White Southern Society

Essential Question

What was white southern society like?

Southern Society

Life in the South

The fertile soil and long growing season in the South supported the focus on the rural (country) way of life. Geography led to the growth of isolated, self-sufficient plantations rather than cities. As the North experienced the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the first half of the 19th century, the South lagged behind. To some extent, the very revolution that was taking place in the North led the South to become more set in its ways. Many of the South’s largest cities were shipping centers located along the Atlantic coast. There were fewer cities than in the North, but they were similar. They had public water systems and well-maintained streets. As on plantations, slaves did much of the work in cities. They worked as servants, in mills, in shipyards, and at skilled jobs.

King Cotton

The demand for cotton for textile mills in England and in the Northwest increased as the Industrial Revolution took hold. The invention of the cotton gin made it easier to make a profit from cotton and the economy became more dependent on cotton. This trend called for more for more slaves to work the fields and support life on the plantations. The region became even more dependent on the right to own slaves

A Two-Tiered Society

Most of Southern society was controlled by a handful of wealthy plantation owners who had a powerful influence. They were the wealthiest members of society, and many were political leaders. Some lived in beautiful mansions and had large landholdings. These owners made large profits from the labor of slaves and from exports to other countries. The owners felt no incentive to invest in industry. Only one-third of white families owned slaves in 1840. One-tenth of these had twenty or more slaves (fewer than 4 in 100 white families). Most of the whites in the South were poor farmers; they didn’t own slaves but they hoped to one day

A Working Plantation

A large plantation was like a small town. The plantation produced nearly everything it needed. What little a plantation could not produce, it would acquire through local trade. Plantations were likely to grow tobacco, cotton, rice, or sugar cane for profit, but they also produced for their own use:

    • A variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables

    • Meat and eggs

    • Yarn and cloth

    • Clothing, shoes, and leather goods

    • Furniture, tools, and bricks

Discussion Questions

  • What percentage of white Southerners owned slaves?

  • What was life like on a plantation for White Southerners?

Activity 2: What was white Southern Society like?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the question in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities