Read about plantation life from a slave's point of view
And from a slaveholder's daughter's point of view
Millionaires Along the Mississippi
Where do you think all the millionaires lived 150 years ago, before the Civil War? Most of America's known millionaires at the time lived along the winding Mississippi River Road in Louisiana. This was the era of the antebellum (pre-Civil War) Southern plantations. The money came from cotton and sugarcane. And just like today, the wealth was not for everyone.
What made something a plantation, instead of just a farm? A plantation was larger. It grew one or two major crops to be sold. It also had more workers, mostly slaves. A farm was smaller and run by a family. Farmers grew different kinds of crops, and they kept most of what they grew for themselves.
To learn more about life when cotton was king, Becky and I visited Frogmore. Frogmore is a working plantation in northeastern Louisiana. Cotton was not the number one crop in the South, but it brought in the most profits. Eli Whitney and his cotton gin helped make this possible. When cotton is picked from the fields, it is not as pure and white as those cotton balls you can buy in the store. It is filled with seeds. Removing all those seeds by hand would take a long time. When the cotton gin came along, you could dump a whole cart full of cotton into the machine and have the seeds strained out in no time.
The first place we stopped was the Laura Plantation. It was a brightly colored house with a strawberry red roof, yellow walls, and green shutters. We learned that the color of a house could be used to show who lived there. It also showed what language they spoke.
Americans who spoke English lived in the white houses. Creole families who spoke French lived in the brightly colored houses. Laura is a sugarcane plantation. Sugar and cotton were the main crops in the South.
About two hundred slaves worked at Laura. Most of them were from Senegal, West Africa. They built the buildings and worked in the fields.
The next stop on our tour is Nottoway. It is known as the "White Castle of Louisiana." Nottoway is the largest surviving plantation home in the South. The house is very pretty. It has 365 doors and windows. That means it has one opening for every day of the year.
There are many other plantations along the river road. One of my favorites is Oak Alley. It gets its name from the trees that line its entranceway.
There is one question that keeps popping up in my head. How many people really lived like this? Most people in the South did not live on big plantations. Most Southern whites did not own slaves. Those who did owned less than ten slaves. Most worked on smaller farms. They were called yeoman farmers. The poorest white Southerners only got the land that no one else wanted. Like today, many people had to work to make a few people rich.
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Links to Other Dispatches
Rebecca -- Pass the gumbo!
Stephanie - Meet Huck Finn
Teddy - The amazing journey of Booker T. Washington