Plantations in the antebellum American South

In the American South, antebellum plantations were centered on a "plantation house", the residence of the owner, where important business was conducted. Slavery and plantations had different characteristics in different regions of the South. As the Upper South of the Chesapeake Bay Colony developed first, historians of the antebellum South defined planters as those who held 20 or more slaves. Major planters held many more, especially in the Deep South as it developed.[2] The majority of slaveholders held 10 or fewer slaves, often just a few to labor domestically. By the late 18th century, most planters in the Upper South had switched from exclusive tobacco cultivation to mixed crop production, both because tobacco had exhausted the soil and because of changing markets. The shift away from tobacco meant they had slaves in excess of the number needed for labor, and they began to sell them in the internal slave trade. Old Jackson Plantation house, Louisiana, June 1940 There was a variety of domestic architecture on plantations. The largest and wealthiest planter families, for instance, those with estates fronting on the James River in Virginia, constructed mansions in brick and Georgian style, e.g. Shirley Plantation. Common or smaller planters in the late 18th and 19th century had more modest wood frame buildings, such as Southall Plantation in Charles City County. In the Low Country of South Carolina, by contrast, even before the American Revolution, planters holding large rice and cotton plantations in South Carolina typically owned hundreds of slaves. In Charleston and Savannah, the elite also held numerous slaves to work as household servants. The 19th-century development of t e Deep South for cotton cultivation depended on large plantations with much more acreage than was typical of the Chesapeake Bay area, and for labor, planters held hundreds of slaves. Until December 1865 slavery was legal in parts of the United States. Most slaves were employed in agriculture, and "planter" was a term commonly used to describe a farmer with many slaves. The term "planter" has no universally accepted definition but academic historians have defined it to identify the elite class, "a landowning farmer of substantial means."[2] In the "Black Belt" counties of Alabama and Mississippi, the terms "planter" and "farmer" were often synonymous.[3] Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman define large planters as owning over 50 slaves, and medium planters as owning between 16 and 50 slaves.[4] In his study of Black Belt counties in Alabama, Jonathan Wiener defines planters by ownership of real property, rather than of slaves. A planter, for Wiener, owned at least $10,000 worth of real estate in 1850 and $32,000 worth in 1860, equivalent to about the top 8 percent of landowners.[5] In his study of southwest Georgia, Lee Formwalt also defines planters in size of land holdings rather than slaves. Formwalt's planters are in the top 4.5 percent of landowners, translating into real estate worth $6,000 or more in 1850, $24,000 or more in 1860, and $11,000 or more in 1870.[6] In his study of Harrison County, Texas, Randolph B. Campbell classifies large planters as owners of 20 slaves, and small planters as owners of between ten and 19 slaves.[7] In Chicot and Phillips Counties, Arkansas, Carl H. Moneyhon defines large planters as owners of twenty or more slaves, and six hundred or more acres.