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White SocietyA Southern Plantation MansionPlanters:The Planters were few in number, but held most of the South’s wealth. They set the tone in economic andsocial life. A plantation differed from a farm in its size, use of a large labor force, and that its owners grew astaple crop for profit. Planters had far less leisure time than myth allows. They managed large enterprises.Similarly the plantation mistress had little idle time. She oversaw the house, food, linens, cleaning, clothing,and care-taking of her family and all the slaves. Often planters were absentee owners who left an overseer orother manager in charge of the plantation. Overall, out of a population of 8 million, only 383,637 ownedslaves and there were few individuals in 1860 who qualified as planters, owning more than twenty slaves.46,000 planters owned twenty slaves2,200 planters owned 100 slaves11 planters owned 500 slaves1 planter owned 1,000 slaves
an idealized image of theyeoman farmerMiddle Class:Most southerners were in the Middle Class and were considered yeoman farmers, holding only a few acresand living in modest homes and cabins, raising hogs and chickens, and growing corn and cotton. Few yeomanfarmers had any slaves and if they did own slaves, it was only one or two. Yeoman farming families ownedan average of fifty acres and produced for themselves most of what they needed. These farmers traded farmproduce like milk and eggs for needed services such as shoemaking and blacksmithing. Most people in thisclass admired the planter class and hoped to one day join those ranks. Though only a few held any slaves,almost all middle class southerners supported the slave system because they enjoyed the privileged status thata racially based society bestowed on them, and they feared that they would have to compete with the slavesfor land and work if African Americans were free.Poor Whites:cartoon images of poor southern whitesThe Poor Whites of the South lived difficult lives as they struggled to provide for themselves in a societydominated by a few wealthy planters. This group was frequently forced onto the least desirable land or had to
farm as tenants on the land of local wealthy planters. They were most often in debt to the planter class, eitherdue to the renting costs of land and equipment, or because they had to charge groceries and goods on credit. Many poor whites moved several times during their lives to seek better opportunities or to escape their debts.Poor whites were often jailed because of their debt, which prevented them from working to pay off what theyowed. This class did not own slaves; they relied on the labor provided by themselves and their families. Poorwhites suffered from malnutrition and infection. Often called “lazy,” these whites were likely victims ofhookworm, malaria, and pellagra, all of which produce intense lethargy. By the late 1930s medical advanceshad cured many of these diseases, and the stereotypes of poor white southerners faded.