The composition of southern colonial society planters

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The Composition of Southern Colonial SocietyPlanters.At the top of the southern colonial pyramid were the planters. Most planters operated on a large scale, since thelarge-scale cultivation of cash crops was not only more efficient, but was virtually a necessity in the case of tobacco, 29
which quickly exhausted the soil. A tobacco planter needed extrafields to rotate with beans and corn, or to leave fallow, in order to replenish the soil. Planters extended their holdings along the riverfronts, using the rivers to trade their crops for English goods directly. Planters generally replaced their crude huts with larger, wooden houses, followed, in the eighteenth century, by brick mansions surrounded by spacious gardens, modeled on the estates of the English aristocracy. Such homes were a sign that American planters, unlike West Indian planters, were there to stay. (Well, not exactly: many planters died of malaria in the seventeenth century, so that members the eighteenth century elite were rarely descendants of the seventeenth century elite.) Seventeenth century planters were crude: they liked to drink, dance, gamble (on horses, dice, and cards), and chase women, just like the less fortunate. In no time at all, the lavish lifestyles of most planters left them indebted to English merchants.Indentured Servants.Beneath the planters on the social pyramid were the indentured servants. Indentured servants were not slaves who wore false teeth. Rather, they were people who sold their labor for passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Indentured servants were the planters' primary labor force throughout the seventeenth century. The servant signed a contract with the ship captain, agreeing to work for four to seven years in exchange for passage. The captain then sold the contract to a planter for six to thirty pounds British currency (usually paid in tobacco, 900 to 1,500 pounds of it). One-half of all colonial settlers outside of New England were indentured servants. Some, such as those who fell asleep in English bars and were kidnapped, came against their will. A 1717 English law allowed certain convicts to choose "transportation" over death orsome other physical punishment--a difficult decision for some. Most such convicts were transported to the Chesapeake colonies.After surviving the terrible voyage across the Atlantic Ocean (the usual casualty rate was fifty percent), some families were separated, when the planter who bought the contract could not afford to buy the whole family. Most unfairly, indentured servants had to work for twice the period if their deceased spouse had survived half the voyage or more (the rationale being that the spouse had taken up valuable space on the ship before dying). Those servants under sixteen years of age had to work until they were twenty-one.

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