Why did the plantation system develop in the South?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plantation system developed for several reasons. The Southern colonies had been founded by companies or proprietors who wished to make a profit, and they accordingly encouraged cash crops like tobacco (in the Chesapeake) and rice (in the Low Country). These crops were labor intensive, which meant that growers turned first to indentured servants and then to African slaves as a labor supply (so, too, did sugar planters in the Caribbean.) They also required a great deal of land and capital, which meant that due to an economic principle called "economies of scale," cash crops, especially rice, favored very wealthy people with large landholdings and access to large labor forces. So in the Southern colonies/United States, the economic realities of staple crop production favored the formation of large farms, or plantations. Cotton, which emerged as the biggest cash crop in the nineteenth-century South, was less shaped by economies of scale--many small planters and farmers could profitably raise the crop. But even still, the largest cotton planters in places like Alabama and Mississippi dominated the Southern economy and increasingly its politics. Large capital investments in land and enslaved people made the production of large amounts of cotton profitable, so the region's dependence on cash crops continued to foster the plantation system.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Originally, agricultural plots in the South were farmed by individual farmers, perhaps with a few additional workers to help them. These early farms mainly grew cotton and tobacco; however, as tobacco became increasingly profitable in Virginia and elsewhere in the South, farmers required additional labor. They first turned to indentured servants, who were Europeans who had agreed to work for 2-7 years in return for passage to the New World. After Bacon's Rebellion, an armed uprising against the ruling class that took place in Virginia in 1676, the elite of Virginia increasingly turned to African slaves rather than using indentured servants, who were seen as an unstable force that helped provoke Bacon's Rebellion. In addition, crops such as sugar began to demand more labor and more extensive land to grow, and southerners turned to the slave system, already in place in the Caribbean, and to the plantation system to produce their crops. 

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