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The American Farmer in the Eighteenth CenturyA Social and Cultural History$
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Richard Lyman Bushman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780300226737

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300226737.001.0001

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The Nature of the South

The Nature of the South

The Creation of Sectional Systems

(p.39) 3. The Nature of the South
The American Farmer in the Eighteenth Century

Richard Lyman Bushman

Yale University Press

Plantation agriculture in the western hemisphere extended from Brazil northward through the Caribbean to the northern boundary of Maryland. This geography created a line in North America noted by seventeenth-century imperial economists. The southern colonies produced crops needed in the home land making the South far more valuable to the empire than the North. Plantation agriculture stopped at the Maryland-Pennsylvania border because the climate made slavery impractical north of that line. Only farmers who produced valuable exports could afford the price of slaves. Tobacco, though it could be grown in the North, was not commercially feasible there. The growing season had to be long enough to get a crop in the ground while also planting corn for subsistence, allow the tobacco to mature, and harvest it before the first frost. Tobacco was practical within the zone of the 180-day growing season whose isotherm outlines the areas where slavery flourished. Within this zone, the ground could be worked all but a month or two in winter, giving slaves plenty to do. Cattle could also forage for themselves, reducing the need for hay. Southern farmers could devote themselves to provisions and market crops, increasing their wealth substantially compared to the North where haying occupied much of the summer. Differing agro-systems developed along a temperature gradient running from North to South with contrasting crops and labor systems attached to each.

Keywords:   Slavery, Labor, Climate, South, North

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