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A plantation economy is an economy based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few staple products grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income. Prominent plantation crops included cotton, rubber, sugar cane, tobacco, figs, rice, kapok, sisal and species in the genus Indigofera, used to produce indigo dye. The longer a crop's harvest period, the more efficient plantations become. Economies of scale are also achieved when the distance to market is long and when the crop's size is reduced. Plantation crops also differ in that they usually need processing immediately after harvesting. Sugar, tea sisal and palm oil are most suited to plantations, while coconuts, rubber and cotton are suitable to a lesser extent.
North American colonies
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The Southern colonies
In North American colonies, plantations were mainly concentrated in the south. These colonies included Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. These colonies had good soil and almost all year-round growing seasons ideal for crops such as rice and tobacco. Existence of many waterways in the region furthermore made transportation easier. Each colony specialized in one or two crops and animals with Virginia standing out in tobacco production
Plantation owners embraced the use of slaves mainly because indentured labor became expensive. Some indentured servants were also leaving to start their own farms as land was widely available. Colonists tried to use Native Americans for labor, but they were susceptible to European diseases and died in large numbers. The plantation owners then turned to enslaved Africans for labor. In 1665, there were less than 500 Africans in Virginia but by 1750, 85 percent of the 235,000 slaves lived in the Southern colonies, Virginia included. Africans made up 50 percent of the South’s population.
- Number of slaves in the Lower South: 2,312,352 (47% of total population).
- Number of slaves in the Upper South: 1,208,758 (9% of total population).
- Number of slaves in the Border States: 432,586 (13% of total population).
Fewer than one-third of Southern families owned slaves at the peak of slavery prior to the Civil War. In Mississippi and South Carolina the figure approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free African Americans), amounting to approximately 3.8% of the Southern and Border states population.
On a typical plantation of more than 100 slaves, the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and implements. Large presence of slaves in the colonies was due to the Atlantic slave trade
Atlantic slave trade
Slaves were brought in from Africa by the British during their colonial rule of the territory. They were shipped from ports in West Africa to the New World. The journey from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean was called “the middle passage”, and was one of the three legs, which completed the triangular trade among the continents of Europe, Americas and Africa.
In the course of the Atlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were shipped to the New World. By some records, it is said that ten million Africans were brought to the Americas; only about 6% ended in the North American colonies while the majority were shipped to the Caribbean colonies and South America. This is no surprise since much of the trade was spearheaded by the Portuguese and the Spaniards. Nevertheless, as the plantation economy expanded, the slave trade grew so as to meet the growing need for labor.
Industrial Revolution in Europe
Western Europe was the final destination for the plantation produce. At this time, Europe was starting to industrialize, and it needed a lot of materials to manufacture goods. Being the power center of the world at the time, they exploited the New World and Africa to industrialize. Africa supplied slaves for the plantations; the New World produced raw material for industries in Europe. Manufactured goods, of higher value, were then sold both to Africa and the New World. The system was largely run by European merchants
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Sugar has a long history as a plantation crop. The cultivation of sugar had to follow a precise, scientific system in order to profit from the production. Sugar plantations everywhere were disproportionate consumers of labor—often enslaved—owing to the high mortality of the plantation laborers. In Brazil, plantations were called Casa grande's and suffered from similar issues.
The slaves working the sugar plantation were caught in an unceasing rhythm of arduous labor year after year. Sugarcane is harvested about 18 months after planting and the plantations usually divided their land for efficiency. One plot was lying fallow, one plot was growing cane, and the final plot was being harvested. During the December–May rainy season, slaves planted, fertilized with animal dung, and weeded. From January to June, they harvested the cane by chopping the plants off close to the ground, stripping the leaves, then cutting them into shorter strips to be bundled off to be sent to the sugar cane mill.
In the mill, the cane was crushed using a three roller mill. The juice from the crushing of the cane was then boiled or clarified until it crystallized into sugar. Some plantations also went a step further and distilled the molasses, the liquid left after the sugar is boiled or clarified, to make rum. The sugar was then shipped back to Europe, and for the slave laborer, the routine started all over again.
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Indigofera was a major crop of cultivation during the in the 18th century, in Venezuela, Guatemala and Haiti until the slave rebellion against France that left them embargoed by Europe and India in the 19th and 20th centuries. The indigo crop was grown for making blue indigo dye in the pre-industrial age. Mahatma Gandhi's investigation of indigo workers' claims of exploitation led to the passage of the Champaran Agrarian Bill in 1917 by the British colonial government.
- Banana republic
- History of commercial tobacco in the United States
- History of sugar
- Tropical agriculture
- Zanj Rebellion
- Plantations in the American South
- Jeffery Paige, Agrarian Revolution, 1975.
- The Southern Colonies:Plantations and Slavery, by Kalpesh Khanna Kapurtalawla
- The Southern Colonies: Plantations and Slavery
- "PBS The Slaves' Story". Retrieved 2006-03-24.
- Stephen Behrendt (1999). "Transatlantic Slave Trade". Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience
- The Abolition Project, http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_42.html, accessed 3-26-2013