Plantations dominated southern agriculture from the mid-eighteenth century to the Civil War. These large farms, employing twenty or more slaves, produced staple crops (cotton, rice, tobacco) for domestic and foreign markets. Planters owned both the means of production--the land and tools--and the labor force. Such a system was not inevitable, however, even in an era before mechanization. Wage laborers, sharecroppers, and family farmers could also grow these staples, as the post-Civil War era clearly attested.
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The plantation system, begun in the late seventeenth century (long after its appearance in Brazil and the West Indies), expanded through the coastal and Piedmont South during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With the end of slavery, the system collapsed because former slaves refused to work in gangs or to accept labor discipline; planters therefore divided their land into small sharecropped farms. A new plantation system based upon wage labor, however, briefly......
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