Slave Plantations in the United States (2023)


Slave plantations in the United States existed from the time of the 17th century until the 19th century. In general, a slave plantation was an agricultural and livestock estate that was large enough to contain the house of the master or slave owner and the residences of the slaves. On the slave plantation, slaves were used to harvest cash crops and complete other related agricultural work. The slave plantations were significant to the life and economics of the United States in the time before the outbreak of the American Civil War. This was especially true in the Southern states of the United States, where slave plantations were most common. Therefore, the development of slave plantations was important to the history of slavery in the United States.

A cotton plantation in Mississippi. (1884)


Slavery in the United States existed from the period of Colonial America in the early 17th century until the events of the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 until 1865. Throughout this timeframe, many slaves were brought from Africa to the territory of the United States via the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Atlantic Slave Trade began in the 16th century, reached its peak in the 18th century and concluded near the end of the 19th century. During the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, approximately 12 million Africans were put on slave ships, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and sold into slavery. In fact, approximately 600,000 African slaves were brought to the United States as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade, which amounts to about 5% of the total number of slaves from the time. Many of these slaves ended up working on plantations and households across the United States, and played a significant role in the production of certain goods. Click here to read a more detailed article on the history of slavery in the United States.

(Video) Whitney Plantation museum confronts painful history of slavery


Slave plantations in the United States were common throughout the United States during the timeframe of slavery, which occurred from the 17th century until the mid-19th century. With that said, slave plantations were most common in the Southern states. In fact, in the 19th century, the practise of slavery began to lessen in the Northern states due to the emergence of the American Abolitionist Movement. In fact, the timeframe of slave plantations in the Southern states is often referred to as the ‘Antebellum Period’ and is considered to have lasted until the end of slavery during the American Civil War.​

During the Antebellum Period, the Southern states developed economically around the practise of slavery and gained relative strength in the American political system. This was due to several reasons, but mainly because of the climate of the American South. For instance, the Southern states proved to have ideal conditions for several different types of cash crops. Throughout the timeframe of slavery in the United States, the most common crops that were harvested on the plantations were cotton, rice, indigo and tobacco. These crops were especially labor intensive and as such, African slave labor made the most economical sense for many of the plantation owners. As well, these crops were ‘cash crops’. This means that they were focused on producing crops for sale instead of for consumption. As such, the slave plantations of the United States played an important role in the economic development of the Southern states at the time.​

American slaves planting sweet potatoes. (1862)

Cotton Gin

​Throughout the period of the 1830s, the demand for slaves grew due to the introduction of the cotton industry in states such as: Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Cotton became an important crop in the Southern states and was heavily reliant on the practise of slavery. In fact, the harvesting of cotton was extremely labor-intensive, and the use of slaves allowed it to be a profitable industry by keeping labor costs low for plantation owners. Furthermore, the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney helped advance the cotton industry in the United States. The cotton gin was a machine that could quickly separate cotton fibers from seeds in order to create cotton items such as clothing and linens. Before the invention of the cotton gin, cotton production and processing was a very slow process, requiring lots of hard manual work. As such, slave plantations began to emerge that focused heavily on the production of cotton.

​Due to this situation, the Southern states became economically dependenton the practise of slavery. In fact, the potential economic losses that would result from ending slavery was one of the main aspects that pushed the country towards the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.


As stated previously, slave plantations in the United States were agricultural and livestock estates wherein slaves lived and worked to harvest different types cash crops. In reality, slave plantations in the United States varied quite dramatically. For instance, while some were large complexes and had many slaves, the vast majority were quite small with only a few slaves. Furthermore, most slave plantations in the United States did not have a large main house on the property for the slave owner. Instead, they usually contained a smaller and more modest slave owner house. Regardless, many slave plantations in the United States often shared many similar aspects, including: slave housing, crops, agriculture structures, etc.​

(Video) life of a plantation slave

Millford Plantation in South Carolina

Most of the larger slave plantations had a central home or mansion that was for the slave owner and his or her family. In general, the main house of the slave owner was a farmhouse. Some were grander and elaborate than others, but they all functioned as a home for the slave owner’s family. More specifically, the majority of plantation homes that have survived into modern day were the ones that were larger and grander. Obviously, slave owners who were more profitable built themselves larger homes or made additions to their home over the years. On the other hand, almost all of the smaller slave owner’s houses have not survived into modern times. These houses were generally, basic structures made out of wood planks or logs. However, it should be noted that sometimes the owner of the planation did not live on the property and instead had a house elsewhere.​

