Plantation economy

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A plantation economy is an economy based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few commodity crops grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income. Prominent crops included cotton, rubber, sugar cane, tobacco, figs, rice, kapok, sisal, and species in the genus Indigofera , used to produce indigo dye.

Mass production production of large amounts of standardized products

Mass production, also known as flow production or continuous production, is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines. Together with job production and batch production, it is one of the three main production methods.

Commodity marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs

In economics, a commodity is an economic good or service that has full or substantial fungibility: that is, the market treats instances of the good as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them. Most commodities are raw materials, basic resources, agricultural, or mining products, such as iron ore, sugar, or grains like rice and wheat. Commodities can also be mass-produced unspecialized products such as chemicals and computer memory.

Plantation long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale

A plantation is the large-scale estate meant for farming that specializes in cash crops. The crops that are grown include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil seeds, oil palms, rubber trees, and fruits. Protectionist policies and natural comparative advantage have sometimes contributed to determining where plantations were located.


The longer a crop's harvest period, the more efficient plantations become. Economies of scale are also achieved when the distance to market is long. Plantation crops usually need processing immediately after harvesting. Sugarcane, tea, sisal, and palm oil are most suited to plantations, while coconuts, rubber, and cotton are suitable to a lesser extent. [1]

Harvest process of gathering mature crops from the fields

Harvesting is the process of gathering a ripe crop from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labor-intensive activity of the growing season. On large mechanized farms, harvesting utilizes the most expensive and sophisticated farm machinery, such as the combine harvester. Process automation has increased the efficiency of both the seeding and harvesting process. Specialized harvesting equipment utilizing conveyor belts to mimic gentle gripping and mass transport replaces the manual task of removing each seedling by hand. The term "harvesting" in general usage may include immediate postharvest handling, including cleaning, sorting, packing, and cooling.

Economies of scale the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to size, throughput, or scale of operation, with cost per unit of output generally decreasing with increasing scale as fixed costs are spread out over more units of output

In microeconomics, economies of scale are the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to their scale of operation, with cost per unit of output decreasing with increasing scale.

Tea drink made from infusing boiling water with the leaves of the tea plant

Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub (bush) native to East Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. There are many different types of tea; some, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral or grassy notes.

North American plantations

In the Thirteen Colonies, plantations were concentrated in the South. These colonies included Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. They had good soil and almost year-round growing seasons, ideal for crops such as rice and tobacco. The existence of many waterways in the region made transportation easier. Each colony specialized in one or two crops, with Virginia standing out in tobacco production [2]

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.

Soil mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth's body of soil, called the pedosphere, has four important functions:

Rice cereal grain and seed of Oryza sativa

Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima. As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia. It is the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize.


Sugar plantation in the British colony of Antigua, 1823 Slaves cutting the sugar cane - Ten Views in the Island of Antigua (1823), plate IV - BL.jpg
Sugar plantation in the British colony of Antigua, 1823

Planters embraced the use of slaves mainly because indentured labor became expensive. Some indentured servants were also leaving to start their own farms as land was widely available. Colonists tried to use Native Americans for labor, but they were susceptible to European diseases and died in large numbers. The plantation owners then turned to enslaved Africans for labor. In 1665, there were fewer than 500 Africans in Virginia but by 1750, 85 percent of the 235,000 slaves lived in the Southern colonies, Virginia included. Africans made up 40 percent of the South’s population. [3]

Slavery System under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalised, de jure slavery. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as unfree labour or forced labour to refer to such situations. However, and especially under slavery in broader senses of the word, slaves may have some rights and protections according to laws or customs.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

According to the 1840 United States Census, one out of every four families in Virginia owned slaves. There were over 100 plantation owners who owned over 100 slaves. [4] The number of slaves in the 15 States was just shy of 4 million in a total population 12.4 million and the percentage was 32% of the population.

