Plantation slaves generally worked from dawn until dusk and used the evening hours to meet their own needs and the needs of their kin. Slaves planted the labor-intensive crops in the spring, tended them throughout the summer, and harvested them in autumn. Slaves spent the winter months preparing for the next planting season and tending to the daily tasks necessary to maintain the plantation. Despite an extremely demanding work schedule and an often unaccommodating and in some cases brutal master, plantation slaves forged extensive kin networks and made time for religious worship, singing, storytelling, and other forms of cultural expression.
Masters spent their days organizing the work force; keeping an inventory of equipment, buildings, produce, and slaves; and acquiring the items necessary to keep the plantation running smoothly. They disciplined slaves, oversaw their medical treatment and their daily comings and goings, and, in some cases, chaperoned important social events such as, weddings, births, funerals, and religious services. The master’s gaze was not omnipresent, however, and much of the slaves’ daily lives their relationships, celebrations, meetings, and numerous acts of resistance went undetected. In addition to managing his workforce, the master also cared for his own family and entertained his guests.
Plantations and Southern Society Although owners of modest plantations and poor farmers occupied much of the Southern landscape during the colonial era, the term plantation, evokes the expansive holdings of a wealthy planter. By 1750, the notion that a plantation was a well-ordered, well-constructed country estate belonging to a wealthy gentleman was firmly entrenched in the popular culture. Such plantation owners, in turn, held a tremendous amount of social, economic, political, and cultural authority, but that authority was not absolute. Slaves and poor and middling white planters continually challenged Southern society’s ruling elite. Their unrest would lead, at least in part, to uprisings such as Bacon’s Rebellion (Virginia, 1676) and the Stono Rebellion (South Carolina, 1739), as well as the emergence of the Regulators in North and South Carolina during the early eighteenth century.
Michael A. Rembis See also: African Americans; Agriculture; Cotton; Indentured Servitude; Indigo; Laborers, Rural; Land and Real Estate; Planters; Rice; Slavery, African American; Slavery, Caribbean; Tobacco. Bibliography Durant, Thomas J. Jr., and J. David Knottnerus, eds. Plantation Society and Race Relations: The Origins of Inequality. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999. Green, Laurie B. Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Horn, James. Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984. Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Wood, Peter H. Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.
Plantation Work Rhythms Photo Gallery