Another important building on some of the slave plantations was the house for the overseer. An overseer worked on the plantation as a manager of the agricultural operation. They oversaw the slaves and made sure the crops were harvested on time. As well, the overseer was responsible for ensuring the slaves carried out their roles and followed the rules. As such, the overseer was usually responsible for handing out punishment to slaves that had failed to meet the expectations of the plantation. The role of the overseer was given to white men, who the slave owner trusted. The house for the overseer and his family was usually located away from the main residence of the slave owner and closer to the slave’s housing area. This was so that the overseer could keep an eye on the slaves. The overseer house was usually a small structure made out of logs, but better equipped than the slave houses.​

​The next important set of structures on slave plantations in the United States was the housing for the slaves. While the main house of the plantation was usually well constructed, the slave living conditions were often terrible. For example, slave homes were quite small and were generally one-room shacks that were made out of wooden logs or leftover materials. Besides this, slave homes were sometimes built in different parts of the property of the plantation and away from the main residence. Due to their poor construction, the slave homes often struggled to properly heat inside, and the slaves sometimes suffered on very cold nights.

Slave homes in South Carolina. (1862)

Slave family and home on plantation in South Carolina. (1862)

Slave cabins at a plantation in Georgia. (1870)

(Video) Nottoway Plantation

Since the slave plantations of the United States were essentially large farms, they also had many other buildings common to farms of the time. For example, the plantations generally had several different types of outbuildings, including: cookhouse, washhouse, storage sheds, chicken coop, well, barn, stable, and blacksmith shop. Depending on the type of plantation, they may have also contained other types of buildings, including: rice mill, sugar mill, sawmill and grain storage (granaries). Another aspect of some of the larger plantations was related buildings for the slaves. For example, some plantations had a schoolhouse, clinic, church and store. These types of building were usually only present on very large plantations that had many slaves. It also depended on whether the slave owner could afford or chose to build the structures for the slaves.


Life for the slaves on plantations in the United States was generally difficult. They suffered from poor living conditions and terrible abuses. The main issues of the slaves daily life consisted of: working conditions, clothing, food, and education. More specifically, slaves in the United States faced difficult and tiring working conditions. At the time, most slaves in the United States worked in agricultural work on the plantations. In fact, most of their time was spent harvest crops such as cotton, rice, indigo and tobacco. This was very labor-intensive work. As such, the slaves worked long and tiring shifts of work in very difficult conditions. In fact, it was not uncommon for slaves to work as many as 16 hours a day in hot and humid weather.​

Another important item of slave daily life was their clothing. For the most part though, slaves were clothed in basic linen suits and poor-quality shoes.The image to the side ofSolomon Northupshows a typical set of clothing for a slave that worked on a plantation. The regular food and diet of slaves varied between the different plantations, but there were several main similarities throughout the timeframe of slavery in the United States. For example, historians have noted that the most common diet of slaves in the Southern states consisted of pork, rice and corn. While, this diet kept the slaves fed well, it denied them of a variety of nutrients. Yet another aspect of slave daily life was their education or lack thereof. In general, most slave owners did not educate their slaves at all.​

Finally, slaves on plantations in the United States experienced different types of abuse. For instance, slaves were regularly subjected to beatings, whippings and other forms of torture. Much of this abuse was carried out by the overseers on plantations. In fact, abuse towards slave was a regular occurrence and was used by slave owners and overseers as a way of maintaining order on the plantation. For example, abuses against slaves were often used as a form of punishment or to promote the authority of the slave owner.

Solomon Northup



  • Elias Beck


  • '​Slave Plantations in the United States'


  • ​History Crunch (




  • March 26, 2022


  • July 9, 2017
(Video) A Day In The Life Of An African Slave On The Cotton Plantations


(Video) The Sad Truth About American Slave Breeding Farms

Atlantic Slave Trade - PowerPoint with Cloze Notes (41 Slides/Pages!)


What plantations did slaves work on in America? ›

During the 17th and 18th centuries, African and African American (those born in the New World) slaves worked mainly on the tobacco, rice, and indigo plantations of the Southern seaboard. Eventually slavery became rooted in the South's huge cotton and sugar plantations.

What was the main reason slavery was used on plantations in America? ›

The settlements required a large number of laborers to sustain them. Because these crops required large areas of land, the plantations grew in size, and in turn, more labor was required to work on the plantations. Plantation labor shifted away from indentured servitude and more toward slavery by the late 1600s.

Where were the majority of plantations in the US? ›

The Upper South: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and the Deep South, including South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, are where most large southern plantations were located.

