The Agrarian South

November 1, 2012

“For almost three hundred years, agriculture was the major livelihood of most residents of the American South, and the rural lifestyle was the shared experience that tied together a region that rivals most countries in size. The defining institutions of this agrarian tradition were the plantation and the small farm. The first plantations were established around Jamestown in the Virginia Colony in the early 1600s. The labor of choice was indentured servants imported from England, and the crop of choice was tobacco. Later, slaves would replace servants, and still later, in Virginia and across the South, sharecroppers would replace slaves. Rice, sugar, and “King Cotton” would join tobacco as major plantation crops in the region. While plantations eventually could be found from Virginia to Texas, they were numerous only in the areas with the richest, most fertile land, areas like the Tidewater of Virginia, the Low Country of South Carolina, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, and the Black Belt of Alabama. Even so, the plantation would dominate the Southern economy and dictate the course of Southern history until technology, migration, industrial development, and policies implemented by the federal government would finally bring to an end the plantation era in the decades after World War II.”

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