"my people owned slaves here when you were all running little shirt tail country stores"
Plantation slaves planting sweet potatoes
Public DomainPlantation slaves planting sweet potatoes - Credit: Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society

Prior to abolition in 1865, Mississippi was one of the biggest slave-holding states in the South, with Natchez being the site of America’s third largest slave market. The 1860 census shows 436,631 of Mississippi’s inhabitants — 55 per cent of the population — were slaves. These were concentrated in the hands of wealthy plantation owners; the majority of whites did not own human property. Amongst those that did, over half held fewer than five whilst the very rich held in excess of twenty. Slave ownership was thus a mark of high social standing. On large plantations, slaves were organised along hierarchical lines with house slaves representing the ‘elite’ and field workers the lowest echelon.   

 

Watch a rather misty-eyed documentary about the plantation system’s reliance of slavery and how this affected the 20th century South.

 

Poster advertising a slave auction
Public DomainPoster advertising a slave auction - Credit: Library of Congress