Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South

By Grady McWhiney | Go to book overview

III
Herding

TWO dominant institutions--black slavery and the open-range system of grazing livestock--made it possible for most white Southerners to practice a leisurely lifestyle. At the middle of the nineteenth century fewer than 40 percent of the nation's twenty-three million inhabitants lived in the 900,000 square miles of mostly uncleared forest that constituted the Old South, but 37 percent (three million) of these Southerners were blacks and 90 percent of those were slaves. The South produced nearly all of the nation's cotton, rice, and sugar cane, three-fourths of its tobacco, and more than half of its corn. Much of this production was done on plantations by slave labor, but in 1850 only 101,335 (18 percent) of the South's 569,201 farms produced enough agricultural staples to be classified as plantations by the Census Bureau. Fewer than 5 percent of the South's whites owned any slaves, and fewer than a third of the free southern population were even members of slave-owning families.1

In other words, some white Southerners managed to avoid excessive labor by owning slaves, but the vast majority did so by depending

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1
According to the Census Bureau, a "plantation" was a farm that produced 2,000 pounds of cotton, or 3,000 pounds of tobacco, or 20,000 pounds of rice, or any amount of sugar cane or hemp. Of the roughly 170,000 southern farms with slaves, only 101,000 qualified as plantations. In 1850 the South contained the following plantations classified by principal crop: 74,000 in cotton, 15,700 in tobacco, 8,300 in hemp, 2,700 in sugar cane, and 550 in rice. Bureau of the Census, Statistical View: A Compendium of the Seventh Census, 1850 ( Washington, D.C., 1854), 178; Lewis C. Gray , History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860 ( 2 vols., Washington, D.C., 1933), I: 529; Donald B. Dodd and Wynelle S. Dodd, Historical Statistics of the South, 1790-1970 (University, Ala., 1973), 2-61; Bureau of the Census, The Statistical History of the United States ( Washington, D.C., 1957), 4-13; Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the AnteBellum South ( New York, 1956), 29- 33; Otto H. Olsen, "Historians and the Extent of Slave Ownership in the Southern United States," Civil War History 18 ( 1972), 101-16.

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Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Prologue xxi
  • I - Settlement 1
  • II - Heritage 23
  • III - Herding 51
  • IV - Hospitality 80
  • V - Pleasures 105
  • VI - Violence 146
  • VII - Moral 171
  • VIII - Education 193
  • IX - Progress 218
  • X - Worth 245
  • XI - Collision 268
  • Appendix - Sources on the Origins of Surnames 273
  • Index 278
  • About the Author 291
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