What was the worst slave plantation? ›

Belle Grove Plantation (Iberville Parish, Louisiana)
Belle Grove
LocationWhite Castle, Louisiana vicinity
Coordinates30.177°N 91.154°W
4 more rows

What is the most famous plantation? ›

America's most famous plantation - Oak Alley Plantation
  • United States.
  • Louisiana (LA)
  • Vacherie.
  • Vacherie - Things to Do.
  • Oak Alley Plantation.

What happened to old slaves on plantations? ›

Although some planters manumitted elderly slaves who could no longer work, most elderly slaves remained on plantations with their families, and their masters were expected to provide for them until they died.

Why did slaves run away from plantations? ›

Slaves might attempt to run away for a number of reasons: to escape cruel treatment, to join a revolt or to meet with friends and families on neighbouring plantations. Families were not necessarily kept together by those who bought and sold them. Planters did not hesitate to sell slaves regardless of their family ties.

What were the two types of slaves on plantations? ›

The First and Second Gang slaves were divided into two groups, with the first group working 12 hours during the day, and the second group then working 12 hours during the night, after which they repeated the cycle. The canes were taken to the mill (which might be powered by wind, by animals or by people.

Who was the main cause of slavery? ›

European settlers brought a system of slavery with them to the western hemisphere in the 1500s. Unable to find cheap labor from other sources, white settlers increasingly turned to slaves imported from Africa. By the early 1700s in British North America, slavery meant African slavery.

What was the biggest plantation in America? ›

The plantation house is a Greek Revival- and Italianate-styled mansion built by enslaved people and artisans for John Hampden Randolph in 1859, and is the largest extant antebellum plantation house in the South with 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) of floor space.
Nottoway Plantation.
Nottoway Plantation House
Added to NRHPJune 6, 1980
13 more rows

Whats the oldest plantation in us? ›

Shirley is the oldest family-owned business in North America, dating to 1638 when Edward Hill I established a farm on the banks of the James. Today, the 800 acre plantation is still home to the 10th and 11th generations of the Hill-Carter family.

How many plantations existed in the US? ›

46,300 plantations (estates with 20 or more slaves) existed in the United States.

Who was the best slave owner? ›

He was born and studied medicine in Pennsylvania, but moved to Natchez District, Mississippi Territory in 1808 and became the wealthiest cotton planter and the second-largest slave owner in the United States with over 2,200 slaves.
Stephen Duncan
Spouse(s)Margaret Ellis Catherine Bingaman (m. 1819)
8 more rows

What was the richest slave state? ›

By 1860 so much wealth was being produced in the state of Mississippi from cotton that Mississippi became the richest state in the entire country. By 1860 there were more millionaires per region in Mississippi than in any other place in the United States. That's right!

Who was the most famous slave? ›

Perhaps one of the most famous abolitionists and Underground Railroad operators, Harriet Tubman, was born into slavery in the early 1820s in Dorchester County, Maryland. In 1849 Tubman fled Maryland for the north.

Do plantations still exist in the US? ›

Plantation communities exist in much of America, though they're most common in the South.

What is the oldest plantation house? ›

Shirley is Virginia's first plantation, founded in 1613 after a royal land grant carved the plantation out of the Virginia frontier. Shirley is also the oldest family-owned business in North America dating to 1638 when Edward Hill I began farming in Charles City along the James River.

What kind of plantations did most slaves work on? ›

In the lower South the majority of slaves lived and worked on cotton plantations. Most of these plantations had fifty or fewer slaves, although the largest plantations have several hundred. Cotton was by far the leading cash crop, but slaves also raised rice, corn, sugarcane, and tobacco.

What age did slaves start working on plantations? ›

At the age of sixteen, enslaved boys and girls were considered full-fledged workers, tasked as farm laborers or forced into trades.

What happened to slaves born disabled? ›

Often, slave owners would sell off their disabled slaves to doctors who would then perform medical experiments on them. After slavery ended, disabled slaves mostly remained on plantations until the government was able to set up hospitals and asylums to house them.

How long did slaves work on plantations? ›

During the winter, slaves toiled for around eight hours each day, while in the summer the workday might have been as long as fourteen hours.

What were slaves who ran away called? ›

fugitive slave, any individual who escaped from slavery in the period before and including the American Civil War. In general they fled to Canada or to free states in the North, though Florida (for a time under Spanish control) was also a place of refuge.

What happened to slaves if they were caught escaping? ›

One of the most powerful ways an enslaved person could resist was to run away. Running away carried heavy risks. If runaways were caught, they would be physically punished, usually by whipping, and might be made to wear chains or handcuffs to prevent them from running again.

