Topic: MAJOR TYPES OF FARMING OPERATIONS IN ANTEBELLUM ARKANSAS
Resources: Negro Slavery in Arkansas, Orville W. Taylor Arkansas 1800-1860: Remote and Restless, S. Charles Bolton
Key Facts: There were 4 main types of farming operations in Antebellum Arkansas: (Antebellum means "before the war." In U.S. history it means before the Civil War (1861-1865)
I. Squatter farms (a squatter is a person who settled on vacant land that was owned by the U.S. Government.) These farmers were usually subsistence farmers (those who grew just enough food for themselves and their families). They often settled in the western part of Arkansas, where almost no other white people lived. Usually, these farmers hoped to buy the land from the U.S. Government after they had more money.
II. Yeomen farms with no slaves. (A yeoman farmer was one who owned land, but not very much of it - usually less than 100 acres - and usually didn't have much money.)
This was the most common type of farm in Arkansas at the time. (In the years just before the Civil War started, about 70% of the farms were of this type.) These types of farms were most common in the highlands (in the Ouachita or the Ozark Mountains and the surrounding area.) Yeomen farmers mainly raised corn and hogs.
Even though they owned no slaves, some of these yeomen farmers had close working relationships with those who owned a lot of slaves, and would often sell some of their crops to a plantation with many slaves.
III. Yeoman farms with a few slaves.
These farms were larger than the yeoman farms that had no slaves. Yeomen farmers with slaves had more money than yeoman farmers who owned no slaves. (Depending on whether a slave were male or female, and depending on the age of the slave, slaves in Arkansas usually cost anywhere from $100 to $1,200. The most expensive slaves were usually young adult males. If a slave had a special skill, such as blacksmithing, he might cost even more.)
Usually, a slave owner with just a few slaves was closely attached to them. Even though he owned the slaves and could work them very hard, he usually thought of them as almost being part of his own family.
IV. Large farms run by "planters" (wealthy salve owners who owned 20 or more slaves)
These were wealthy farmers who usually made most of their money by growing cotton (although they also grew other crops, including corn and vegetables). Only about 3% of farmers were planters.
Most Arkansas planters lived in the delta region. (A delta region is a low area along a river that has very rich soil.) In Arkansas, the delta is in the eastern part of the state, along the Mississippi River.)
On plantations (large farms owned by planters) someone besides the planter usually had the responsibility of supervising the slaves. Sometimes this person who supervised the slaves was an overseer - a white man hired by the plantation owner. In other cases, though, the plantation owner would use a slave driver. A slave driver was a slave who was given the responsibility of supervising the other slaves while they worked. Even though the slave driver was himself a slave, he was given a better place to live, better clothes, and more privileges than other slaves.
Most planters owned 20-30 slaves, but some owned a lot more. Elisha Worthington, who lived in Chicot county (SE part of AR), owned more slaves than anyone in Arkansas. In 1860, he owned 543 slaves and 12,000 acres of land.
Many of the larger plantation owners contracted with another man to act as their agent in buying what supplies that were needed (and sometimes to buy more slaves for them also) and selling crops that were produced. Someone who acted as such an agent was called a "factor." A factor wasn't hired as an employee of the planter, but usually was paid a fee that was usually about 2-3% of the total cost of what he bought or sold for the planter.
Sometimes, if a yeoman farmer who lived near a plantation wanted to sell some of his crops and couldn't find a nearby merchant who wanted to buy them, he might get a plantation owner to help him work out an arrangement with the planter's factor.