Agriculture: Rice
Rice production remained confined to the low country of SC and GA. It did not spread
like tobacco and cotton production.
Rice plantations worked off the
“task” system and slaves enjoyed
some autonomy.
Slaves had to maintain the
irrigation systems on rice
plantations to flood fields.
Since rice production was labor
intensive, it required large labor
forces to cultivate this crop. The
only plantation employing over
1,000 slaves was in these
Slave Labor in Agriculture: Sugar
Sugar was not grown widely in the U.S., but regions along the Mississippi River and in
southern Louisiana began growing sugar cane in the late 18th century.
Slaves were worked hard on these
plantations due to the profitability of sugar,
along with the labor intensive process
involved in refining sugar.
Work on these plantations was hot and hectic,
and many slaves feared being sent to the
sugar plantations the most.
Slave Labor in Agriculture: Cotton
Cotton became the South’s (and U.S.’s) staple crop during this time period, and by
1860 had amounted to more than 50% of the trade value.
The most slaves in the south were employed in the production of cotton even though the
cultivation of the crop didn’t require as much labor as rice, sugar or tobacco.
By 1860, out of the 2.5 million slaves,
1.8 million produced cotton.
Britain and New England drove this
demand for cotton with their textile mills,
and the cotton gin aided in speedy
The rise of cotton also led to the rise in
price for slaves. In 1830, adult males
would cost $1,250 ($21,000) and by
1850 this rose to $1,800 ($33,000)
Slave Labor in Agriculture: Other Crops
Slaves in the Old South also produced a variety of other crops such as; hemp, corn,
wheat, oats, rye, white and sweet potatoes.
They also raise cattle, hogs, sheep and horses.
Wheat replaced tobacco as the main cash crop in the Chesapeake region and hemp
was the main crop of KY.
House Servants & Skilled Slaves
House servants were utilized by masters to act as cooks, maids, butlers, nurses, and
Although they enjoyed better food, clothing, and conditions, they were also monitored
more closely and cut off from the slave quarters
Skilled slaves were the “elite,” and held jobs
such as blacksmiths, carpenters, and millrights.
They also had freedom to travel since they
would commonly have to go into towns/cities for
tools and parts.
Since these slaves worked for money, many
became independent contractors, but more often
the masters would keep their earnings.
Urban & Industrial Slavery
Urban slaves served as domestics, washwomen, waiters, artisans, and other jobs in the
cities of the south. Baltimore and New Orleans became the major areas where they
would reside.
“Term slavery,” became a commonality in these
urban areas, and slaves would purchase their
freedom over a set number of years. Many would
remain employed by their previous masters.
Industrial slavery accounted for 5% of
southern slaves (appx. 200,000), and
they worked in textile mills
Slaves worked for lumber yards, salt
works, and chemical works.
Industrial slaves were usually “rented,” and
would receive some cash as an incentive.
Slave labor by definition is forced labor based
on the threat of physical punishment.
Masters denied that the punishment of slaves was
immoral and used the bible as a justification as to
the use of corporal punishment against servants.
Whipping was a common punishment, and slaves
still found ways to resist without having to fear
Slaves used covert methods of resistance to avoid
the whip, but very few slaves escaped being
whipped at least once in their lives.
The Domestic Slave Trade
The expansion of the cotton production to the south
and west combined with the decline of slavery in
the Chesapeake region and this led to the rise of
the domestic slave trade.
New Orleans was one of the biggest slave markets
of the time, and this trade accounted for 150,000
slaves sold every 10yrs starting in 1820.
By 1860, 50% of slaves from the upper south moved involuntarily to the southwest. These
groups were moved on foot in groups chained together (called coffles). They were also
moved by ship and later by railroad.
The domestic slave trade showed the cruelty of the institution since masters intentionally tore
families apart with the punishment of being “sold down river,” for personal profit and gain.
After being freed, many former slaves tried to seek out the families they had been torn
away from.
Slave Families
Slave families struggled to remain intact since they had no legal standing and
marriages between men and women was not seen as legitimate.
Families, however, remained the core of
the African American community.
Slave couples would live together in
cabins on the masters property.
If the couple were belonging to different
masters, then the children would stay with
the mother and the father would make
Children in the slave family would be taught from early on how to survive as a slave,
as well as the importance of an extended family.
