African American Slavery in the Antebellum Period

Essay, 2003

6 Pages


Table of Contents

African American Slavery in the Antebellum Period


African American Slavery in the Antebellum Period

The word ‘Antebellum’ is a Latin phrase which means ‘before the war’. When used in the context of United States history, this term is typically used to describe the time leading up to the Civil War. Although some consider the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 the beginning of the Antebellum Period, others refer to dates as early as 1812. No matter what date one uses, it was a time in American history when escalating sectionalism eventually led to the American Civil War (“Antebellum”).

During the Antebellum Period, the American South was an agrarian and chivalric society, built on the sweat and toil of African American slaves. This was in stark contrast to the industrialization occurring in the Northern states (“Antebellum South”). This Old South “was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields (… with) the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair” (qtd. in “Antebellum”). It is this sentimental, nostalgic view that is often thought of when one thinks of the Antebellum Period. Yet, despite the images of grand plantations with their sweeping staircases, and people speaking with soft, Southern drawls, the reality of an entire race of people brutally used as nothing more than livestock cannot be ignored.

A surge in the world demand for cotton caused slavery to spread quickly during the Antebellum Period. Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were at the center of cotton production by the 1830s, producing more than half of the cotton for the United States, most of this amount being cultivated by slaves. In addition to cotton field work, slaves worked a variety of other crops. They also worked as “house servants, nurses, midwives, carpenters, blacksmiths, drivers, preachers, gardeners, and handymen” (“Slavery”).

A census of the South during the Antebellum Period, in 1860, brings to light more truth about the era. 8 million people lived in the South during this time period. Of those 8 million, 383,000 owned approximately 4 million slaves. Only 25% of Southern families owned slaves, at the time, and half of those who did own slaves owned four or fewer. Only 2,000 slave owners owned more than 100 slaves, and only 14 owned more than 500 (Monte).

As one can see from the above statistics, the large slave-driven plantations were few and far between. Most Southerners owned their own piece of land, but this land was ill-suited to large-scale production, and instead was used for crop production for the family’s use, plus small cash crops. These farms were typically built using the family as labor, and not slaves. Yet, these yeomen farmers defended slavery because they often hoped to aspire to become a planter one day, and they abhorred the thought of having to compete with 4 million free slaves, in the sale of their cash crops. (Monte).


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African American Slavery in the Antebellum Period
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African, American, Slavery, Antebellum, Period
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Kimberly Wylie (Author), 2003, African American Slavery in the Antebellum Period, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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