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Plantation Rules: Slave Labor Management as the Key for Production

Alexander Telfair was an American planter who lived before the Civil War, and the end of slavery. He owned Thorn Island cotton plantation in Savannah, Georgia, and left many papers now collected by the Georgia Historical Society, such as receipts, letters, deeds that show how the land was ruled. Thorn Island is the example of a Southern plantation with the slavery labor used as the primary workforce. Alexander Telfair’s document Plantation Rules reveals how the jobs were managed, the rules of life on a plantation, and the way work was divided between men and women.

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Labor management was the most significant piece that needs to be organized for the successful work of a plantation. The production had to be strictly listed, as well as the working force had to have the optimal usage to get the necessary number of planting done. Plantation Rules included the critical principles of labor management, such as the time of planting, the ways of producing cotton, and corn seeding. The planter also decided on how to sort the product, when and where to transfer it, and how to utilize it on the plantation. However, the essential part of the written rules to follow was the instructions for the slaves’ lives.

Most of the plantation rules were related to the slaves as they played a significant role in the production process. The life of a slave was strictly scheduled and regulated to provide the maximum level of productivity with the given workforce. It affected the way slaves saw freedom and historical events that followed. Foner states that “many former slaves insisted that through their unpaid labor, they had acquired a right to the land” (569). A slave had no life choices: for example, food was strictly shared between all of the slaves, depending on their age and job. Most of the slaves spent the whole day working in the fields. Besides, even the free time of their life is controlled by the rules, Telfair states: “no night meeting and preaching to be allowed on the place, except on Saturday night & Sunday morn” (127). Such regulation was the key strategy to manage people effectively and made labor the only thing a slave could care about.

Moreover, men and women did different kinds of work, as the document shows women’s labor was nursing and babysitting. Telfair in the Plantation Rules specifies that “Elsey is allowed to act as a midwife, to black and white in the neighborhood, who send for her” (127). Women were more effective as health care workers than the field ones and having them as nurses, cookers, and babysitters helped in organizing a better life for slaves. Although these jobs provided a bit of freedom for women, they often were taken away from their husbands and children by the landlords or the other slaves to care. Even families could be easily separated for the sake of workforce effectiveness.

Plantation Rules is the document that shows how a planter had to consider every detail while managing to let it successfully the necessary volume of product. At the time of Telfair’s life, the labor of slaves was the crucial factor that made everything work so that the slaves lives needed to be strictly organized. Then, after the end of slavery, the working process of plantations discovered challenges. Planters tried to keep a labor system close to slavery, while former slaves demanded economic autonomy and access to lands; it led to the prolonged conflicts on many Southern plantations (Foner 571). Slavery significantly affected American history and culture, and Plantation Rules is an example of how poorly the slaves were treated. People should never forget this historical episode, not let such labor appear ever again, and be as tolerant of each other as possible.

Works Cited

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. W. W. Norton, 2017.

Phillips, Ulrich B. Plantation and Frontier, 1649-1863. Cosimo, Inc., 2013.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, April 11). Plantation Rules: Slave Labor Management as the Key for Production. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/plantation-rules-slave-labor-management-as-the-key-for-production/

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