How did slaves live on plantations? ›

Plantation slaves lived in small shacks with a dirt floor and little or no furniture. Life on large plantations with a cruel overseer was oftentimes the worst. However, work for a small farm owner who was not doing well could mean not being fed. The stories about cruel overseers were certainly true in some cases.

What are the 3 types of slaves? ›

Historically, there are many different types of slavery including chattel, bonded, forced labour and sexual slavery. The key characteristics of slavery are ones generally agreed such as the loss of freedom of movement and legal rights.

What did slaves eat on plantations? ›

Weekly food rations -- usually corn meal, lard, some meat, molasses, peas, greens, and flour -- were distributed every Saturday. Vegetable patches or gardens, if permitted by the owner, supplied fresh produce to add to the rations. Morning meals were prepared and consumed at daybreak in the slaves' cabins.

What were the punishments on plantations? ›

Enslaved people were punished by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, rape, and imprisonment.

Who was the first person to try to end slavery? ›

John Brown (abolitionist)
John Brown
Photo by Augustus Washington, c. 1846–1847
BornMay 9, 1800 Torrington, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 1859 (aged 59) Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), U.S.
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
10 more rows

What ended slavery in the United States? ›

Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Who brought slavery to the US? ›

However, many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be 1619, when the privateer The White Lion brought 20 enslaved African ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The crew had seized the Africans from the Portuguese slave ship Sao Jao Bautista.

What was the South called during slavery? ›

Confederate States of America, also called Confederacy, in the American Civil War, the government of 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860–61, carrying on all the affairs of a separate government and conducting a major war until defeated in the spring of 1865.

What was the last plantation? ›

USDA, the farmers charged, was "the last plantation," a white-dominated bureaucracy conspiring to help white farmers buy their land cheap.

Are there any plantations left in Florida? ›

This grand mansion is the oldest building in Manatee County and the only remaining antebellum plantation house in South Florida.

Which state had the most plantation? ›

Most plantations are clustered along a stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

Are people still living on plantations? ›

Investigation Reveals That Black Families Are Still Living on the Plantations in Mississippi. New Orleans, LA — Dr. Antoinette Harrell, known as the “Slavery Detective of the South,” is on a mission to interview and document the oral histories of people who still live on plantations to this very day.

Are there any original plantations left? ›

Are there any original plantations left? Destrehan Plantation, also on the Great River Road, is the oldest remaining plantation in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

How long were plantations in America? ›

More From House Beautiful. Plantations operated relatively unfettered in the American South for more than 250 years; the Northern states, however, had all abolished slavery by 1804.

What was the big house on a plantation called? ›

The planter's residence, often called the "Big House" by slaves, was the most prominent building by virtue of its size and position and occasionally was adorned with stylish architectural features. The columned portico, even today, remains the prime icon of plantation identity.

Where are major plantations found? ›

This type of agriculture is mainly practised in the tropical and sub-tropical regions such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brazil, Cuba, Ghana and north eastern Australia.

What famous people owned slaves? ›

Q: Which U.S. presidents owned enslaved people? A: According to surviving documentation, at least twelve presidents were slave owners at some point during their lives: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K.

Who was the last US slave owner? ›

Sylvester Magee
BornMay 29, 1841 (allegedly) North Carolina, U.S
DiedOctober 15, 1971 (supposedly aged 130) Columbia, Mississippi
Known forClaimed to having been the last surviving American slave

Who is the famous slave? ›

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – 1913), nicknamed "Moses" because of her efforts in helping other American slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.

What was the largest slave market in the US? ›

Before the Civil War, New Orleans Was the Center of the U.S. Slave Trade | History| Smithsonian Magazine.

What was the largest city in a slave holding state? ›

Cities of Slavery
  • The largest slave-holding city in 1830 in the US or the Caribbean was almost certainly Havana, Cuba. ...
  • No surprise, then, that Cuba was seen as a key trading partner, and coveted by Southern expansionists. ...
  • Within the United States, the leading slaveholding city was Baltimore.
May 31, 2016

Who owned the most slaves in Texas? ›

7Mills, who held 313 slaves on three plantations (Lowwood Place, and Palo Alto Place) was the largest holder of slaves in Texas. Two uals, Abner Jackson of Brazoria County and J. D. Waters of Ft. Be in excess of 2oo slaves in 186o.

What were old slave names female? ›

The most common of 603 names of female Slaves were Bet, Mary, Jane, Hanna, Betty, Sarah, Phillis, Nan, Peg, and Sary. Private names used in the quarters included Abah, Bilah, Comba, Dibb, Juba, Kauchee, Mima, and Sena.