1840 United States Census National census

The United States Census of 1840 was the sixth census of the United States. Conducted by the Census Office on June 1, 1840, it determined the resident population of the United States to be 17,069,453 — an increase of 32.7 percent over the 12,866,020 persons enumerated during the 1830 Census. The total population included 2,487,355 slaves. In 1840, the center of population was about 260 miles (418 km) west of Washington, near Weston, Virginia.

Fewer than one-third of Southern families owned slaves at the peak of slavery prior to the Civil War. In Mississippi and South Carolina the figure approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free African Americans), amounting to approximately 3.8% of the Southern and Border states population.

Mississippi State of the United States of America

Mississippi is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Mississippi is the 32nd most extensive and 34th most populous of the 50 United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Alabama to the east, the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana to the south, and Arkansas and Louisiana to the west. The state's western boundary is largely defined by the Mississippi River. Jackson, with a population of approximately 167,000 people, is both the state's capital and largest city.

South Carolina State of the United States of America

South Carolina is a state in the Southeastern United States and the easternmost of the Deep South. It is bordered to the north by North Carolina, to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the southwest by Georgia across the Savannah River.

Louisiana State of the United States of America

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South region of the South Central United States. It is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. A large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties. The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans.

Tobacco field Tobacco.jpg
Tobacco field

On a plantation with more than 100 slaves, the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and farming implements.

Atlantic slave trade

Enslaved Africans were brought from Africa by the English and other European powers, for their Western Hemisphere colonies. They were shipped from ports in West Africa to the New World. The journey from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean was called "the middle passage", and was one of the three legs which comprised the [trade] among the continents of Europe, the Americas, and Africa.

By some estimates, it is said that some ten million Africans were brought to the Americas. Only about 6% ended up in the North American colonies, while the majority were taken to the Caribbean colonies and South America. A reason many did not make it to the colonies at all was disease and illness. Underneath the slave ship's decks, Africans were held chest-to-chest and could not do much moving. There was waste and urine throughout the hold; this caused the captives to get sick and to die from illnesses that could not be cured. [5]

As the plantation economy expanded, the slave trade grew to meet the growing demand for labor.

Industrial Revolution in Europe

Western Europe was the final destination for the plantation produce. At this time, Europe was starting to industrialize, and it needed a lot of materials to manufacture goods. Being the power center of the world at the time, they exploited the New World and Africa to industrialize. Africa supplied slaves for the plantations; the New World produced raw material for industries in Europe. Manufactured goods, of higher value, were then sold both to Africa and the New World. The system was largely run by European merchants [6]

Sugar plantations

Sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico, 1941 Sugar cane workers resting 1a34016v.jpg
Sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico, 1941

Sugar has a long history as a plantation crop. Cultivation of sugar had to follow a precise scientific system to profit from the production. Sugar plantations everywhere were disproportionate consumers of labor, often enslaved, because of the high mortality of the plantation laborers. In Brazil, plantations were called casas grandes and suffered from similar issues.

The slaves working the sugar plantation were caught in an unceasing rhythm of arduous labor year after year. Sugarcane is harvested about 18 months after planting and the plantations usually divided their land for efficiency. One plot was lying fallow, one plot was growing cane, and the final plot was being harvested. During the December–May rainy season, slaves planted, fertilized with animal dung, and weeded. From January to June, they harvested the cane by chopping the plants off close to the ground, stripping the leaves and then cutting them into shorter strips to be bundled off to be sent to the sugar cane mill.

In the mill, the cane was crushed using a three-roller mill. The juice from the crushing of the cane was then boiled or clarified until it crystallized into sugar. Some plantations also went a step further and distilled the molasses, the liquid left after the sugar is boiled or clarified, to make rum. The sugar was then shipped back to Europe. For the slave laborer, the routine started all over again.

With the 19th-century abolition of slavery, plantations continued to grow sugar cane, but sugar beets, which can be grown in temperate climates, increased their share of the sugar market.

Indigo plantations

Indigofera was a major crop cultivated during the 18th century, in Venezuela, Guatemala—and Haiti until the slave rebellion against France that left them embargoed by Europe and India in the 19th and 20th centuries. The indigo crop was grown for making blue indigo dye in the pre-industrial age.

