Origins and Early Development

Discussions about plantations evoke a variety of images, feelings, and memories. However, from the beginning, it was human labor, enslaved human labor, on which the entire structure of plantation agriculture and cash crop production rested. The land was made valuable and remained valuable only through and by human labor.


Mart Stewart offers an excellent summary of the situation,

"Before the intensive application of labor and system to the land in staple crop agriculture, the coastal plain yielded only those resources that could be extracted with little management and processing: timber and deerskins, for example. Sea island cotton and tidewater rice cultures, however required shaping the land to enhance its productive potential. The land itself was made a valuable commodity by producing crops for sale and profit. On the rice plantations, the land was engineered and shaped according to a scheme that streamlined the environment for a specific purpose. Here the natural environment was not shaped primarily to the aspirations of moral purpose and community, nor was it seen as having a multitude of purposes, all revealing divine handiwork. Rather it was manipulated for its potential for profitable exploitation and to enhance the reputation of masters. Nature was simplified, and an artificial ecosystem was created by a massive application of human energy” (Stewart 1996:147).

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