Southern Society and Economy

Southern Society and
Southern Economy
• Cotton became “king” in the 1800’s
because it was the South’s most
profitable crop.
• Great Britain and the Northeast
became the South’s biggest customers.
Because of this, several large port
cities grew in the South.
• These cities included Charleston,
Savannah, and New Orleans.
• Getting crops to the ports was a major
challenge for the farmers. Most farmers
relied on the region’s rivers to ship their
• The steamboat became the most popular
form of transport for cotton.
• Although the steamboat was a good way to
transport crops, the South was slow to
build canals, and by 1850 the South only
had about 14% of the nation’s total canal
mileage. In addition, the South had fewer
miles of railroad. This made the
Transportation Revolution more important
for the North.
Agricultural Diversity
• Some southern farmers supported
scientific agriculture which was the use
of scientific methods to improve
• One goal was to increase crop
production. Scientists also wanted to
protect the land used to grow cotton.
Planting cotton over and over again on
the same piece of land wore out the soil.
• Some farmers relied on fertilizers to
better their crops, while others
regularly changed the kinds of crops
that they grew on a particular piece of
land. This is called crop rotation.
• Some southern leaders worried that the
South relied too heavily on cotton and
encouraged farmers to plant other
• Some farmers were already doing this.
Corn, rice, sweet potatoes, sugarcane,
and wheat became other profitable
crops during this time. Tobacco
continued to be a good crop as well.
Southern Factories
• Southern industry developed to help the
• Factories were not as common in the
South as they were in the Northeast.
• Some southerners believed the South
needed more industry, but the south’s
industrial growth still lagged behind.
People came to the South because of
the wealth promised through farming.
Because of this, southerners invested
their money in more land, not in
Southern Society
• Stories have made many people believe
that all southerners in the 19th century
lived on large plantations with hundreds
of slaves. This is not the case. In the
first half of the 1800’s, about 1/3 of
white southern families had slaves and
fewer families had plantations.
• Despite their small numbers; however,
plantation owners had a powerful
influence over life in the South.
• Planters had the biggest influence on
the southern economy.
• They were concerned with raising crops
and supervising slaves. They left the
running of the plantation household to
their wives. The wife oversaw the
raising of the children and supervised
the work of all slaves within the
• Slave women typically cooked, cleaned,
and helped care for the children.
A Southern
Southern Society and Culture
• Most southern women married yeomen,
or owners of small farms.
• Most yeoman held a small number of
slaves, if any at all, and had few
material comforts. They worked long
days side by side with their slaves (if
they had them). Most hoped to save
enough money to one day be a planter.
• Planters and yeomen often looked down on
poor white southerners. These poor
people made up 10% of the population, and
survived by hunting, fishing, raising a few
animals, tending to small gardens, and
doing odd jobs for money.
• Although there were differences in
material possessions, white southerners
shared a common culture.
• Religion was central to southern social
life. Often this was the only social
interaction southerners had since they
lived so far from their neighbors.
• Wealthy white southerners used religion
to justify their position on the
institution of slavery. They argued that
God created some people, like
themselves, to rule of African
Americans. This belief set them against
those northern Christians who believed
that God opposed slavery.
Southern Cities
• Southern cities were similar to northern
cities. As the cities grew, the
government built public water systems
and provided well-maintained streets.
Public education was also available in
some areas.
• As on plantations, slaves did much of
the work in southern cities. They
worked as domestic servants, in mills, in
shipyards, and at skilled jobs.
Free African Americans
• Some free African Americans found work in
southern cities. In 1860, more than ½ of all
free African Americans were living in the
• Free African Americans worked a variety of
jobs in cities, but mostly they were skilled
artisans. Many became very successful.
• Churches played a crucial role in the social
life for free southern African Americans. In
the early 1800’s, free and enslaved African
Americans started the independent-church
• Free African Americans faced constant
discrimination. White southerners feared that
free blacks would try to encourage slave
• Most cities passed laws limiting the rights of
free African Americans. Most could not vote,
travel freely, or hold certain types of jobs.
• In 1806, Virginia passed a law that banned
former slaves from living in the state without
special permission.
• Many white southerners felt that free African
Americans could not take care of themselves,
but they proved them wrong by being successful
in many areas. This caused many whites to view
free African Americans as a threat to the
institution of slavery.