Why were Plantation Owners at the Top of Virginia Society?

Alex Williams
11 Min Read

Ever since people understood the value of buying and keeping land for agriculture, they have been manipulating those who were unable to buy land in bulk. This situation seems familiar today, and it was very common in ancient America too. The plantation owners were the dominant ones. Today you will get to know why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society and why did the plantation system develop in Virginia. Along with that, let’s discuss what was the main goal for plantation owners.

1. What is meant by Plantations?

A large farming land where crops were extensively grown for commercial purposes is termed a plantation. People put African slaves as workers in these fields. During the slavery period in the United States, most of the plantations were in the southern regions. These plantations were dependent upon forced labor and enslavement. (See What is Considered a Functional Region?)

2. When did Plantation System begin in America?

It was the time and effect of the colonization period when slaves were brought by the British colonists. Historians did not consider this period as a period of plantation; rather they preferably called this era slave labor camps or labor camps. It was due to the fact that these regions became a center of large-scale enslaved labor operations. (See What were some Negative Effects of the Industrial Revolution?)

3. Why did the Plantation System develop in Virginia?

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As British colonists brought slaves to Southern America, the region in which they stayed was present-day Virginia. Then, they divided the land into units that were suitable for farming and which were not. However, the plantation lands were snatched away from the indigenous owners of the land through deceitful treaties or violence. Check out Why was Cottage Industry Replaced by Mills?

4. Which Event led to the Southern Plantations?

Looking for why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society, but first get to know how it was started. The Virginia Company of London was a company formed by the King James I to establish colonies in North America, but the plan did not turn out well. The company then decided to show how attractive and profitable it was to settle the land. The company offered a chance to get 50 acres of land in Virginia to an adult man who has the means to travel. (See How was Rome a Site of Encounter?)

5. Who were the Hundreds?

The company gathered 100 such men who led a household, had the means to travel to Virginia to get that 50 acres of land, and named the gathering the hundreds. These people moved to South America and started cultivation for profit motive. The climate of the South was suitable for growing cash crops which is why plantations rapidly developed. (See 4 most important inventions of the industrial revolution)

6. Which Crops were Produced?

There were numerous crops grown on these lands, out of which some were used for meeting plantation requirements whereas a major part of these crops was sold. Cotton, indigo, rice, and tobacco were the main crops grown on these plantations. (See What is the Most Famous Plant in Africa?)

7. Where were Plantation Lands in the United States?

The plantations covered major lands in the southern states. Eager to know, why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society? We will come to that soon.

Here is a list of all the Upper Southern and the Deep Southern States where plantations were majorly located:

  • Alabama (Deep South)
  • Arkansas (Upper South)
  • Georgia (Deep South)
  • Kentucky (Upper South)
  • Louisiana (Deep South)
  • Maryland (Upper South)
  • Mississippi (Deep South)
  • South Carolina (Deep South)
  • Tennessee (Upper South)
  • Virginia (Upper South)
  • West Virginia (Upper South)

8. What was the Main Goal for Plantation Owners?

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The hundreds mainly arrived and accepted the offer of the Virginia Company because they wanted land and to earn from it. Therefore, the main aim of these plantation owners was to produce cash crops in large quantities, along with the production of enough staple crops that can fulfill the food requirements and livestock needs used on the fields. (See Who gives the Authority to Colonize in a Charter Colony?)

9. Who Managed the Plantation?

Since the land was huge, an owner cannot alone manage it. He kept an overseer who was the manager of the plantation, supervised the work, and punished the workers for breaking the rules. The owner, overseer (manager), and enslaved people lived on the plantation. (See Who is responsible for organizational planning?)

10. Why were Plantation Owners at the Top of Virginia Society?

Indentured people (workers mostly from England who worked on 4 to 7-year agreements) were given land, provision, and clothes after they complete the term of the contract. But other enslaved workers (mostly African) were not given such provisions. Here are the reasons why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society:

  • The plantation owners who were mostly wealthy aristocrats began to establish their own rules and practices.
  • They owned land in bulk and had numerous slaves who were forced to work in the fields without any play.
  • They sold a major part of the cultivated crops and the remaining part was used to pay and fulfill the needs of the workers and other plantation requirements.
  • They were rich and dominated the indigenous people.

11. What was Hierarchy System in Plantation?

It was like a hierarchy system in which plantation owners were at the top of the pyramid whereas the enslaved workers were at the bottom. The owners were allowed to own 20 or more slaves while a wealthier owner can own more than 50 slaves. The overseer was the manager and holds no power in the plantation except punishing the slaves. Whereas the enslaved hold the lowest position and were subjected to harsh living and working conditions, violence, and forced labor with the lowest quality of life. They were given meals and a shabby place to sleep. (See Why was Carnegie Steel considered a Vertical Monopoly?)

12. How did Plantation System develop Class Differences?

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Besides knowing why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society, take a look at its evils. New rules and practices established by the plantation owners dominated the poor and workers at large. After the African slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619, it provided an easy supply of labor for large plantation lands. Further, the following events led to class differences:

  • Indentured laborers became sterner as new opportunities opened for them.
  • Enslaved laborers never got rid of slavery, and they worked on plantations.
  • Dormer Indentured laborers were still unable to purchase land due to the price.
  • Wealthy landowners made buying the land more difficult for indentured workers.
  • Wealthy landowners became richer while others remained poor.
  • Africans and Americans both were suffering because of this manipulation.

13. Which were Some Famous Plantations?

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Since you know why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society, will you not consider looking at the most famous ones? According to an estimate, there were about 46,200 plantations in the United States. Out of these, 20,000 plantations had about 20 to 30 enslaved people each and other 2300 plantations had more than 100 slaves each. The following are the 4 famous plantations of the time:

  • The Hermitage: The owner of this plantation was the United States President, Andrew Jackson. The plantation was in Davidson County, Tennessee, and spread over an area of 1,120 acres and owned 110 slaves. The main cash crop grown was cotton and the plantation was turned into a museum after his death.
  • Montpelier: The Montpelier plantation was 2,650 acres in Northern Virginia and was owned by President James Madison of the United States. After his death, the site was converted into a museum that exhibits slave lives during the slavery period.
  • Mount Vernon: It was in the south of Washington D.C., and owned by President George Washington. It was 500 acres and the main cash crop was tobacco in 1700-1900. Apart from being the plantation, it was also the home of George Washington which is now turned into a museum for tourists.
  • Oak Alley: The Oak Alley is a 25-acre land plantation in Louisiana on the Mississippi River that grew sugarcane crops. There is a Greek Revival architectural-styled mansion on the plantation that was later turned into an inn and restaurant.

So, today you got to know why were plantation owners at the top of Virginia society. And the main goal for plantation owners was profit and position. It is time to test the historical knowledge of the residents and ask them why did the plantation system develop in Virginia? (See What are the Southern Colonies Government?)

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