Mahatma Gandhi's investigation of indigo workers' claims of exploitation led to the passage of the Champaran Agrarian Bill in 1917 by the British colonial government.


The currency for the Georgia colony was the Pound sterling, a gold coin or very light green bill with the national pound symbol. The currency is worth about one and one half U.S. dollar.

The currency for the New York was at the time of the colony the New York pound. This currency was primarily used and made in the 1700s.

See also

Related Research Articles

Atlantic slave trade Slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean between the 16th and 19th centuries

The Atlantic slave trade or transatlantic slave trade involved the transportation by slave traders of enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade regularly used the triangular trade route and its Middle Passage, and existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported in the transatlantic slave trade were people from central and western Africa, who had been sold by other West Africans to Western European slave traders, who brought them to the Americas. The South Atlantic and Caribbean economies especially were dependent on the supply of secure labour for the production of commodity crops, making goods and clothing to sell in Europe. This was crucial to those western European countries which, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, were vying with each other to create overseas empires.

Slavery in the colonial United States

Slavery in the colonial area which later became the United States (1600–1776) developed from complex factors, and researchers have proposed several theories to explain the development of the institution of slavery and of the slave trade. Slavery strongly correlated with Europe's American colonies' need for labor, especially for the labor-intensive plantation economies of the sugar colonies in the Caribbean, operated by Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic.

Sugar plantations in the Caribbean

Sugar was the main crop produced on plantations throughout the Caribbean in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Most islands were covered with sugar cane fields, and mills for refining it. The main source of labor, until the abolition of chattel slavery, was enslaved Africans. After the abolition of slavery, indentured laborers from India, China, and Java migrated to the Caribbean to mostly work on the sugar plantations. These plantations produced 80 to 90 percent of the sugar consumed in Western Europe.

Plantation (settlement or colony) method of colonization in which settlers were "planted" abroad to establish a colonial base

Plantation was an early method of colonisation where settlers went in order to establish a permanent or semi-permanent colonial base, for example for planting tobacco or cotton. Such plantations were also frequently intended to promote Western culture and Christianity among nearby indigenous peoples, as can be seen in the early East-Coast plantations in America. Although the term "planter" to refer to a settler first appears as early as the 16th-century, the earliest true colonial plantation is usually agreed to be that of the Plantations of Ireland.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean refers to slavery in the parts of the Caribbean dominated by France or the British Empire.

Slavery in the Spanish New World colonies

Slavery in the Spanish American colonies was an economic and social institution central to the operation of the Spanish Empire – it bound Africans and indigenous people to a relationship of colonial exploitation. Spanish colonists provided the Americas with a colonial precedent for slavery; however, early on opposition from the enslaved Indians and influential Spaniards moved the Crown to limit the bondage of indigenous people, and initiated debates that challenged the idea of slavery based on race. Spaniards regarded some indigenous people as tribute under the encomienda system during the late 1400s and part of the 1500s.

The Antebellum era was a period in the history of the Southern United States, from the late 18th century until the start of the American Civil War in 1861, marked by the economic growth of the South.

The domestic slave trade, also known as the Second Middle Passage and the interregional slave trade, was the term for the domestic trade of slaves within the United States that reallocated slaves across states during the antebellum period. It was most significant in the early to mid-19th century, when historians estimate one million slaves were taken in a forced migration from the Upper South: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, to the territories and newly admitted states of the Deep South and the West Territories: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.

History of slavery

The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. However the social, economic, and legal positions of slaves have differed vastly in different systems of slavery in different times and places.

Female slavery in the United States Historic overview of women slaves in the USA

The institution of slavery in North America existed from the earliest years of the colonial period until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolished slavery throughout the entire United States. It was also abolished among the sovereign Indian tribes in Indian Territory by new peace treaties which the US required after the war.

History of slavery in Kentucky

The history of slavery in Kentucky dates from the earliest permanent European settlements in the state, until the end of the Civil War. Kentucky was classified as the Upper South or a Border state, and enslaved African Americans represented up to 25% of the population before the Civil War, concentrated in the cities of Louisville and Lexington, both in the fertile Bluegrass Region, a center of tobacco plantations and horse farms.

