A Large Cotton Plantation 1860

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Map Code: Ax01983

By 1860, cotton plantations dominated the South and relied on slave-labour for high yields. Eyewitness accounts of life on the cotton plantations paint a picture of a brutal environment. Former slave, James William, recorded that the cotton plantations were so feared, slaves would ‘commit suicide on account’ of being sold to planation-owners. Large cotton plantations started at 600 acres, with the largest between 3,000-4,000 acres. The slaves worked in gangs and spent 18 hours a day in extreme heat and humidity, planting, weeding or picking cotton. They moved in unison, with the fastest pickers or hoers leading the gang. There were few breaks and ‘stragglers’ were flogged by overseers on horseback. The largest plantations had a warehouse, bailing shed, stables and basic slave quarters, often dormitories, meant for eating and sleeping. House slaves tended to have their own houses or lived in the main house, which often had a façade of Doric columns, in the Greek revivalist style.

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