Did slaves have days off? ›

Slaves, especially those in the field, worked from sunrise until sunset. Even small children and the elderly were not exempt from these long work hours. Slaves were generally allowed a day off on Sunday, and on infrequent holidays such as Christmas or the Fourth of July.

What was the greatest slave escape? ›

The Pearl incident was the largest recorded nonviolent escape attempt by enslaved people in United States history. On April 15, 1848, seventy-seven slaves attempted to escape Washington D.C. by sailing away on a schooner called The Pearl.

Where did slaves work in America? ›

The vast majority of enslaved Africans employed in plantation agriculture were field hands. Even on plantations, however, they worked in other capacities. Some were domestics and worked as butlers, waiters, maids, seamstresses, and launderers. Others were assigned as carriage drivers, hostlers, and stable boys.

What Fields did slaves work in? ›

Field hands were slaves who labored on plantations. They were commonly used to plant, tend, and harvest cotton, sugar, rice, and tobacco.

What jobs did slaves perform in colonial America? ›

On larger plantations, masters relied on slave carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tanners, tailors, butchers, masons, coopers, cabinet makers, metal workers, and silversmiths. Large numbers also worked as boatmen, waiters, cooks, drivers, housemaids, spinners, and weavers.

Where did slaves typically live on plantations? ›

Plantation slaves lived in small shacks with a dirt floor and little or no furniture. Life on large plantations with a cruel overseer was oftentimes the worst. However, work for a small farm owner who was not doing well could mean not being fed. The stories about cruel overseers were certainly true in some cases.

What age did slaves start working? ›

At the age of sixteen, enslaved boys and girls were considered full-fledged workers, tasked as farm laborers or forced into trades.

What time did slaves wake up? ›

The enslaved population at Mount Vernon typically worked from the time the sun rose in the morning until it set in the evening, with about two hours off for meals in between. During the winter, slaves toiled for around eight hours each day, while in the summer the workday might have been as long as fourteen hours.

Where were the most slaves located in the US? ›

Throughout colonial and antebellum history, U.S. slaves lived primarily in the South. Slaves comprised less than a tenth of the total Southern population in 1680 but grew to a third by 1790. At that date, 293,000 slaves lived in Virginia alone, making up 42 percent of all slaves in the U.S. at the time.

How often did slaves eat? ›

Weekly food rations -- usually corn meal, lard, some meat, molasses, peas, greens, and flour -- were distributed every Saturday. Vegetable patches or gardens, if permitted by the owner, supplied fresh produce to add to the rations. Morning meals were prepared and consumed at daybreak in the slaves' cabins.

What did slaves drink? ›

Palm wine and beer made from barley, guinea corn, or millet were used widely. The alcoholic content of these beverages is less than 3% (Umunna, 1967). For the most part the drinking of beer and wine was one of acceptance without moral or immoral implications.

Did slaves have a day off? ›

Slaves, especially those in the field, worked from sunrise until sunset. Even small children and the elderly were not exempt from these long work hours. Slaves were generally allowed a day off on Sunday, and on infrequent holidays such as Christmas or the Fourth of July.

How many hours did slaves sleep? ›

Sixteen to eighteen hours of work was the norm on most West Indian plantations, and during the season of sugarcane harvest, most slaves only got four hours of sleep.

Did slaves work 7 days a week? ›

Slaves worked from dawn to well after dark from Monday through Saturday. Sundays were the only day they had to rest during the week. The only holidays that were usually free of work were Christmas and the Fourth of July.

Where did slavery exist the most? ›

35.3% of all enslaved people from the Atlantic Slave trade went to Colonial Brazil. 4 million enslaved people were obtained by Brazil, 1.5 million more than any other country.


1. Roots: The System of American Slavery | History
2. This is What Daily Life for an Enslaved Person in Virginia was Like
(Deep History)
3. America's First Museum Dedicated to Telling the Story of Slavery | The New Yorker
(The New Yorker)
4. Life on the Slave Plantations of the Deep South
(African Elements with Professor Darius)
5. Southern Plantations Before and After the Civil War
6. Life Aboard a Slave Ship | History


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Last Updated: 02/07/2023

Views: 5695

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Birthday: 1996-12-09

Address: Apt. 141 1406 Mitch Summit, New Teganshire, UT 82655-0699

Phone: +2296092334654

Job: Technology Architect

Hobby: Snowboarding, Scouting, Foreign language learning, Dowsing, Baton twirling, Sculpting, Cabaret

Introduction: My name is Francesca Jacobs Ret, I am a innocent, super, beautiful, charming, lucky, gentle, clever person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.