History of commercial tobacco in the United States

The history of commercial tobacco production in the United States dates back to the 17th century when the first commercial crop was planted. The industry originated in the production of tobacco for pipes and snuff. Different war efforts in the world created a shift in demand and production of tobacco in the world and the American colonies. With the onset of the American Revolution trade with the colonies was interrupted which shifted trade to other countries in the world. During this shift there was an increase in demand for tobacco in the United States, where the demand for tobacco in the form of cigars and chewing tobacco increased. Other wars, such as the War of 1812 would introduce the Andalusian cigarette to the rest of Europe. This, accompanied with the American Civil War changed the production of tobacco in America to the manufactured cigarette.

During the British colonization of North America, the Thirteen Colonies provided England with much needed money and resources. However, the culture of the Southern and Chesapeake Colonies was different from that of the Northern and Middle Colonies and from that of their common British colonial power.

Tobacco in the American colonies

Tobacco cultivation and exports formed an essential component of the American colonial economy. During the Civil War, they were distinct from other cash crops in terms of agricultural demands, trade, slave labor, and plantation culture. Many influential American revolutionaries, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, owned tobacco plantations, and were financially devastated by debt to British tobacco merchants shortly before the American Revolution.

History of slavery in Maryland

Slavery in Maryland lasted around 200 years, from its beginnings in 1642 when the first Africans were brought as slaves to St. Mary's City, Maryland, to then ways similar to neighboring Virginia. The early settlements and population centers of the province tended to cluster around the rivers and other waterways that empty into the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland planters cultivated tobacco as the chief commodity crop, as the market was strong in Europe. Tobacco was labor-intensive in both cultivation and processing, and planters struggled to manage workers as tobacco prices declined in the late 17th century, even as farms became larger and more efficient. At first, indentured servants from England supplied much of the necessary labor but, as their economy improved at home, fewer made passage to the colonies. Maryland colonists turned to importing indentured and enslaved Africans to satisfy the labor demand.

Plantations in the American South aspect of the history of the American South

Plantations are an important aspect of the history of the American South, particularly the antebellum era. The mild subtropical climate, plentiful rainfall, and fertile soils of the southeastern United States allowed the flourishing of large plantations, where large numbers of workers, usually Africans held captive for slave labor, were required for agricultural production.

Afro-Barbadians or African or Black Barbadians, are Barbadians of entirely or predominantly African descent.

Indian slave trade in the American Southeast

Native Americans living in the American Southeast were enslaved through warfare and purchased by English and French colonists throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, as well as held captive through Spanish-organized forced labor regimes in Florida. Emerging colonies in Virginia, Carolina, and Georgia imported Native Americans and incorporated them into chattel slavery systems, where they intermixed with slaves of African descent, who would come outnumber them. Their demand for slaves affected communities as far west as present-day Illinois and the Mississippi River and as far south as the Gulf Coast. The trade in enslaved Native Americans sent tens of thousands of them outside the region to New England and the Caribbean as a profitable export.

Planter class

The planter class, known alternatively in the United States as the Southern aristocracy, was a socio-economic caste of Pan-American society that dominated seventeenth- and eighteenth-century agricultural markets through the forced labor of enslaved Africans. The Atlantic slave trade permitted planters access to inexpensive labor for the planting and harvesting of crops such as tobacco, cotton, indigo, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil seeds, oil palms,hemp, rubber trees, and fruits.


  1. Jeffery Paige, Agrarian Revolution, 1975.
  2. The Southern Colonies:Plantations and Slavery, by Kalpesh Khanna Kapurtalawla
  3. The Southern Colonies: Plantations and Slavery
  4. "PBS The Slaves' Story" . Retrieved 2006-03-24.
  5. Stephen Behrendt (1999). "Transatlantic Slave Trade". Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience
  6. The Abolition Project,, accessed 3-26-2013