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Mississippi River Plantations

Windor Plantation (23KB)
Ruins of Windsor Plantation near Bruinsburg, Mississippi

The word "plantation" has come to symbolize a bygone era—the Old South. Plantation was used originally by the English to represent any colony established overseas. It was not until the mid-to-late seventeenth century that the word plantation came to mean a large agricultural venture that was overseen by an owner/manager, used a large labor force, and produced crops for export. First developed in Virginia, the plantation system soon spread south into the Mississippi River Valley.

Most plantations specialized in a single crop; the plantations on the Lower Mississippi specialized in either cotton or sugar cane. By the early nineteenth century a "Cotton Kingdom" had developed with Natchez as its center. Large plantation houses were erected in and around the city of Natchez. In southeastern Louisiana, immense sugar estates were established along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. All of these helped to support a planter society centered on plantation life. It was during this period that the definition of a plantation owner or planter changed. No longer was the owner defined as one who had vast acres of land that produced large numbers of crops. Instead, a planter was one whose plantation depended on a labor force composed primarily of slaves. During the late seventeenth century, black slave labor began to replace white indentured labor and by the mid-nineteenth century, plantations were almost completely dependent on their slave labor force. Roughly half of all slaves in the South before the Civil War worked on plantations. The products of their labor allowed planters not only to become wealthy, but also to dominate antebellum social, economic, and political life.

Cotton (23KB)

The Civil War changed this way of life, putting an end to slavery and signaling the slow decline of the plantation system. Plantations continued into the 1950s with sharecroppers working the land, nominally overseen by plantation owners. Eventually, however, the work force left, giving way to new labor-saving machinery. Today, the most recognizable remnants of this once dominant economic and social system are a large collection of plantation buildings and the legacy of a system whose repercussions continue to haunt the nation's conscience.

Plantation Sites - National Parks

Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area, Louisiana - Magnolia and Oakland Plantations

NPS Education/Interpretation Publications

Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment - Cane River, Louisiana
Ethnographic Study - Cane River Plantation Life


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Last Updated: March 14, 2001