Slavery played an important role in shaping southern society during the mid 19th century. As the cotton industry grew in the South, the number of slaves also increased to work on the plantations. The value of slaves increased as they became an important part in helping the Southern economy thrive with the demand of cotton production.
The number of slaves one had attained also determined their social class in the South. Slavery had dominated the reality of Southern life when it came to economic and social aspects as the Southern economy relied heavily on cotton which called for an increase in the number of slaves in the South to work the plantation. Those slaves then developed their own sense of identity and culture within southern society. The demand for cotton in the 1840s contributed to the increase number of slaves in the South. As cotton became the most valuable cash crop in the United States, it made the South committed to slavery. Southerners relied on cotton for economic growth and with this came the need for more slaves to work the plantation in order to meet these new demands for cotton production.
Slaves also worked as servants in homes and some were even craftsmen and factory workers; however, a majority of slaves worked on plantations picking cotton and harvesting crops. Labor, harsh punishments, a poor diet and living conditions contributed to an increase in infant mortality for slave families. Due to the fact that the South were reliant on cotton and slaves, they were behind in urbanization and industrialization compared to the North.
In regards to social life, slaves were at the bottom of the Southern aristocracy. Wealthy white landowning planters determined economic and social life of their land in the South. One would imagine that everyone in the South had owned slaves, however, it was very rare. About 3/4 of Southern whites did not own slaves and those who did own slaves did not own many. Southerners who did not own slaves, mostly yeoman farmers, defended the institution of slavery.
Non slave owners were envious of those who did own slaves and the wealth and power of they acquired. Slavery allowed white people to feel superior to black slaves because although some of them were poor, they did not have to live the life of a slave nor work like one. Slaveholders often had sexual relations with their female slaves to increase the number of slaves that would become apart of the plantation labor union. Female household slaves were often victims of sexual abuse by their owners and were mistreated by their wives due to the fact that they hated the sexual relations their husbands had with the slaves.
Slaves were not able to hold property or leave their owner’s property without permission. They lived in slave quarters and worked in harsh conditions in the fields. Slave owners were determined to keep a healthy slave population despite treating them unfairly as slaves became an important and valuable addition to their society when it came down to plantation labor and cotton production. Slaves resisted the unfair treatment in various ways by slowing down their work effort, destroying tools and crops and pretending to be sick. Slaves were also able to turn to religion develop their own sense of identity, and their religion was a combination of Christianity and African beliefs and practices.