Slaves knew that the family could be broken up and that it would take the
grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to keep the family together. This also
allowed for a sense of their own heritage to remain.
The infant mortality rate was extremely high due
to stress during pregnancy and dietary issues.
50% of slave children died before the age of 5.
Mother’s were not given adequate time to nurse
their children, and this too led to deaths.
Childhood was short since many children
witnessed the horrors of slavery, and were also
put on light chore duty starting at 6. By age 12,
they were doing the work of an adult.
Sexual Exploitation
Sexual exploitation of female slaves was common and
had been occurring since the early years of the slave
trade. Abuse during the Middle Passage and long term
relationships between masters and slaves were
The most famous affair was between Thomas Jefferson
and Sally Hemings. Hemings was 14 when Jefferson
was 42, and she allowed for the relationship due to her
status and that of her children.
Forced sexual relations were justified by slave owners
by accusations that black women were promiscuous,
while others argued that this reduced prostitution and
led to more purity among white women.
Although the weekly ration on a plantation was enough to maintain a slaves weight,
modern medical science has shown that their diet was deficient in calcium, vitamin C,
riboflavin, protein and iron.
This inadequacies led to many slaves suffering from chronic illnesses due to their
stressful work conditions and diet.
A distinct cuisine was developed in the
south and African Americans utilized
West African traditional recipes using
yams, okra, benne seeds and peanuts.
Cooking also gave a sense of control
to black women, as well as allowing
for creativity.
Slaves had little choice over their clothing, and they were allotted clothing twice a year.
Once in the fall and once in the spring.
Men wore cotton shirts and breeches in the spring, and in
the winter they wore a jacket and wool cap.
Women wore cotton shifts and a handkerchief in the
spring, and jackets in the winter.
Children generally went
nude in the spring.
Low birth weight, diet, and clothing all affected the health
of slaves.
Overwork and the hot climate of the south also contributed
to poor health.
Mosquito-borne diseases, European diseases and African
diseases all contributed to poor health.
Also, African Americans suffered from lactose intolerance
and a lack of vitamin D. This led to several fatal diseases.
The Southern blacks population was the only in the Americas
that grew through natural reproduction.
By the 1830’s, conditions were improved on plantations
leading to improved health.
Folk remedies were also used by blacks and many times
these were more effective then 19th century medicine.
The Socialization of Slaves
Folk tales became a means of educating other African
Americans with skills to protect themselves and their
loved ones.
Briar Rabbit uses wits to overcome threats from powerful
antagonists such as the briar fox.
They also learned to watch what they said to white
people and about other African Americans.
They also learned to hide their knowledge of
antislavery sentiments and this made masters view their
subtle resistance as black stupidity rather then defiance.
Religion was also a means for slaves to cope with
their condition.
Plantation churches utilized white ministers that
would tell the slaves that they needed to obey their
masters as they did God.
Many slaves formed semisecret black churches.
 These
churches emphasized Moses and deliverance
from bondage, rather than the master servant
The Character of Slavery & Slaves
Slavery was portrayed in many ways throughout the
The early 20th century view argued that slavery in the South
was benign and a paternalistic institution.
 Later, historians viewed this institution in a more realistic
manner. Slaves were used for profit, treated cruelly, and
separated from their families.
Slavery in the North America differed greatly from that
in South America.
Roman Catholic religion and laws in South America led to a
less abusive and racist system of slavery, and slaves were
more protected in Latin America.
The Character of Slavery & Slaves
The early argument about the character of slaves also
differed from later arguments:
In the early 20th century, it was argued that slaves were
predisposed to being subservient.
 Later, historians argued that the concentration camp-like
conditions merely forced slaves to be dependent on their
masters and not mature fully.
The latter arguments made have been widely accepted
and better explain slave life and the formation of black
communities and institutions.
Resistance forced slave masters to accept the blacks work
level and autonomy in the quarters.
 Slavery forced blacks to create their own institutions.
Slavery varied in every region and was due to the
crops being produced.
Black labor was the backbone of the American
economy as the US expanded.
African Americans resisted, persevered, and
developed their own culture and heritage.
HW: 1pg Active Notes Chapter 9 (Due Monday)

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