Chapter 11:

Cotton, Slavery, and the Old South


1)The Cotton Economy

a)The Rise of King Cotton

i)19th century upper South (VA, MD, NC) cultivated tobacco, but unstable prices and exhaustive of soil. By 1830s upper South began to grow wheat, tobacco growing shifted westward. Southern regions of South (SC, GA, FL) continued growing rice, Gulf some sugar—crops limited b/c hard to cultivate

ii)Decline of tobacco in upper South led not to industrialization but growing of short-staple cotton- could grow in difft env’ts, w/ cotton gin now profitable. Demand for cotton growing b/c of rise of textile industry in GB 1820s/30s and New England 1840s/50s—new lands and expansion to meet new demand

iii)Beginning 1820s production of cotton moved westward into Alabama, Mississippi, LA, TX, AK. By 1850s dominated economy

iv)“Lower South”/ “Cotton Kingdom” attracted many seeking profits, also slaves

b)Southern Trade and Industry

i)Business classes and manufacturers unimportant, slow growth + mainly in upper South. Non-farm commercial sectors mainly served needs of plantation economy- brokers who marketed crops, acted as merchants and lenders

ii)Primitive banking system did not allow for structures necessary for industrial development. Inadequate transport system: few roads, canals, nat’l railroads

iii)Some southerners recognized economic subordination to north and advocated for economic independence- New Orlean James De Bow- De Bow’s Review

c)Sources of Southern Difference

i)Despite “colonial dependency” South did little to industrialize b/c agricultural system + cotton so profitable, little incentive to look beyond. Wealthy had already invested much of their capital into land + slaves

ii)Lack of commercial growth also b/c traditional values distinctive to South discouraged cities + industry- elegance, more refined life than rapid growth

2)White Society in The South

a)The Planter Class

i)Majority of ppl didn’t own slaves (only ¼ did), of those small % owned many

ii)Planter aristocracy (those earning 40+ slaves and 800+ acres of land) exercised power and influence greater than their number. Political economic, social control. Saw themselves as aristocracy, though most wealth was recent

iii)Growing crops profitable but as competitive and risky as industry in North

iv)After struggling to reach their position in society they were determined to defend it—perhaps why defense of slavery and South’s “rights” stronger in booming lower South and weaker in more established areas


i)White males adopted code of chivalry that obligated them to defend their “honor”. Ethical ideal and bravery but also public appearance of dignity & authority- anything to challenge dignity or social station a challenge

c)The “Southern Lady”

i)Lives of affluent centered in home, little role in public activities or as wage earners. White men more dominant + women subordinate than in North- solitary farm life w/ no access to “public world” led to main role wife, mother

ii)Less educational opportunities, higher birth rate and infant mortality rate

d)The Plain Folk

i)Typical person not planter + slaveholder but modest yeoman farmer. Mainly subsistence farming- lacked resources for cotton or to expand operations

ii)Little prospect of bettering position b/c southern educational system provided poor whites with little opportunity to learn and therefore advance

iii)Majority excluded from planter society, but opposition to elite limited mainly to “hill” and “backcountry” ppl who were secluded, unconnected to commercial economy, and loyal to whole nation and above sectional fighting

iv)Most nonslave-owning whites lived in middle of plantation system and were tied to it, relied on planters for markets, credit, and linked thru kinship. Also large sense of democracy + political participation gave sense of cnxn to societal order. Cotton boom of 1850s gave them hope of economic betterment

v)Belief that assault on one hierarchical system (slavery) would threaten another hierarchical system (patriarchy)

vi)Even the south’s poorest members (“clay eaters”) who owned no profitable land did not offer great opposition to society—greatest factor binding all classes together was perception of race and members of ruling race

3)Slavery: The “Peculiar Institution”

a)Varieties of Slavery

i)Called “peculiar” by Southerners b/c was distinctive from N., Western world

ii)Slavery regulated by law, slave codes forbade property, congregation, teaching a slave. Anyone suspected w/ trace of African blood defined as black

iii)Despite provisions of law variety within slave system b/c white owners handled most transgressions, conditions. Size of farm, # of slaves varied

iv)Majority of slave-owners small farmers, but majority of slaves lived on medium + large plantations-less intimate owner/slave relationship

b)Life Under Slavery

i)Generally received enough necessities to enable them to live and work; lived in slave quarters. Slaves worked hard, women labored in fields w/ men and had other chores, often single b/c husbands sold away (single parents)

ii)High death rate and less children survived to adulthood than whites

iii)Some say material condition of slavery may have been better than some northern factory workers, less sever than slaves in Caribbean + South Amer. Law preventing slave import incentive to Southern elite to provide some care

iv)Other cheap laborer (such as Irish) used to perform most dangerous and least healthy tasks to protect investment. Still overseers hired by owners often treated slave badly, and household servants often sexually abused by master

c)Slavery in the Cities

i)On isolated plantations masters maintained direct control. Slaves in cities were often hired out to do labor and unskilled jobs in cities + towns

ii)In cities line btwn slavery + freedom less clear, white southerners viewed slavery incompatible w/ city life- sold slaves to countryside, used segregation

d)Free African Americans

i)About 250,000 free African Americans in slaveholding states before Civil War, most in VA and MD. Some had earned money and bought freedom for themselves and family- mostly urban blacks able to do this

ii)Some slaves freed by master for moral reasons, other after master died

iii)During 1830s state laws for slaves tightened b/c growing number of free blacks, abolition movement in North—made manumission of slaves harder

iv)Most free blacks very poor, limited opportunity, only quasi-free

e)The Slave Trade

i)Transfer of slaves from one part of South to another important consequence of development of Southwest. Sometimes moved with master, more often transferred thru slave traders

ii)Domestic slave trade impt to growth and prosperity of system, but dehumanizing- children separated from parents

f)Slave Resistance

i)Most slaves unhappy with being slaves, wanted freedom- but dealt w/ slavery thru adaptation (slaves who acted as white world expected him, charade for whites) or resistance (those who could not come to accommodate their status)

ii)1831 Nat Turner, a slave preacher, led armed African Americans in VA, overpowered by state + federal troops. Only actual slave insurrection 19th century, but fear of slave conspiracies renewed violence + led to stricter laws

iii)Some attempted to resist by running away, escaping to the North or Canada using underground railroad + sympathetic whites. Odds of success low

iv)Resisted also by refusing to work hard, stealing from master

4)The Culture of Slavery

a)Language and Music

i)Slaves incorporated African speech w/ English- called “pidgin”

ii)Songs very impt- to pass time, some political, emotional, religious

b)African-American Religion

i)By 19th century nearly all slaves Christians. Black congregations illegal, most went to master’s church led by Baptist or Methodist white minister

ii)A.A. religion more emotional, reflected influence of African customs and practices- chanting, emphasized dream of freedom and deliverance. Christian images central to revel leaders Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner

c)The Slave Family

i)Blacks deprived of legal marriage, but “nuclear family” dominant kinship model nevertheless. Up to 1/3 of black families broken apart by slave trade- led to strong extended kinship networks

ii)Black women often bore children to white masters who didn’t recognize kids

iii)Slaves had complex relationships w/ masters b/c depended on them for material means of existence, sense of security and protection. This paternalism was used as an instrument of white control, sense of mutual dependence reduced resistance to institution that only benefited ruling white race