Following yesterday’s post and the response, I thought I’d do one of my rare history lessons and discuss a little about plantation life in then 1780s, specifically in South Carolina where His Yankee Bride takes place.
While Virginia and North Carolina thrived on tobacco, it didn’t grow as well in South Carolina due to the more tropical climate and wetter ground, particularly in the lowlands of the state–or the southern portion.
Rice, however, grew very well in South Carolina because the ground stayed wet. However, rice fields brought other problems, most notably mosquitos. Because rice has to be grown in water, there would be miles and miles of stagnant water which attracts mosquitos which would transmit malaria. Netting and even candles were used as a means to stay healthy, but it was useless as in some places mosquitos were so thick they looked like black clouds.
During the mid 1700s and even all the way until the early 1800s death by malaria was very common and claimed lives in epidemic proportions.
South Carolinians tried to grow other things, such as silk, but had no luck. It wasn’t until Eliza Lucas who lived outside of Charleston was sent some plants from her father who grew indigo in the tropics that the people in southern South Carolina had a chance. Eliza grew the plants on her own plantation first, then when she saw they thrived, she taught other plantation owners in the area about how to grow and harvest indigo.
Though indigo did grow and thrive in South Carolina, many rice farmers still continued to grow rice because they could grow two crops of rice a year. Some, did a combination of the two and grew indigo during part of the year and a crop of rice for the other part. Because rice could be grown and harvested twice in a year, rice maintained the position of the most profitable cash crop in South Carolina with indigo being firmly in second.
Planter–the owner of the plantation
Big House–house the plantation owner and his family lived in
Street–row or cluster of houses where the slaves lived
Field Hand–slave who worked outside
House Worker–indoor slave
Skilled Laborer–a slave who had a skill such as shoeing horses or blacksmith work.
[As a disclaimer, these may or may not cover plantations and slavery in all of the south, however, from what I understand these are accurate for in and around Charleston, South Carolina.]
It was not uncommon, especially on small plantations, for the master of the house to work in the fields alongside the field hands. This happened as a means to either help keep morale high and stave off a slave rebellion or if they couldn’t afford to buy the needed field hands.
It was very, very rare that men and women in slavery were called slaves. The ones who worked outdoors were called filed hands or skilled laborers and the ones who worked indoors were house workers or help. The word “slave” was never used in daily conversations and the only place the word slave actually appeared in writing was in an account of what a dying man had left for his widow–for her to be taxed on, of course. Since inheritance taxes of this sort didn’t become an issue until closer to the Civil War this is irrelevant for this particular time, but still interesting.
Because plantains were so large, it wasn’t uncommon at all for the master’s children to play with the children of the field hands or the house servants until they were about twelve.
As with most of the lofty lords and ladies we read about in England, most plantation owners also owned a townhouse in the city. During the Revolutionary War, the Redcoats took over Charleston for two years and destroyed many of the original townhouses and the majority that did survive were sold after the war to help rebuild their plantations. Coincidentally, after the Civil War, those who owned both townhouses and plantation had to choose to sell one or the other in order to make “something” work financially and the majority chose to sell their plantations this time.