In the nineteenth century, the experience of a slave in the upper South differed in some respects from that of a slave in the lower South because the two regions had different economies. The farms and plantations of the lower South were mostly involved in growing cash crops. Cotton made...
In the nineteenth century, the experience of a slave in the upper South differed in some respects from that of a slave in the lower South because the two regions had different economies. The farms and plantations of the lower South were mostly involved in growing cash crops. Cotton made up the majority of this, although sugar cane, rice, indigo, and tobacco were also grown there. The long growing season of the lower South meant that a slave there spent long days throughout the year planting, harvesting, and processing these crops.
By the nineteenth century, slavery had been well ingrained in the culture of the lower South. Policies aimed at preventing the ever-feared slave revolt were well established. This meant that slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write. They were not allowed to assemble under most circumstances and could not be out alone without a pass. While we often imagine large plantations with hundreds of slaves, this was not the norm, and most plantations actually had fewer than fifty. It was a common fear among slaveowners that having too many slaves in one place was asking for an uprising. Discipline was strict, and any violation could result in severe physical punishment.
The upper South had much less in the way of large-scale farming. Therefore, while slavery did exist, it did not happen on the same scale as it did further south. Many slaves there were employed in a specific trade and could actually earn very meager wages. Policies varied state by state, but some places, such as Arkansas, did not forbid teaching slaves literacy. That state even had a law guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for slaves. In practice, though, the slave experience in the upper South was still a harsh one. Severe punishments for attempted escapes were still practiced, and a slave could be sold away from his or her family at any time. Indeed, as there was a higher demand for slave labor in the lower South, it was not uncommon for cash-strapped slave owners in the upper South to sell their slaves to lower South plantations, where they could fetch a higher price.