Category Archives: Arkansas History

White Sharecroppers In Arkansas History

Tenancies have been used widely throughout Arkansas, but prior to the Civil War, slaves worked most vast agricultural tracts along the Mississippi River planted in cotton. When the South lost the war, bringing slavery to an end, Arkansas landowners and freed slaves then began negotiating new labor relationships to cultivate land up and down the Arkansas Delta. While some planters preferred day labor, using workers hired by the hour, week, or month, other landowners opted for tenant farmers. In some instances, a hybrid of the two existed. For example, after a farmer got his crop harvested, his family members might work as day laborers for other tenants to supplement their income or provide “Christmas money.” Continue reading

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Slavery In Arkansas History

Slavery served primarily to provide labor for the state’s economy, and slaves added greatly to its development. Slavery made possible the rapid expansion of the cotton frontier within Arkansas, and slaves’ labor contributed greatly to the state’s material wealth, adding at least $16 million to the economy each year and making Arkansas the sixth largest cotton producer in the United States by 1860. Historians have debated whether or not slavery was profitable for the South, but in Arkansas there is no question that slave labor produced profits for some individual slave owners. Nothing shows more clearly that contemporaries considered the system profitable as much as the inflation in the price of slaves through the antebellum period. Orville W. Taylor has shown that average prices in Arkansas rose from $105 in the 1820s to nearly $900 by 1860, taking into account children as well as adults. Adult slaves with skills such as carpentry or blacksmithing could bring enormous prices, with some such slaves costing as high as $2,800. These prices were comparable to approximately $2,200, $20,000, and $61,000 in 2002 dollars. Continue reading

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