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“Plantation”, a term which dates back to the 15th century, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a usually large group of plants and especially trees under cultivation,” “an agricultural estate usually worked by resident labor” or “a usually large group of plants and especially trees under cultivation.” In a very general sense, the job description of a plantation owner may be likened to that of a farmer--a landowner who is responsible for managing, planting, growing, harvesting and (usually) selling a specific crop, particularly if field workers live in residence on the property. Because of its close association, however, with the slavery period in U.S. history, the term plantation owner is rarely used outside its historical context.
Generally, a contemporary farmer, or plantation owner, is responsible for the cultivation of a specific crop on a large plot of land. Most of the time, the plantation owner delegates the farming responsibilities, hiring field workers to assist in the cultivation of soil, planting crops and harvesting. Sugar farms in contemporary America are still sometimes called plantations. And although the owner may be an individual, it is more often a large corporation.
Historical Duties of a Plantation Owner
Historically, plantations were small communities, located mainly in the southern states, that housed not just a large area of land for growing crops, but many other buildings. A variety of activities took place on plantations, all overseen and controlled by wealthy plantation owners. But, in addition to the duties of farming, plantation owners purchased, housed, traded, used and often abused slaves to work in service of himself, his family and the plantation community. Not only did the slaves work in the fields, but they also worked in hen houses, work sheds, barns, homes, gardens and silos to provide services and necessities for everyday life--from horseshoes to furniture and cloth.
End of Plantation Ownership
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were freed, many plantations failed, and the occupation of a "plantation owner" became obsolete.
Famous Plantation Owners
Plantation owners were often wealthy aristocrats, including some of American’s first politicians and statesmen. The plantation homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Patrick Henry and James Madison are considered historic landmarks today.
Life on a Southern Plantation and Other Landmarks
For a view of 1854 Southern Plantation life, go to the third link in the Resources section.